fbpx

How to Start an SEO Business (The Definitive Guide)

Want to start an SEO business in 2022?

You’re in the right place.

In this epic guide, I’ll show you how to start an SEO business (step-by-step).

In fact:

You’ll learn the exact process I used to go from dead-broke to $20,000 per month in my SEO business (in only six months).

Ready to get started?

Let’s dive right in.

FREE TRAINING: How to start an SEO business and scale it to 7 figures (without any business experience).

How to Start an SEO Business (6 Easy Steps)

The Client SEO System is going to show you:

  1. How to Pick a Niche
  2. How to Get Real SEO Results
  3. Use the Outbound System
  4. Stack the Inbound System
  5. Sales 101
  6. Make Your Clients Love You

Now before we dive in, let me tackle the most important question:

What is an SEO Business?

An SEO business helps other businesses get better rankings and organic traffic from Google. Businesses are willing to invest in SEO because it can generate more qualified leads, sales, and customers without paying for ads.

Now I’m going to show you how to pick a niche and make competition irrelevant.

Hint: Most people think there’s only one way to niche down, but there are four different techniques.


1. Pick a Niche

Should you niche down or have a general focus when you start an SEO business?

There’s no wrong answer here. But, it’s generally going to be easier to niche down because there will be less competition. It also makes your marketing and sales process more targeted.

niching down seo business example

This doesn’t mean you can’t take on clients in other niches. It means Your brand’s identity only focuses on one or a few niches.

Most people don’t realize it, but there are many ways to narrow down.

For example, most people think niching down is choosing an industry like HVAC or plumbers.

niching down example plumbers

It’s a good approach, but as you’ll find out in a second, there are a few different angles you can take.

Let’s start with the most common way of niching down: on the industry level.

1. Niche Down on the Industry Level

I recommend targeting niches that have high customer value.

For example, a single client for a personal injury lawyer could be worth millions. That means that you can charge a premium for SEO because the ROI for the personal injury lawyer is enormous.

It’s also competitive (from a local SEO perspective), which justifies a larger investment.

Key takeaway:

Target industries that can get an ROI from using your SEO services.

Some industries include lawyers, doctors, dentists, HVAC, plumbers, video production companies, etc.

Now let’s talk about the second way you can niche down: targeting specific locations.

2. Niche Down by Location

So, instead of choosing a niche business structure, you’ll choose locations to go after.

When I first started, I chose smaller cities high on the wealth scale.

So, for example, instead of targeting Los Angeles, I targeted Santa Monica, Glendale, and Beverly Hills.

Santa monica SEO

These cities have a lot of money flowing through them, but the competition is lower than Los Angeles.

One way to determine how wealthy a city is is to look at how much police officers and firefighters earn.

For example:

According to Indeed, on average, police officers in Beverly Hills make about $80,000 per year (37% above the national average).

Beverly Hills Police Salary

With that said:

If you’re new, your SEO business should target lower competition, high-value cities in the beginning.

Then, as you begin to build a portfolio and website authority, you can venture into more competitive cities.

The third way to niche down is on both the industry and location.

3. Niche Down by Industry and Location

For example, you could target lawyers in Beverly Hills. Or you can get even more specific and only target personal injury lawyers in Beverly Hills.

Keep in mind:

Your pool of prospects will be much smaller with this approach, but it can be effective when you’re starting.

In general, focusing is always the best route.

The final way to niche down in your SEO business is on the service level.

4. Niche Down on the Service Level

Instead of offering full-service SEO, you can splinter your service into microservices.

For example, you could specialize in technical SEO, SEO content creation, link building, or local SEO.

Growth Gorilla

Leveraging microservices also have one other huge benefit:

It can act as a “foot-in-the-door” tactic to land larger full-service SEO contracts.

As you’ll be finding out soon, this is one of my favorite methods for landing clients.

You can also become the “link building guy” or whatever identity you want.

Many SEO agencies have been successful in using this approach.

Page One Power

Remember:

Focus is good.

So, there are four ways to niche down:
  1. By industry. Choose an industry with high customer values
  2. By location. Focus on smaller, wealthier cities
  3. By industry and location
  4. Niche down on the service level by splintering your core service into microservices.

Now it’s time to show you how to build a portfolio of real SEO results even if you’re not an SEO expert.


