The 9 Habits of an SEO Freelancer

    When I woke up this morning, one of the first things I did was open up Evernote and start to write. (After I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and brewed my green tea, of course.)

    I don’t wake up every morning and think carefully about what I’m going to write. I just do it. It’s ingrained into my morning routine.

    In 2013, I read Leo Babauta’s Zen Habit piece about writing every day. He inspired me. So, every day for the past three years, I’ve been waking up at 4:00 am with the same routine. My laptop is always in the right place, I always spend the same amount of time writing each morning, and I never have to think about it.

    Habits influence our actions and behaviors. Building positive work habits as a freelancer gives me the freedom to perform the work I need to be doing, without it feeling like it’s a job.

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    There are a lot of things outside of this list below I know I should be doing, but I’m not. Yet. If you’re an SEO freelancer, please feel free to share insights into your work habits at the bottom. I’d love to hear from you!

    As an SEO freelancer, my day isn’t just about building backlinks, curating content, and a kick-ass schedule as most might like to believe. I have fallen into the stigma of becoming accustomed to infinite daytime TV, sweatpants, and finally (drum roll, please) being my own boss. In a time where outsourcing is a “thing,” I realized early on in my career that there’s never been a better time to my make own rules for my dream 9-to-5. But, as with any change, I had to learn new habits.

    Earlier this year, SEJ posted a Marketing Nerds podcast about making the leap from full-time to freelancing; today expanding on that topic and I’m talking all about the habits of us seasoned side hustlers and full-time grinders of freelance SEO.

    From the 2:00 pm afternoon naps to the 2:00 am client calls, these habits I’ve developed go way beyond the basics of performing keyword research or managing client meetings. Maintaining my routine often feels like a third job, but I make it work. Here’s the skinny on the habits I’ve created and what it takes to make it as an SEO freelancer. Get ready: the full American dream ahead.

    Why is it Important to Hire a Good SEO Freelancer?

    Today, you’ll see many companies on Indeed hiring for an SEO Manager.

    SEO has seen incredible growth over the past couple of years. Conductor reported double-digit growth in salaries from 2012 to 2015 in the top U.S. cities. And while there are many positions available for in-house SEO Managers, there are many of us SEO marketers making a career in SEO by flying solo. With the changing role of SEO, it’s important to evolve your skill set to maintain the status of a good SEO freelancer. Today’s SEO freelancers will pride themselves on these skills:

    1. Build and manage an editorial calendar that attracts an audience
    2. Grow new leads with landing pages and lead generating content
    3. Manage technical on-page SEO in collaboration with developers
    4. Create goals for clickthrough rates, conversions, and traffic
    5. Connect with influential bloggers, journalists, and users to build brand
    6. Run experiments to optimize website

    And there is so much more.

    If you think about SEO, it isn’t something you can teach someone like your ABC’s. It’s a skill that is learned and developed over time after you’re able to work through real-life website problems.

    So what habits do you need to develop to become a more efficient SEO freelancer?

    Below I share my daily habits — budding SEO techies, you’ll want to take notes.

    1. Pants are Optional

    This may sound like a silly habit to develop, but it’s one of my personal favorites. As any SEO freelancer that’s been doing it for a while will tell you, invest in a pair of comfy, yet classy sweatpants. No, I’m not talking about your faded high school JV soccer sweats with holes in the pockets. I’m talking Lululemon, Under Armour, Adidas, whatever makes you feel, as Demi Lovato would say, “Confident.”

    While it can be tough to overcome the temptation of working on a disavow file in your jammies all day, researchers say that wearing formal clothing can enhance abstract cognitive processing. But, Melissa Gonzalez, founder, and CEO of Lion’esque Group a retail firm in Chelsea, New York believes otherwise. She told the New York Post “Being comfortable keeps my energy more open to idea generation.”

    So, how do I battle this debate?

    I show up to my desk every day with a business button-down on top and a party pair of sweatpants on the bottom. And, to all the sweatpant-doubters and believers in “clothes make the man (or woman),” I answer with this: It’s the “sweat” in “sweatpants” that helps me grind out the long hours and weekends at my computer for another free SEO analysis or a new client proposal. I am dressing for the job I want.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Brush your teeth, wash your face, take a shower, whatever!
    2. Change out of your pajamas and into your sweatpants.
    3. Begin your day!

    2. Stalk Data Every Day

    Before I shut off my computer for the day, I login into Google Analytics for each of my clients and annotate any events that happened that day. I do this every day. Doing this helps me to remember if an email newsletter launched or a social media contest kicked-off. It gives me a day-by-day snapshot of the different marketing events going on, which may be useful down on the line if I see a spike in traffic.

