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Posted by Bill SebaldThis post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
Posted by RonGarrett
Keeping up with the rapidly changing pace of SEO best-practices can sometimes be as difficult as juggling flaming batons while reciting the alphabet backwards. As an agency or business owner, you need a checklist to help make sure you're staying competitive, focusing on the right tactics, and building your business in the right direction.
In today's Whiteboard Friday, Ron Garett discusses how to position your business for whatever the future of SEO may bring. Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below!
For your viewing pleasure, here's an image of the whiteboard used in today's video:
"Howdy SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. My name is Ron Garrett, and I work with Distilled out of their New York office. I'm just down here this week in Seattle, and Rand invited me over to tape an edition of Whiteboard Friday. Either which way, I hope you like it.
Today I'm going to primarily be talking to agencies, business owners, freelancers, and consultants. The topic is positioning your business for the future of SEO. Now we all know that SEO is rapidly changing. The skills that you need to be successful in SEO, whether it's technical, being good with analytics and big data sets, UX design, content creation, all of these different facets, we need to constantly innovate and make sure that we're at the top of our game.
What I've done today is put together a checklist of things that you, as an agency or a business owner, can go through your business and review to make sure that you're staying competitive, to make sure that you're focusing on the things that you should be focusing on, and really trying to figure out where you should be building your business.
Let's go ahead and start off. Use the resources within your organization. Let's go ahead and start over here.
First, start talking to your salespeople. They're oftentimes the first defense to clients. So oftentimes when clients reach out, they're going to be the first to talk to the clients and get a sense of what they're looking for, get a sense of how they think about SEO, get a sense of how they're spending for SEO and how their teams are working, their digital, their content, all those different teams are working together to be able to bring SEO and integrate it. Try to figure out what they doing, how they're doing it, and how you can take that information and integrate it back into how you sell, how you talk to clients, those types of things.
Also talk to your consultants. They spend a great deal of time working with each of the clients that you have to have a deep understanding of their needs, what their business goals are, what the biggest opportunities are, and where the biggest flaws or weaknesses or challenges are within the organization. Talk to them and try to get a sense of where the common threads are across most of your clients.
Also, once you have a relationship with a client and your interests are aligned, reach out to them. Take them out to lunch and see how they're doing. Get a sense of what's going on in their organization, how they talk about SEO internally, how they spend on SEO internally. Is SEO at the table when everybody is discussing content strategy, technical and all these different things?
Also reach out to other companies in your industry. I think one of the things that I love most about the SEO community is the fact that it is just that. It's such a great community of people. Even if you have a competitor that you may compete against for business, they still may be a great resource for you to go out and chat and see what's worked well for them and what hasn't worked well for them and see what the commonalities are there.
Also make sure that you're following what's going on in the industry. Making sure that you are either putting on events or attending events is a great way to see what are some common topics that are coming up quite frequently. Take a look at the trends and the commonalities there.
Also take a look at the talent and the people that are coming up within the industry and the things that they're talking about, the things that they're passionate about, and the things working for them. That's a great way to keep a pulse on the industry.
Also take a look at emerging technology. There are some pretty impressive startups and impressive technology companies, like SEOmoz, Conductor, and all these different companies who are creating technology that allows SEO agencies and businesses to scale and be efficient within their organization. Take a look at those emerging technologies and see how you can utilize those as a business to take your business to the next level.
One big thing that we talk a lot about at Distilled is how we can continue to tinker and test ideas. This is really important because sometimes you won't have enough knowledge. You don't know what you don't know. We encourage and recommend all of our consultants to continuously test and continuously tinker with things and figure out some interesting things that are working and not working. Oftentimes there is no way that we can plan for those types of knowledge gaps that we get there.
I also want to discuss really quickly what's worked well for us here at Distilled is our value are set up as "Discover, Implement and Learn." That's really given us a nice framework to be able to make sure that we're constantly testing things, we're constantly putting things out there, we're constantly figuring out what works and what doesn't work, and we're integrating that back into the solutions that we're providing our clients. That's been quite nice.