2. Get Results

Here’s something that most gurus won’t tell you:

You need to get SEO results before you start an SEO business.

Here are three reasons you need to prove that you can do SEO before taking on clients.

3 Reasons You Need Results Before Taking on Clients

1. The First Reason is Ethics

Companies that invest money with you are under the impression that you know what you’re doing.

But don’t get this confused:

You DON’T need to be an industry-leading SEO expert to take on clients.

All you need are some results to prove your competence.

What if you don’t have results right now? Don’t worry because I’ll show you some ways to build your portfolio as fast as possible.

With that said:

It’s unethical to start an SEO business if you’ve never ranked or gotten results.

Think about it this way:

Would you hire a supposed plumber to fix your pipes if they’ve never done it before? It’s unlikely and super risky for you.

When you hire a plumber, you assume they A) know more about plumbing than you do and B) they’ve practiced plumbing and have experience.

Now imagine if you hired a plumber with no experience and they flooded your house?

You would be fuming if you found out that this person lied to you and made you believe that they were competent.

That brings me to the second reason why you need results before taking on clients, and that’s:

2. To Protect Your Reputation

If a company pays you to do SEO but finds out you have no experience, your reputation and SEO company will be on the line.

You may figure it out and get the client results, but it’s risky for you and them. If you don’t get the results, they might wreck your reputation.

That’s why you need to learn how to get SEO results.

The best way to think about this is quote from Warren Buffet:

warren buffet quote

Buffer is implying that protecting your personal and SEO business reputation is critical to long-term success.

The third reason why you need results before trying to get clients is:

3. It Makes Your Sales Process 10x Easier

Demonstrate that you know what you’re doing, and persuasion becomes easy.

That’s why it’s a priority to build your SEO portfolio as fast as possible.

Now let me show you a few methods you can use to build up your SEO portfolio fast.

How to Build Your SEO Portfolio (Fast)

The first and most hated method is to:

Work for Free

I know you rolled your eyes at this idea, but hear me out for a second.

First, it’s easy to close someone if you say:

“I’ll help your rank for some lower competition keywords for free because I’m trying to build my SEO portfolio.”

Then, once you get these clients some results, you can convert them into actual paying clients.

The key is to choose a small number of very low competition keywords.

Your goal in this process is to get results fast (so you can add them to your portfolio) and to demonstrate to the client that you know what you’re doing.

If the client has a decent website, you should be able to rank for some low-competition, micro long-tail keywords pretty fast.

After you’ve achieved some results, I recommend pushing for referrals for your SEO business.

For example, you can say, “I’ll help you rank for x, y, z for free if you send me some referrals.”

The second method, which takes much longer, is to:

Build a Niche Website and Rank for Low-Competition Keywords

You’re still working for free, but you’ll be the one to reap the benefits of the success of your niche website.

Remember:

Each keyword you rank for is a success that you can add to your portfolio.

The goal is to prove that you’re more competent at SEO than the companies you’re trying to sell.

That’s it.

If you do that, you’ll land clients.

The third method is to:

Build a Local Website and Rank for Low-Competition Keywords

In particular, keywords that your target market wants to rank.

For example:

You could rank for long-tail keywords like: “best HVAC company in Beverly Hills CA” if you’re targeting HVAC companies.

As a result, you’re demonstrating SEO expertise in their target market.

Those are the best ways to build up your SEO portfolio.

Focus on demonstrating SEO skills by getting results.

I know, shocking concept!

Now let me show you my Outbound System for getting new clients. These methods are powerful for anyone trying to land their first client quickly.


3. Use the Outbound System

The first question is, what is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing (or push marketing) means that you’re the one pushing for new clients.

You’re reaching out to qualified prospects and persuading them to become a client (cold calling).

Now before I can show you the outbound methods, I need to show you:

How to Find Prospect Contact Information

Since you’ll be sending emails, this is critical.

Hunter.io is my personal favorite tool.

Enter the target company’s domain and let Hunter.io work its magic.

hunter.io

Sometimes it won’t produce any results, so you’ll need Voila Norbert as a backup option.

Open Voila Norbert and enter the first name, last name, and domain of the prospect you’re trying to reach.

Voila norbert

If these two tools don’t produce any results, then use LinkedIn to find the point of contact.

