Working as an SEO expert has many rewards. Many get to work with loads of great people and learn about so many new businesses in industries I never knew existed. However, it’s not uncommon for initial conversations to go the following way:

“This sounds great, but please bear in mind that I’m a startup.”

“Okay, what’s your budget?”

“Nothing at the moment, but we hope to be able to start paying you once the product takes off, and it will because…”

At this point, we have to stop listening. No matter how exciting a startup is, SEO is a time-consuming process and it isn’t something that should be done for free.

The simple truth

If you don’t have money in those early days of starting a business then you’re going to need to put in the time it takes to learn essential marketing tasks like SEO, PPC and social media. A bit of luck goes a long way, but if you want to start generating leads for your business, inbound marketing is not an option, it’s a necessity.

The DIY route

A DIY route is an option if you have the willingness to learn. The good news is that the internet is an incredible resource for finding out everything you could possibly need to know about SEO, PPC and other marketing activities. But at what cost?

Building a startup website from zero traffic to a steady traffic stream and then turning that traffic into leads is a serious amount of work. It could be a full-time job for some people, which isn’t always an option when you’re busy building your empire.

It’s not just a case of finding the time to do the work, it’s a case of finding the time to learn what work needs to be done, and then doing it. With so many other business activities to think about, you have to decide if this is a worthwhile use of your time.

You can’t have it all

A project management triangle is a tool used to explain why you can’t have it all. On each side of the triangle, there is a different parameter – Fast, Good and Cheap. The triple constraint is that you can only pick two of these parameters. If it’s fast and cheap, it won’t be good. If it’s cheap and good, it won’t be fast. Startups need to realise this when building their marketing strategy.

Stop wasting time

A common pitfall is that people waste a lot of time trying to cheat the system. They assume that, if they search long enough, someone will be able to tell them the shortcuts and quick fixes that will help them get around the triple constraint. A lot of time can be wasted in this way. If you’re determined to do your own marketing, then getting past the idea that there are quick fixes is essential.

Ignore the experts at your peril

Imagine the scene. The boiler is broken and you call a plumber. The plumber arrives, tinkers with a few bolts and brings your boiler back to life. The plumber then hands you a large bill. It can feel like you’re getting cheated. After all, you could have easily done what the plumber did if you had the knowledge of the inner workings of the boiler. But it’s important to remember that the bill isn’t the price for them to adjust a few settings. It’s the price you pay for their expertise in knowing which nuts and bolts to adjust. Try it yourself, and you could burn easily your house down.

Marketing works in much the same way. You could take the time to learn the ins and outs of SEO, but you could end of metaphorically burning your website down if things go wrong, particularly if you go after quick fixes and shortcuts.

Slow and steady wins the race

The effort it takes to properly optimise a site for search engines is huge, but so are the rewards on offer. The traffic this site gets from search engines would cost around £40K every month from PPC. Instead of paying for this traffic, we took the slow and steady approach to optimise the site for sustained growth. If you’re prepared to take this on, the rewards will be unprecedented. If you’re ready to put in the work, here’s what you will need to do:

  1. Never underestimate the time required for such an undertaking. Make the marketing strategy a key business activity.
  2. Embrace the workload and be prepared to adapt your time as needed. Marketing isn’t something that can be put off until next week, which inevitable never arrives.
  3. Put in a realistic budget. Even if you aren’t hiring an agency to do the work, there are still tools you will need and extra support that will not be free.
  4. The right team behind you. You can’t do this alone and you’ll need the support or a strong team to help you achieve your goals.