Disclaimer: I am not a financial consultant, CPA or a lawyer. Take what I say with a grain of salt and always check with your own professionals. This is just what I did to get started and you can do the same!
Do you wish you could work for yourself? Do you want to start your own online business? Well read on as I explain how I started my own SEO business online for free.
First of all, why would someone want to start their own SEO business? Well in 2018 the SEO industry was valued at $80 billion! So there is a ton of opportunity and there are plenty of businesses that need help with SEO. Face it, if you have a business, the majority of the time you need a website + SEO.
No degree is required in order to start your own SEO business. You can easily start grossing 100k+ per year like me. It took me 24 months to get to this point. Plus, all the educational content you need is free! It costs zero dollars to learn SEO. You can do this by joining email lists, reading blog posts, case studies, and documentation provided by search engines. Of course there are paid SEO courses too but you don’t have to pay to learn SEO.
Setting Up the Business
Ok, I lied. There is one thing that you will have to pay money for. But it’s just one thing out of this whole list; a business license.
When I first started I got a business license in the city where I lived under my name for $65/yr. I did business under my legal name: Danielle Owens. It was super easy.
You can just Google something like “[city name] business license” and then read your city’s requirements for getting a business license.
SCORE also has free business mentors which can help you get your business up and running. SCORE mentors have tons of real life business experience and are extremely helpful. I highly recommend setting up at least one meeting with them.
If you want to do business under a cool business name instead of your legal name, you can get a DBA (aka doing business as, fictitious name). This helps you to create a separate professional business identity.
But a DBA is not a separate legal entity. When you register a DBA there is no distinction between your personal assets and the assets of your business.
Because an LLC is a separate legal entity, your personal assets would be considered separate from the assets of the business. This provides you with a measure of protection against creditors and lawsuits.
After about a year, I set up an LLC for my business since it was just me. You don’t need an INC unless you start hitting a certain level of income. You will need to consult with your tax professional / CPA though. But if you are just getting started, you don’t need to worry about this just yet.
Once you have established your business and are making some income, you may want to consider an LLC or INC.
Make sure to set up your free business bank account. Most local credit unions offer free business checking accounts with no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees.
If you are doing business under your legal name, you may not need a new bank account. But if you are using a DBA, LLC, INC, etc. then you should set up a separate bank account.
Why Credit Unions?
How is a credit union different from a bank? Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve their members. So they are not going to use unethical business practices in order to gain profits and please shareholders.
The profits made by credit unions are returned back to members in the form of reduced fees, higher savings rates and lower loan rates.
In most cases, you can easily bank online and withdraw from any co-op ATMs. I’ve never had any major issues when using a credit union. I can do mobile deposits, withdraw cash from 20k+ ATMs across the US for free, write checks, deposit funds from PayPal and Stripe, etc.
Wave is a free tool you can use for accounting, invoicing and accepting payments. I used it for a little while until I could afford Freshbooks. You may also want to look into ZipBooks. It’s also free.
Or you can just use Google Sheets (or Excel) to track income and expenses.
When I first got started I used an Excel template for invoices. Here are a few free invoicing templates.
Simply export them as a PDF and email them to your clients.
If you want to save on payment fees, you can start by accepting only cash or checks.
Or you can open a free PayPal or Stripe account. You will need to use your social security number to set this up (or an EIN if you know what that is). Once your payment vendor is set up, you can start receiving payments online. PayPal and Stripe will charge you a fee to process your online payments. But there are no up-front costs. They simply take a cut of what you made.
In your invoice, you can link to your payment method. Of course you can use a paid tool like Freshbooks to make life easier but I’m showing you the free way to do it until you have enough money to start using paid tools.
Free Management Tools
You can get a free phone number to use for your business from TextNow or Google Voice. Why is TextNow free? The app comes with a few ads. If you don’t like ads, you can purchase a premium subscription to remove them.
When you first start out, it’s ok to have an email address like [email protected] for your business. At some point, you can pay for a professional email address.