Those three tactics should help you find most companies’ point of contact information.

Now let me show the process.

Strategy #1: Identify a Point of Leverage

Some possible leverage points you can use in your cold calling are:

  • The company is ranking on page 5 of Google or worse for their most important keywords
  • The company is paying for Google Ads but has no organic search visibility
  • The company doesn’t have an SSL certificate installed
  • The company’s website isn’t mobile-friendly
  • The company’s website loads slowly
  • The company’s website doesn’t have Google Analytics or a Facebook pixel installed
  • The company hasn’t claimed or set up their Google My Business listing
  • The company has inconsistent NAP-W (Name, Address, Phone, or Website) information

Now what you’ll do is:

Gather a Large List of Prospects

Then go through each of these items. Then mark if their website or company displays any of these leverage points.

Then you’ll:

Develop a Customized Pitch

For example, let’s say the company is ranking on Page 5 or worse for their target keywords.

What you would do is pitch a free video audit to help them identify what’s holding their SEO performance back.

Then, once they agree, you perform the audit.

Upsell Full-Service

After you deliver the SEO audit, you ask them if they would like you to handle the SEO campaign for them.

How you approach the pitch will depend on your experience level.

If you’re trying to build a portfolio, it will make sense to either work for free or pennies.

You can also pitch a micro-service BEFORE trying to score the large full-service SEO contract.

As a result, you’ll acquire the client without them having to make a huge commitment.

Finding leverage is the key.

You’ll be different than 80% of all SEOs because you’re taking the time to analyze these businesses and develop an intelligent, targeted pitch.

Here’s a Google Sheet template you can copy for prospecting, identifying leverage points, and tracking your outreach.

Now let’s talk about the second-best way to land new clients: partnering with other digital marketing agencies.

Strategy #2: Partner with Agencies

In short, you’ll do SEO for the agency’s clients on a white-label basis.

You’ll do the work and get the results, but they’ll take credit for it and communicate with the client.

You’re working on the backend.

This is a great arrangement in the beginning because:

  1. You don’t have to focus on sales (other than the initial sale with the SEO agency) and…
  2. You don’t have to deal with direct customer service because you’ll only be communicating with the SEO agency.

The downside is that the monthly retainers will be smaller because the SEO agency has to make a profit.

Don’t look at the engagement on a per-client basis, though.

Look at the total value of the relationship.

I used this exact method when I first got started.

In fact:

I initially had white label agreements with several agencies, which was a great source of income for my SEO business. It also led to all kinds of other opportunities down the road.

I recommend combining both white label and direct-to-client to maximize your income growth.

The question is:

How do you land white label agreements?

Target Companies That Offer SEO Services

First, you have to know what types of companies to target. I recommend making a list of all marketing, digital marketing, SEO, PPC, graphic design, and web design companies.

Or any business that may provide SEO services.

Second, you must understand why an SEO agency wants to outsource to you.

Understand the Reason Why They’re Willing to Partner

The main reason they’re open to outsourcing is that it saves them time. It also doesn’t force them to hire and train employees.

If an SEO agency gets more time, it can focus more on bringing in new clients.

The most crucial part for them is working with a competent SEO expert who can get their client’s results.

The last piece of the puzzle will depend on your level of experience.

Design Your Unique Selling Proposition

If you’re new, I recommend pitching the SEO agency that you’ll work for free on one of their client campaigns to prove yourself.

You need to emphasize that they have nothing to lose by hiring you.

Trust me:

The long-term value of this approach is worth working for free for a little bit of time.

If you do a solid job, a single SEO agency could send you enough clients to replace your day job income.

At least that’s what happened to me.

There are a few other places you should check and try to score clients.

The first is the gigs section on Craigslist. I landed several clients through Craigslist when I first started.

Craigslist Gigs

You can use the same leverage methods I’ve shown you to score clients here.

I recommend setting up a WeGrowth, Upwork, Freelancer, and even Guru profile. Check these websites for new opportunities and apply to as many as possible.

Upwork SEO Jobs

You have nothing to lose by applying. And you get an opportunity to learn what works during this application process.

I’ll tell you this:

I’ve hired many freelancers on Upwork, and I almost always hire the person with the best attention to detail.

For example, I’ll inject something like “write the word banana” in your proposal in my job posting.

