Building and Growing Your SEM Biz – SearchFest 2009

3pm in the Vista room


Rand Fishkin – SEOmoz
Adam Audette – Audette Media
Anne Kennedy – Beyond Ink


Lisa Williams – Media Forte Marketing

Session Details

Anne is the first speaker for this session. Her presentation’s title is A Proust Questionnaire… for Business.

A perfect business happiness, to Anne, is a great team, contended customers and profits. Anne specifically places the team aspect before all.

What is the greatest depth of misery? A cube farm with a punch clock.

Anne’s mentors / heroes / role models are her partners.

What is the trait she appreciates most in others? Relentless resourcefulness.

What is Anne’s principal talent? It’s networking – she loves to connect people to others who “belong” together.

Where does she most like to run a business? Her answer: in the cloud. You need to be everywhere; have operations centers everywhere.

What does she value most in business associates? Opportunity.

What does she consider the most overrated business virtue? Thrift. You need to spend money to earn money. You can’t save your way to prosperity.

What is Anne’s greatest regret? Having to let people go. If you’re going to have employees, you need to remember: you are working for them. You’re helping them with benefits, professional development, etc.

What’s her greatest extravagance? Travel.

What’s the trait she most deplores in herself? Frittering away time on useless stuff.

What is Anne’s motto? Follow the money.

Adam was the next speaker. He is going to talk about growing your SEM business.

Adam started it off with: Search is up… but there’s never been so much crap. The market is saturated, more and more people are getting in the industry for “easy money”, the industry as a whole is immature…

What you need to do is differentiate; set yourself apart as a business. Who you are, what you bring, what you provide, etc.

How to differentiate yourself:

  • Have real SEM skills. If you don’t have them, keep learning!
  • Contribute to the industry. Start authoring great blogposts, volunteer at great forums, go out there and socialize.
  • Put yourself out there. Network, give people business cards, etc.
  • Ignore the “stardom” trap. Instead of focusing about yourself, think about how you can provide more and more value.

Differentiate your services. Focus on some core competencies and refine them time and time again. Make those core services pop. Do this by exhibiting your expertise. Show you know your stuff about the topic, the ins and the outs. If you have the expertise, then you’ll be able to walk the talk. Focus on the client – “the client is hiring you but you need the client.”

Differentiate your marketing. Firstly, get on twitter. Even if no one follows you back, @reply to individuals because they’ll see this. Also be willing to ask for help – ask colleagues or even competing sites. Blog about your company and focus on that core services.

You have to know about your values. Your business should have a set of core values that you wholly believe in. These will be pillars to your company. You build what you practice.

“Your team is absolutely everything.” Focus your team on their strengths. Your team is your company. Build a smart team by leading by example. Build upward mobility that fosters and rewards growth.

Rand was the last speaker for this session. He will be speaking about SEOmoz and using his company as an example of how to build and grow an SEM business.

His historic timeline:

  • 2002 – Stay Alive
  • 2005 – Build a Brand in SEO
  • 2007 – Find the Right Path
  • 2009 – Scale

Who does Rand hire and how do they find them? He hires people he knows, trusts and likes. He also hires those who are passionate about their work. And they also “fit” into the company culture. It’s people that you already somewhat know they’re going to be a fit before you even interview them.

Rand believes SEOmoz’s competitive advantage lies in its history and profile, the boutique level of service, its technology and the company’s rigorous process.

How does SEOmoz decide what products / service to offer? They decide by:

  • Competence with deliverables
  • Passion for the work
  • Scalability of the deliverable
  • Educational or promotional value to the company

SEOmoz isn’t differentiated by its consulting but by its product.

What has been most effective for Rand to grow his business? Speaking and networking.

What hasn’t worked for Rand? Search rankings. He has friends who rank quite highly for competitive terms like SEO company and SEO consultant but networking brings in the best clients and work.

What behaivors has Rand had to change to become SEOmoz’s leader? His personal scalability and task list. He also has had to scale down his sensitivity to criticism. Also has to accept the fact that he can’t answer all of his email.

Questions that were asked after the session were:

  1. How do you get clients to know what they need? Also, what are Rand’s thoughts about having friends as clients? He answered that he has had only positive experiences with friends for clients. Anne replied that it was rare to have a friend as a client. Anne said that it all comes down to having the customer understand the value. Adam said that he never has had a friend as a client.
  2. One thing you wish you knew when having those “growing pains” when growing your company? Anne replied with “it’s not personal; it’s just business.” Rand’s response was two things: you’re not the customer and needing to making sure everything is accessible.
  3. Do you train specialists? Anne’s motivation to hire was to hire individuals who knew more than she did. Focus on your core service set – “it’s very hard to know everything now.” Adam hasn’t clearly defined specialists within his company. Rand said that when they were small, generalists were the ideal hire. When you get bigger, hiring should be based on specialisation.

This session’s details were compiled by Senior Account Executive Christian Bullock of Amplify Interactive.

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