Nick LeRoy is a freelance SEO consultant, podcaster, and newsletter author based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
When it comes to SEO, Nick specializes in SEO strategy, technical SEO, editorial strategy, and website migrations through his company Nick LeRoy Consulting.
Nick is also the co-owner of the boutique job board SEOjobs.com where you can find well paid SEO jobs.
The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Nick LeRoy
Watch the interview
(click on the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)
Listen to the podcast
(58 minutes long)
The unscripted questions Mark A Preston asked Nick LeRoy
When did you start in the SEO industry, Nick?
Why did you decide to move into being a freelance SEO?
What should an SEO consider who are thinking about leaving their cushy job to go freelance?
If you hadn't of lost your job, would you have still made the move over to SEO freelancing?
Was there any point during the early days of freelancing you though, I want to go back to a 9-5 job?
What type of SEO newsletters do you have?
Was your newsletter a major factor in becoming a successful freelance SEO?
What size of businesses do you work with as a freelancer?
As a freelance SEO consultant, do you just advise clients or do you get stuck in and get your hands dirty?
How can SEOs who has recently gone freelance build up their client base?
How have you grown your SEO freelance consultancy into a six-figure business?
How can SEO freelancers increase their revenue by moving away from selling time over to selling value?
What should be the key skillset of an SEO freelancer?
What level of SEO knowledge should an SEO have before considering going freelance?
Is it better for a freelance SEO to be an all-rounder or specialise in one certain field of SEO?
What have been your biggest challenges running your SEO freelance consultancy?
What measures have you put in place to make sure your invoices are paid on time?
Are you strict or flexible with your clients when it comes to payment terms?
When it comes to lead generation, who is it within a company freelancers need to start talking to?
Has having an agency background helped you to become a successful freelance SEO, opposed to if you had an in-house background?
What should an SEO freelancer toolkit consist of?
Does all the six-figure SEO freelancing case studies give employed SEOs the wrong idea of the reality of freelancing life?
What is the raw reality of starting out as a new SEO freelancer?
What is the ideal number of clients an SEO freelancer should have?
Should freelancers consider going into affiliate marketing as well as working with clients?
How much capital (savings) should an SEO have before considering going freelance full-time?
Why should SEOs start doing freelancing gigs on the side on top of their 9-5 job before moving over full-time?
How important is it for an SEO freelancer to have honest conversations with other freelancers about the reality?
How open would other SEO freelancers be in discussing how much they charge?
If you could go back to the beginning of your SEO freelancing career, what would you do differently knowing what you know now?
Is there anything our audience can do to help you, Nick?
What does the future hold for Nick LeRoy?
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The unscripted conversation between Mark A Preston and Nick LeRoy
Mark A Preston: Welcome to the unscripted SEO interview. I'm your host, Mark A Preston. And today we have joining us Nick LeRoy, who is a freelance SEO consultant. Hi, Nick.
Nick LeRoy: Hey, Mark. How are you doing?
Mark A Preston: Good, thanks. For those people who don't understand not aware of who you are or your background, could you just give a bit of an overview of when you started in the industry and how you've ended up being a freelance SEO?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, absolutely. So I have been in the SEO industry for over ten years now. Historically, I kind of joke that I'm a recovering agency SEO because I had been agency side my entire career prior to going out freelance. As you had mentioned, a lot of people are interested in how I made the decision to freelance. And I had written a story and Mark, maybe you can link to it below it's on the SEO freelancer, where I have mentioned that during COVID I had actually lost my job as director of SEO. The company that I had worked with actually got rid of their SEO services altogether. So it was an opportunity to test out the market and I've really never looked back since. It's been a great decision.
Mark A Preston: Right, so for the people that may be in a fulltime job, who's thinking of going freelance fulltime, what are the sorts of things they need to be aware of before they actually jumps in?
Nick LeRoy: Great question. I think the first thing that I would recommend before even giving the tips is to not necessarily jump 100% unless there's a situation where you aren't working full time or you have just some extraordinary circumstances, I think you'll find that there's always a benefit to starting freelance part time while you're doing your full time job. And the reason for that is freelancing is quite different than an in house or agency job. Not in the sense of the SEO is different. We all know how to do titles, we know how to do reporting, et cetera. But there's more of the business aspect that not everybody can kind of wrap their head around. And what I mean specifically by that is you have to find your own leads, you have to be able to pitch your own services, you have to be able to build scopes, you have to be able to price, you have to be able to collect payment, et cetera, et cetera. And I think those are some of the skills that some people don't necessarily think about when they are going out on their own. So I think one thing that I would recommend, as mentioned before, and apologies for video slipping up there, is just making sure that you're getting some of this opportunity while you're working full time when you're not quite reliant on the money coming in regularly from the full time switch.
Mark A Preston: Right. So for yourself, you said it was because you got made redundant from your job. Yes?
Nick LeRoy: Correct.
Mark A Preston: Now, do you think if you hadn't been made redundant, you wouldn't have gone freelance?
