A few weeks ago, Sean did an interview of me on their blog at SEO-Hacker, and as originally planned – I’m doing the second part of the series here.
I’ve known Sean Si ever since I started blogging, and he’s one of my closest friends in the industry. We used to work together for a few campaigns (I was part of the SEO-Hacker team when it was just starting).
We’ve also been exchanging a lot of ideas about the practice as well as the business end of SEO for the past 3 years now. So I’m also certain that you guys will learn a lot from him too.
Management hasn’t been one of my strengths as an entrepreneur, which is why I partnered up with JP (Xight Interactive’s COO) who’s an expert on this domain.
So in this post, I tried to pick Sean’s brain, particularly on how he managed his company from ground up. And with no further ado, below are the tips I got from Sean (that you guys might find useful as well).
What has been the biggest challenge in running/growing your team on your own?
I think thus far the biggest challenge I have faced in growing a team is dealing with people. Now I know why there are so many books about people management and leadership and how to deal with people – it’s because it’s really tough!
Other people have their own way of thinking, their own perspective and worldview – and we, as leaders have to adapt to that and try to look at things from their perspective. This doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s a skill we have to continually hone. The toughest times for me was when I failed to do this and see things from their end – and spoke too soon.
Leaders and managers shouldn’t say anything until they understand the situation from the team’s point of view rather than their own. This entails getting to know every single individual you have on your team so as to be able to successfully see and feel clearly like how they would – and address what you want to say or implement in a manner that is positive and acceptable for them.
SEO is continuously evolving, and there have been so many changes on how practitioners implement SEO campaigns these days. What are the key areas of your current service focus on and was there any big change on how you do SEO before than how you guys approach it now?
Certainly. I would be lying if I said we weren’t doing any linkbuilding before. We were. Blog commenting, directory listing, guest posting, you name it. But all in the best sites. And we did everything manually.
After Panda and Penguin and after all the webmasters decided to squeeze guest posts out from their content strategy, we decided to focus more on content marketing for our clients. We shrunk linkbuilding to a bare minimum and we focused our efforts on getting out the awesome content we’re continuously churning out for our clients.
There are tons of platforms and webmasters who will accept your content (assuming it’s awesome and provides a ton of value) and distribute it to their own set of audiences. It takes some research and testing but it works wonders! Just like how you would reach out to a webmaster for a guest post, it takes relationship and skill to be able to build an awesome marketing circle.
People are getting better at content – often times it’s the ‘marketing’ aspect that gets left out. That’s where we’re putting our eggs now.
What was the toughest algorithmic update that your team has worked on? How did it change your process?
This is a tough question. I don’t want to come across as to boast, however I would say plainly that we have not experienced a ranking drop or a penalty with the Google updates that have gone by during our years as an SEO company (Thank God!).
We don’t play with shady tactics when it comes to ranking clients. We make sure to take care of their branding – and that includes their backlink profile, their code and design, their content, even their site’s speed and performance!
Crazy right? We do all of those things for our clients for what we charge on a monthly basis. All-in. That’s what SEO is all about for me and my team – a holistic approach to making an awesome, user-centric website that Google will love to rank.
It’s tough and it takes more effort and money to accomplish – and perhaps that’s why we charge a higher rate than most SEO companies here in the Philippines. But not having to deal with ranking drops and penalties make it all worthwhile.
Plus, the clients are sure to be happy with how we’re managing their branding online. We have a very high client retention rate – which is the most important thing for us. Let’s face it, why would you want to get a new client and go through all the tough work of fixing their site, migrating their hosting to a better, faster one, integrating a blog, and other on-site factors, when you could just take good care of your existing ones and let the profits roll in?
I know that you’ve been a strong advocate of content marketing ever since you started, but how do you scale it or how do you effectively implement it with your clients – knowing that our approaches and methods vary based on the client’s industry and available resources?
Content marketing works. Plain and simple. You and I both know that and we both have experienced it first-hand. It’s not too hard to know what kinds of content would please the client’s target market. We study the client’s brand, products, processes, etc. And from that, we formulate and schedule content topics (that’s content strategy) to be written out and marketed to target platforms that will amplify our content’s reach (that’s content marketing).
No matter what industry you go to (assuming it’s ethical), this approach should work. I’ve written two extensive tutorials that we live by – this has helped our readers when it comes to content strategy and content marketing:
If you are watching our clients closely enough (and this is public information) you’ll be able to see how we’re doing it for them. Not least of which is Uratex, SPI Global’s Think Tank and Innovation Lab and Juan Carlo the Caterer
As the head of your company, what tasks/activities do you focus more on?
