You’ve started a brand new digital marketing agency and you’re hungry to land your first SEO client. Congratulations, truly.
At this point, you’ve likely been doing killer SEO on your own for awhile, either in an agency setting, as a freelancer, or through an in-house position. You have a great skill set that is valuable for many businesses and you’re confident that you can deliver some results for them.
Owning and operating a new agency isn’t as simple as having technical skills. If you focus solely on your technical prowess or what the service offerings of your agency are, you’re dooming yourself to failure.
Let me tell you a quick story.
A little less than a year ago I started my own lead generation agency. As many of you can relate, I had spent the last 3 years working on inbound campaigns and optimizing the sites of many clients in various different industries. I foolishly believed that my skill set would be all I needed to grow my revenue to 1+ million in the first year.
In reality? Didn’t even come close.
For the first few months, I worked on my pricing packages, dealing with a few small projects that weren’t what I wanted to be doing, thinking about how I wanted to structure the business, and generally a lot of secondary things that I was treating as important.
Can you guess where I was after the first 3 months?
That’s exactly right. Struggling, frustrated, and without any long-term clients or prospects. It was time for a huge change. So I started researching, reaching out to former and current agency owners, and focusing on what matters most to any business…successful target client acquisition.
Fast forward six months, and I can proudly say I’ve already replaced my yearly income at my cushy agency job.
Here are three of my top strategies you can use to hit the ground running and land your first SEO client for your new agency.
#1. Get Comfortable With Cold Outreach
Yes, I’m talking about cold emails, cold phone calls, and cold DMs on social media. You’re new, almost none of your initial prospects will be warm, so get used to it.
Over time, you’ll want to move your lead generation model to be mostly based on inbound efforts (prospects like when you practice what you preach), paid channels (once you understand the process it’s easy to calculate ROI and can be automated), or referral based (you’re crushing it so hard people tell their friends and colleagues).
But for now, you’re stuck with getting your name out there the old-fashioned way.
When you’re getting started with cold outreach, there is one crucial component to keep in mind before you ever write an email or press send. You need to have a disturbingly thorough understanding of who you’re reaching out to, what they hate about their lives, and exactly how what you offer solves that issue.
That is non-negotiable. If you start randomly sending out messages or calls to everyone with a pulse and offering them whatever sounds good at the moment, you will lose. Not only will you be wasting your precious time (and theirs), you won’t get any closer to forming long-term partnerships with someone who is in need of what you offer. Aka, the actual point of an agency.
Take time to consider the following:
- Who exactly do you want to serve?
- What unique struggles and challenges do they have?
- What industry do they work in?
- What is the size of their organization?
- Why are you especially qualified to help them?
- How can your business improve their lives (not simply offer a service)?
After you have an understanding of what they need, then, and only then can you start the outreach process. Start by doing research and build your list.
Google an industry (or an industry + geo if you’re offering local services), and go to the 3rd and 4th pages of the results. If you’re having trouble finding relevant businesses, consider doing some keyword research first to better target prospects more accurately. Companies in these positions clearly have some relevance for their offering, but likely aren’t gaining any consistent traffic.
Visit the websites of each of these companies, make a list of their name, contact information, relevant stats, and a few comments for future conversations. Put that all in a spreadsheet.
You can also do the same with social media. On Linkedin especially, filter your search by company size, industry, or job title. Make sure that it aligns with the criteria that you’ve decided on previously.
Contact the prospect in a way that doesn’t suck
It is imperative that you keep your goal in mind at all times. The goal is to get someone to respond to you and believe that you can help them. It is not to check a name off of a list and pat yourself on the back for typing and clicking send. Think about how many emails or messages you’ve received that completely sucked and focus on doing the opposite. Provide value and generate interest. That’s your main focus.
Here are some tips on how to do outreach that doesn’t suck:
- Keep it short and concise. 150 words max. This isn’t a proposal, you are interrupting someone’s life and asking for something. Be respectful of their time.
- Be informal and interesting. It’s not the 1920s. Businesses care far less about formalities and more about how you can help them. Also, do a little research on the company or person you’re trying to reach. If it’s appropriate, use humor or add in personal information to better connect with them.
- Focus on them. Your first message shouldn’t even mention your services. At most, you can mention your company name and what you do. But what you do should be a benefit statement completely focused on helping them and solving their deepest problems.
Remember that all humans are egocentric at the end of the day. Everyone, yourself included, is thinking “what’s in it for me?”. That’s especially true when you’re taking up a stranger’s precious time, so take a few moments to really understand the prospect and your offering from their perspective. If it’s not directly solving a huge issue for them in a way they understand, you might as well not even try.
Follow up twice
Following up is how the sales process works. Just because you’re a hungry new business owner trying to build Rome in a day, doesn’t mean that your prospects are going to change their schedule or efforts to accommodate you.
When you’re starting out, it will feel a bit uncomfortable and you’ll feel like you’re being annoying, but one of the most important aspects of closing a sale is the follow-up. Why? Business owners are busy. They have their own companies, lives, and ambitions to focus on. Not some new startup that wants to solicit business from them.
After you send your first outreach, you must follow up with your prospects. Twice (as a bare minimum).
Your first follow up should be between 3-5 days after your initial message. This will ensure that your old message is still on their brain if they read it. If it got lost in their inbox, then this will be a reminder for them to take a look or respond directly to the follow-up. Again, keep this incredibly concise. No more than 3 sentences. Don’t ask “did you get my other message”. Instead, remind them that you made a previous inquiry and if they have time to discuss particulars in the near future.
