One of the hardest parts of running an SEO business for the most part is getting clients – especially if you’re just starting out.
It can certainly be a relief when the phone rings, and there’s someone on the other end that’s interested in working with you. They’re cashed up, they need help with SEO and seem eager to get started.
What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, that’s what.
There are a few things I’ve learnt when it comes to prequalifying clients over the years. One thing in particular of which, can’t be entered into a spreadsheet or calculated by a piece of software.
And that is gut instinct.
Gut instinct is that sense of uncertainty or doubt you get when you’re speaking with a prospect for the first time, and you know – you just know its not going to work.
Its like that little voice in your head that’s saying “This person is a disaster, don’t do it”
But of course, they’re waving cash in your face, and you really need that bright shiny object you saw the other day, so you say yes, and that’s when the madness starts.
Instant regret every time.
Every time I’ve said yes to a prospect where its felt off on the initial call – its gone bad, and I’ve regretted it
Every. Fucking. Time.
Simply because I didn’t listen to my gut.
Stupid mistake. Stupid!
If you’re on a call with someone enquiring about SEO, and that little voice in your head is shouting “Don’t fucking do it!”
Then do not do that thing!
You already know it’s going to end badly, so no matter how much money they’re waving in your face, hang up the phone. Hide under the bed.
Do whatever it takes to get the hell out of there.
Just don’t say yes, because you know, you’ll think back to this article and say ..”John was right”
I know. I’ve spent years making the same stupid mistake.
Over and over again.
So, instead of having to work with psychopaths, or hide under the bed, or wake up every morning with anxiety because of that client that keeps calling you every 5 minutes, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learnt, in terms of spotting red flags when speaking with new leads, and to avoid all the drama.
Trust me, if you don’t pay attention and take my advice, you’ll end up working with a client that thinks its okay to look into your bedroom window at 11pm to make sure you’re up working on their website.
Alright, enough of that nonsense, let’s get into it.
Bouncers are clients that bounce from one agency to the next every few months because they’re fucking mental.
These are prospects that will say something like, “Yeah listen, we we’ve tried a dozen different SEO agencies over the last 6 months and they’ve all been crap. You’re not crap are you?”.
Now listen, I get it.
There’s a lot of shitty SEO service providers out there so I can certainly understand how a business owner might struggle to find a good one.
But seriously, if someone tells me on the phone that they’ve tried a dozen or more SEO agencies and all of them have been crap?
Then that’s a red flag.
That tells me something.
It tells me that unless they’ve been incredibly unlucky, or they’ve been paying $99 a month, then somethings wrong.
My guess here is that if they’ve been constantly jumping from one SEO agency to the next every few months then chances are it’s them that’s the problem, not the service provider.
And I know in some cases this is definitely true.
Sometimes the client is the problem, not the SEO, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of them.
I’ve had numerous clients that I’ve had to get rid of because they’re calling me every day, or fixated on stupid shit, or fiddling around with the website constantly and fucking up my work. Those clients don’t last long. So my advice here would be to firstly ask them why.
“Why have they all been shit?”
Then listen – carefully.
If their reasons are fair then it might be an exception, but if they’re simply ranting and raving about how some account manager didn’t call them back, or the web guy wouldn’t change the size of the logo or they weren’t first page in Google after 3 days then chances are it’s them.
I would strongly recommend against taking on anyone that comes across like a bouncer.
They’re the worst.
These are the type of prospects that you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
They’ll get on a call and start name dropping. “Oh I follow Rand Fishkin and Neil Patel on Twitter and have a Moz account. I also have Brian Deans direct email too, so I’m pretty clued in about SEO.”
They’ll start talking about SEO tools and software too. “I have an Ahrefs and SEMrush account so I can see what you’re doing at my end”. They’ll also try to educate you about how Google works and the latest algorithm updates. One thing that shits me no end is this one …..”I read an article on Moz and all we need to do is ….”
Now what I don’t understand is why these people (if they’re so experienced) pick up the phone and ask for help in the first place?