Nick LeRoy: I want to tell you that I would have eventually, but I don't think I would have. And the reason being is it's really hard to leave a steady paycheck. Regardless whether you think your pay is fair or not, it's fairly reliable every couple of weeks, every month, you get a paycheck. And then, especially if you're freelancing on the side, as I always had, you can kind of increase your earning potential. So I don't know if I would have ever done it. I had talked about it, I've wanted to. But the other part of freelancing that maybe we'll go into a little more detail is I feel like it's a little bit easier when it's just yourself. But if you have a family or children, then the risk is larger. Because as I always joke with my wife, it's one thing if I'm eating rice and beans all night long. It's maybe even okay if she and I are both eating rice and beans all night long. But I'm never going to have my three kids go without. So there's just an added risk to that. So to answer your question directly, I like to think that I would go out on my own eventually, on my own accord, but at the same time, I'm not one that takes massive risks when it comes to my family, so I'd probably be in that same job if I had not been made redundant.
Mark A Preston: All right, so when you went freelance at the very beginning, was there a time when you thought, I want to go back to a full time job?
Nick LeRoy: Not at all. Honestly, I was so burnt out from working for other people that my biggest concern was kind of as we talked about, was being able to earn the revenue enough to be able to pay my bills. And my wife and I had an agreement, because when I did get let go, I did interview and receive a couple job opportunities that really went to my satisfaction, and I really was kind of committed to going freelance. And we made it an agreement, my wife and I, that I would get six months. And by that point, I had to basically make the equivalent of what my prior salary was, you know, each month. And I was very fortunate through some of my freelancing experiences that I had while working full time, as well as having some network opportunities, my SEO newsletter, that I was lucky that the money was not an issue. I had people come to me, they need help, and I was able to replicate the earnings pretty quickly. And then I almost kind of built a little bit of an ego of the sense of, I don't want to work for anybody else. I'm sick of people telling me what to do. I don't want to be told what I have to do or how to respond or you can say this, you can't say that. So no, I mean, there's days where you're like, I don't really want to work, but I would say that's not any different than a nine to five job. So I can honestly look you in the face and say it's been the best decision that I've made. And I don't think I've ever had a true thought of going back. I think if I'm being completely transparent, that's probably one of my biggest fears right now, is having to go back.
Mark A Preston: Right, you mentioned your newsletter. What sort of newsletter is it?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, absolutely. So anybody who's interested can check out SEO For Lunch.com And what it is, is it's a weekly newsletter that just helps you stay up to date with all the changes that are happening in the search world. It's a weekly email, and anything that is being published from Google or Microsoft or in some instances even like Yandex is being highlighted right at the top and then also included in there I also own or co own a boutique SEO job board, so I include open SEO positions. And then what I also like to do is highlight some really good content that's being written within the SEO industry. And I know, Mark, I have highlighted some of your content in the past as well as others. So really the gist of it is we know as SEOs, we need to stay up to date with all the SEO changes that are happening, but in reality, we don't always have the time to spend hours every single week reading all the content that's being published. So I put it all together in a newsletter and the reason I call it SEO For Lunch is it's kind of a digestible list of content that you can read over your lunch break.
Mark A Preston: Right. And that newsletter, was that a major factor in helping you to go freelance with the exposure you already had from newsletter?
Nick LeRoy: It was. And one story that has become less of a secret because I'm starting to share it but I actually used the newsletter at the very beginning as a way to educate my own clients, because I was kind of sick of telling multiple clients over and over again the same updates. So I could kind of send one email and chop it up and send it to them. And I started sending it publicly and allowing anybody to sign up for it. But then, at that point, what it turned into was a little bit of my, it was a reserve. It was a little bit of an insurance policy. As I was building up the audience, I realized that if I had ever lost my job, this was an opportunity to be able to connect with more people in the industry. And because all I'm doing is giving later on, if I were to ever make the decision or need to supplement my income or find a new job, I thought it'd be a great opportunity to be able to network with people, which is ultimately what had happened when I lost my job. It was literally like a week later in my newsletter. I had ran, hey, I'm open for work. I'm kind of in between jobs, not sure what I'm going to do, and I think I got one of my first gigs that way. So just reached out and said, hey, I need an audit. I need a couple of hours of an SEO's time. How can you help me out?
Mark A Preston: Right. So as a freelance SEO, what type of clients do you work with? How big are these companies and businesses you work with?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah. So coming from the agency side, I've worked with companies as small as local small businesses like Electricians, all the way up to websites that have hundreds of thousands, millions of pages. So I've kind of niched myself into the enterprise level client base. I love technical SEO and I find that it's a pretty big gap in our industry currently. So I like working with clients that have the biggest messiest back ends and craziest situations that need to be fixed. So I find that my skill sets kind of align with more enterprise level client base.