Upwork Job Posting

I disqualify people who ignore this directive because:

  • It shows they didn’t take the time to read the job posting, which implies laziness, or they don’t have enough time to service my SEO company the right way.
  • It implies that they can’t follow instructions or have low attention to detail.

These are bad qualities, and that’s why I eliminate those possibilities at the onset.

Here’s the main takeaway:

Put in more effort than the average freelancer, and you’ll produce far better results. But unfortunately, most people on these freelancing websites are focused on quantity, not quality.

Think about this way:

If you submit one thoughtful SEO proposal per day for three months, you will have sent 90 quality proposals.

If you converted 3% of these proposals into new clients, you would have three new clients. And this is being very conservative as far as output and conversion rate!

Believe it or not:

Increasing your client base is nothing more than putting in consistent, quality work overtime.

The best way to illustrate this is through a quick story I read in James Clear’s book.

In 1993, a 23-year old named Trent Dyrsmid was hired by a bank in Abbotsford, Canada.

Upon his hiring, people didn’t expect much of him, but they noticed how fast he was progressing. Drysmid used a simple method each morning to excel at his new job.

He placed two jars on his desk; One filled with 120 paper clips, and the other was empty.

Then after every sales call, Drysmid would take one paper clip and move it to the empty jar.

And he didn’t stop until he moved all the paper clips to the other jar.

That signified that he made 120 sales calls for the day.

And by using this simple and consistent method, Dyrsmid was making $75,000 per year (which is the equivalent of $125,000 today) within only 18 months. He then landed another big job shortly after that.

The main takeaway here is that consistency pays off.

Most people aren’t consistent and won’t do this type of work.

That’s your advantage.

Do the work and be consistent.

Those two qualities are the key to landing new SEO clients.

Now it’s time to learn my proven Inbound System that makes leads and SEO clients COME TO YOU.

Stack this with the outbound system, and you’ll never need to worry about getting new clients for your SEO business again.


Stack the Inbound System

To review:

Outbound marketing is when you search for and reach out to potential clients.

Inbound marketing is when potential clients are reaching out to you.

You should stack both methods together to achieve maximum results.

Outbound is effective for getting clients fast, while inbound methods take longer.

Here’s the good news:

Once your inbound marketing picks up steam, you’ll get new leads 24/7, 365 on autopilot.

And then:

You can stop doing outbound marketing if you’re driving enough leads from inbound.

For example, I only used outbound methods for the first three months of starting my SEO agency.

Since then, my SEO company has gotten 100% of its leads through inbound marketing.

Trust me:

It’s a lot easier to grow an SEO company this way.

There are three types of inbound methods I’m going to show you:

  1. Referral generation
  2. Content marketing
  3. Paid advertising

The key to understanding inbound marketing is how a content marketing and sales funnel works.

What is a Content Marketing Funnel?

A content marketing funnel has three parts, the Top (ToFu), Middle (MoFu), and Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu).

Content Marketing Funnel

In short, you need to produce content at each stage of the funnel.

My process for doing this is as follows (and this applies to both products and services):

  1. I create ToFu content, usually an in-depth blog post targeting a relevant keyword.
  2. I create a free lead magnet to convert traffic into email subscribers. It may be an application or a contact form. The goal at the MoFu stage of the funnel is to turn your traffic into leads.
  3. Then, in the last stage of the funnel, I’ll produce BoFu content to turn the lead into a client.

That may come in testimonials, stories, results, etc.

Here’s how this process works for my SEO training program.

First:

You have traffic. Traffic may come from organic search, paid advertising, or referrals.

Second:

You have Top of the Funnel (ToFu) content, which will be on the blog or YouTube.

Third:

You have Middle of the Funnel (MoFu) content, often gated content created for your ideal client.

Fourth:

Once they go through the training, I allow them to apply for Gotch SEO Academy. All the content on this page is Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu) content.

Effective BoFu content includes case studies, testimonials, and FAQs.

Notice how the content changes as you go down the funnel.

  • First, you educate without selling.
  • Second, you add more value, but you ask for them to make a small commitment (an email).
  • And lastly, you sell once you’ve delivered value.

Here’s the funny part:

Traffic is the least important part of this equation.

You can get tons of traffic, but that traffic won’t convert into leads or clients if your funnel is weak.

