Can an Agency Owner be an SEO Expert? (With Deepak Shukla)

C: Welcome to today’s podcast. I am joined by Deepak Shukla. Have I got that right, Deepak?

D: Yeah, you got it perfectly, Craig.

C: I meant to ask you that prior to coming live because I’ve got a bad habit of getting people’s names wrong. But hey ho, I got that one right. Deepak Shukla’s easy enough to get around. So Deepak, for anyone listening, what are you currently doing? Tell us a bit about yourself.

D: Yeah, yeah, sure, Craig. Thanks. So, hey guys, hello. My name’s Deepak. Deepak Shukla. I run an SEO agency called Pearl Lemon. Pearl like pearl necklace. Yeah my days, if I’m being honest, I recall, Craig, you talking on someone else’s podcast, basically pissing a grand tale on the agency life, to the extent that, and this is the pot, deciding what kind of SEO you’re going to be.

Can an Agency Owner be an Expert?

D: Are you going to be an agency owner? Because if you’re an agency owner, you cannot be an expert. If you’re an expert, trying to build an agency will at some point suck the life out of you. So by day, guys, that means I spend time on Slack dealing with people who have an issue because a rank moved three places and they assume that our SEO‘s going shit across the course of three days. I spend time on email saying our sales did not double in three months, so you guys are clearly crap. And I spend evenings, also, getting woken up by American clients who have other various ranges of problems. So that’s kind of my life, dude.

C: Aw, man, it sounds awful as I have seen it. I’ve been there before. And before we do start going into it, I do respect people who can run an agency, and agencies can be hugely successful. For me, personally, all of that crap and stuff that you deal with just wasn’t for me on a personal level. I hate it. I hate explaining myself time and time again to people who have no clue what they’re saying. And all that kind of stuff like, “Deepak said this on a video, so it must be true.” And you’re like, “Fuck.” You’re just constantly fighting. I’d love to know, as an agency owner actually, I’m going to put you on the spot, as an agency genuinely when you’ve got an awkward client, how much of their budget actually gets pissed up against the wall talking shit, reporting, and all of that other kind of stuff? It’s got to be 50 plus percent, surely.

D: Yeah. I think the most successful agency owner is someone who masters the art of negotiation. It’s not about SEO. It’s actually not about SEO. Running an SEO agency, when you scale, is about human management and how to effectively communicate your work, and it returns, to your client even when they think they understand but they don’t understand, or they do understand but they don’t understand the timeline, or they are completely oblivious to what the process of SEO is even at the point of sign off. You go through things a couple of times with them and then they come back and say, “Oh Deepak, can you fix our pay speeds?” And we’ll say, “Well that’s really more development and we see your site is built on Ruby on Rails, and it’s related to maybe external scripts.”

D: And they say, “Okay great but that’s an SEO thing, so can you fix our SEO?” You bang your head against the wall thinking, how do I … and this is the key. The actual real challenge and the real truth is, is that it’s very difficult in the world of SEO to … what you’ve done Craig is brilliant, right. You build a brand and brand leads to brand strength, and that in some ways, does build retention but the true challenge is, it is difficult to differentiate yourself. So people feel a lot like an SEO agency is a bit of a …

Do SEO Agencies make a lot of profit?

D: And you know what? This is not just true of SEO. If you’re an agency owner listening, this is true of a lot of agencies. Everyone and their bloody uncle is an agency owner these days. Every ad I get targeted is like a 450-word dialogue about how beautiful my two hour a week 100k a month agency is, and I just want to establish that our agency does maybe 40 to 50 thousand pounds, we’re getting to now. That whole idea that it’s rosy is just a bunch of bullshit. I have real revenue figures, we do get approached by big businesses and we are working with bigger and bigger businesses, and there is a fuck ton of work involved.

D: So what you said Craig, is absolutely true, that it’s less and less about SEO, the more successful you become and it’s just much more about managing people’s expectations and getting them to like and appreciate you. Because the moment that that stops happening, even if your results are good, people just look for a way to fire you because they see you to a decent degree as a commodity and they think, I’ll just replace you with the next agency because you know what?

D: Everybody’s talking in their 45 page proposal that they built on the same proposal software that everybody else uses. Whether it’s Better Proposals or Nusii, or something else, everyone’s talking about, we’re going to build links. So everyone’s doing the same fucking thing.