Mark A Preston: Right. Do you just advise clients or do you actually get stuck in and get your hands dirty to actually fix things?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, so the answer is yes and no I would say. At the enterprise level, a lot of clients have development teams or even content teams. So I am doing a lot more strategy. However, when it's coming to the idea of putting solutions together, I'm certainly building the solutions and scalable solutions for these sites. But when you get into sites that have a million pages, there is no Word Press back end where you're going and making changes to say a title tag or adding an odd link here or there. What I'm doing is I'm building case studies to justify how, if we change URLs or if we're going to do dynamic title tags or add this type of content, how do we justify the amount of effort that goes into it against what we think the return is. So it's just a different type of feet on the ground working hard versus going in and actually writing a blog post or like I said, optimizing a single page.
Mark A Preston: Right. So why should these enterprise companies work with the freelancer rather than an agency?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah. So I'm not a good salesperson. But I will tell you what I tell everybody else coming from the agency side, I'm very aware of how they sell their services. They have kind of what I'll call their A plus SEO come in, they can talk a great game. They probably are very smart themselves and can do any and all the work that I do. However, in most instances, the SEO agency will have those A plus people come in and kind of sell the dream. And then what they do is they hand the work over to junior resources, and that's how agencies are able to scale. So my pitch is you're going to work with me. Like, literally, I'm going to be the one that joins you for the call. I'm going to be the one that helps you with the strategy. I'm going to be the one that sends you the invoice. I'm going to be the one that follows was up to your emails. So you are paying for my expertise and you are getting me all day, every day, or within the scope of your work. And that is why a lot of clients will recommend going with an individual freelancer versus an agency. And then sometimes they don't want to necessarily hire in-house because they don't have the budget to pay for someone with maybe our skill set to be there full time.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. Now, I've had conversations with an awful lot of SEO, who’s gone freelance. Then they've suddenly realized all the business stuff that goes with it and said, well, I'm really good at what I do, SEO. But I didn't understand how difficult it was to actually get clients. Now, do you have some guidance on how these people can start or push forward on building up a client base for themselves?
Nick LeRoy: Absolutely. And I think this kind of goes back to the very beginning of our conversation when we were saying do it part time in addition to a full time role, because that is by far the most difficult part, is getting clients. You have to get a client to be able to show your value, get a testimonial to then be able to get more people. And it's really difficult. I would say that I was very, very fortunate that I had a network and I had given a lot to the industry through various articles and newsletters, podcasts, et cetera, while I was working full time. So I never really had asked for much in return. So when I did go out, I felt like I had a network of people that I could kind of ping and say, do you happen to have work or do you know somebody that you're willing to bet for me or bet my name and say Nick is worthwhile working with? So I was very fortunate.
Now, to answer your question directly, somebody that doesn't have ten years of experience before going freelance full time is going to have to kind of start at the beginning. And I think this is where there's a couple of different options. Historically, I was never a big fan of say Upwork because I thought it was kind of chasing the lowest price. But in my own podcast, The SEO Freelancer, I had actually talked to a couple of individuals that are making six figures through Upwork, so there's definitely opportunities to use those type of marketplaces to be able to just start out. Now, obviously there's drawbacks and benefits to it that we won't necessarily go into, but that is one area. And again, the main goal is simply to start getting some clients so you can get some testimonials, you can get some case studies that show that you know what you're doing and that you can get these SEO wins. The other thing that I was a big fan and I actually did this when I went out was doing overflow work or kind of white label work for SEO agencies. We talked about the benefit of being able to pitch yourself as the value add to these larger companies or to any company.
But again, I have the benefit of being able to share people's names who will vouch for my services. So when you don't necessarily have those, you can go to agencies and a lot of times they're looking for a little bit of support. It can be doing some audits in the back end, it can be doing some more of the linking or even some of the strategy or reporting. Now the only caveat I will say to that is that work is really good for paying the bills as then you get the revenue in. But it's not really good for building your network because you don't get to take any public credit. These aren't your clients. You're not going to be able to use those case studies or use them as testimonials. So while a lot of people make a good living white labelling essentially for agencies, it's not how I would recommend scaling your services moving forward.
Mark A Preston: Right post about scaling, remember how far back it was, but I read an article you'd written on your story and how you've grown a freelance SEO business into multiple six figures, right? As one person, how do you grow a freelance business into such high revenue?
Nick LeRoy: The short answer is always increase your prices. And what I mean by that is, as you are providing value, it's moving away from necessarily hourly work. It's really trying to get into value based pricing. And this is especially great when you are working with larger companies, because when they are selling items that they have an average order value of, you're charging five grand, being able to help them move from $1 million of revenue to $1.2 million is an easy mathematical equation where your $5,000 retainer is a no brainer for them. What happens with a lot of freelancers and even agencies is they're working with service providers or people that are selling products that have very low margins. So if you're selling things that have a dollar and you are charging $1,000, you have to help them sell at, incremental, thousand widgets, whatever you want to call them before you're even making your money back. So part of it is going back and just kind of knowing your audience, knowing where you can provide value and charging appropriately. Because the thing that I'm most vocal about is as a solo consultant, a freelancer, I am only one person and there's only 24 hours in a day. I have made the conscious decision to not scale and have other people on my team or to start an agency for various reasons. So what I need to do is make sure that I'm getting the most for every hour that I'm working. And that's where I just continue to raise up my hours or sorry, my rates. And I very rarely have anybody push back on it because I always prioritize making sure that they are getting more value than they are paying me.