That’s why you must invest time and effort into your funnel.

It’s critical!

So, now let me show you how you can create a strong marketing and sales funnel to land more SEO clients.

The first method is what I call the Case Study method.

The Case Study Method

Here’s how it works:

You’re going to create an SEO case study about some results you’ve achieved.

Try to use one that’s relevant to your target market.

Then, you’re going to add a call-to-action in this case study for the reader to apply for a free SEO audit.

Then, all you need to do is drive traffic to your SEO case study.

In most cases, you’ll need to use paid traffic.

Method #2 is my favorite, but it’s also the most challenging.

Rank Geo-Targeted Pages

It might come as a shocker, but my favorite client acquisition method is to use SEO!

For example, if you search for “St Louis SEO company”, you’ll find Gotch SEO.

St Louis SEO

This single page was one of my biggest lead generation sources in the beginning.

I recommend targeting smaller cities, as I mentioned in the niching down section if you’re new.

Select high-value cities and then work to rank those pages.

Trust me; it’s worth the effort. It only takes time and patience.

Then, on these pages, you can pitch a free audit or use an application from (test it).

If you don’t have an existing client base or don’t have much authority in the SEO industry, I recommend using a free SEO audit to get your foot in the door.

These first two methods can work together as well.

For example, you can promote your case studies on your geo-targeted pages.

The following method is to target informational keywords in the SEO industry.

Target Informational Keywords

I’ll be honest; this is challenging because of the competition.

But it’s valuable once you rank because there is no better way to demonstrate your SEO skills.

You’re building social proof and trust upfront before talking to a lead.

Think about it:

What occurs if they’re searching Google, going to your page, and submitting a form?

You demonstrated that SEO works without talking or having to persuade them.

I laugh when some gurus (who aren’t ranking for any keywords) claim that ranking for SEO keywords is a waste of time.

80% of my leads come from SEO keywords that Gotch SEO ranks for.

Don’t let them fool you.

If you take this approach, make sure you start by targeting longer-tail keywords.

For example, trying to rank for “how to get backlinks” or some other tough keyword will need lots of links, content, patience, and a big budget.

You should wait until your website is authoritative to target those keywords.

In the meantime, go after long-tail keywords and dominate those.

You don’t need a ton of traffic to get qualified leads.

Create Public SEO Audits

The final method is to perform public SEO audits and post them on YouTube.

Here’s an example:

Audits are a great way to demonstrate your expertise, and they only cost you time to create.

Also:

YouTube is an untapped source for driving leads when you’re starting an SEO business. So take advantage of it!

There are only a few SEOs pushing hard on YouTube, so there are a lot of opportunities there.

You can produce case studies or even general informational video content.

The ultimate goal of your YouTube content should be to educate, inform, and establish you as an authority.

In fact:

The ultimate goal of inbound marketing is to educate and build trust for your brand.

Trust is the key to sales.

Look at every channel as an opportunity to add value and build your brand’s authority in the industry.

You should also add value to Quora, forums, blog comment sections on industry blogs, and even Facebook Groups.

Quora Answer

People have built entire careers by only adding value to Facebook groups and forums.

While contributing to communities won’t always drive direct traffic to your website, it’s a way to build your brand.

And guess what happens?

You’ll start getting more branded searches like “Gotch SEO.”

Branded Search CTR

Branded searches are super beneficial when you’re starting an SEO business.

But it’s only possible by adding massive amounts of value across many channels.

Now keep in mind:

You don’t have to do this forever.

But in the beginning, you should be testing every channel and producing value on them.

Now let’s review the inbound system:

Step #1 – Create Top of the Funnel Content

Create informational content, case studies, YouTube videos, or even contribute to communities.

Step #2 – Create Middle of the Funnel Content

You can use a free SEO audit that requires a user to apply. Or it can be a free download that requires a user to submit their email address.

The objective is to get some users to take another step in furthering a relationship with your brand.

Step #3 – Create Bottom of the Funnel Content

Design it to persuade your leads to become SEO clients.

Use testimonials, keyword rankings, traffic growth screenshots, case studies, frequently asked questions, or referrals.

And the final stage is creating an SEO proposal and following up on that proposal.