D: So, it’s a real big challenge that part of it. But if you can do that part well, then I do think that you’re able to grow, what I call, a sustainable agency because I think the biggest challenge that people have is retention. Because you’re just not going to get a great result 100% of the time for 100 different reasons. The way that you maintain good faith with clients is by being able to basically explain yourself properly. So you’re quite right, if you don’t like that stuff, agency life is fucking terrible.

C: Yeah, it stressed the life out of me and I’m more of an SEO guy who likes to … as you said before, doing tricks, making affiliate money, doing sneaky things and stuff like that, and for me to chat to a guy who’s paying me some piddley amount of money, talking to me about title tags or something, it just wasn’t interesting. It was actually mind numbing for me.

C: I’m sitting there looking at people going, “I can’t even be arsed talking to you. There’s no enjoyment here.” As I say, building an agency is not easy. Not just because of the client thing, so I don’t want to be seen to be bashing clients. I also found it very hard to also get good, reliable genuine people round about me as well. I think there’s a massive lack of people out there who are enthusiastic. Just enthusiastic and turn up to work every day is a big ask. I’m not sure, do you find that down in London as well?

Setting up the agency

D: Yeah. Craig, it’s a really good question. I, when I was first setting up the agency a couple of years back, has a real challenge with getting people that were kind of down for the ride, so to speak. It’s difficult to effectively incentivize someone, but at the same time, remind them that, you know what? This is not going to be a fairy tale where you get to exclusively build links.

D: Things are going to happen, clients are going to demand this. We’re going to have to, for example … yeah, it’s difficult. It’s really difficult to be honest with you. I have had to hire and fire probably four or five different SEO, lets call them, teams before I settled on one person who I think could help us kind of lead the charge and build a really good team. But building a team that you work with well, that you can put in front of clients as well, ah dude that’s also, oh my god, that’s another nightmare.

C: Yeah, I think as well, one of the problems I had was, it’s just in my nature and I don’t mind saying it, but I was quite a possessive guy and I always thought don’t put anyone else in front of clients, do everything yourself. No-one can sell better than Craig, no-one can speak to clients better than Craig, no-one can invoice better than Craig and I wasn’t delegating stuff out. So yeah, I think that was a massive failure on my level. So if you’ve found a team that you can rely on, it’s going to massively help, right?

D: Yeah. No, absolutely. I think that the hiring part is good and I think that, I guess, I mean in vain of how we started this, I guess my broader frustration is, I think that there’s a big misrepresentation of how good agency life is or there’s a big focus … and I guess maybe I could be wrong. I’m just looking at, what I call the Facebook ad community, where you get targeted by building the agency. Whether it’s even SEO, or Facebook or otherwise but it doesn’t really take away from the complexities, as you said, of …

D: I still have that same challenge, for example, that we have a varying range of clients and it’s just really difficult for Samile or myself to sometimes understand the nuances of the person that we’re talking to, of should we talk to them technically? Is what I’m saying … all of this stuff that just comes down to communication.

Client Challenges within SEO

D: The continual challenge that we have internally is, that I haven’t, for example, successfully found the project manager of my dreams. Because, then a project manager doesn’t know enough about SEO. Then, you put them in front the of client and you put them with … and every client’s slightly different. Some of them have really technical people, some of them don’t have, and it’s fine but then they just end up emailing the SEO team and saying, “I’ve had … Deborah was a lady that I had and I had to get rid of her because we put her in front of a client, and we record calls and listen to them internally, and I’m like, “Why did you say that for? That’s just not even true.”

D: Or she just ends up emailing or forwarding emails and then Samile is responding because no-one else is technically qualified to answer it other than myself. But to be honest with you, I’m not close enough to the project to understand what the fuck’s going on anyway.

D: So, then there’s these kinds of continual challenges that all mix together. I think that we have … it’s just difficult to get it completely right. And the reason that’s people cancel, 80% of the time if I’m being honest, it’s not even about the result. It’s either a misunderstanding of the result, it’s because their budget changed and SEO gets chopped first, or because they don’t make any of the recommendations that we request. So, a good example of it, I’ll give you two examples right now.

D: One of our clients who, on their onboarding form, they’re an e-commerce company in the jewellery space. Well, they’re just expanding their e-commerce set up, they’ve got physical stores. But they’re demanding that we put, I think it’s like a Google short URL to their GMB page, into our guest post outreach. And I was like, “Why are we doing that for?” And he was like, “Well, I want people to come to our shop and that’s what you’re going to use your guest post for because then they’ll click on it socially and they’ll come and find us.” And I was like, “Jesus Christ man. That is not what we should be putting in a guest post when we’re doing blogger outreach.”