Mark A Preston: Right. So there's been lots of conversations in the industry or freelancers based on selling time versus value. Now, as you've explained there, you sell based on value. But a lot of SEO freelancers, they don't understand on how to actually sell value to the clients, because they do X amount of hours. They get paid for X amount of hours, they charge X amount. And that's an easy model for them. But just to understand how these freelancers can move away from the hourly rate on to value, what sort of things and structures do they need to do and conversations do they need to have?
Nick LeRoy: So that's a great question and I want to paint a situation that I think everybody can kind of agree and agree with. When you are trading time for money, you are always paid more money for the more time that you've taken that inherently does not encourage efficient work. For instance, if I can get a client to say I have a budget of 10 hours and you want to, let's just say arbitrarily, grab all the URLs on the website, you can go and manually click on every link, copy and paste into a spreadsheet, right? And you'll spend 10 hours and you'll get paid for 10 hours. We know as well as everyone that's listening to it, we could also fire up site bulb or screaming frog, run a crawl and 20 seconds later have all those URLs. So now as a consultant that's charging hourly, we are not being paid to be efficient. So that's one of those things where it's like you don't want to have a conversation with your clients of like, what is fair and how much time should this take. And also you should not be penalized because you know how to add value in a quick amount of time.
So again, what I'm trying to get is having conversations with clients about ultimately what are their goals and what are certain metrics that you can help them hit through various initiatives and focusing on those type of deliverables. So then it doesn't matter how much time it takes, it's more about being able to provide those valuable deliverables and measuring how they're driving revenue and performance to the site. The caveat to performance based pricing is you have to know what adds value. So everyone, including myself, has been in this situation. Think about it as like a project. These are the best ones where you learn from and Mark, you probably have done this as well. You kind of eyeball something. You're like, okay, that's a $3,000 project. And in the back of your mind, it's like, I think it'll take me 20 hours. Right? That's $150 an hour. That's about right. Then you start off the project, and because you've already committed to that price, if you can get it done in 4 hours, fantastic.
But in some instances, everybody gets burned once where it's going to actually take you 50 hours to be able to deliver it. Now, you could go back and talk to the client and explain scope, but in my opinion, that makes me look bad. So what I'm doing is I'm always tracking my time and having a better understanding of how long it takes me to do certain tasks so that when I do value based or project pricing, I have a pretty good idea of the time that it's going to take me. I would say that's just a couple. I know I kind of rambled down a little bit, but hopefully that addresses kind of value based pricing versus hourly rates, the benefits and drawbacks of it.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, it sounds like in order to move to the value based pricing, you have to have a good understanding already of top level SEO. So what sort of skill set do freelance SEO need to have?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, so that's a great question. I would say this skill set is irrelevant of freelance in-house or agency. But I think effective communication is the biggest gap in our industry. And what I mean by that is a lot of us can get down into the leads. We could talk about XML site maps and hrefs, weighing tags and canonicals things that get us excited in the industry. But to our clients, it's going right over their head. So when we talk about what are their goals, who are their competitors, what are kind of the levels that we can pull, we need to be able to effectively communicate that to our clients. And that goes hand in hand with setting expectations. So when I'm talking to my clients and I'm telling them, this is the price for my services, here's what I'm looking to accomplish for you. And here's what I believe are some of the results. It's sitting down and having these honest conversations and talking to them as humans and not as like a technical SEO trying to impress them with big SEO terminology.
So I think really the communication is the biggest quote unquote secret. If there is one, that is the one that everybody, I don't care how long you've been in the industry, can focus on, because we all can do better. The other thing, and I know this sounds really silly, but actually know what you're doing. I'm finding there's such a gap in this industry where people know a lot about one little corner of SEO you'll say they're really good at on page SEO, or they kind of have an idea of what they're doing from a content perspective, but they just they're not exceptionally good at it. Like right now, they're currently working kind of within a system, and the system works well, but the individuals don't always know exactly what they're doing to provide the value. And if you don't know that, then you can't communicate it appropriately, which then just goes into your clients not necessarily having trust in you, you're not being able to provide value and then ultimately engagements end because they don't believe they're getting value from you.
Mark A Preston: So as a freelance SEO, is it better to have an overview of the whole SEO landscape? Or is it good to specializing one certain thing, like technical SEO or the other areas of SEO.
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, that's another really good question. And I hate that I'm going to say this, but I think it really does depend. And the reason I say that is I think it's really important to have an overarching expertise or at least understanding everything that exists. Because part of being an SEO freelancer is, as I mentioned before, building that trust. And part of that at is actually being able to raise your hand and say, I am not the solution for this need. For example, I am not the best at local SEO. I can help you set up your GMB profiles, get you all set up with that, do it on page. They're very basics, but it's not something that I actively sell myself on because I have friends in the industry that I know can do significantly better work and probably even at a cheaper rate than I would do. But that is an instance where I am aware of all the best practices. I could fumble through it, but I would rather raise my hand, say there's a better or more cost effective solution, and hand someone over to an individual that's going to crush it. So the opposite of that is making sure that you're working with clients whose needs match your skill sets. Again, I had talked about, I believe technical SEO is more of my strength.