Next, you as an organization figure out whether or not you want to specialize or whether or not you want to be a comprehensive business, whether or not you want to provide a specific solution, such as integrating SEO with PR, or whether or not you want to be a full-fledged agency where you're providing digital solutions from a technology standpoint, to content creation, to outreach, to digital PR. Really figure out what your niche is going to be. Even if you do choose to specialize, don't think that you can't take on other types of work. It just helps customers understand what your value proposition is and what they can expect when they come to you. You can always show them other things that you're capable of providing, but I think having that starting point can be really beneficial.
Here is a checklist that I put together of when you're looking to assess your business and figure out, "All right, where are my strengths? Where are my weaknesses? Where can I make improvements?" Start to look at if you were to make certain decisions within your business, what are the different risks and rewards that you would get out of making certain decisions and try to forecast a little bit. Try to take a look at some of the data that you've accumulated over time and think, "If I were to make this decision for my business today, what are some of the things that I can anticipate?"
Also, it's important to take a look at your current strategy to see what's working and what's not working and continue to improvise upon that. Reevaluate that strategy and figure out what's working and what's not working.
Also, I think it's important to have a good balance between aspirational and pragmatic. Take a look at the things that you as a business can accomplish in the short term, given the resources that you guys have, and how you need to think about achieving some of your long-term goals and being realistic. Figure out ways you can get that kind of minimal viable product out there. Figure out what's working and what's not working and continue to innovate on top of that. That can be really beneficial as well.
Also evaluate your company mission, vision, and values. I know a lot of companies are taking a look at the values and making a lot of their decisions based on their values. So making sure that with where your company is at and where your business is at that those things still apply. Those things can be really powerful drivers for why somebody would want to come work for you, why somebody would continue to stay working for you, and the purpose they get out of the job they have. Just make sure that you're constantly looking at and evaluate that.
I also think it's important to take a look at the client mix. Take a look at the percentage of clients that are currently on a project basis versus a retain basis. These types of things can influence cash position and cash flow within your organization, and looking for ways to either drive up the amount of retained clients that you have or figuring out just really beneficial projects that you can take on that are either going to drive the knowledge gap forward or drive the cash flow position forward. Just make sure that the types of projects that you are bringing on are helping you achieve your goals.
Take a look at your company and your employees, and take a look at their strengths and weaknesses. I think being pragmatic about that as well can be very beneficial, especially when you start to reach critical mass at your company. You go from 10 employees to 50 employees, 50 employees to 100 employees, and the dynamic of your company starts to shift, and you get a very eclectic group of people that end up coming in that all have different strengths and talents, and they get very passionate about different things. Understanding the dynamics that those play and what works well with one another can be really important for you to understand when making these types of business decisions.
It's also important to understand as a company your tolerance for risk. You can have all the aspirations in the world, but if your company hesitates to make certain types of decisions and you don't feel like it's a decision that you can fully make and commit to, it may be good to reevaluate whether or not that decision is something that you should look to make further down the line or what type of infrastructure or what things you would need to be able to make that decision sooner. Just being realistic about the tolerance levels that you have at your organization.
Take a look at how you currently make money. At different companies we love the places we work, and ultimately we have to be able to figure out ways to be able to make money. Taking a look at where your big drivers for cash are and how those are marking your company money can be really beneficial.
Future aspirations. We all want to have goals. We all want to work toward something that's going to create purpose for us, that's going to help us get to where we want to be, and we want to make sure they're big enough to where it's not easy for us to attain in the short term, but it's something that we can all believe in and work towards as a company. I think figuring out what your future aspirations are, both at a company level and at an employee level, can be very, very powerful.
Last, but not least, if you're looking to make investments in your organization, understanding the types of investments that you can and cannot make now based on your current cash flow position or whether or not you have access to capital and just understanding the dynamics between that can help determine how quickly you can make certain decisions or what types of clients you're going to have to bring on before you can make those types of decisions.
I know I've provided you with a lot of information today, but ultimately I wanted to help give you a framework and a checklist for you, the business owner or the agency, to take a step back and to evaluate your company, to evaluate your employees, to evaluate all the things that make you great, and to evaluate the areas where you need to make improvements and get to where you want to be. I think once you have a deeper understanding of all this, it will help you make business decisions, it will help you communicate those decisions to the employees there, and it can help empower people at your organization to do some pretty incredible things.
So get out there, keep building."
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