So, you end up in a situation where you’ll have someone on the phone asking for help with SEO, then they’ll start telling you how to do SEO. What is wrong with people? I just find it incredibly rude and a massive turn off.
Don’t work with people who jump on a call and start dropping names (software, people, acronyms and other SEO technical jargon) in an effort to try and impress you because they have an SEO Roundtable subscription.
The last thing you need is having someone stand beside you in the kitchen telling you how to make a toasted sandwich.
Send them to over to Fiverr and wish them the best of luck.
3. Lolly scramblers.
This is probably one of the most common you’ll experience working in the SEO space – and that is lolly scramblers.
These are the ones that get on the phone and say –
- “We want a 900% return but we have a very limited budget”
- “John this seems rather expensive”
- “Wow, this other company said they could do it a lot cheaper”
- “Can I get a discount?”
People that pay the least amount of money are the ones that make the most amount of noise.
Read that again.
They’ll bitch and complain and argue and annoy the shit out of you.
They’re also the ones that’ll be on the phone every 5 minutes trying to micromanage everything.
- “This seems like a lot of unnecessary work?”
- “My wife said she’ll do that so don’t charge me for it”
- “What if we don’t do that to save some money?”
Prospects like this usually ask a lot of questions about cost before anything else and it’s usually the first sign of trouble.
In most cases I simply turn them away because to them its not an investment, its an expense, and I couldn’t be bothered trying to justify my rates to someone who’s trying to argue over every dollar.
These are clients desperately hanging onto failing businesses.
In other words – sinking ships.
You know the ones, the business is close to failure. Its going down fast, and they’re on the phone to you, expecting you to save it with SEO in 2 months.
Let me give you an example of what they might say on a call.
- “John I’ve had to remortgage my house twice to keep this business afloat”
- “I just sold my car to pay for this because the business is losing money fast”
- “If this doesn’t work I’ll have to lay off staff”
- “John I really need your help to turn this business around, because my wifes threatening to leave me and take the kids”
- “My business partner shafted me and is taking me to court, so this better work”
It’s funny come to think of it.
Businesses don’t typically fail overnight. It’s usually a gradual process of bad decisions, poor management, and other fuck ups over time. Yet, I cant tell you how many times I’ve copped the blame for a business owner having to pack it in and give it up. You’ve been running this business for 20 years, we’ve literally known each other for 3 months – and it’s my fault?
There are a lot of broken businesses around, and no matter how much good SEO you throw at them, if they’re going under, there won’t be much you’ll be able to do about it. Your best option here is to spot this red flag early and turn these people away.
The last thing you’ll want to do is climb on board a sinking ship.
5. Judge Judy’s.
These are prospects that get on the blower and make legal threats in the first 5 minutes of conversation.
“John, we worked with a previous SEO company and they ripped us off. We’re now involved in an ongoing court case and suing them for $12 million dollars. As a precaution we want you to sign this form for us that says everything is your fault if this doesn’t work and you’ll accept total liability. But hey, listen we’d love to work with you, when can we get started?”
Christ, I’ve had these calls and I haven’t been able to hang up the phone quick enough.
6. Bobs cousin.
These are people that get on the phone and they’ll say things like
- “John my brother in law said that all we need to do is build forum links”
- “My wife said the best thing to do is just buy links on Fiverr”
- “A mate of mine was saying that you just bold your keywords”
- “I was at a BBQ on the weekend and my cousin said getting a green light in Yoast is essential”
These are people that are being influenced by a third person rather than listening to you.
I’ve actually lost clients because of this, because they’d rather listen to their cleaning lady, their dentist, a mechanic, a butcher, anyone – rather than listen to me – someone with over 18 years SEO experience.
If you find yourself on a call with a prospect and they keep referring to “advice” that they read online, or got elsewhere – be careful.
You might be signing up a client and his “cousin who said”.
7. Barking dogs.
I have a saying that I use often “There’s nothing worse than working with a client who buys a dog then stands on the front lawn barking themselves”.
These are clients that will hire you, pay you, and then tell you how to do your job.
