SECTION ONE of the ULTIMATE SEO FREELANCER GUIDE - THE REALITY!
SEO Freelancing Stories
Before we get stuck into the things you need to be mindful of, below are a few real-life SEO freelancing stories to give you an insight into the reality of being an SEO freelancer…
SEO freelancing story one - Filip Silobod
I decided to go freelance after some 3/4 years working in an agency. As an SEO intern and junior in an agency, you are used to learning every day from your seniors. After 3 years I came to a situation where I was not motivated because…
1. didn't agree with some of the agencies' ways
2. lack of learning new things
3. realising how much the agency is charging and how much money I am getting from SEO
Once day I realised that all this work I could do on my own. The costs are low, and you can remotely do SEO. All you need is your experience and a few tools. I actually thought I would do a better job and can be more honest with clients by working with them directly!
I was actually hoping to get fired so I can start freelancing from scratch, but the monthly pay check was hard to let go of. Finally, that happened, and I was super excited to start.
Of course, I was naive on how easy it would be to get clients. I looked at some industries in town and how they didn't invest in SEO despite there was a high search volume for their services. I did my SEO audits and recommendations, printed them out and went with them to the local business. What I thought to be a 20 min conversation turned into a sharp "No" before I could finish my introduction sentence. "My friend did the website and all that". That sucked big time, especially after hours of preparation. I had some modest success with a few other businesses. I also realised luck plays a big part, as one owner told me if I got your email a week earlier, I wouldn't hire someone else for SEO.
But what I learned was that all businesses get weekly emails, calls about investing in SEO. Whether from emails overseas for cheap or from other people like myself in town.
I actually got my first client after only 2 months for 800 euro a month, but they lasted only 2 months as I did the technical SEO and they moved on to someone else for outreach for links. I was devastated when they told me as it was my only client. They also agreed to continue with my services that day before, but the owners changed their mind... The next day I was clientless. That showed me how brutal freelancing is.
You will get much less compassion as a freelancer as opposed to a full-time employee. When employees get fired it’s a big deal: “They are people with families! They have to pay the bills.” When a freelancer gets fired you hear crickets. No one cares if you are their only client or that you lose half of your income.
Things can get depressing: you work alone, especially if you work from home and don't have much income.
I looked for videos on how people built their client lists, and it usually went something like "I started freelancing and quickly came up with a few clients. Then they referred me to another bunch of clients and here I am as an agency today." No one tells you exactly how to get clients and how to get them, what to expect. I think mentorship would help big time.
SEO freelancing story two – Nick LeRoy
I have a ton of respect for those who gave up the “security” of their 9-5 job to chase the dream of entrepreneurship. My freelance journey is a little different than most. I was given 30 days’ notice that my position was being eliminated at my last employer. It was only after a few offers that weren’t satisfactory and a 5+ interview series (which i didn’t get an offer) that I decided to go full-time freelance.
Going freelance full-time was the most terrifying and exciting decision I’ve ever made. I had freelanced on the side throughout the years but everything I earned was considered “bonus money” and was never relied on to pay my bills. Now my family of five was going to rely exclusively on the income I’d make as a freelancer. Failure was not an option.
Let’s discuss the best and worst parts of the 2+ years since I went out on my own full-time.
THREE FREELANCE “BESTS”
My first day of freelancing full-time was May 1st, 2020. At the end of that year (8 months later) I had earned more freelancing than I would have collected through my old 9-5 salary. Revenue has only increased after the first year.
2. Work/Life Balance
I spent 10+ years working agency side. This often required 50+ hour weeks not including travel time. This caused me to miss a lot of meals with my family and generally spend too much time at the office or at the bars with teammates working on “team-building” efforts.
Freelancing has afforded me to focus on delivering work and when I’m not actively working on the business I’m leveraging as much time with my family as possible.
3. The power of “NO”
Ever been asked to work on a project that didn’t feel right? Had a boss give you feedback that made you want to tear your hair out? When you work 9-5 “no” doesn’t seem like an option unless you are willing to put your employment on the line.
Freelancing (and a healthy emergency fund) allows me the ability to say NO more frequently. If the project isn’t a good fit, the budget is wrong or the working dynamics are suspect, I simply pass on the work. This allows me to partner with brands/people that I genuinely enjoy working with each and every day.
THREE FREELANCE REALITY SHOTS
Without a doubt, speaking of the bests is another “best” when it comes to a freelance career. The reality is that every good comes with a “bad”. Below are a free reality shots I took with my freelance career to date.
1. Health Insurance Costs
I pay $1,800 USD per month for my family of five to have health + dental coverage each month. Due to a few medical conditions in our family, we are unable to get away with bare bones coverage which requires us to pay a hefty premium.
2. Disconnecting From Work
One of the biggest benefits of a 9-5 job is that when you “punchout” you are (in theory) free to do what you want until the next day. In the freelance world you are often thinking about your existing projects as well as your future (non-signed) projects. As a freelancer, none of the money you make is guaranteed until it hits your bank account. This can often cause work to always linger in your brain even when you’re off the clock.