That’s a tough question. Right now I’m doing most of what a sole proprietor should be doing. Marketing, Finance Management / Cashflow, Team meetings, Innovation, Sales, Accounts Management, Legal matters, bills, etc. Just a little short of EVERYTHING. Don’t get me wrong. I love it.
It’s a ton to take in! Thank God I have an awesome team to back me up with some of these things. But if I have to choose 3 activities that I’m most focused on, it would be conversion rate optimization for SEO School, reading / writing for SEO Hacker, and sales / accounts management for SEO services.
Those are the three things that I love doing and that no one else in the SEO Hacker team is doing as of now.
There’s also one other thing that I just started doing – that’s improving our communication line and newsfeed with clients to try and improve our client retention and additional orders rate. I found out that it’s much easier to sell a new product to an existing client. So we’ve come up with an internal mailing list to keep them in the loop for algorithm or industry changes and for new or existing products we have to offer them. Of course, we only feed them stuff that are relevant to them and that would help them grow their business.
It’s work in progress and we haven’t launched it yet – but we’re working on it and hopefully it would be out by the turn of the new year.
How does your day look like? And how do you make time for everything or how do you prioritize your tasks, knowing that you’re in-charge of almost all the areas of your business?
In a nutshell:
8am: Waking up, going to my computer and checking my email for urgent / critical issues, checking my phone for any critical messages
8:30am: Taking a walk and getting some sun
9am – 11am: Answering emails, replying to social media messages, reading blogs
12pm – 3pm: Fixing / optimizing client(s) sites, anything technical, checking SEO school for any improvements we can make, researching for my next blog entry
3pm – 6pm: Meetings with the team, clients, calls, etc
6pm – 8pm: Writing, Marketing content, putting tasks and readings in the Trello board for the team
8pm – 10pm: More writing, replying to social media messages, DOTA with my teammates, reading a chapter of a book or two, basketball
10pm – 12am: Checking SEO School for more improvements, putting it in the Trello board, working on side projects with my team (usually contests), sleep
Let’s talk about hiring process. What do you typically look out for from your applicants (or any particular skill sets you highly require)?
Let me build the context of our team first: We are not a purely SEO team. Even if SEO is our forte as a company, our team is extremely diverse in skill and knowledge.
Some of the skills in our team include:
- Graphic design
- Front-end web development (CSS, PHP, HTML, Jquery, Scripts, etc)
- Mobile responsive coding
- Content marketing
- Outreach specialists
- Accounts management
- Powerpoint Content and Design
- Blog Management
- IT – (Database, back-end code, etc)
- Technical SEO
- Project Management
- Operations Management
- Social Media Management
- Human Resource Management
- Making Great Chili Con Carne
All these things (Chili Con Carne included) is aimed towards creating an awesome SEO strategy – holistic content marketing.
What we value in our team is the ability to innovate, adapt, learn, test, courage to fail and ask questions, work hard, meet deadlines, manage his/her tasks and time, and knows how to have lots of fun.
Hiring is easy. If I’m not in the office, our HR and director does the interview. Personally, I like looking people in the eye and trusting on my guts and instincts as to who the person is and if he is the right fit for the team.
I know this might sound too cliché but the most important thing for me is character. A potential teammate has to have the right character from the start – because that is something quite difficult to change. Skills can be learned. SEO can be taught. But character stems from life experience, background, upbringing, and a relationship with God.
Since you’re also managing your team, how do you scale your staff’s training process, especially for the new hires?
That is a very good question. Right now, we have evaluations every 3rd month, 6th month and 1st year for new hires. All of the upper management are to meet up, discuss about the productivity and challenges that the new hire has faced, and decide if the new hire is up for regularization or is to have an extended probationary period, or is not a team fit.
It’s pretty roughly shaped and we’re still in the process of improving this to a quantifiable level. We’re in the process of quantifying our KPIs in light of our goals for next year. This is what we’re all excited about – that way, we can pinpoint whether a teammate or a new hire really does a good job (or is improving) or not.
What are the processes/practices that you’re looking to integrate with your current services in the near future (PPC, CRO, etc…)?
CRO definitely. Remember when web development and design dominated our industry here in the Philippines? Well, now is the age of SEO and PPC and inbound marketing. I’m betting that the next big thing for us is CRO. Especially for our clients who are already looking into e-commerce because of the sales they are generating through their website/s.
We are doing CRO for SEO school and I’m actually excited to launch a new series about how we have changed SEO school over the years and the effects it has had for our users.