In fact I had one recently where I rebuilt his entire website. I fixed everything, layout, added in calls to action, fixed up the site structure, then began onpage optimisation and implementing new content. About a week after a large deal of work was completed, he decided to login and change almost everything back to the way the site was before we began.
I mean think of it. This guy literally spent $10,000 on a new site build then decided to undo as much as possible.
It was beyond ridiculous.
In addition to that, he continually questioned me about everything.
- “I think it might be best if we do it this way John, I’ll take care of it”
- “Content? I disagree, I think we should just build links”
- “No, I’m not interested in doing that”
- “I have to disagree, I’ve tested this using Rank Math and it works better this way”
Why the fuck do these people ask for help??????
If you end up on a call with someone like this and they tell you how to fix their problems, then it might end up becoming a struggle.
Probably best to say thanks but no thanks.
These are the types of business owners who started their business last Tuesday and they want to be successful by next Saturday afternoon.
They think everything is going to be quick, easy and highly profitable overnight.
They’re also the ones that might make comments like this on a call –
- “This is going to make a lot of money”
- “We’ve made income predictions and it’s going to be huge”
- “Our friends and family have all bought one already”
The problem with people like this is they –
- Are often oblivious to the amount of work involved
- Are often impatient and have completely unrealistic expectations
- Only want to hear what they want to hear and what needs to be said
In most cases startups and aspirational types are also the ones with no money at all because everything is in the startup phase and revenue is based upon “cupcakes and candy cane metrics” rather than reality.
I always ask a series of questions in order to prequalify new leads and one of them is “How long has the business been in operation?” I ask this because unless there’s some kind of special exception, I’m not interested in working with someone that has been in business for 5 minutes.
Ever had a call from a prospect and they’ve said “Listen this business is going to make a lot of money, you work for me for free and I’ll give you 50% of the profits”
How does fuck you sound?
I’ve had quite a few calls like this, and I cant help but to shake my head at people for even asking.
Not only is it rude, but they’re often offering you 50% of nothing.
“But John, we can partner up, split the profits. This is going to be huge man, you do the SEO, we’ll handle sales and it will be wonderful. Each quarter we will send you a cheque in the mail”
Yeah, a cheque for $6.
Never ever offer your services like this, because the value exchange is always one sided (typically in their favour). If you’re not careful you’ll end up working for either $3 an hour or nothing at all.
“Split the earnings? Yeah sure, sounds great. Just let me grab a pen to take down your details” – *click”
These are the fucking lunatics that feel as though they can call you anytime any day. These are also the ones that want constant updates.
“Can you please give us an update of where things are at?”
What annoys me most of all is that I go to great lengths as part of my onboarding process to educate the client that –
- All forms of communication must go through the proper channels
- Clients get a call once a month in the form of an end of month strategy call to go over everything
Yet, there just seems to be no stopping some people.
- 15 missed calls
- “John, any chance we could have a quick chat, I need to ask you about that thing” (those chats usually last over an hour)
- “Can you please give us an update?” (3 days after Ive just provided all of the reports and spent an hour with the client on a scheduled call)
Checkins are the worst. Especially ones that want to constantly call.
One way I’ve been able to put a stop to this (in most cases) is that any unscheduled or ad-hoc calls and requests are deducted from the time they’ve paid for. So clients can pay me $165 p/h to work on their SEO campaign, or the same amount of money to talk about it.
Not all prospects are crazy, but there’s certainly a percentage that are.
Always listen closely to the type of language that prospects are using on the first call and ask yourself –
- Are they being rational? Are they being logical? Do they sound aggressive? Friendly? Kind?
- Is what they’re saying sensible or are they emotional scattered or scrambled?
- Do they have a long-term mindset? Are they chasing short term wins?
- Are they someone you like and could work with?
Most importantly, what does your gut say?
Sometimes you need to forget about everything else (even if the numbers stack up) and go by your gut instincts. Rarely have my gut instincts been wrong, but every time I’ve not listened to my intuition, I’ve regretted it.
Remember, be careful of who you decide to work with. If it doesn’t feel right, then say no.