3. Support (or lack thereof)
For some reason our society is all about YOLOing our life savings into the latest cryptocurrency but if you talk about investing in yourself and becoming an entrepreneur, you’ll start to get dirty looks.
Freelancing can often be lonely and it requires you to be your biggest champion. There are going to be amazing days and really bad days. I was so hell-bent on not failing that it motivated me through the bad days but enough of them can really wear you down. I find that going out and networking with other freelancers/entrepreneurs to be very recharging for me. It allows me to be social and hearing about how others are tackling their goals makes me only want to keep crushing to meet all of mine.
SEO freelancing story three - Ben Luong
My freelance story is not great but it’s probably because I was on the gravy train for too long and now, I have to actually work :( I was a full time affiliate for much of the 2010s but recent Google updates have not been kind. The Helpful Content System one has just totally finished me off.
I'm no good with sales as when you are an affiliate with traffic, it’s just about delivering converting traffic. The commissions are more or less fixed. You send traffic and get paid. Client SEO work is totally different, as you have to 'sell' your services. Even though I rank for all my local SEO terms, no one really searches for those. I have gotten 1 lead in a year from it and that was for web dev.
So, I am transitioning to GA4 as I figured more people will need help with that as the UA sunsetting deadline approaches. That’s been OK but there's no recurring revenue. You fix problems, set up tracking or do training and that’s it.
The good thing about freelance is being able to buy all your own kit. I have equipment some agency staff can only dream of. You would think with the low price of computer hardware compared to labour, everyone would have a fast computer, but some agencies are pennywise, pound foolish. My advice to anyone starting out is to buy a m1 MacBook air or better. You'll save in terms of boot time and working speed but also electricity.
SEO freelancing story four - James Taylor
Background - From getting started to where I am today.
My freelancing journey started at university. I attended MMU for a 4-year course on Advertising and Brand management, of which one of the modules was related to growing your digital skills.
As part of this, we had to find an internship (12 weeks) at a local marketing agency. I managed to get one with Gareth Hoyle who owned Manual Link Building (now Marketing Signals), which completely opened my eyes to the world of SEO.
Spurred with this knowledge, I went into my final year and wrote a dissertation on local SEO, interviewing agency owners as part of it. One agency owner, Simon Wharton of PushON, hired me out of university where I spent 4 years learning anything and everything about SEO with a great team. As I was learning in the role, they also encouraged me to work on my own projects, which is where freelancing came in.
I started off how I think most people do.. Upwork, freelancer and word of mouth. I grew my personal SEO site which started to rank for 'SEO consultant' keywords, and I also had an agency site which managed to rank for 'white label SEO' keywords.
Over time, I managed to get enough work from both sites (via commercial clients and agencies looking to outsource additional work to me) that I could go full-time. Since then, I've increased the different services I offer as a freelancer, and have also grown a completely separate white label agency which supports UK and US agencies with their link building and content requirements.
My experience - The good
I tend not to focus on the monetary side of things too much, but I'd be lying if I said freelancing hasn't completely changed my life in regards to seeing what's possible when it comes to what you can earn by working for yourself.
Being a freelance SEO means that you can also, where possible, pick and choose who you work with, and you quickly learn what you need to charge (and which clients have the correct budget) to ensure that you a) earn enough and b) can get proper results for your clients without having to massively over service (although I am still guilty of this).
I've always loved how fluid you can be when approaching work as a freelancer too. If you want to take your laptop on holiday or work from a different location, you can. If you want to take a month off, you have that option. This comes with a huge caveat in that you'll definitely be working more hours when being self employed than you ever will when you're working for an agency, but it's all about how YOU see that relationship with work.
It also helps that you can find trusted partners to work with (such as other freelancers), so if you find that you're taking too much on then you can use your freelancing network to assist you with tasks (otherwise there will always be a ceiling to your time and your earnings if it is just yourself doing absolutely everything).
You ideally want to get to a point where you work on your business, and not fully in it. This only comes with working with strategic partners, and not trying to do everything yourself (which is just not possible).
My experience - The bad
I experienced burnout for the first time last year. I had this goal in my mind of how much I needed to earn, and had an illusion that it would solve all of my problems and make me happy. Well...it didn't!
What I learned was that you can't do all of this yourself, you need support, and that's not just related to support to help you grow your freelancing business in regards to the work... You also need support from other freelancers in the same situation as you, who you can lean on and talk to when you feel overwhelmed.
Freelancing can often feel quite lonely, so it's crucial that you have a support network around you that you can lean on when you need to talk to someone. Also, learn to say no to work, or find ways that you can either outsource or partner if you don't want to say no completely. You simply cannot do everything.
SEO freelancing story five - Ryan Darani
I’ve built a six-figure freelance business over the last 2 and a half years. An audience of over 50,000 people, and some incredible business relationships. Freelance has afforded me a life I could only ever dream of.
Before I get into the how, let me tell you more about my why.