You can open a Google Account for free that comes with free email and free Google Drive storage.
You will need somewhere to store all of your files and your client’s files. You get 15 GB of free Google Drive storage which is more than enough to get you started.
You will need to be able to collaborate with other team members and / or clients on documents.
I use Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides for free which is also included in your free Google Account. I don’t have to pay for Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint.
Slack is free and has many great integrations. You can send direct messages or chat in public channels for all to see.
With Asana, you can view all your tasks in a list or kanban board style, like Trello. This is super handy if different teams (such as SEO, dev, email, paid) are working together, as it centralizes everything in one place.
The free version has everything you need to manage projects, tasks, deadlines and teams.
When trying to gain an SEO client, you may need to do screenshares to show them issues you are going to fix or go over a website audit with them. You can use Uberconference and Zoom for free. I prefer Uberconference because the guests don’t have to create an account or download any software to join your conference.
Free SEO Tools
You’re going to need some SEO tools so that you can get some SEO work done properly. These are all free tools that you can use to get the job done.
Tracking & Analytics
Site Health and Error Messages
Google Search Console: Track impressions, clicks, CTR and average ranking position, and view crawl errors. You can see if Google is having any trouble crawling and indexing your site’s pages.
Google Analytics: View users, sessions, pageviews, bounce rate, time on site, goal completions and more.
Google Tag Manager: Track phone calls, contact form submissions and file downloads for free.
You will want to track keyword rankings for sites that you work on. This will help you prove that your SEO work is effective.
SEMrush: You can track up to 10 keywords for free. If you have your first small client, this may be enough to get things going. Also, Google Search Console gives you all ranking data for free.
Website hosting is not free. You can find “free” hosting but you will be sorry. Instead you can charge clients to host their sites and it ends up being free for you (SiteGround $5.95/mo for the first year). Then you can upgrade your hosting later when you have the budget for it.
I recommend WordPress because it has many free integrations, plugins and is one of the most popular CMS’ used at the moment.
These are some of my favorite free plugins that I use to get my SEO work done.
- Yoast SEO
- Search and Replace
- Contact Form 7
- Google Tag Manager for WordPress
- WP Fastest Cache
You can create free SEO reports using Google Data Studio. Make sure to include goal completions, organic traffic overview and top keyword rankings.
You can use Canva to create images for social media posts or display ads.
Social Media Posts
Buffer: With their free account, you can post to 3 social accounts for free
Zapier is great to creating automations. Their free account give you five zaps.
These are some of the places that I learned SEO for free:
I also offer SEO training but it’s not free.
How to Get Your First SEO Clients
Gather Some SEO Work Examples
When I first got started in SEO, I did free projects for friends. Why did I do that? Well because I’d be able to use these projects as case studies and document proof of my abilities.
Do a few free SEO projects. Make sure to take before and after screenshots of conversions, organic traffic, keyword rankings, impressions and clicks, etc.
Plus, the friends that you did free work for now know that you do SEO. Maybe they will refer people your way in the future.
Afterwards, ask them for a testimonial that you can add to your own website or ask them to leave you a review on a third-party site of your choice such as Google My Business, Facebook or Yelp.
Find SEO Clients for Free
- Start your own SEO meetup group
- Cold outreach via phone, email or by visiting a business in person
- Offer to meet for a free cup of coffee with a potential client
- Ask friends and family if they can refer anyone to you that might need SEO help
- Make sure to optimize your own website and collect leads there
- Offer a finder’s fee to anyone who sends a lead your way that becomes a client. Take the finder’s fee out of your clients first payment. That way you don’t pay anything!
- Lower prices at first to be fair (since you are a newbie) and attract some sort of business.
- Learn the hard way by getting some difficult clients who are cheap. Make mistakes and learn from them.
- Look for sites that have issues and propose your services. Find staging sites that are indexed on search engines and shortcodes that are displaying that should not be.
Are you ready to get started???!!!