So when I do project based work, a lot of time it's either technical audits or they're like migrations. Those are some things that I find that this industry just like shuns. They just think it's like the worst thing ever. And I happen to really enjoy that type of work. It doesn't concern me because I feel that I know what I'm doing. I have the testimonials and the case studies to support that. So I go after those type of clients, and that's just kind of an area where it matches my interests. They are willing to pay my rates, and I think that's where it becomes a good fit. However, like I said, it is important because there are some clients that do need a little bit of everything. And again, if it kind of matches your pricing and your services, those are opportunities as well. So I guess there is no clear cut answer to that. But it really depends on which angle you're going at, how much you're charging, and how much value you believe you can provide.
Mark A Preston: Right. What has been your biggest challenges on the road to SEO Freelancing?
Nick LeRoy: I think my biggest challenge is honestly just kind of setting goals and trying to keeping myself motivated. Because unlike when we are working for somebody else, we always have a boss that's kind of pushing us to do more, accomplish this, get that next promotion, get the next raise. And those are kind of goals that we can go after. Whereas in the freelance world, you can kind of take it as easy as you want. Do you want to kind of make the minimum amount to pay your bills, keep your family healthy and maximize time out of work? Do you want to work as much as you possibly can and try to earn as much as you can? And I find that I continue to be kind of stretched on both sides. It's like some months it's like I want to just crank out as much work because I'm prioritizing the earnings. The next month it's like, wow, it's the summer, it's great. My kids aren't in school. I don't want to be stuck behind a computer all the time. So maybe I'm taking on a little bit less work. But what I find is those goals are changing all the time. So sometimes it's a little bit difficult to stay motivated when like I said, those goals are always kind of moving around you.
Mark A Preston: Right. So actually getting paid, right? Now obviously some freelancers charge upfront but obviously the bigger the company that's less likely to happen. So as a freelancer that actually needs people to pay on time, what sort of measures have you got in place to make sure that your invoices are paid on time?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, I really like that question. So this is going to be different for everybody that you talk to. I am pretty risk adverse. So what I do is I establish for anything that's project based, I always do 50% upfront and 50% upon completion with very clearly identified deliverables. So for instance, I know one thing people will do that is a mistake is when they do technical audits, they'll say like completion of audit execution or something like that. But then if your clients are never going to actually execute it, they don't feel that they have to pay you. Whereas I will say 50% upon signing and 50% of deliverable of the actual audit itself. When it comes to retainers ongoing charges, you're right, especially as you work with larger clients. Not many are going to pay in advance. But what I do is I have a very strict, like net 15 or net 30. And I always insist on billing on the first of the month so that I am not putting any more risk than one month service of not getting paid. Meaning on January 1, we start the engagement. I invoice them on day one and the latest that I will do, my net is 30. So if I don't get paid by February 1, I tell the client that I'm not working with them anymore until I get paid. And that's because in my situation, I am okay with taking the risk of not getting paid for one month's worth of services, but I'm not willing to work three months and then not get paid. So those are just kind of the boundaries that I have set. There's always situations where people are a couple of days late or a couple of days early and there's holidays. It happens. But I think just being able to clearly articulate your payment terms and getting them in your agreements is your best process for making sure that you get paid.
Mark A Preston: Right. So regarding payment terms as a freelancer, is it your payment terms as a freelancer that the company has to agree on? Or have you been in situations where the company said, well, this is how we deal with everybody take it or leave it.
Nick LeRoy: Yup, I've been in both of them, I would say a lot of companies I will say this like 99% of the time when you're dealing with accounts payable, teams, everything is negotiable. Even when they tell you it's not, it just is that's how business works. So, for instance, like, I've had people that say we work on net 45, I have not negotiable on the terms. And then what I will say is, okay, well, I'm going to backdate my first invoice 15 days before the engagement starts so that it's 30 days. So it's always negotiable. But I would say that's where it's clear within your agreements if you come to them with something that's reasonable that's why I always kind of say like 50% upfront or at the end or net 15, net 30. A lot of them are willing to be flexible with it, but there is every once in a while clients that they just aren't willing to change and honestly, that's where you have to make the decision on how much risk you're willing to take. I did have one client. It was a six figure project or retainer that I was willing to walk away. For different terms wasn't necessarily pricing. It was about, like, insurance that I had on my end. And they wanted me to have X amount of dollars in insurance, and I already had insurance, but it wasn't to their number. And I basically told them, this is what I have and they respond and said, well, we're not negotiable on this. And then I told my point of contact that I was unwilling to invest in more insurance for this project, so I'm not going to take this project on. And then, surprisingly, they came back and said, okay, we can make this work with your insurance. It's not a big deal. So there are times where you just have to be able to cut your losses and draw the line in the sand. And like I said, everything is negotiable, but don't let companies steamroll you either.
