One of the very first questions I asked myself when I started my own SEO business was, “How much do I charge?”
If you’re in this position chances are you’re asking the same question.
What’s a fair rate? What’s everyone else charging?
Do I charge fixed pricing monthly, per hour, or per project?
Whatever you decide upon, you’ll want to ensure that you’re profitable, but not too expensive or cheap to the point where you’re not getting any clients.
So where do you start?
Be careful who you listen to
I want to give you some advice before we get into this.
Be fucking careful who you listen to.
When I first started out, I decided to set my prices at $1,000 a month.
I’ll explain in a moment how I got to this number, but for now, I figured that was a nice, even number that I was comfortable with. It was also a figure that would allow me to get a fair amount of work done each month and make a reasonable amount of profit – so I went for it.
Here’s where it almost came undone.
As I’d just started out, I was keen to get myself some clients. Everywhere I turned I had people giving me that advice you seem to see everywhere – “Go to some meetups, network with other business owners, get out there amongst the people”.
Seemed harmless enough, so I did.
I printed out some business cards, put on my lucky socks and starting attending as many business networking groups and meetups as I could. Again, I figured this would be the best way to get my foot in the door, network, meet some people and land some paying clients.
As it turned out, I did actually land a couple of clients which was great, but it wasn’t without some uncertainty and frustration.
Almost every person that I spoke with told me that I was too expensive.
I was told –
- “John, no one can afford $1,000 a month”
- “Yeah good luck with those rates, I think you’ll need it”
- “I’d love to get your help but I just can’t afford you”
- “Mate, you’re dreaming”
That was fucked, because it put a lot of doubt in my mind, and when you’re just starting out, doubt is the last fucking thing you need.
So what did I do?
I put my fucking prices up.
I got back to the office and said “Fuck this, I’m putting my prices up to $1,500 a month”
And guess what happened?
I got a client. Then another client, then another, and before I knew it I had 10 clients, all paying me $1,500 a month.
So what happened?
I was attending small business networking events. My prices were fine – but my audience was all wrong.
That’s something you need to be very mindful of.
If someone is telling you that you’re too expensive, then chances are it’s only because THEY can’t afford you – not everyone else.
Common mistakes I see when it comes to pricing
Before I show you what I do, I want to cover a few pricing strategies that I’ve seen and why most of them just don’t work. Let’s start with the most obvious one.
Not charging enough
This is definitely the biggest problem I find most people are making in this space and its usually always for the same reasons –
- They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.
- They know no different
- They’re scared that they won’t get clients if they’re not cheap
I can tell you right now that if you’re only charging a small fee (a couple of hundred dollars a month) then you don’t stand a fucking chance. You’re going to be jumping from one client to the next, constantly trying to pay the rent, OR you’re going to be running some churn and burn agency operation – breaking websites and ruining businesses in the process.
I’ve already covered this stupidity in length here – so go there and read that before you sign another “client” up at $300 a month.
Charging way too much
I don’t usually complain when I see freelancers being confident with their pricing – but what I do have a problem with are inexperienced assholes throwing around big numbers.
I’ve seen people with absolutely no experience at all who are completely new to the SEO industry, slap up a website overnight, then list ludicrous pricing such as $5,000, or $10,000 a month.
This might make sense for established large scale agencies with a team of experts, who might be targeting large brands like Coca-Cola and Nike, but for some kid sitting in a back bedroom hacking away on a $300 laptop its just ridiculous.
I think a lot of this happens because they’ve read a few Brian Dean posts and attended some “SEO” seminar and they think they can save the world.
Working for a discounted rate or for free
You’d be surprised how many coaching clients I’ve had that have said something like “Yeah, I don’t normally factor that in to my rates”, or “I just do that quickly because it doesn’t take long”, or “I probably shouldn’t but I don’t charge my clients for that”.
What you need to be mindful of is that while you’re doing all these “favours” your client is probably holidaying in Bali.
You’ll eventually destroy your own business while you’re saving everyone elses.
You should never be working for free, unless you’ve fucked something up, in which case, it’s up to you to fix it.
SEO pricing models
Let’s now have a look at some of the most common pricing models. I’ll give you my thoughts on each, along with whether or not I think they’re something you should consider.
Charging per project
One thing that I’ve never been a fan of is project based pricing.
For eg “Pay me $25,000 and I’ll do this, this and this, and it will be wonderful”
The issue is that every single campaign is usually different or unique in it’s own way, and the work involved is ever changing.
Read that again – the work involved is ever changing
One month you might be producing content, the next you need to disavow bad links, then you’ll need to assist the client with a PR opportunity, then during all of this, you need to help the client change hosts because of massive latency issues.
The scope of the campaign, is constantly moving around, often inline with the data and results you’re achieving.
Setting a “fixed price” on something that can change overnight can be tricky, especially if there’s an algorithm update or something else that pops up that you weren’t expecting.
There is an alternative to this method, which has worked well for me, but I think I’ll cover that another time.
Monthly retainers are the most common way of charging for SEO.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with this model – infact its the same pricing structure I use, but with a bit of a difference. Monthly retainers simply mean you’re charging $X dollars per month for your services.
Again there’s nothing wrong with this model, but it can become problematic when you don’t really know what your deliverables are.