D: Then, on the other side of it, we’ve got clients who suffered a severe dip in ranking suddenly, and perhaps it was our mistake. We looked at their pages for … they’re in the hair industry and they’ve got several pages that relate to hair transplants and we’re like, “65% of your content is duplicate content.” Then they want us to go and fix it and I’m like, “But we’re not copywriters.” And they’re like, “But that’s SEO related.” Then you just get into conversations about the wrong kind of crap, dude.

D: And these are clients that signed off, they said they understand SEO. They’re like, “Right we’ve got SEMrush, we’ve got Ahrefs. We understand that you need to link build. We’re going to take time.” Then you just end up actually having the core of your discussions about these kinds of things. The thing that pisses me off when I go through the agency handbooks that I’ve read online, of which there many, even in the SEO space.

D: No-one talks about this stuff. Where is the literature or the support vehicles for dealing with someone who refuses, or not refuses, but has a dev team who don’t respect SEO and therefore they don’t change any of the broken links? All those 404s, or there are issues with JavaScript or whatever. And you’re just always, I say always, it’s unusual that you get what you call your dream client, and my dream client is actually just someone who just fucking does the things that I ask them to do.

C: Yeah, it’s one of the reasons I also gave up the agency game of dealing with clients as such, is because of things like that as well. Devs always have a different idea, even down to designing websites that look nice. Now I’ve got an appreciation that websites have to look nice, be mobile friendly and so on, but they don’t appreciate the SEO elements, as you say. It’s one of those things.

C: You have to fight your corner or you’re going to lose the contract or whatever you want to call it. Then you become a bit argumentative and people see you as some kind of asshole or something like that and yeah, all hell breaks loose. I don’t think there is, there’s no guide, there’s no nothing. You have to feel the pain for yourself, and whether you can sustain that or not.

C: The way I always seen agency life for me was, get the money to be able to then invest it into other things that are less stressful. That was always my end goal. The more agency owners I speak to, it’s similar. They’re going, “Yeah, I can make a few quid here and then just start to slowly invest into affiliate sites or property outside of SEO and stuff like that.” Is that something that you, long-term, want to do or is the plan to build this agency as big as you can?

What’s the plan with the agency?

D: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think that you’re right from the conversations that I have with other agency owners, that the agency is the vehicle to then go and do other things. For me, yeah. The short answer is yes, to be honest with you. There’s a software tool I’m working on with a buddy of mine and then a mate of mine actually … the other big love I have, and I know that you know about this Craig, is that I like to run. So I do the marathons and the ultra marathons.

D: A buddy of mine is really unhappy with … he’s a PT that does a lot of these kind of outdoor bootcamps, where you go to your local park and you spend an hour. So he’s unhappy. So we’re going to bin his franchise and we’re going to start up our own kind of fitness bootcamps. Yeah, yeah and that’s right up my street because I’m like, “Right, now I’m doing marketing but I’m competing with a PT, who’s trying to do marketing.” I’m like, “Fucking brilliant.”

D: I think, something I would always advise people, is to set up a business that you actually enjoy doing as well. I think it’s massively important. Obviously I see you on Facebook climbing mountains and everything, walking up mountains and you look half dead. You’ve still got your big smile on though, I’ve got to give you credit. The smile’s still there even though you can tell you are absolutely fucked. So it’s a good effort. But, I think doing something you enjoy is obviously hugely beneficial as well and as you say, what’s some shit ass PT going to do against an experienced SEO when it comes to marketing? So, I think it’s definitely a good positive way to think about things.

C: Absolutely. Absolutely and I would love for those of you who are watching this … I think that that’s the challenge, isn’t it? And I guess I’m always curious about yourself because once you experience some success with SEO, naturally at some point you want to grow, and naturally you reach your own kind of bottleneck and there’s that real challenge, as you said, with deciding do I want to be an agency owner? Do I want to be an SEO freelancer?

C: Both of them come with their challenges and actually, it becomes inherently a lot more satisfying to work on your own websites, where you’re in entire control of the process, you can source content writers, you can solve technical issues. Or you can get the assets in house and I think that it’s the same in my degree, that it’s … you know what? To be honest with you, I guess I’m stumbling because it’s also very challenging to figure out what it is that you kind of love because I do love … I enjoy the process of SEO, I enjoy looking at SEMrush, Ahrefs, and looking at links. But at the same time, how you channel a skill set such as that is actually a real big, I think, issue. And that’s where you see all of these diverse areas.

