How to Start an SEO Business from Home
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Starting an SEO business might be a great option for you if you have a background in marketing, communication, and search engine algorithms. Most businesses have websites—and those sites need to rank well and establish a strong online presence—so, the need for SEO professionals continues to be in high demand. With the right business plan and skill set, you could start your own SEO business from home.
Below, we’ve done the legwork for you to provide a free guide to starting a home-based SEO business today.
What Does an SEO Consulting Business Do?
By reviewing, analyzing, and applying changes to websites/pages, SEO professionals help maximize online traffic to improve the overall ranking on search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. SEO specialists typically focus on three areas: on-page SEO, technical SEO, and off-page SEO. SEO specialists add specific keywords/phrases to existing content, rewriting title/meta tags, identifying link-building opportunities, and/or experimenting with other marketing techniques.
Steps to Starting an SEO Consulting Business
Create a Business Plan for Your SEO Business
Before you get started, you’ll need an idea of what resources you’ll need—and how to monetize your business in a practical way. We’ve answered the biggest questions about clients, costs, and profits below.
Who is the target audience?
Although it might be tempting to start a general SEO business, it’s important you choose a niche—some focus or direction that differentiates your company from competitors. Clients will typically want someone who specializes in their specific industry over a generalist. Consider your previous work experience and interests—if you’ve worked in a law firm or enjoy doing yoga, your in-depth knowledge of that field will instantly make you more relevant and appealing.
You could also target clients based on size—large corporations have bigger budgets but are harder to land. Small businesses offer more flexibility and typically need more help with local SEO rather than national. In the beginning, you may want to focus on local clients—there will be less competition, and you can always expand out once you’re more established.
How do I get clients?
Because most businesses don’t fully understand how SEO works, selling SEO services can be a challenge. Clients might not immediately see the value of your work and dismiss your pitch for something less effective. So, establishing a strong marketing plan will be key to landing your first client. Here’s a few steps you can take to get things started:
- Create an online portfolio: Using platforms such as WebsiteBuilder or Weebly, you can create an online space to list your contact information, credentials, previous clients, and screen shots showing how your work helped improve the ranking for different websites. It’s also a great place for satisfied customers to leave reviews. Plus, the higher your site ranks on Google SERPs, the more proof potential clients will have of your expertise.
- Make strategic partnerships: Many successful SEO specialists will partner with other agencies that specialize in web design, PPC, online PR, or other areas of digital marketing. When they send you clients, you can offer them a small finders fee.
- Reach out to locals: Talk with business owners in your area—see if you can help them improve their local Google ranking. When you do an amazing job, they may hire you on a retainer and/or recommend you to other companies.
How does an SEO business make money?
SEO consultants typically accept one-time projects or continuous work—depending on the client’s needs and scope of the project. There are three types of pricing you can set:
- Monthly retainers
- Hourly rate
Project-based and monthly retainers are the most popular payment types because they’re simple to calculate and make budgeting easier for clients. Hourly rates work best when clients request à la carte services such as link building or website audits.
How much money will it take to get started?
Start up costs for SEO businesses tend to be fairly minimal—depending on what equipment and software you already own. If you need to purchase a laptop, you’ll need to spend a minimum of $1000. In addition, you’ll need access to the internet—check with local providers and see what pricing options you have.
Depending on what you can initially afford, you might consider purchasing business subscriptions to MOZ, SEMrush, and/or Ahrefs. This will cost a minimum of $99/month for one OR $297 for all three. However, you can get limited access for free.
How much do SEO businesses make each year?
According to Salary.com, the average SEO specialist makes $67,660 per year. Alaska, California, Connecticut, and Washington are the highest paying states—between $72,000 and $75,000. Arkansas, Iowa, and Utah are on the lower end—between $61,000 and $63,000.
How much should I charge?
Like most jobs, your experience level and background will be the driving force behind setting your rates for a monthly retainer, per hour, and/or per project. For example, most new SEO consultants will charge $50 per hour, $500 for a monthly retainer, and $250 per small project. However, experts with several years experience will charge upwards of $150 per hour, $2000 for a monthly retainer, and $1000 per small project.
Hourly rates work best for one-off tasks—e.g. keyword research (50-500 words) or optimizing meta tags (title and description). A per project fee is best for slightly more complicated projects such as full SEO audits and implementation of recommendations. Monthly retainers are for larger, ongoing projects—generating daily/weekly reports, title/meta tag creation, internal link building, and/or monthly competitor analysis.
When determining your fees, you’ll want to consider what services you’re going to offer—the more services you provide, the more value you offer. Also, check out your competition—focusing on those with your same experience level—to compare rates.
Select a Name for Your SEO Business
Have a great name idea? Before you start marketing and branding your business, you’ll need to ensure your name is available. Most states prohibit or restrict businesses from adopting names that are already in use. Even if it’s legally allowed, a copycat name puts your business at risk of a lawsuit.
See if your business name is available in your state with our Free Business Name Search.
Trademarks and Domain Names
Plan to trademark your business name? You can see if the trademark is available on a website like Trademarkia. It’s also a good idea to see if the domain name is available, which you can do on websites like Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Even if you don’t plan on putting together a website right away, you can buy the domain name to make sure no one takes it in the meantime.
Choose a Business Structure
Should you form an LLC? A sole proprietorship? Your choice of business structure will affect many aspects of your business, from liability to taxes.
Sole Proprietorships & General Partnerships
If you don’t file any paperwork to legally form a different kind of business—you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership. Essentially, these are “default” business structures. A sole proprietorship has one owner, and a partnership has multiple owners.
