Bruce Clay: “How I Built My SEO Business”

Author: Gab Goldenberg

Bruce, how did you make the transition from being an SEO consultant to an SEO agency?

Photo credit: Jon Hochman of Hochman Internet Marketing Consultants

Bruce Clay

I first got an education:

  • Got a bachelor’s in science and math
  • Next was an  MBA from Pepperdine

Then, I was in the programming business for 20 years. That made me realize when I was preparing to go into business for myself, that I wanted something software-driven.

[At another point in the interview, Bruce clarified that he ran the national US office for one of the world’s largest tech companies, which is how he acquired business management skills.]

I also wanted it to be in the marketing industry, and at a high level.

As to my objective with all this, it was to “work” with a notebook computer and a Corona on a beach.

So I built my own site first, practiced SEO and got ranked. This got me calls.

Demand was greater than supply, so I raised prices. Next, I compensated by bringing in employees.

We first worked out of a large area in my house and then moved to an office. We now have 6 suites! [Ed: For the US office alone!]

From there, I grew [successfully] because I knew how to set things up. If I was going international, I knew we had to have a local office with local managers, wherever we established an office.

That’s the formula we’ve used to expand to the UK, Australia, Japan, and Italy. And our international business is doing well!

The managers of the local offices are motivated at least partly by the equity in their local offices. Note that each office is separately incorporated. We license the Bruce Clay name to the foreign offices.

I also keep an equity interest in each of these foreign branches – they’re not franchises. This was done intentionally because franchises are a big hassle. There are issues with:

  • Royalties
  • Licensing
  • Requirements for education

Additionally, our existing setup is better for tax purposes than a franchising arrangement would be.

[At this point we digressed into some discussion about Matt wanting to fight international spam more this coming year, and something to do with foreign language blacklists…]

How did you handle hiring employees for Bruce Clay, and what are some of the struggles entrepreneurs have with this?

The hardest bit is delegation.

The best employees:

  • Know the voice of the corporation,
  • Know intuitively what’s right and what’s wrong.
  • Need to share your values and voice so you can trust them.

[Ed: Update: The “what’s wrong” link is link love for Lisa Barone’s piece on Google Profiles. It’s not saying that she was a bad employee or anything like that. Thought I’d clarify for the Tweeple who didn’t catch what I meant on the first go-round.]

That’s how you avoid micromanagement!

You need to watch new hires at first. This is easier for a 1-person shop, where you can hire and wait because the growth is slow.

For a business like Bruce Clay Inc, it’s a little different. [You don’t have the privilege of waiting and supervising too closely. The way it plays out is as follows:

– School teaches micromanaging, via collective grading.

– Specifically, if you feel your way is the only way, you’re gonna redo everyone else’s work.

– This lowers satisfaction – both yours and the clients.

– Additionally, quality drops and timelines are missed.

As a result, Bruce Clay always hires and trains [from scratch], rather than risk having a blackhat [SEO] inhouse who will revert to bad habits.

Personally, I’ve been thinking of hiring some family to help me grow SEO ROI Services. But I’ve seen the problems this can cause. What tips would you have for such a situation?

The first two employees I hired were my girlfriend and her brother. I quickly had to make some ground rules.

1) At the office, it’s my company. So things are going to be done right. I have the ability to [pen died, Bruce went on and somehow I didn’t fill this in… ??] [guesses: Protect the business? Fire them?]

2) I make employees take the Bruce Clay training – twice!

3) They also have a 6 month period of mentorship [under a more senior employee].

– We’ll bend over to make people work [that is, to help them overcome their initial challenges].

– If you hire right, this isn’t a problem.

What about the financial arrangements involved? What if business is bad for a stretch and I don’t have enough work for them?

Some practical advice I can give on working with family members is to:

  • Hire them first as consultants.
  • Do NOT carry them on your accounting books as employees.
  • Tell them something like:

“I don’t know what business will be like, so I may have ongoing work for you or not.

I’m going to go in X direction – do you have the desire and motivation to go there with me?

~3.5) But be careful if they’re not the right match for the technology and what you want, relative to business considerations.

4) Always deal with them as consultants. Business is about business, not family.

You have to remember: “My ability to be paid is if clients will pay them [the family members].

To do SEO right is important, and get lots of sales.”

5) When dealing with family, you have staff you need to make sure the corporation survives. Since you can’t cut technology, you might need to cut administrative expenses.

5.5) There are different ways to reduce expenses. You can cut salaries and give people a day off. And the two can be mixed, e.g. a 10% pay cut and 1 day off a week to achieve something like a 30% total cut.

My point is that there are different ways to manage expenses.

6) Another tip is to follow news that affects your industry closely. For example, Edmunds has been affected by the auto industry’s issues.

This sort of knowledge can help you forecast how you will be affected and how to adjust finances.

We next discussed some of Bruce’s current and recent projects.

Part of being successful in this business is getting clients to implement. We told one media client to push their website via the print edition, by putting each article’s URL at the end of the printed version. They ignored that and haven’t seen much improvement in their traffic.

By contrast, we did a 96-page assessment for CNN. They wanted to rank #1 for the keyword “News”. Ahead of Google.

They ranked, and that got them 5 times their prior traffic.

CNN ranks on Google for News, and even has Sitelinks on that keyword!

CNN ranks on Google for News, and even has Sitelinks on that keyword!

[I’m not sure if Bruce meant 5 times what they got from ranking lower down for “News” or what their site got in total, prior to that. Both are plausible, considering News has an average 100M monthly searches, per Google’s AdWords Tool.]

We also have the only comprehensive toolset in China. We had to redesign everything to compensate for language issues.

The rate we’re going to charge is $10/month. [For the whole toolset or the toolbar? Is the toolbar included in the toolset? This was a bit confusing TBH.]

The way our toolbar differentiates from Aaron Wall’s is that it’s going to be marketing-oriented, and less tech-oriented.

Finally, we’ll be implementing a wide-open reporting format called Crystal Reports. [This seemed oriented to agencies who want to Whitelabel Bruce Clay’s tool-generated reports.]

Thanks a lot, Bruce!

If you enjoyed this interview with internet marketing pioneer Bruce Clay, you should (i) Check out the Bruce Clay blog and (ii) Add my RSS feed to your reader!

Author: sroiadmin