Things look pretty good for a lot of SEO professionals right now.
The economy seems to be humming along and there’s plenty of business for everyone.
But it won’t always be this way.
The economy naturally cycles through periods of growth and retraction.
While no one can predict when or how intense, I can tell you with absolute certainty that an economic downturn is inevitable.
We’re already starting to see the signs.
I believe that we’ll see an economic downturn in the next 6 to 12 months.
When that happens, one of the first things that businesses do is cut expenses.
We all know that marketing is often one of the first areas cut.
As an SEO professional, this will impact your ability to maintain revenue.
The good news is that you don’t have to be at the mercy of the economy. You can not only survive but also thrive during a slow economy.
The key is to take certain steps that many of your competitors won’t follow through on.
1. Increase Your Marketing Activity
When the economy slows down, conventional wisdom says to batten down the hatches and reduce expenses at all costs. Often, the first thing most cut is their marketing expenses.
I get it. I really do.
But this approach can often lead to a catastrophic outcome.
I mean, it’s not rocket science. When you reduce your marketing, you reduce your exposure. When you reduce your exposure, you reduce your revenue. Which then forces you to reduce your marketing again.
See the ugly downward spiral this creates?
Don’t get me wrong – this is a great opportunity to review your marketing to find and eliminate ineffective channels, campaigns, and tactics.
This is something we should always be refining anyway. But anything we save here should be reinvested, either into marketing campaigns that are currently working or into new marketing campaigns.
And the added beauty here is that when the economy is down and your competitors cut back their marketing, it often leaves more advertising opportunities, sometimes at a lower price, available to you.
You just have to be courageous enough to maintain or increase your marketing when every instinct tells you to hoard your money like Scrooge McDuck.
2. Engage in Direct Sales
For many in the SEO industry, “sales” is a filthy word.
Because of that, few put much effort into networking, and even fewer directly solicit new business. The good news is that includes most of your competitors.
You still don’t like the idea of going out to engage in direct sales?
I have bad news for you. You’ll need to get over that feeling if you want to thrive during a slow economy.
I want to emphasize that I’m not talking about the sleazy, high-pressure sales tactics where you’re trying to close a client on the first call or visit. I’m talking about strategic sales efforts.
You select a certain number of highly-qualified prospects and begin reaching out to them through a combination of email, phone, and (if applicable) face to face meetings.
The initial goal isn’t to land a client immediately. The initial goal is to establish a relationship. (Take note of this relationship thing. It’s going to come up again.)
This might mean just an email, a quick phone call, or stopping by their office at first to introduce yourself.
From there, you can begin the process of qualifying them to see if you’re a fit for each other, and when the time is right, pitching them on your services.
In some cases, this may take months. In other cases, it could be wrapped up immediately following your first contact. In most cases, it will be somewhere in the middle.
That’s because every buyer is in a different situation. Some:
- Don’t have an appropriate budget.
- Are happy with their current vendor.
- Already work with the spouse of one of the company’s executives.
- Have no desire to grow.
- Don’t have a suitable platform.
- Already have more work than they can handle.
- Or don’t have the time to work with you.
It’s essential to establish a relationship and continue engaging with them so that you’re there when their situation changes.
If you’re not up to speed on sales, I highly recommend reading anything by Grant Cardone or Oren Klaff. Or better yet, listening to their audiobooks.
I personally feel like the personality and emotions of an author come through in their audiobooks, which makes it easier to understand and retain the message.
Plus, you can listen to it while driving to help speed up and reinforce your learning.
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It’s import to plan, but don’t let planning prevent you from actually engaging in direct sales. Just make a quick plan, practice a bit, and then get out there and do it.
3. Have a System for Generating Referrals
Nearly everyone I talk to seems to tell me that they get most of their business from referrals.
Personally, I believe this is terrible.
The problem I have is that generating new business from referrals is not scalable, predictable, or consistent. So when a business owner relies on this as their sole or primary channel, it can cause a financial catastrophe.
Don’t get me wrong. I love referrals. And you should too.
But for most people, getting a quality referral is a game of chance. That’s because they don’t have a system.
The key is to implement a system that makes getting referrals easier and more frequent.
The first step is to stop relying on chance. Instead, determine when you’ll directly ask clients for a referral.
You might ask following the first major project milestone, and you might want to ask again several times throughout the year.
Our clients often reevaluate their marketing at certain times of the year.
For example, many businesses increase their marketing efforts leading up to Christmas, while some reduce them during the summer. And they’ll typically wrap up planning for the following year’s marketing efforts by November or December.
By asking several times throughout the year, you’ll have a better chance of catching the right person at the right time.
And don’t just ask “Do you know anyone who needs SEO?”
They may never know who needs SEO, however, they probably will know who in their circle is actively trying to grow their business. That’s what you want to focus on. So whether by email or phone, you might say something like:
“David, you know I’m always looking for more clients like you, so I wanted to ask a small favor. Would you be willing to introduce me to anyone you know who might want to grow their business?”
Simple, to the point, and it makes them feel good. Both because you’re expressing that you enjoy working with them and because it makes people feel good to help others.
It’s important to note that in order for this to work, you have to consistently exceed your clients’ expectations. But that’s what we should all be aiming for anyway, right?
4. Focus on Relationships
The right relationships can mean the difference between success and failure. Unfortunately, for many of us in the SEO industry, it’s easy to hide away in our offices avoiding people.
That’s a huge mistake that leads to many missed opportunities.
Think about it like this – if an intelligent, established business owner wanted to grow, do you think they’d be more likely to rush over and type “SEO” into Google or ask the people in their network if they knew someone who does marketing?
Of course, they would ask someone in their network first! (That’s one of the ironies of our industry.)
Positive relationships can open doors that you might never be able to open on your own. They can provide you a head start on new leads. And they can connect you with valuable partners in all aspects of your business.
The thing is, you’ll have to build and nurture them first.
Now, when I talk about relationships, they don’t necessarily have to be face to face. Relationships can be built and nurtured over the phone and even online.
The key is that these relationships be based on mutual value and genuine care. People are more than just transactions, and they carry far more value than the revenue or opportunities they bring to your business.
In other words, you have to actually give a shit about people.
According to Lonnie Mayne, author of “Red Shoes Living”:
“It boils down to seeing others (clients, employees, everyone) as a human being first, and set every other categorization — potential customer, unhappy client, stranger or person above or below you in status aside.”
He describes his philosophy in five pillars:
- Everyone has a story
- Respect and kindness
- Put yourself out there
In his own company, he discovered that when people embody these principles, everything changes.
Personally, this is something that I think many in our industry do well internally. The problem is that many don’t build and nurture effective relationships outside of our industry.
And that’s a shame because that’s where some of the best opportunities for new clients, partnerships, and media coverage are most likely to come from.
So get out there and build meaningful relationships, both online and in the physical world.