These structures have a few initial benefits. They’re easy, fast and cheap to start and maintain. However, the limitations and risks of these business structures quickly become more apparent as your business grows. In both of these business types, you are your business, legally speaking. Your company’s legal business name is YOUR name—so you’ll need a DBA to operate under any other name. Any business debt is YOUR personal debt. If anyone sues your business, they are suing YOU personally.
LLCs & Corporations
Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations are business entities formed at the state level. The entity is legally separate from its owners, meaning the owners are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. As a separate entity, the business also has multiple tax election options. For example, both LLCs and corporations can choose to be taxed as S-corps if they meet the requirements.
LLCs and corporations are not quite as simple and inexpensive as default structures. LLCs and corporations come with formal requirements like state reports. They also have more fees than default structures, such as formation and annual report fees. However, the benefits of an LLC or corporation—especially liability protection and tax flexibility—are significant.
Legally Form Your SEO Business
If you opt for a sole proprietorship or general partnership, there’s no formal paperwork to file to legally create your entity—you just start selling your product or service. However, you will not have any liability protections or tax flexibility.
LLCs and corporations are formed by filing paperwork with a state agency, typically the Secretary of State. To start an LLC, you file articles of organization. To start a corporation, you file articles of incorporation. In most states, you can file these forms online or download a paper form from the state’s website.
Whether you’re forming an LLC or corporation, your articles will require certain basic information about your business, such as your company’s:
- business address
- registered agent and office
- business purpose
- members/managers or directors/officers’ names and addresses
- number and type of authorized shares (for stock corporations)
You’ll also need the signature of someone authorized to sign on behalf of the business, along with the state’s filing fee. Fees vary by state but are typically between $100 and $200. If you hire Northwest to form your LLC or corporation, we complete and submit your formation paperwork on your behalf for just $100 plus state fees.
Create Internal Policies and Procedures
It’s important to put your company’s internal policies and procedures in a written document, especially if you’re starting your business with others. Partnerships have partnership agreements. LLCs have operating agreements. Corporations have bylaws.
These documents look a bit different for each kind of business, but they serve the same general purpose. They ensure there’s a clear path forward for any major issue that may arise, from changes in ownership to closing the business. LLCs and corporations also typically need an operating agreement or bylaws in order to open a bank account.
Get an EIN and Register for Taxes
Nearly all LLCs and corporations will need to request a federal employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. If you file corporate income taxes, have employees, or file certain franchise taxes, you must have an EIN. An EIN is also a common requirement for opening a business bank account. Most businesses can request an EIN by filling out the IRS’s online form.
Your EIN is for federal taxes—but you’ll likely have state and local tax obligations as well. You will most likely need to set up an account with the state’s Department of Revenue, and you may need to apply for a state tax ID or a sales tax license as well.
Learn more about how to Get an EIN for your business.
Open a Bank Account
A business bank account keeps your personal finances separate from your business finances. For LLCs and corporations, keeping separate finances is essential for maintaining liability protection. To open an account, LLCs and corporations typically need to bring to the bank a copy of their articles, their operating agreement or bylaws, and their EIN.
Obtain Required Licenses and Permits
Many businesses will need a business license to operate. Licensing information—as well as any zoning requirements or other permits—can usually be found on the city or county website.
If your home is part of a homeowner’s association, you’ll also be subject to any of their restrictions for home-based businesses. Some areas may also require home-based businesses to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy (a document certifying the property owner has given the business permission to operate).
Next Steps for Your SEO Business
After your business is up and running, there are a few additional steps you may want to take as you grow:
- Get online: With your domain name, you can create a business website. You can hire a professional or use a website-builder like Wix or WordPress. You may also want to invest in online ads through a program like Google Ads.
- Hire employees: Hiring employees requires quite a few steps. You’ll need to collect W-4s and I-9s from employees, report the new hires to the state, set up withholding, pay for unemployment insurance, distribute any required documents and notices to employees, and display wage and safety info in the workplace. Employer.gov is a good place to start, followed by your state’s tax or labor office.
- Get business insurance: While LLCs and corporations protect you from personal liability, you don’t want your business to go bankrupt in the face of an accident, injury or other disaster. At minimum, it’s a good idea to look into general liability insurance. Home-based businesses can sometimes add insurance onto their homeowner’s policy.
How Do I Know if an SEO Business is Right for Me?
What’s it really like to work in an SEO business?
Although the value of hiring an SEO expert is boundless, getting a website to rank higher can take time—which may translate into your client becoming frustrated. There may be arguments about which keywords/phrases are best or why linking to a specific website is better than another. So, it’s important that you have a thick skin, are willing to compromise, and can present your evidence/thoughts in a respectful manner. The world is online for EVERYTHING! Having a strong online presence establishes authority and trust with consumers. Approach your client relationships with the expectation that SEO is a long term strategy, not an overnight fix.
What does it take to succeed in the world of SEO?
To become a successful SEO consultant, you should have an understanding of all three SEO levels (technical, on-page, and off-page), well-rounded knowledge of marketing strategies, excellent communication skills, and a natural sense of curiosity. It’s important that you see the big picture—that every decision you make is fueled by your client’s need to rank well and increase traffic to their website.
Ready to Form an LLC or Corporation?
Northwest Registered Agent is here to help with all of your small business ideas and needs. Answer a few simple questions about your business, and we’ll prepare and submit your formation paperwork to the state. We also provide your new business registered agent service, free business forms and guides, and much more.