Mark A Preston: Right. As a new freelancer where can they go to start generating business? Or who is the person within these companies they need to start having discussions with?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, so I would say anytime you can talk to somebody kind of at the C level or even management, it's basically people that are authorized to sign a check or the people that you want to talk to. Now this is where I have found like LinkedIn to be really valuable. So I am frequently writing on LinkedIn of all sorts of topics, just kind of seeing what's working. But it's an opportunity to share your knowledge and get in front of people that you don't even necessarily know need SEO support. I'm not one that is a cold outreach I don't look for people online and to send them emails. I am actively trying to promote my brand and my services, and I let them come to me, which then kind of going back to what we talked about before that is a little bit I don't want to call it like a power play, but there's definitely a benefit to that because they're coming to you. They already have interest versus you're kind of begging somebody for support. But I would say work on your public visibility. LinkedIn is a great opportunity. Getting published on other websites, being included in Roundups, anything that just allows your name to be out there so people can see it regularly, so that when they have a project in mind, I'm hoping they go, oh yeah, and I get this newsletter from Nick every single week. He's an SEO freelancer. I'm going to just hit reply to that email and see if he's interested in working with me.
Mark A Preston: Right. Now, agency background versus in-house background. As a freelancer, do you think it helps you personally having an agency background more than it would have done if you had an in-house background?
Nick LeRoy: Without a doubt and the caveat I say with that is because I had a few senior leadership positions at the agency, I was very familiar with scoping out projects, coming up with pricing, and even building out, like, statements of work. And I think a lot of that is kind of the business aspect of Freelancing that a lot of people don't necessarily have the experience of but because at an agency, a lot of times the senior employees are essentially running their own divisions and kind of running their own business within the business, that certainly gives you a big benefit. I will say that even though at the agency side, you should be able to make really good business cases as well. I would say people that are in-house probably have even more experience of what it takes to be able to build a good case study, to get buy in internally so that they will prioritize the execution of certain SEO techniques. So I do believe that there are benefits to both of them, but I believe for literally being able to start day one and being able to kind of scope out work, pitch work, write agreements, collect money, the agency background definitely gave me a heads up.
Mark A Preston: Okay, what would you say is the absolute necessity for an SEO freelancer toolkit. So what tools and systems to run the whole freelance business do they need?
Nick LeRoy: Yup. So the first one isn't an actual tool or system, but I would say you have to actually know what you're doing. And again, people are kind of chuckling right now. But there's a lot of people that I've talked to that are a couple of years in SEO and they love the idea of freelancing. A lot of us have read The Four Hour Work Week. The Million Dollar Consultant. All we think about is working 3 hours a day and collecting a million dollars. And the problem is, for someone like Mark you, me, we've put so many years into industry when we went, when you go out on your own, you're not really worried about your actual value provider. You're more concerned about what we had talked about before getting these leads, making sure that you're doing well by your clients. Whereas there's a lot of people that kind of want to skip the step of learning SEO. So really, you have to double down in building that skill set. So with that, I would say that is like, priority number one. And I put that, like, if we're on a list of one to ten, that's one to seven. When it comes to tools, this is one of the things that I had to figure out real quick because coming from an agency side, I had large tool budgets. Think of every name and tool that's available. I had access to it.
I didn't always use them all the same, but it was great to be able to cherry pick. I love this report in one tool. I love this report and the other one. And then when you go freelance and you start realizing, I don't have $10,000 a month for tools. So, for me, my tool set is actually fairly lean. I use SEMrush. I used screaming frog and site bulb. I like to use Content Harmony for Content Brief Creation. Google analytics and Google Search Console are my bread and butter and then the screening frog for like log analyzer. Everything that I had mentioned there and even like SEO, testing.com is one that I've been using a little bit more as well that just helps you understand kind of the impact of before and after certain implementations. But as you'll notice, all of those are couple of hundred bucks a lot of them are a one time a year fee and they allow you to get everything that you need done. You don't need to necessarily run all these things through 20 tools to be able to get it. I think people spend too much time in tools and not enough just thinking critically about what a particular customer needs or what is good for a client's website.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, he touched upon something there that totally related to a lot of conversations I've had. Like a lot of people who's in the full time job want to go freelance because they've read all these case studies online that this freelancers is making 200,000, this one's making a million, this one's making off, it's painting this rosy picture of freelancing life. But I don't think they understand the actual work and energy that goes into it to get to that level.
Nick LeRoy: Without a doubt.
Mark A Preston: What is the bare reality of starting out as a freelancer?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, you know, I take quite a few calls with people that are interested in going out on their own. And a lot of times I'm always asking them kind of what their goals are. And the reason that I do this is because it really changes how I answer the question for them. And really when it comes to goals, as you kind of alluded to a couple of different big opportunities, one is the opportunity to make money. One is the opportunity to clog your time back. And three is just like having control. And I think it's a lot easier for somebody who is leaving, say, a full time job that is making $50,000 to be able to recreate that in a freelancer world where I get a little bit concerned are people that are a little bit more senior and let's say they're making $100 -150,000 and they want to go freelance. Like a lot of them aren't prepared to have the first year of, say, making, let's just arbitrarily say $70,000. The odds of you going out on your own and making 200 grand your first year is very slim. Unless you are very fortunate to have a large network that you can tap into, you're going to be taking clients on that aren't the best and don't pay the best and don't respect your time because you're starting from the beginning. So I think those are all of things that you have to really keep in consideration.
