It is often said that marketers are driven by success and strive towards securing the top job within their field. You start off as an apprentice then over the year’s work your way up the ladder within digital agencies to finally secure a director position at a top agency.
One such SEO marketing pro did just that. He has been in the SEO and digital marketing game for over fifteen years. Spent night after night researching and testing new marketing techniques and setup and built his own marketing agency, employing teams of staff.
So what! I hear you say. The difference with this particular SEO professional is that in April 2016 he resigned his position as director and sold all his shares in the agency he had just spent over four years growing to become a freelance SEO consultant and established himself as the brand – Mark Preston SEO Consultant.
In an interview with Mark, I wanted to find out why he had made such a radical career decision and to find out just how much the SEO industry has changed. Before I started asking why, let’s get to know Mark a little better.
What made you get into the SEO game?
I sort of stumbled into SEO around 15 years ago before I even knew what it meant. I had created my first ever website selling second hand computers. It was really basic and built using Microsoft FrontPage. I even used one of their ready built templates.
Once I had finished it and I had sourced all my suppliers, I was ready to do business. Like many startups in them days, I started purchasing featured ads in many paper publications such as Yellow Pages, IT magazines and even tried the radio.
The problem was that I was spending a lot more than I was making so I sat down and started to research for other ways to drive people to my website who was looking to buy a cheap second hand computer. I started to type into yahoo lots of different things when suddenly it struck me!
If I was searching for advertising opportunities on yahoo, other people would be searching for second hand computers. I then set about researching how I could get my website at the top.
From that moment on, I found that I had a real knack of getting websites ranked. I looked at what everyone else was doing and did things differently so I stood out. I then tested many new techniques by setting up website after website in all sorts of niches and most of them was successful. I created a music video website and outranked Yahoo’s own music video website on Yahoo itself. I created a flatpack builder website and got it to No.1 for ‘flatpack builders’. I had setup about 120 website altogether and most of them was ranking very well generating decent traffic numbers.
The problem with having all these websites ranking at the top was I got genuine enquiries. I remember one lady sending an email asking if I could build a new wardrobe she had just purchased. I then sat back and thought, oh shit! I then started to advertise each website as a genuine business opportunity on eBay. At that time, there was loads of people selling websites as business opportunities but not one website came with any rankings or traffic.
I made quite a killing and created a kind of auction atmosphere by contacting every business within each niche and pointed them in the direction of my eBay listing.
I decided to stop selling computers and created websites full time, got them ranking and sold them on. I then created business and marketing related eBooks and sold them through a website. Back then I found it incredibly easy to rank websites and I made a ton of cash.
Fast forward a couple of years and I stumbled upon a large contract to supply websites and marketing services within the business opportunities industry. I then setup my first digital marketing agency and employed a team of staff. Before I knew it, I had an office in Inverness and Cheshire.
So, how has SEO changed over the past few years?
This is where I differ in thinking from other SEO consultants. If you look at SEO in general, I don’t think it has changed that much at all. When you look at the search engine guidelines that Google have set over the years, things are not that different not to when they was a few years ago. The only thing has changed is Google has got better at establishing who and who does not conform to their guidelines. It is all the SEO’s that don’t play by the rules that have had to deal with the biggest change.
It is still the same now as it was five years ago. Create a website and get people looking for your service or product to find your website and contact you. We just place links on websites that will drive targeted traffic and provide a great conversion rate. I always keep it related and before I secure a link, I always think if that one link will turn into business.
Now that is interesting. Let’s get onto the subject matter of you leaving your position as director. Firstly, I would like to ask – how did you manage to build a marketing agency with zero investment or loans?
I have always been a big believer in taking business risks with my own money. I don’t like setting up businesses using other people’s money as I would never have the same drive and determination to do everything in my power to turn it into a success. When it is your life, house and family at risk – you are going to make sure it is a success.
It really shocks me the amount of SEO and marketing people who ask me – how do you generate leads? The ones that ask this question should not call themselves marketers. Building a profitable marketing agency was the same as anything I have done. I used my own SEO and marketing skills to drive potential customers to my website. I then turned them into paying customers and made sure myself and my staff went above and beyond to secure great results and provide each client with a decent return on their investment. Why? Because my clients then turned into my own sales team and the referrals would flood in.
This is how I managed to build an SEO agency employing many staff with zero investment or loans. No secret formula. Just hard work.
Makes sense. If it was going so good, why did you give it all up to go freelance?
The honest answer is – I had just had enough. I had had enough of going into work and dealing with all the day to day business issues any business faces once they get to a certain level. I had also had enough of trying to provide a first class service with staff that was not quite up to the job. In our area, it is extremely hard to find good quality SEO consultants that are technically proficient. All the big agencies with the deep pockets who are based in Manchester are offering salaries we could never compete with in order to bag the best people in the area.
It got to a stage where I was enjoying what I was doing so one day I decided to resign as director and sell all my shares to my fellow director to go it alone as a freelance SEO consultant.
How have you found the change?
A lot of people have asked me this question and it has got to be the best business decision I have ever made. Because I already have a really strong personal brand awareness, as soon as I posted on LinkedIn and Twitter that I had gone freelance, my mobile went crazy with work flying in from all angles. Being freelance, I do 100% of the work myself so I can personally ensure great results. It is going that well that I am going to be launching a pay per results service as let’s face it. Every business owner these days have been stung by a so called SEO company. I want to build some trust back into the industry and because I am 100% confident in my skill range, I can offer such a service.