Now let me show you how to convert your leads into paying SEO clients using my simple sales process. The best part is that you’ll close leads without being salesy or over-the-top when using the system I’ll show you.


Sales 101

You need to capture leads through email or application forms.

I recommend both.

Let’s start with email.

There are three email providers that I recommend:

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is perfect for a smaller budget because you can get a good number of subscribers for free. I started with Mailchimp but then outgrew it and needed some more advanced.

Leading me to number two, which is Drip.

Drip

Drip is more focused on email automation.

I don’t recommend jumping into email automation when you’re new because it can be a distraction.

But once you’ve mastered many of the other skill sets, it will be worth exploring.

One other respected email provider is Aweber.

Aweber

It doesn’t have a big learning curve and is like Mailchimp.

After you’ve selected a way to capture email addresses, then you need a way for leads to apply or contact you.

You can use Contact Form 7 to embed forms on your website, but I also love using TypeForm.

It’s free, and it has some great functionality. You can also use Gravity Forms, a more advanced version of Contact Form 7, but it’s a paid plugin.

What do you do after you’ve collected a lead?

Your initial outreach will depend on what they request by filling out a form.

For example, your outreach will differ from a full-service SEO application if they fill out your SEO audit application.

If they applied for an SEO audit, then reach out, thank them for their application, and let them know when their free SEO audit is coming in X amount of days.

Believe it or not:

I recommend the same process even if they’re a full-service SEO lead.

Once again, thank them for applying and then ask if you can perform a free SEO audit.

What do you do after you’ve completed the audit?

Send an email like this:

“Hey NAME, I’ve completed your SEO audit!

Do you have a few minutes to discuss the findings?

The biggest actions you need to take to improve your SEO performance are:

1. HIGH IMPACT ACTION
2. HIGH IMPACT ACTION
3. HIGH IMPACT ACTION

These actions will have the most significant impact on performance, but there are many other actions/issues you’ll need to tackle (as you’ll discover in the audit).

Please go here to schedule a call so we can discuss this further. Thanks!”

IMPORTANT:

Never send the audit without getting a call booked on the calendar!

Let’s assume you get them on the phone to discuss the SEO audit findings.

You don’t need to do anything complicated here.

Talk about what you found and what they would need to do to make the changes you’re suggesting.

The only method I recommend here is to discuss how much work goes into the actions.

Remember, companies hire SEO experts because

  • It’s too technical for them to execute and…
  • they don’t have an enough time to execute

These two factors will be evident during the discussion (because SEO is challenging work).

Then the last step (during the call):

Ask them if they need help executing what you found in the audit (so they don’t have to waste time or effort to figure it out themselves).

If they say “yes,” tell them that you’ll develop a proposal and get it over to them by the end of the week.

And that’s it.

If they say “no,” you should counter with a down-sell.

Say:

“Ok, no worries. I know it’s a big commitment. Would you be interested in us fixing your technical issues? It won’t require a monthly commitment. It’ll just be a one-off project, and we’ll make your website technically sound.”

If they say “yes,” you’ll send them a mini proposal.

Remember:

The goal is to get them to pay your SEO company money.

That’s when the relationship changes.

It may seem like they’ll never become a full-service client, but everything changes once there’s an exchange of value.

Now let’s talk about proposals.

First, let’s talk about what tools or software you can use to deliver proposals.

There are a few different ways to create and send proposals.

My personal favorites are:

  • Google Docs
  • PDFs
  • Pitch Decks using Google Slides or Powerpoint
  • Proposal software such as Proposify, PandaDoc, and Nusii

I recommend testing each to see what works best for you.

But listen:

The vehicle for your proposal is by far the least important part of the process.

What matters most is the substance of the proposal.

19 Qualities of Effective SEO Proposals

Here are 19 elements you need to produce successful SEO proposals

1. They’re Personalized

Personalization is the key to successful proposals.

The best way to accomplish this goal is by performing an SEO audit upfront before you send your proposal.

You can add your findings from the SEO audit to the proposal and create a personalized roadmap based on their situation.

2. Successful Proposals are Efficient

No one wants to or is going to read a 100-page proposal.

That’s why I live by this Albert Einstein quote:

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Your proposal should be efficient and get to the point, but don’t go overboard and make it thin.

3. Use Opening Testimonials or Data

Think of this section as a quick hook to get the prospect to read your entire proposal.