I’ve been in digital marketing for a decade. Seven of those years have been spent either in-house or at an agency. Both roles have their perks. And both certainly have their challenges.
I was the senior SEO lead at a large UK agency. It was a team of 15-20, and we all worked on clients with varying budgets and in various industries.
I genuinely enjoyed my role, and I was very good at it. But I always wanted more. The salary didn’t reflect my billable hours.
And I knew I always had that burning desire to find out if going solo was how I would change my life.
This curiosity drove me to reach out to those who had done it successfully. I, thankfully, built friendships with people who could guide me on this journey. People like Craig Campbell have been fundamental to my freelance success.
But, this didn’t go down particularly well at the agency.
To give you the shortened version: I was forced out of the door. I was accused of a range of dirty, underhanded things (which weren’t true) that resulted in us parting ways.
This was a pretty rough time for me. COVID had just hit the UK hard. I’d just moved into a new house. I was planning a wedding.
So, naturally, I was a little panicked.
“How the hell am I going to afford to live?”
I did what most people would do: I looked for a new job. I managed to find myself a role at a company in London for £60k a year. It was a huge increase in salary for me, and I genuinely believed I’d take the role.
But, just before I signed that contract, something felt wrong. Despite how I ended up in this position, I knew it was an opportunity to try something new.
And almost impulsively, with everything going wrong in the world, I said, “let’s do it.”
Everything was new to me. The only thing I knew how to do was “be an SEO”.
Despite the glaringly obvious challenges, I couldn’t spend another second unhappy with my career.
And so Ryan Darani “the SEO freelancer” became real. My strategy from the start is the same as it is now: provide value to as many people as possible.
I’m not a sales guy but I’m good at simplifying the SEO process. That’s what I stuck with. I didn’t choose the hard sell route. Instead I leaned into being a resource to my audience.
At the start, that audience was roughly two people. But, if you compare it with now, where my content is seen by close to 500,000 people a month, I’d say the long-term play paid off.
I chose LinkedIn as my go-to platform. I knew other marketers were relying on platforms like Twitter or Facebook Ads to grow their audience so, I saw my opportunity to grow with less competition.
I strategically tested different types of content, different publishing cadences, and networking with different audiences.
Until I found my fit. My segment of the market that supported my lead generation efforts.
LinkedIn has been my biggest source of leads since 2020. I would generate anywhere from 10 - 15 leads a week. My calendar was booked up from my second month of being solo.
This took me from £0 to £10,000 a month very quickly.
I then looked at other people’s audiences. I knew building relationships would be another “growth hack”.
But I’d never do it in a sleasy way. One of my good traits is actually giving a damn about people’s businesses. I love learning from other people. It’s this passion for learning (and just being a good person) that opened up doors for me.
Being featured on:
> Leading publications.
> Multiple SEO features.
> Industry podcasts.
Never underestimate the power of exploring new mediums for brand exposure.
My growth seemed almost too good to be true. It’s something I wrestle with to this day. Despite my successes, I fight with imposter syndrome just like everyone else. I often find myself fending off self-deprecating thoughts before it clouds my judgement and impacts my business.
It’s something I know other freelancers struggle with. I’m not sure it’s something you ever completely shake off. In some ways, it’s healthy. You’ll never let your business fail because you’re overthinking how to be better.
How to do more. How to be more.
The more successful you are, the more you compare yourself to other successful people.
“How are they earning that kind of money? Am I doing something wrong?”
The inevitability of career turbulence has most freelancers asking “why isn’t anyone else going through this?”
I’m now in my third year of business and, let me tell you, most people in your position are going through the same thing.
Or have at least experienced the doubt you’re going through.
I feel like I’m rambling but what I’m trying to say is two things:
> Don’t feel like you’re not doing “good enough” because others are successful.
> Don’t think freelancing is easy and clients will just sprout from the ground.
It’s a grind. And if you come into this with the wrong mindset (i.e., chasing money) you will fail to build any kind of sustainability in your business.
My goal has always been long-term. I want people to know my name and associate it with being honest, sincere and highly knowledgeable in my field. I think I’ve done a good job so far.
I’m now comfortably making six figures a year but I’ve yet to take my foot off the gas. I’m always pushing myself to learn more. To spot opportunities to pivot. To network with people who are better than I am.
And, another key fact to keep in mind, is you are your business. Most freelancers don’t recognise that scaling is hard. People want to deal with you. You have to be on the calls, in the Slack channels, and in all of the communication.
Think about how you want to position yourself with clients very early on. Trading your time for money will only allow you to scale so far before you burn out.
We all have different thresholds, though. Do what you feel comfortable with. If you want to earn £70,000 a year and that means you’re happy, that’s a win for you. You’re doing it on your own terms.
The monetary value will never mean anything if you’re not happy.
My parting wisdom (if you can call it that) will be to become known for good work, being a good person, and doing right by your clients. Find your lane and stick to it. Don’t look around you for at least six months and you’ll come out on top.
What is the reality of being an SEO freelancer?
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