    I’ll also take a look at my numbers to make sure we’re moving along nicely. For instance, I’ll take a quick dive into real-time traffic to make sure Google Analytics is firing on the website. I’ll also take a look a bounce rate to see if users are pogo sticking.

    By documenting the evolution of traffic growth or decline, I’m able to make my monthly client meetings a lot more interesting and insightful. This also helps when I’m putting together case studies for my website.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Set-up daily reports for each of your clients to be emailed to you every day.
    2. Set-up dashboards in Google Analytics to easily access what you need.
    3. Create alerts if your data drops or rises below a certain number or percentage.

    3. Audit Weekly

    Every month, I share reports with my clients about their overall website health status. From organic traffic conversions to new backlinks, we talk about everything that’s happening on their website for SEO purposes. To better serve my clients, I started auditing my work weekly. I use Toggl, Trello, and Google Calendar as my time tracking apps. I color code meetings, research, writing, building backlinks, etc. At the end of each week, I review the time I spent on each client and compared to the work I’ve done. I’ll also associate the work I’ve done to their analytics.

    (Editor note: This concept is also something covered in our latest book club pick.)

    Not to my surprise, the majority of my time is spent in meetings and responding to client meetings. If you’re a solo freelancer, like me, this is a habit you’ll want to break. It will eat away at your time and clients will wonder why you haven’t spent any time doing actual work.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Block out an hour every Friday or Monday (whatever works best for you.)
    2. Write down your goals for that client every week.
    3. Use a tool to set-up a crawl of your client’s site weekly. I use Screaming Frog or SEMRush.
    4. Head over to Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Bing Webmaster Tools to make sure there is nothing out of the ordinary.
    5. Go through my Google Alerts emails for that client to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
    6. Once the crawl is finished, complete one or two things on your goal list from the crawl test.

    4. Look Beyond the Obvious Competitors

    When looking at competitors for my clients, I don’t restrict myself to looking at competitors in the same vertical. It’s important for me to keep an open mind and remember that competitors come in many different forms.

    For example, a client of mine, PetYen, is a pet care search engine who would obviously be in competition with Rover.com and Petfinder. But, they are also in competition with Angie’s List, Airbnb, and Uber. I’m inspired by different aspects of each.

    After all, competitive research is about learning what sites do good and bad. The more variety I have in that, the more I have to offer my clients.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Start small. Pick one competitor per month to research.
    2. Choose a clear competitor at the start of the month.
    3. Use Moz or Ahrefs to analyze their backlinks and on-page SEO.
    4. Make notes on what strategies inspire you.
    5. Next month, pick a random company that you think is doing SEO really well to analyze. See where it takes you.

    5. Know Your Worth

    When I started freelancing almost six years ago, I was making $10.00 an hour. I had six months of experience at an advertising agency and about 30 years of student loan debt ahead of me. Freelancing was my extra source of income that was going to pay down my student loans.

    As my knowledge started to grow with every new conference, class, or client, I kept charging the same price. I didn’t know my worth. Agencies would outsource work to me from Fortune 500 companies, and I was still charging $10.00 an hour. I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth.

    freelance seo quote 2

    I changed my pricing structure from per hour to per project. By changing my price structure, I changed my entire life.

    Knowing how much my time is worth changed EVERYTHING. 

    For example, the first month a client and I start working together; I’ll perform a competitor analysis. Typically, the client shares 2 to 3 competitors they want to analyze from an SEO perspective. If I charge $25.00 per hour, and it took me 2 hours to complete the research that’s $50.00. But, if the competitors don’t offer value in tracking from an SEO point-of-view, then I spend time researching competitors that do. This adds another two hours that I’m not getting paid for.

    As a human, it’s in my DNA to want something bigger, better, stronger, and faster. But don’t fall into the trap of achieving money nirvana overnight. You don’t need to charge $25.00 an hour, then spike up to $100.00 an hour. This total overhaul of my pricing structure took time, not only for clients but my behavior as well.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Figure out what your costs are every month. How much is your electricity bill? Water bill? Groceries? Etc.
    2. Calculate how much you need to make per hour to pay all your bills.
    3. Don’t forget to subtract 30% tax if you’re a W-9 at the end of the year. For example, if you make $1000 per month, you’ll want to save $300 for taxes. Ask yourself: Can I pay my bills with $700?
    4. Every new client you get, up your prices by $5 or $10 to get to a spot where you feel comfortable.

    6. Baller at Budgeting

    It might feel like you’re on a rollercoaster ride, but, reality is, SEO freelancers spend the majority of their time organizing invoices and expenses. For some of us, it’s categorizing our expenses into write-offs, while others may find themselves just figuring out how much money to take out of their business to pay rent.

