Yesterday I attended The Business Of Web Design 2014 (#tboWD), which was held on my doorstep in Cardiff. Although I am not a web designer, I could see from the conference’s talk topics that a lot of it would relate heavily to SEO freelancing – and I was right.
The question “how much does a website cost?” is so similar to the question “how much does SEO cost?”, when you’ve not even been told the prospect’s industry, their goals (e.g. whether they want to rank for a really tough keyword or a few less competitive keywords) or even the URL of the site. Determining how to price yourself as a consultant – whether it be on a basis of time or the potential value/ROI offered to the client – is applicable across both industries. And getting a client to say “yes” to things can be just as tricky in SEO as it is in web design.
In addition to eight fantastic talks, there was a panel Q&A at the end, and to my terror (but also delight), the wonderful world of SEO was debated. I spent the first few minutes of my recent unified.diff talk tackling the subject of SEO’s terrible reputation – especially in the eyes of the web design/development community – and have previously blogged about how one of the best compliments I’d ever received was from a highly-respected local developer. Fortunately, while there were some stirrings of the typical “SEO is evil” type talk that we’re so used to seeing, I was really surprised and pleased to discover that the debate was handled really well. I’ll go into more detail below.
— ★ Sean Johnson (@seanuk) July 18, 2014
(Note: for those where it says “[Slides TBA]” for now, I’ll update the post with the slide deck embeds as-and-when they all become available.)
1) How much does a website cost? – Sean Johnson
Sean (@seanuk) kicked things off with the question from prospects that often causes the most chagrin: “how much does a website cost?” Why? Because the answer is always: “it depends!”
What’s your industry? What are your goals with the website? Do you need eCommerce functionality? Does it need a blog? This applies to SEO so, so much: What’s your industry? What are your goals? Is the site brand new? Is the site even live yet? Has SEO work been carried out before, and if so, were spammy tactics involved? How can a web designer or SEO quote effectively without knowing that type of info first? The answer is: not very effectively. Not very.
The biggest point that Sean made was that when a client approaches you telling you what they need (i.e. a website or SEO), ask them why they need it. Is it pivotal to their business’ success, or are they only getting it because they think they need it, when it might be the case that they’re fine with what they have? This is especially true for SEO, when I’ve been approached by businesses who I’ve honestly felt would’ve been better off not doing SEO – a good example being a family-run eCommerce site who only would’ve made £2 profit on every product sale, who wanted to rank for keywords with no search volume, yet would’ve been up against the likes of M&S and John Lewis. I politely turned them away with the advice that they should invest their money in other marketing activities instead.
— Web Business Talk (@tboWebDesign) July 18, 2014
2) Learning to love your clients – Viviana Doctorovich
The next talk was from Viv (@vivdoc), who talked us through her process on how she encourages clients to get involved with a project by inviting them to a workshop-style meeting where they iron out everything they want and need, getting their thoughts across more concisely and helping the project to move along more smoothly.
It definitely got me thinking if I could do something similar with my clients, so it was very useful.
— devolute (@devolute) July 18, 2014
3) Smile! It’s never THAT bad! – Kirsty Burgoine
On Twitter I said that this was a talk after my own heart, as Kirsty (@KirstyBurgoine) described it as “mastering sales without turning to ‘the dark side'” (and I’ve never been a fan of sales)!
She ran through her process, especially concerning the discovery phase and with asking the right questions. One point I especially liked is the temptation to say “we can do that!” about a particular task or requirement just to win the work, even if you don’t have the skills to do so. Also, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know something, and that you’ll have to research it and get back to them – nobody can know absolutely everything about everything, after all.
— devolute (@devolute) July 18, 2014
4) One year of freelancing – Stu Robson
I caught Stu’s (@StuRobson) talk of a similar name at Port80 Localhost earlier this year, so I was slightly concerned that the same talk would be rehashed, but I’m pleased to say that there was plenty of new information in it. Even with the info I was seeing a second time around, to be honest it made a good reminder/refresher.
Stu talked through his personal experience as a freelance front-end developer, particularly the pros and cons of freelancing in general and making sure to keep your pipeline filled up, so that you’re not twiddling your thumbs when a job finishes. He also warned about prospects who set off alarm bells, such as those who promise more work (“it’s only a bit of work for now, but I’ll give you more in the future – I promise!”) or those who say it’s only a ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ bit of work when it probably isn’t.
— Joke de Winter (@jokedewinter) July 18, 2014
5) The Lessons I’ve Learned – Dan Edwards
During his talk, Stu (speaker #4) joked that he had the difficult ‘pre-lunch’ slot, but if anything, the ‘post-lunch’ slot is the tricky bugger – case in point being the fact that I missed the first 10 minutes of Dan’s (@de) talk because we were held up at the restaurant where we went for lunch… Sorry Dan! (Incidentally, I missed the “SEO Ninja” slide – wish I’d been there for that!)
In addition to coming out with what became the unanimously agreed-upon quote of the day (“starting a business is easy, running a business is hard”), what I liked about Dan’s talk is how oozled (his current project) grew out of a blog post and into a full-on online resource directory.