D: You, of course, do speaking, you’ve got your brand, you’ve got this podcast, you’ve probably got about 15 other things that I know nothing about, Craig. Let’s be honest, right?

C: That’s the way you’ve got to do it.

D: Yeah, yeah and I think that it’s always a challenge but equally, I think with all of that being said, there are aspects of the agency part of it that are really great and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing. The part that sometimes does keep you in it, is when you get a result and you’ve got a client who’s so happy with seeing a rankings uptick or just saying, “Hey man, we’ve had X inquiries come in and just want to say, ‘awesome’.” Stuff like that kind of makes my day.

D: Yeah. I think in the past, I’ve helped business grow from a one-man band to maybe having 10 vans on the road over a period of time.

C: Amazing.

D: It does give you a bit of self-satisfaction and stuff, and I think that’s obviously important in your job. But I’ll tell you, one day I had this guy. It was a dentist that I had and he was a client, and he had five different practices. Done SEO for this guy for five years or maybe longer and he turned round to me one day and he said … this guy was 31 at the time and I was slightly older and he said to me, “You are the stupidest guy I’ve ever met.” And I said, “Why is that?” And he says, “You’ve made me a millionaire. I’m going to retire now and we no longer need your services because I’m selling up to this guy who’s got his own marketing team.”

D: He says, “You’ve been one of the vehicles that have helped me make all of that money.” He says, “You need to be doing something with your skills to make yourself money.” And it was at that point again, that something hit home going, I’m making a lot of people money, or I was making people a lot of money, I had to beg for the invoices to be paid, as I’m sure you’ll suffer from that as well, chasing invoices, not knowing whether you can pay your staff at the end of the week, and through all of stress because … and for what? Because you’re building other people’s businesses. It doesn’t seem right.

Changing from Agency to Affiliate

D: So that guy did say that to me once and that’s where I started. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried and failed with a lot of different ventures. I’ve had e-commerce websites, I’ve tried different niches. But now I’ve got affiliate websites, I’ve got businesses out with the SEO industry. So I’ve got other companies. The revenue does come through marketing but I’ve got to channel my skills and my energy in the right direction because as I say, it becomes tiresome chasing money and some of these people could put you out of business as well and there’s no real … because it’s SEO, people don’t really care. They’ll just chuck it and paperwork doesn’t really mean a thing in the grand scheme of things.

C: Yeah, it doesn’t at all.

C: You can take people to small claims courts and whatnot, but I think, to build a sustainable future for your family or yourself or whatever, I think you have to have something a bit more stable than goodwill from people that actually respect what you do and invest properly in it as well. Because I’m sure, again, as you’re an agency, you’ll probably grab people’s budgets, and I’m not saying your agency does this but there are agency owners that I know do this, will take a guy’s budget, knowing full well that it’s massively underpriced, purely because they’ve got to get that’s two grand a month extra to pay the bills.

C: The cash flow.

D: Yeah, and they’ll do it knowing full well that that should actually be prices at say five grand to do an effective job if you’re needing lots of content links and whatever else you need. So, I feel a lot of agencies also suffer from that as well, where they’ll take on anyone and hand on heart, they know fine well that there’s never going to be good results at the end of it, and it’s just a fudged up mess. Again, I’ve done that as well, on a personal level. I’ve took people’s money knowing there’s not much I can do here for 500 bucks other than toss out a few blog posts and a few links, that’s it job done.

C: So, I think for me, doing what I do and reporting to myself, is the best thing. So I don’t have to then make pie charts and go to a board meeting, and beg why the contract should be extended or whatever. I think that’s made a massive difference. I think, if you want to do anything in your life, you’ve got to be … if you want to be successful, you’ve got to be kind of relaxed and as I say, when I had the agency, I was stressed out every other day.

C: Whether it be a staff problem, client problem, money problem or I was just physically exhausted. So yeah, it’s good to see that obviously you’re fighting a good fight and you’re probably earlier on in your career and I’m sure there will probably be a lifespan on what you do in terms of how far you can go or stuff like that. But, for anyone who wants to start an agency, what kind of tips would you give to them? Is there anything that you’ve done or felt in your first few years on building this agency that you could advise other people against? Something that maybe you pent four months doing and it was a complete waste of time or whatever.

Sales and communication training for Digital Marketing

D: Yeah, it’s a really good question. A complete waste of time. You know what guys? I think that the complete waste of time I would definitely advocate to anyone who wants to start an agency, and SEO agency is, guys, don’t wait out. Go and get sales and communication training. Your job as an agency owner is to communicate your value and to sell you value, and if you cannot effectively do those two things, the guy who is the loudest in the room is going to get a job ahead of you.