Because of the extent of CRO we have gone through with SEO School, I’m confident to launch a new product line on CRO. We’ll be targeting our existing clients since they already have an awesome stream of relevant traffic from search.
The thing about CRO is, it can be expensive. With all the tools and A/B testing we need to implement. So it has to be well explained to the client as to what extent CRO will be applied and what we are expecting to come out of it.
What’s the future of SEO-Hacker?
Only God knows.
Our vision for SEO Hacker (Services) is to be the best internet marketing company in the Philippines, then Asia, then the world. God-willing.
For SEO Hacker School, it’s to be the destination for up-and-coming SEO specialists who are looking for a simplistic approach to learning SEO and everything in between.
For SEO Hacker (blog) it should remain as it is – an online resource for simplified SEO to beginners and start-ups who are interested in working their way to a more advanced level.
We’re very excited about the future. We have big dreams. And by prayer, hard work and guts, we hope to pull it off soon.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned so far in building and running SEO-Hacker?
This is a tough one. There are tons and tons of things I’ve learned as its first managing director and CEO. However, if I have to trim it down to a handful (else this post would drag on), it would be these:
1) There is no self-made man.
Everything is given. The richest people in the world may not tell you the secret to their success but it always has one darn element in it: Luck.
The thing is, I don’t believe in luck. I think everything happens because it is allowed by God. Each ‘surprise’, each ‘lucky break’, each ‘out of the blue client’ is led to you because of a higher purpose and reason.
Don’t ever think you got where you are because some cosmic event in space-time brought about gravity, and stars, and land and fish and evolution and the luckiest monkey has had the DNA to amazingly breed your oh so beautiful face and mind. And it’s all up to you to make your fame and fortune.
You have no lucky stars to thank.
It’s all God.
2) Managing people is tough. Really tough.
You can’t get angry. Can’t lose your temper. Can’t say anything out of emotion. Because at the end of the day, even if you’re right, you’re wrong.
Especially in this day and age where individuality and relativism is so prevalent. The “What’s right for you, may not be right for me” mindset is shaking even the foundations of the corporate world. That is the reason why there are so many turnovers happening left and right in this day and age. Job security is no longer the case. Happiness in the workplace is.
You know what works? Google. Everyone wants to work there. Because they have an awesome environment, a competent but friendly culture, a high pay-grade, and lots and lots to learn.
We’re not Google, but we’re surely trying to make our workplace different. Even so, there are people who are bound to leave for greener pasture. There are people who will not be happy about you. There will be people who have their own opinions and will be passing them on to the rest of the team.
If I can master managing people in my lifetime, that would be an accomplishment to behold.
3) Clients love the little things.
Yes output is important. Yes reports are critical. Yes design and delivery matters. But you know what? The difference between me and a much cheaper competitor is usually the little things.
I personally call clients when they want things to happen. I personally go to their office when they want to meet up because they need to understand our reports. I personally make sure that they know what me and my team are doing for them. That’s what I want SEO Hacker Services to be.
I ask about their life. I care for them. I tell them what’s happening with Google. I tell them what they need and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
The feeling of being taken care of – that’s exquisite. People will pay premium for a company to take care of their brand.
I know I will.
4) Doing things Right pays off
Lots of unethical competitors have come and gone in the first page of keywords I’m targeting. I have to admit: I’ve been tempted to play with grey hat tactics for some time. It wasn’t because we weren’t getting any business. We’re happy with our clients – but it’s just the thought of getting beat in the SERPs by these black-hatters that tick me off.
Well, Google came around and finally made sense about all the “ethical” stuffs they’ve been talking about. True enough, they got a lot of the dirty players off the board. But not after the damage has been done. I’m getting a handful of client inquiries asking for repair and reinclusion lately – footprints of the dirty players that were once ranking on the first page.
Through all this, I stuck with what was ‘right’.
I’m happy I did.
5) Focus on what you’re Awesomely Great at
One thing I would’ve done differently is to get someone who’s strong at the things I’m weak at as a long-term teammate. While I’m extremely happy with my team today as they back me up with my weaknesses, I didn’t start off that way. I wasted a lot of time with things I was totally not passionate about.
Things like: Legal, finance, project management, business development, client billing, etc.
These are just some of the few lessons I’ve learned in starting and running SEO Hacker. I took a more extensive approach about your question in an entry titled: “15 Important Lessons I Learned as an SEO Start-up” or you could also check out my personal blog where I publish some stuffs about leadership, management, entrepreneurship and starting up a company.