— Dave McCourt (@davemccourt) July 18, 2014
6) Does size matter? – Steve Kirtley
Although all the day’s talks were great, this was probably my favourite. Not only a funny speaker, Steve (@stevekirtley) made a great point – solo freelancers tend to seek out small work because they think “if I’m small, I can only take on small.” But he made a great point about his own background, working at a big household name company where only him and one other member of staff were in charge of the website (when you would’ve assumed that it would’ve had dozens of people doing it). Suffice to say that there’s nothing stopping you working with big companies – if there’s any doubt or concern that we’re too small, it’s (mostly) all in our heads.
He also shared some jaw-droppingly insightful anecdotes… but I’m not allowed to share those (or else he might get in trouble)…!
— devolute (@devolute) July 18, 2014
7) How processes can pivot a digital agency – Danny Bluestone
For me personally, Danny’s (@danny_bluestone) talk was really insightful and useful. He talked us through his journey as a solo freelancer working in his bedroom to growing his agency into what it is today.
What I really liked was his approach and his process (talking a lot about lean start-up terms such as Holacracy and jidoka) and the fact that he sees staff as his most important asset. One quote in particular that he shared hit the nail on the head: “train staff so well that they can leave; treat them so well that they don’t want to.”
— Daniel Morosan (@DanielMorosan) July 18, 2014
8) Educating Clients to Say Yes – Paul Boag
While I pondered, Mr Boag (@boagworld) gave some cracking advice on how we can motivate and empower our clients, instead of making them feel excluded, interfering or stupid. The two main points were:
- Be an expert – let your clients see that you are an industry authority and they will be much more likely to take your thoughts and suggestions on-board.
- Be passionate – not only about your own industry/services, but about your client’s products and services, too. Positivity and passion shine through – and incidentally, so does the opposite…
I don’t know if anyone else picked up on this, but notice that the title of the talk is “Educating Clients…”, not “Getting Clients to Say Yes.” It’s only subtle, and Paul might not even have done it on purpose, but even that use of language – and just that one word – is important and sums things up well I think.
I was still no closer to figuring out why the name Boag was so, so familiar… but everything became clear during the Q&A, which closed the conference.
— Tom Nightingale (@tom_nightingale) July 18, 2014
Panel Q&A – All eight speakers
Joel (the conference’s organiser) allowed a question or two at the end of each presentation, but also allowed 15-30 minutes for a panel Q&A session involving all eight speakers.
— Russell Britton (@brandnatter) July 18, 2014
Questions included how much effort to put into winning work (especially if a prospect takes the mick by requiring lots of meetings up-front), the morality and ethics behind value-based pricing (one that I asked via Twitter; i.e. charging someone more just because they stand to make more of an ROI from your work) and – perhaps most infamously on the day – a heated 5-10 minute debate about SEO…
An audience member (a professional web designer) asked the panel: “what should I do when a client asks for SEO? I don’t know much about it, so should I give it a go, pass it onto someone else…?”
At first, there was talk about the ‘snake-oil merchants’ of SEO: the guys who cold-call businesses “promising” page 1 results; who might be utilising AdWords (instead of organic SEO), hoping that the client doesn’t realise the difference; who say that they’ll rank the client for what might sound like a good keyword, but is so specific that no one ever searches for it… I was thinking “oh here we go” and about to jump in Scrappy-Doo style (“lemme at ’em, lemme at’ em!“), wanting to set the record straight… but I didn’t have to.
It seemed to work out and resolve itself. Paul Boag once explained that he hated SEOs, but implemented some proper modern-day advice and found that it worked really well, changing his mind on the subject. Joel jumped in arguing that it’s an education issue – clients need to understand that if someone’s cold-calling them about it, they’re probably not that reputable, and if they’re ‘promising’ anything, it’s probably too good to be true…
The consensus was summed up when a web designer who works at an agency that also offers SEO explained their process, which sounded like the right way to do SEO – not only by my standards, but by much of the panel’s, too.
It was around this time when I finally placed Paul Boag’s name. This article – which he followed up with a retraction about a month later – whereby he slagged off the entire SEO industry. I nearly stood up, pointed and shouted “YOU… IT WAS YOU!!!” once I realised. Fair play to the guy though… he replied to criticism on that post and later published a retraction, which is more than what most people would do – I remember one guy calling us “SEOs bastards,” yet whose post contained the most flawed arguments in history, but who only published comments that agreed with him and didn’t approve any that didn’t (including one that I tried to publish)… But hey, that guy was a giant prick. Paul Boag is not.
Anyway… I was really pleased with the way that the SEO debate turned out during the Q&A, and I carried on the discussion with various attendees and some of the speakers at the after-party, which took place at a nearby bar.
All in all, it was a fantastic day, with a lot of useful and actionable advice to freelancers and small business owners – even for those who aren’t in the web design industry, such as myself.
For those of you who are interested, Joel also runs Port80, and I’m speaking at the next event next month (in August) on the recent Google Authorship changes. More info can be found on my Speaking page.
[All speaker profile pics lovingly borrowed directly from the tboWD 2014 website.]