So if you're doing it strictly to get rich overnight or to only work one day a week, you're in for a rude awakening. For me, I love having absolute control over my schedule, like, I get to decide who I work for. I get to decide what's worth working for, as in, like, a monetary amount of value. I decide what I take on, what I don't, and nobody tells me that I'm good enough or bad enough besides my clients. And I think one of the biggest benefits that I realized afterwards and this is just coming from I've been in a position where I've been let go from jobs before. Yes, I have clients. But one thing that I love to say is, when you're working kind of nine to five, your single job, you more or less have one boss that you have to keep happy, and he or she, at any point in time, can make the decision to make you redundant. If I have four or five clients, I can kind of afford to piss one of them off if even by accident, because I've diversified the amount of people that I need to make happy. If I lose one client, it's not a big deal. Even if I lost two clients, it's not a big deal, because there's always some revenue coming in and there's other precautions that I've taken as well that allow me to be in a position of power or control. And to me, that's just like the biggest benefit of freelancing and once you can get into that situation, that's where the flexibility comes. That's when the money comes. But again, I'll reiterate, I'm on my 14th year of SEO. Do I get SEO? Yes. That is not the part that I am worrying about. I worry about many other things that don't have anything to do with title tags or internal links or external links.
Mark A Preston: Yeah. So you alluded there at having multiple clients. Do you think that the freelance world, freelancers what's the ideal number of return clients to work with? Obviously, if you have too many, you can't actually help them to achieve much, but you don't want too few that you're thinking, well, I really need to bend over backwards to keep this person happy and do anything.
Nick LeRoy: Exactly. So what you had just said is what's critical. I don't think there's a magic number because it really does come down to what your goals are. If you want to make $300,000 and you only charge $1,000 for your retainer, you need 30 clients on average, right? Whereas for me, I kind of take a deep approach to my business in the sense that I don't like having clients that make up too much or too little of my overall revenue. I like to keep them all about the same, so that if I ever lose one or two, they take an appropriate amount of revenue. Whereas I remember when I very first started, I had one client that was paying me $10,000 a month and I spent probably 70% of my time on them. And my biggest fear was always that they were going to let me go because I would lose 70% of my revenue. So I made myself a promise after that engagement ended, and that was an amicable ending, fortunately. So I was able to see it coming that I wasn't going to have any client take up more than a certain percentage. Now, again, those percentages change depending on if you're taking ten clients on or four clients. For me personally, because I work with larger clients and my retainers are larger, I tend to work with three to four ongoing retainers with one project that rotates. So if we keep all things more or less equal, I don't lose any more than 25% of my consulting income by losing any one client. To further diversify this is a whole other conversation because it goes past freelancing is you can diversify your funds outside of consulting. So, for instance, we talked about my newsletter, the SEO For Lunch. I send that weekly I've been working on it for five years. I now accept sponsors, so I do have a little bit of income that comes from that. I also have some income share from Seojobs.com and then I have my own personal projects. So I'm diversified not only in the clients that I take as a freelancer, but I'm a little bit more diversified in the total revenue that my business drives as a whole.
Mark A Preston: So what are the other sort of things that a freelancer can do where they're not relying on just working with clients and not reliant on having a maximum ceiling that can never earn?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, I think one of the biggest benefits to digital marketing as a whole, I won't even say just SEO is we know what it takes to be able to rank and drive traffic to websites. So you don't always have to do that exclusively for clients. You can build your own resources and monetize it that way. I've been vocal on LinkedIn again, I have one website, it's just a little hobby recipe website of mine for smoking meat. And I drove over 250,000 visits to the site in the last year. Now, I didn't do anything crazy. This was all using my tracker smoker and smoking weekend meals for my family. But because I'm an SEO dork, I would take pictures and then basically add them to the website. And did I make a ton of money from it? No, but I mean, I think it was like $6 or $7000 just from throwing ads on it. Like, I don't even try hard on it. It was just more of a hobby. But again, I've worked in the recipes niche before. I know what it takes to optimize these pages and to get them to rank well. So I decided to do it as kind of a hobby of my own. Plus, I'm already doing this and I figured, best case scenario, if it pays for my hosting and the meat that I'm smoking, that is like a great reward. So, all that said, I think investing in other resources that you own is a great opportunity. I will say with the caveat is like, please don't be that person that's going to like, tell everybody your secret guide to getting rich and becoming a freelancer that makes a million dollars. Like, you might make some money, but probably not worth the time and effort that goes into it.
Mark A Preston: Yes. So going back to the people that's just wanting to start out as a freelancer or maybe thinking about it realistically, how much capital should they have upfront? Say, for instance, they need to earn X amount as a minimum. How many months do they need to make sure they have in advance before making the decision to jump ship?