The second follow up (and likely the last for a lot of you as you start growing your business) should be about a week and a half after the first. This is the final message, in case they were on vacation, or an extended busy period and couldn’t get to you. It’s also a good indication that they don’t care if you don’t get a response.
Give them an offer they can’t refuse and then forget about it. You have an agency to grow, you can’t get caught up on any one prospect in the beginning.
#2. Thought Leadership
Put out useful and thoughtful content into the universe where your target clients spend time. Figure out what their biggest pain points are and deliver the solutions to those problems on a silver platter.
That’s called thought leadership. It may seem counterintuitive at first to be giving away some of your supposed “best stuff”, but that’s simply not the case.
First, go over what the solutions are, not necessarily how you’d implement them. But even if you do dive into specifics, the point isn’t that they are going to take that knowledge and forget about you. What’s far more likely to happen, is that they’ll see how much you know, trust you, and then want to give you their money.
Here are the most effective ways to quickly establish yourself as a thought leader.
Facebook groups/Facebook lives
Go on Facebook, do a search for the names of folks who you would consider your target audience. Filter the results by groups, and then request access to the group. This can be a local business collection, moms who have children and want parenting tips, etc.
Look for groups that have over 1000 people. That way you’ll get a healthy mix and a large pool to speak to initially. You’ll also want to make sure that the title is very specific to the niche. Overly broad topics or groups that don’t have your target audience are a waste.
Here’s what you’ll do after you join the group:
- Post valuable and problem-specific information regularly.
- Go live within the group and choose topics that foster engagement.
- Carve out a few hours in your day and do an AMA (ask me anything).
- Be present in group discussions and offer valuable advice/resources when possible.
After a few weeks of doing this consistently, you will naturally have users who engage with you. Take time to go above and beyond to respond to their questions, comments, and address any needs.
Over time you will find people that are happy with what you’re telling them. Those people are now prospects. After you’ve delivered tons of value feel free to tactfully DM them and ask if there’s anything else you could help with. Or offer a lead magnet, audit, or consultation. If you’ve already helped them, they are much more likely to say yes.
Also, make sure to completely optimize your company’s profile. Looking and talking the part will position you as an authority, and folks will organically reach out to you for help as well.
If you’re not utilizing this platform, then you’re missing out. Medium allows voices of various industries to be heard and influence others in a big way. Or most importantly, it gives you direct access to audiences who are looking to level up in some way.
Medium articles are split up into categories that are searchable and predefined such as “entrepreneurship”, “small business”, “productivity”, etc. This will allow you write with a specific target audience in mind who you know will value your content and even seek out your services if need be.
Here are the basics:
- Make a complete profile around your expertise. Give users a sense of who you are and what makes you unique.
- Within your profile link to your primary lead magnet or contact page.
- Join large marketing or business focused publications. Publications already have large followings on Medium so joining them extends your audience.
- Focus on writing about actionable insights and strategies businesses can use. This will position you as an expert and put you on top of mind when they are thinking about using your services.
- Include calls to action at the bottom of articles with how you can help. Always have something for readers to do after consuming your content. This should be an email list, free consultation, etc.
Maybe the biggest hidden gem of them all, Quora is an excellent way to attract prospects through thought leadership. If you’ve been living in the dark ages, Quora is basically Reddit but with questions. Users post questions and anyone can view the question thread and post answers as well.
The power behind this is that it doesn’t take a ton of effort or time to add value to a person’s life, and you don’t have to create unique content either.
Do the following:
- Make an agency profile, include as much information as possible and include relevant links, accolades, and qualifications.
- Spend half an hour a day finding new and unanswered questions pertaining to services you offer or 5-10 questions at the minimum. Answer these with the intention to help, not as an advertisement.
- Always include a call to action or relevant link within the body of or at the end of your answers.
Yes, Upwork is traditionally a freelancing platform. That is the primary reason why it exists and how it functions. But that doesn’t matter. If you’re clever with how you use it and view it as a tool, it can be a great resource to landing your first clients as an agency.
The strongest benefit you will receive by utilizing this platform is the intent of the users. Instead of having to qualify prospects or do cold outreach to determine interest, by definition of them using the platform, clients will have a need that they want to be solved.
However, the intent isn’t the only main benefit. Each time a client posts a job, they’ll also tell you exactly how long they want the project to last, they’ll give it a name and description, as well as the level of expertise they need to get the job done.
Your mouth should be watering right about now…
You have the ability to filter projects and clients by their budget, length of the project, and title name. This should be used to find potential long-term relationships with clients who have sufficient budgets and gather information about them to present your agency as favorably as possible. The key is to have preset qualifications for who you’re willing to help and what you offer. Then match that to those previously determined qualifications.
How to Win Clients?
Now that you’ve found who you can help, you’ve got to pitch them. This is much easier said than done, and because you’ll be competing with thousands of other freelancers (with much less overhead than you), it’s imperative that you understand what unique value you provide and position yourself correctly.
Here’s how to do that:
- Fully build out your profile. This includes creating 3-5 relevant projects and including as much information as possible. Focus on the results. Same goes for your description. Focus on what benefit you are providing to target clients in a way that speaks specifically to them. You don’t matter. Make them trust you.
- Take relevant tests. This helps solidify your expertise and shows that you can back up what you claim. There are hundreds of tests so take as many as you can that pertain to your services.
- Send 10 targeted proposals per week. In the beginning, when your profile has no credibility, you will need to build momentum. It will be a bit of a challenge landing the first meaningful client, but you’ve got to be persistent until then. Take time to record each message you send, tailor them specifically to the client’s post, and test new methods as you go to optimize results.
And that’s all there is to it. Focus on these three key strategies and you’ll have your first clients in no time. Welcome to agency life. You got this.