Use testimonials and case studies from successful clients to build trust and authority. Ideally, make these relevant to the prospect.

If they’re a plumber, try to include plumber SEO case studies.

4. Write Your Opening Statement

Use your opening statement/executive summary to do two things:

1. Thank them for the opportunity

2. Explain their goals in their own words (based on the initial call).

It doesn’t need to be more than a sentence or two.

5. Outline a Scope of Work (Overview)

The scope of work section defines what you’re offering the prospect.

Think of it as an overview of the service offering.

For example, you may say something like: “Gotch SEO will conduct an extensive SEO campaign to increase traffic and customer volume through organic search.”

6. Define the Objectives

Outline the goals of the SEO campaign here. Be as specific as possible.

Some common SEO campaign objectives are: to increase organic search traffic, improve the total keyword ranking positions, and drive more customers through organic search.

7. List the Deliverables

“Deliverable” is business jargon for what the client will receive.

A simple deliverable is: “We build a keyword database of at least 1,000 potential keyword targets.”

Be specific in this section. You can even lay out the action items that are required for specific deliverables.

8. Emphasize the Benefits

Emphasize the benefits of your SEO service throughout your proposal, but it’s also a good idea to dedicate a section to it.

The one question you need to ask yourself is:

How is my service going to make their business and lives better?

The #1 benefit of investing in SEO is making more money. The second benefit of working with a great SEO company is that it’s off their plate!

Emphasize both points.

9. Establish Realistic Expectations

Most SEO proposals skip this part because it’s not a “cool” topic.

In this section, you want to be honest about what they can expect from an SEO campaign.

This section alone will eliminate a lot of headaches down the road.

For example, you should outline how long it takes for an SEO campaign to pick up steam.

In other words, how long it takes to see results.

I say 6-12 months.

Although this may seem like a “bad idea” on the surface, it’s genius.

Here’s why:

You’re eliminating prospects who don’t understand how much work goes into an SEO campaign and how long it takes to see results.

On the other hand:

You’ll close the clients that understand that SEO results take time.

Trust me.

You do not want clients breathing down your neck about results within the first couple of months.

This section eliminates most of these issues upfront.

10. Outline the Timeline

This section sets deadlines for when you’ll complete the deliverables.

I recommend outlining the timeline by months.

For example, in month #1, you could say that you’ll finish the keyword database, the competitor analysis, and complete an in-depth SEO audit.

It will depend on your offering, though.

Here’s the key takeaway: you’re giving them an idea of what to expect every month of the engagement.

It also holds you and your SEO company accountable for delivering what you promised.

Sometimes it’s good to have this type of motivation to avoid slacking.

11. Establish the Project Lead

Write out who will be managing their SEO campaign. Explain who this person is, their accomplishments, and why they’re qualified.

12. Reveal the Investment

Notice that I didn’t say “pricing.” You have to angle your service as an investment, not a cost.

The good news is that this is true. Investing in SEO can produce a return on investment.

It’s not like buying a car. Instead, you’re investing in a marketing channel because it will make your SEO company more money in the future.

This section will show how much they need to invest to work with you.

I recommend offering three different pricing options (tiered pricing).

I recommend having a super-premium option because it will act as a price anchor for the other options.

For example, I’ll have a $5,000/mo package on the low end and a $20,000/mo package on the high end within the SEO proposal.

Most people won’t choose the premium option, but anchoring is a powerful method. $5,000 on its own looks pretty huge, but it doesn’t look that big if I showed you $20,000 first.

That’s the power of price anchoring.

I also recommend itemizing the deliverables in each tiered pricing section.

That way, you can negotiate by removing unnecessary deliverables.

13. Inject Social Proof

Dedicate this section to testimonials, results, and case studies to prove yourself.

14. Use an Action-Based Guarantee

While you can’t guarantee SEO results, you can guarantee to complete the work. Therefore, I recommend you do this.

15. Thank You & Call-to-Action

It might seem obvious, but you need to instruct the prospect to act.

First, thank them again for the opportunity and then ask them to sign the proposal to get started.

16. Use Scarcity

I recommend adding an expiration date to the proposal and a special offer.

So, example, your proposal may say:

“This SEO proposal is valid until December 31, 2022.”