Nick LeRoy: So I would say a six month bank role would be a good amount. The reason that I say six months is six months would give you enough time to truly understand whether you can find success in freelance, whether you have what it takes to do the business side, or whether your skills are sharp enough to be able to get results. And if at the end of six months, you're not able to find success, hopefully you're not going into debt and the best part about the SEO industry and I even told myself this, is everybody's hiring. Like, getting an SEO job is not hard. You can go back to an agency job, an in-house job, and hopefully the worst case scenario is you've learned a whole ton. Maybe freelancing isn't for you, and you've burned through some emergency savings, but you're not in significant debt.
Mark A Preston: Right. So on that front now, a lot of SEOs I've spoken to who are thinking about going in said, well, everyone's just telling me to just go for it, things will happen, just go for it. Give up your job and make it happen but that's not reality. Obviously I’ve done freelancing, you're in freelancing. That is not reality and I see as a false promises, give up your job and I'll give you all this work and do all this but somehow they need to understand reality of it.
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, and I think that's where, again, being prepared I always tell people that are interested, first and foremost, make sure you try freelancing on the side because I know a lot of people, I've been the person that says, I'll send you some work, give it a shot. And I know people that ultimately hated Freelancing. Like, they don't have the drive to be able to stay on top of it. Not to say that they need to be told what to do, but they don't want to own all the processes and the business side of it. It's just not interesting to them. And there are some people that work at companies that are fantastic they treat them well, they pay them fairly and money may not even be like their biggest benefit or their biggest goal. So, I mean, definitely, really consider again, what are the goals? Why would you want to do this? And then I would say, really try it on the side and build up that emergency fund because I do think there is something about sure, I mean, you can quit your job and you can very likely get your job back, but don't go into it blind, like assuming that you're going to make a ton of money day one. And as we had talked about at the very beginning of this call, the risks are only higher when it's more than just you. I have a family of five, including myself, so I was never going to just leave my job. I guess I was fired, so that happened but I wasn't going to willingly do that. But I think those are all things that you should just keep in consideration.
Mark A Preston: Okay, so is there anything that we haven't discussed that you feel is really important for anyone within the freelance world?
Nick LeRoy: I think the only thing that we didn't talk about that would be beneficial is reach out to people that freelance either full time or on the side, and just talk to them. Like, ask them what they like, what they don't like, how much they're charging, what they think is reasonable, because that's going to help you get a better understanding of what the lifestyle kind is before you even dip your toe in it. You might find that there are things that people say that they're like, wow, I don't want to ever have to chase an unpaid bill. I don't want to have to do taxes or hire an accountant. So just talk to people. I mean, this industry especially is so generous with our time and knowledge. All you have to do is reach out and ask somebody for 15 minutes of their time or send an email, and it's very likely that they're going to take the time and respond to you, and there's just a wealth of information to be had.
Mark A Preston: Right. Do you think SEO will be upfront about talking about how much they charge and earn them?
Nick LeRoy: I think that talking about money is a bit taboo, but I think we are trying to normalize it. I especially am trying to normalize it. I've been pretty upfront about some of my rates and some of my earnings. I think if people aren't willing to say specifically what they earn, they are willing to talk about when I started freelancing, I charged $100 bucks an hour, or I made 50 grand doing these types of things. So it doesn't always have to be, hey, Mark, send me your taxes so I can see the exact amount of money you've made. It's being able to just better understand what do you charge, what made you think about that being a good rate? And if you could go back, would you have charged more or less and just trying to understand from there.
Mark A Preston: Yeah, I mean, that's something you've just sprung something in my head. If you could go back now, knowing what you know now, would you have done anything different when you started Freelancing?
Nick LeRoy: I would have done it about five years earlier, yeah honestly, that's the biggest thing, is I got very comfortable in my jobs and I also had kind of a sense of what I thought was job security. There's like a false sense of job security when you think you're really good at what you're doing, there's no way you'll ever be let go or be made redundant. And the reality is, we're all seeing in this economy, companies have to take care of themselves first. So you should never think twice about taking care of yourself first. And if I had known what I know now, I probably wouldn't have changed much in my first five, six years of my career. But I would have made the jump to freelance much earlier.
Mark A Preston: Well, many thanks for your time. Now, is there anything the audience watching or listening to this can do to help you?
Nick LeRoy: Yeah, you know what? I'd love to see you over at the lunch table. Like I said, I do have a weekly SEO email that I think you guys will enjoy. You can check that out seoforlunch.com. Otherwise, you'll follow me on Twitter @NickLeRoy or you can find me on LinkedIn. I'm pretty active under Nick LeRoy as well.
Mark A Preston: And the final question, what does the future hold for you?
Nick LeRoy: I love that question the future holds a lot of excitement and decision making that I am in control of.
Mark A Preston: Fantastic. Well, thank you very much for taking the time to join us, and I'm sure the audience will get massive value out of this.
Nick LeRoy: Yes. Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your time.
Mark A Preston: Thanks. Bye.