I see this shit all the time and it’s usually prospects on the phone complaining about being shafted by another SEO agency. “John we were paying $1,800 a month for 6 months, and we had no idea what they were doing.”
That’s not cool, and it’s certainly not going to help anyone.
I think working at an hourly rate is the most effective pricing strategy there is for the following reasons –
- Flexibility – As mentioned previously, the work you’ll be doing is likely to be changing month to month. By working at an hourly rate you’re more flexible with what work needs to be done. Sometimes you might need to prepare and submit a disavow file. Other times you might have to prepare and publish content. Sometimes you’ll be performing outreach, or site restructuring. Hourly rates accommodate every possible scenario.
- It’s familiar – Working at an hourly rate is a much easier pitch and sell when you’re dealing with prospects because it’s a pricing structure that they’re already familiar with. Much like other traditional services, like mechanics, furniture removalists or cleaners, charging hourly doesn’t come as some “mysterious” or “suspicious” pricing model that will have the client asking “But what do we get for that?” which I’ll cover in a second.
- It’s quantifiable – Hourly rates allow you to allocate your own resources (your time, and staff) in a measured way. You should be able to look over the work that needs to be done and say “Okay this month we need to get this, this and this done, and we have 16 hours to do so. So let’s prioritise these tasks and we’ll push that other stuff back til next month”
How I charge
I charge hourly, but I tie it in with the monthly retainer model.
In other words, I charge an hourly rate of $150 an hour for a minimum of 12 hours per month, which equates to $1,800 per month.
I do this for a number of reasons, but mostly because one of the most frequently asked questions I get all the time – especially when pitching for a new project is “John, you said you anticipate the campaign taking approximately 18 months. Is there any way we can get that time frame down? How can we get quicker results?”
My response to that is simply “Buy more time”
In other words, if the client wants to get results faster (which they always do) they simply buy more hours each month.
So to demonstrate –
- Client pays the minimum amount – 12 hours at $150 per hour / $1,800 per month
- Client wants to speed things up – 20 hours at $150 per hour / $3,000 per month
This is a really powerful way of increasing your earnings, and I’ve been doing it for years.
So a client can do the minimum 12 hours, or they can do more. They could do 15, 18, 25 – it’s totally up to them, and I will usually always accommodate it, so long as I’m not too busy.
It also takes the pressure off you, and puts it back on the client.
“I can only get so much done each month if you want to just put in the minimum amount of hours. If you want faster results you’ll have to put in more time”
The client will then either shut up, or they’ll realise its up to them.
So what should you charge?
This is a great question, and one that will vary inline with what your skillsets are. It will also depend where you’re located in the world, so you’ll have to factor that in.
I’m based in Australia, so I’ll use my location as an example.
$50 – $75 per hour
If you’re new to the industry and you’re just learning your way and you’ve undertaken a few courses then you should be probably working in and around $50 to $75 per hour. At this pricing point you should understand the basics of SEO and be able to provide sound work. The majority of your client base will most likely be soloists and small business owners.
$75 – $125 per hour
If you’ve got a more indepth understanding of SEO and you’ve been working in the industry for some time I think anywhere between $75 – $125 is fair. At this rate, you should be able to help businesses position themselves favourbly in search with a strong framework in place in order for them to grow and expand.
$125 per hour or more
For anyone that has a very comprehensive understanding of SEO, online business and in particular CRO, they should be working in this range. Typically SEO professionals working at this rate are able to completely transform businesses and help them increase their earnings considerably.
How I quantify what I’m actually doing during that time
I’m going to expand on this in an upcoming blog post because there’s far too much to cover here, but to summarise, I track everything that I do when I’m working on a clients site, and I include those tasks in my end of month reporting in what I call a “work summary sheet”.
The work summary sheet is a comprehensive overview of every single task that has been completed.
That’s right, every single task, regardless of how insignificant it might seem, because a lot of small tasks add up.
Here’s a notepad file that illustrates how I note down each task as I’m working.
You might think this is over the top, but I can tell you right now, that once I take this information, and enter it into my work summary sheet and send it over to the client as a PDF document, they’ll be seriously impressed.
Especially if they’ve just spent 12 months with some asshole that’s kept them in the dark about what works being done.
I’ve sent work summary sheets to clients and they’ve said “Shit John, this is a lot of work, thank you”, or “I wish we had of found you 5 years ago”. This helps you in so many ways –
- They’ll keep throwing money at you
- They’ll stick around long term
- They’ll send you great referrals
But most importantly of all, they’ll have confidence in knowing that they’re not wasting money, and work is actually being done and you’re not just fucking around on Facebook all day.
I understand that people work in different ways and there’s nothing wrong with using a different pricing strategy so long as you’re providing value and not doing shit work.
One thing that does annoy me though are people that carry on in forums and business networking events that will say “Oh, you’re selling time for money, that’s stupid”
Well guess what? That’s how most service based businesses work.
If you think you can run a meaningful SEO business by just flicking shit off to the Philippines while you’re sipping cocktails on the beach in Hawaii then you’re going to be sadly mistaken.
Interested in working with me?
I can take you by the hand and show you step by step, how to setup and run a hugely profitable SEO business in just a few weeks. No bullshit, no gimmicks – just solid proven advice.
If you’re interested, jump on a free 20 minute consultation call and let’s have a chat.