Then, I like to add a special offer like:

“If you sign-up by Friday, we’ll give you 20% off your first three months of service.”

The goal here is to get them to act.

Remember:

The fear of loss is stronger than the possibility of gain (loss aversion).

17. Add a Signature Section

You’ll need to discuss the proposal before a client signs on in most cases.

That’s okay, but some prospects are ready to go, so give them that opportunity.

18. Check Your Grammar and Spelling

Your goal is to be as professional as possible, and that starts with your grammar and spelling.

Use Grammarly and Hemingway Writer to optimize this.

Hemingway Writer

And last but not least:

19. Optimize Your Design

You can use Canva templates to create well-designed PDFs or you can hire a designer on Fiverr or Upwork.

It helps to have a presentable, well-designed, and professional proposal.

Now there’s one other big question:

When should you send your proposal?

I recommend setting up a phone call or screen share BEFORE you send the proposal.

Then on the day of the conversation, send the proposal right before.

That way, you can guide the client through the offering.

As a result:

You win over clients through perceived value instead of pricing shopping.

Pricing means nothing.

Your goal is to amplify your perceived value, and the best way to do this is through the strategy I outlined.

That’s all you need to know about developing strong SEO proposals.


That’s All!

Starting an SEO business isn’t easy, but the rewards are worth it!

Bookmark this guide to reference it as you build your SEO business.

I also recommend checking out the free training below:

FREE TRAINING: How to start, systemize, and scale an SEO business to 7 figures (without any business experience).
Photo of author

Nathan Gotch

Nathan has led 100s of successful SEO campaigns in the most competitive verticals like SAAS, health, finance, and law. He's also helped 100s of agency owners scale by systemizing their SEO. Nathan is featured on Ahrefs, Semrush, and Search Engine Journal and his YouTube channel has over 1 million views.

96 thoughts on “How to Start an SEO Business (The Definitive Guide)”

  1. Hello Nathan, May I ask you, uhm,,,by the way how do you manage your clients?

    Over all this article so informative, and really curious with your answer about my question 😉 Thank you brother 😉

    • Hey there,

      Thanks for the comment! When I was more heavily invested in clients, I used a combination of Google Drive, Dropbox, and Asana

  2. Hi Nathan, Thanks for your insightful articles. We are all developing our skills on SEO and trying to implement your techniques in Turkey. Hope, as a boutique SEO and SEM agency in Turkey, we will continue to grow faster with your suggestions.

  3. Really enjoyed the video Nathan,high value like so much of your content. It’s motivated me to take a bit more action having drifted into pure link building for a couple of agencies I realise I need to scale more.
    I have realised that what I do is actually quite valuable so I just need to offer it to more people!
    Thanks again and I look forward to the next video.

  4. Hello Nathan,

    How do you manage your clients?

    And how do you take more time when you can’t get them the result within the timeframe? You know it happens!

    Thanks,
    Sham

    • Hey Shamim,

      When I was still heavily invested in client work, it was a combination of Google Drive, Dropbox, and Asana. As far as your second question, as corny as it sounds, honesty is the best policy. If we didn’t get the results in the estimated timeframe, we would present a new strategy and pivot. That’s all you can do. Another important move to make is to be transparent and upfront at the beginning of the campaign. Don’t promise the world. Underpromise. Believe it or not, you can close prospects without having to exaggerate what’s possible.

  5. SEMrush or Ahref : these don’t have any free version, I believe. They would ask for card details at the least, even if few days free usage is available. They should come up with a pricing model suitable for startup bloggers from countries like India.
    Just shared my thought, as I assume you have affiliation with them and probably you can share this with them.
    Thanks,
    AM

    • Hey Anupam,

      Thanks for the comment! SEMrush does have a free trial. I’m only an affiliate of SEMrush, not Ahrefs.

  6. *typo’s been taken care of

    I really like this:
    “Here’s what most people think when they get an unsolicited outreach email:
    Who are you?
    Why do you matter to me?
    What’s in it for me?
    What’s your offer and how is it going to benefit me?”
    Because that is exactly how I think when I get a ton of emails every day.

  7. Great Read! I got started with my SEO business as a white labeling partner. Most new companies starting out fail to realize the power of all the different ways to capitalize and monetize with SEO.

Comments are closed.