Tips on Running a Successful Boutique SEO Company

Tips on Running a Successful Boutique SEO Company

Written by +Will Hanke on August 13th, 2013

I run a small SEO shop, have an office and a few employees. While I’m not really a fan of the word boutique, it fits the perception (and jargon) for today’s small service-based business. Running this business for over 15 years has taught me a lot of things and I figured it was time for me to share some of them with my readers. Some are fun, some are sucky, all are for you to learn from, and to take and grow your boutique SEO company faster than I did.

Learn How to Expand

I have a good friend, a business owner, that gave me a great piece of advice years ago. He said “Grow with your business, not because of it”. It’s important to not focus on quick growth, but rather steady growth that can be easily managed. One of the biggest problems I’ve had over the years is that I never understood how to expand my business. I’ve always had the passion to grow into more of an agency, but at the same time I deflected any sort of client that would push me into that situation. I’ve stuck with small businesses that I can handle myself. Dumb idea.

Learn to Filter

Successful Boutique SEO CompanyOne of the best things I’ve learned over the years is that a lot of people want a lot of help for not a lot of money. These sorts of people can quickly turn into a time-suck for your business, without an income increase to justify it. By filtering these people out right from the start, I’ve found that my clients are more understanding and respectful of my time. While I have a passion for helpin small businesses grow, I have grown to understand that I can’t help them all grow. They have to have a budget set aside for SEO, they need to usually be educated

Attend Conferences

I spend an hour every morning catching up on the latest SEO news and reading SEO blogs to keep myself fresh.  But it really isn’t enough.  Interaction with other SEOs, networking and building relationships are integral parts of building your SEO business.

It always amazes me how many so-called SEO experts have never been to a major conference like SMX or Pubcon. There is so much to be learned during and after the conference.  If you’ve been, you know what I mean.

Get a Business Coach

I remember when business coaches first appeared on the scene. All of the sudden there were hundreds, then thousands of them all saying they knew just what you needed to do for your business.  I never believed the hype, and I was mostly right in doing so.  Just like all the SEO businesses popping up everywhere, anyone can grab a name tag and a title and slap it on their shirt.

Now, I’m not saying all business coaches are crap. Heck, I’m writing this recommending that you get one. But be careful. Find a coach that’s been through the wringer. Probably someone older, with a background in sales, and someone that you trust.  You may already get advice from someone and you just never realized that they fit that role.

The only other thing I’ll say here is that you’ve got to balance their age with their understanding of new technology. Hell, an SEO business isn’t like a plumber. Standard operating procedures can change overnight (thanks Google) and you’ve got to have someone that gets the new way of doing business.

Pro Tip: Check out SCORE. They have tons of former business owners and can refer one to you.

More Than One to Do the Job

Probably one of the most crucial things I’ve learned is that I can’t just rely on one person to do a job. People get sick, they don’t check their email every 5 minutes (why?!) and they have other things on their plate. I find this especially true of graphic designers. They are as bad as home contractors – going missing sometimes for days, only to pop back up and finish the job. Or worse – abandon the job halfway through. But I digress.

Having a few people that you can rely on for the same task makes delegation easier, it means the job can get done quicker and it means less headaches.

Do More Than Your Clients Expect

Everyone says this. Over-provide, especially in the first months of a new contract/client. Wow them with your expertise (it’s not that hard, really) and you’ll be locked in for the long haul.

Don’t Outsource to India

The value is never there. Not for you, not for your clients.

Educate Your Clients

Here’s one of the toughest, yet most important parts of running a boutique SEO company – educating your clients.  My best clients, by far, are those that understand what I do. Not in all it’s boring details, but they understand link building, they understand the hours it takes to get things right. They understand that SEO isn’t an automated program with an on and off switch.  They don’t require status reports because they see it in their numbers. Increased sales, calls, leads & referrals means I’m doing my job.

I run bootcamps from time to time for small business owners.  They cover basics like optimizing your Google Plus profile, setting up WordPress SEO plugins, etc.  I always invite one or two of my clients to these bootcamps.  Even though they’re paying me to do the stuff they’re hearing at the bootcamp, just the fact that they’re there, digging in, trying to understand what it is I do and why, gives me a great advantage.  They come out smarter and our conversations become easier.


There’s nothing I love more than posts that show the inside workings of a successful business.  While most business owners today shelter their inner workings, I’ve decided to write this post, and probably more like it, to show other business owners how to succeed.  Just like hiring a business coach, there’s nothing better than learning from experience. And if it’s someone else’s experience, and you don’t have to go through it, bonus.

I’m not a bible-thumper, but I do believe that Give and it shall be given is true to the core.  Take these tips, add your own in the comments, and build a successful SEO company.

Just don’t do it in St. Louis. 🙂


Will Hanke is the Chief Search Marketing Strategist at Red Canoe Media, a top St. Louis Search Marketing & SEO firm. In addition to helping some of the city's most recognizable brands with their online marketing strategy, Will also is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and teacher.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Tim Biden says:

    Great post, Will. There’s a lot of truth there and a lot that I wish I had heard a couple years ago. The “Get a Business Coach”, “Give” and “More Than One to Do the Job” are so true that it hurts.

    “Don’t Outsource to India”, if anyone’s seen the links that come out of that outsourcing, well, they understand too. If they’ve never done an SEO audit, they probably have no clue.

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