    One of the drawbacks to getting out of your 9-to-5 grind is getting a grip on your spending habits. Sure, you want to fantasize about having the same client for years, but, truthfully SEO freelancers need to be prepared to win and lose some clients. No judgment here on what you end of skimping and splurging on. You work hard for that money. Budgeting for a 6-month buffer in case you lose a client or two will give you a little breathing room.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Set-up automatic withdrawals every month to subtract 20% of everything you make.
    2. Continue this process until you get three months of savings that you could live on. Meaning, you have enough in your savings to pay your rent, utilities, and eat for three months without clients.
    3. Then, continue until you get to 6-months. You can drop the savings down to 10% if it’s too much of a burden.

    It’s important to take your taxes and savings into consideration when charging your hourly or project rate. If you’re getting paid $1000 per month, $300 goes to taxes; $200 goes to savings, is it worth the $500 for you to do the work?

    7. Love for the Hustle

    Whether you’re side-gigging it or just trying to make a living, you know what it feels like to hustle hard. I know what it feels like to roll out of bed with zero money in the bank then turn on some gangster rap and get it done. True hustlers challenge themselves every day to reach “optimal anxiety.” A study conducted 1908 proves we need to reach “optimal anxiety” to find maximum performance levels. This is where the “feast or famine” hustle work cycle comes into play. We see it in successful stories like Kobe Bryant, Mozart, and Sophia Amoruso every day.

    freelancer SEO quote

    SEO freelancers have to face their fear of a lack of stability to achieve optimal performance levels. Personally, I’ve taught myself to wake up every morning at 4:00 am to work on my clients. I often spend my Friday evenings in front of the computer. And, my work week begins on Sunday. Every day I’m hustling to get better in hopes one day, I won’t have to hustle this hard anymore.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Dream big. Write your big, ridiculous, over-the-top goal down.
    2. Map out each day to get yourself closer to achieving that goal.
    3. Learn to say no to plans that get in the way of you achieving that goal.

    8. Strategic About Your Time

    Even though I’ve been freelancing for almost six years now, I still get overwhelmed by my workload. I am guilty of saying “yes” when I shouldn’t. But, to keep myself organized, I’ve created a robust daily workflow that I stick to every single day. At the same time, I audit my client work; I’ll cross-check my time for the past week and the coming week.

    I’ll open my Google Calendar (or Trello) to a block of times for client meetings, client projects, the gym, grocery store, whatever! I even have blocks of time buffered in for walking the dogs.

    Jack Dorsey, CEO, and Founder of Square and Twitter, puts themes on his work days. Here’s an example of his work week:

    • Monday: Management
    • Tuesday: Product
    • Wednesday: Marketing, communications, growth
    • Thursday: Developers and partnerships
    • Friday: Company, culture, and recruiting
    • Saturday: Day of rest
    • Sunday: Reflections, feedback, and strategy

    How to start this habit:

    1. Make a list of everything you want to accomplish this week on Sunday or Monday.
    2. Prioritize it starting with the top 10 things you want to complete.
    3. Open Google Calendar and block off times to complete each task.
    4. Once your Google Calendar invite pops up to start a new task, stop where you’re at and begin the new task.

    9. Champions of Community

    Here’s what I thought about my career when I was transitioning from social media to SEO: create an authentic voice, overachieve on high-quality content, and be the first person to master a new trend. Well, I still need to create an authentic voice, overachieve on content, and I still aim to be the first person to master a new trend. However, I’ve taken this from Facebook posts and 140-character tweets into link building gold mines.

    As an SEO freelancer, I need to create ongoing, long-lasting connections not only for my current clients but my future clients.

    How to start this habit:

    1. Start by making a dream wish list of everyone you want to have a connection to.
    2. Follow them on their most active social channels.
    3. Sign up for their newsletter.
    4. Comment on their blog.
    5. Send an email thanking them for a recent piece.
    6. Continue to nurture that relationship.

    A Good SEO Freelancer Lets You Scale

    A good SEO freelancer will grow and change alongside you as your business, products, and services start to scale. I’ve helped increase organic traffic to over 100+ client websites in less than six years. There have been many challenges and rewards along the way. I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about my habits that have helped me! It’s truly amazing to see how small tweaks can have the biggest impact.

    Are there any habits you’ve developed as an SEO freelancer that have helped you succeed? Drop me a line in the comments below!


    Image Credits

    Featured Image: GaudiLab/Deposit Photos
    In-post Photos: All images by Anna Crowe.


    Anna Crowe

    Features Writer at Hello Anna & Co.
    Anna is the Features Writer for Search Engine Journal and an SEO-whisperer at Hello Anna & Co. Over the last 5 years, Anna has successfully.

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