D: Also, in order to retain a client, half of it’s going to be about goodwill. Contracts don’t matter, they’re bullshit. Unless you’re signing off something with British Airways, which would take probably three years to go through anyway, and you’ll never have the money to chase them, if people want to stop paying you, they’ll just stop paying you.

D: So, the way that you effectively, I believe, grow your agency, and this is what I wish I did a year and a half ago, is not just relying upon natural talent or the results speaking for themselves. Because you’ve got to get the job in the first place and you’ve got to have and recognize every opportunity that you have, whether you’re on a podcast like this where even if I’m bagging agency life, I still recognize that there may be a potential client who’s listening.

D: So the way that you demonstrate your value is clear communication of your results, of what you’re trying to do, and an appropriate reflection of the value that you can bring. Because if you can’t do that stuff, I’m not going to understand what you’re selling. And unless you want to take the free trial route, which is something that I did try for a couple of times but then it was a nightmare anyway, because everyone says, “Oh we’ll do the trial and then we’ll pay.” But it’s just bullshit. You get your bum put over a barrel and you recognize that people that sign up for free trials, a lot of the time, are clients that take their time seriously because clients that have budgets just want to crack on with things and they’ll want to find good people, and they’ll want to make decisions quite quickly, and then they want to kind of move forward.

D: So they’re the things that I think I wish I’d done sooner, Craig. I wish that I didn’t do some of the free trial stuff that I did in the beginning and I do wish that I understood how to sell appropriately because people, I think, botch a lot of the prospects or leads that they have because they don’t appropriately know how to position the service that they’re offering. Then they blame it on, it wasn’t the right guy. The next one comes along and you learn nothing from that attitude, and I did that for the first probably six months.

D: As soon as I took some sales training and I took some communication training, my quality as an SEO or our team’s quality as well as an SEO didn’t change, but our revenue doubled because I was able to position what we did much more effectively.

Where do you get sales and communication training?

C: Interesting. You’ve got some good points there and obviously some good advice for other people may be falling into the same trap. Where would someone find sales training or communication training? Where did you go to for that or is there anyone you can recommend?

D: Yeah, absolutely. So number one, read Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. So, it is very powerful when you say, “Craig” instead of saying, “Oh dude.” Little things like that. Do remember that a lot of things are an emotional sale. So, as a small example from a different space but a similar principle was, as a consequence of that training, I’m always able to now get friends into clubs when they are past the time that they’re allowed in or get to the front of guest queues simply by being really nice to bouncers and saying, “Oh Hey, I don’t know if you can help me.”

D: And that’s been really powerful when I’m on a call to a PA or I’m having a conversation with someone who has to vouch for me internally, when I’m trying to sign off a deal. Make them feel like they’re doing me a favor. It’s not about knowledge, it’s about them liking me. That’s been huge.

D: Then the other thing is, literally reading Grant Cardone, Sell or Be Sold. That book was huge. Grant Cardone, Sell or Be Sold. And just recognizing that guys, you’re always in sales. When you’re talking to an account manager at a big company, whether it’s let’s just say like HP, if you sign off a deal. You are in the process of selling your value and you’re selling feel goodness. The feel good factor is something that you’re selling and you need to try and work out how to bottle that and communicate assurance and keep problems from clients, and just always act in the instance of being able to solve things, and things like that have been huge. As well as little tweaks that they tell you, like practical tips that I think I read from Zig Ziglar, which is, one of the things that we instituted internally as a small practical thing is that we’re always the last responders.

D: So we never, ever … so if a client sends me an email at 3:00 we have a minimum 15 minute response time and that was something that took a lot of training for the SEO guys because they wanted to start saying, “We need time to prepare a technical response.” And I was like, “No, you do do that but you just write, great completely makes sense Frank, I’ll have an answer for you within six hours.” That has changed our retention.

C: I think it makes perfect sense for that to happen and probably something I was actually very bad at, was the communication side of things. The emails, not answering for a few days and I probably had a different train of thought, where I thought, I’m not going to respond that quickly because if I do respond quickly then clients will always expect to get that quick response.

C: But it’s good to hear that you’re actually seeing a positive from that. I would have always argued, and as I say, I’m not going to claim to be the best agency owner in life or the best communicator, I would have always argued don’t give the client the quick response.

D: You know what? What I will say, because I was the same for a fair while, you know what I saw? What changed it for me, was that you know what? Craig signs off £2000 month a deal with Deepak. For the first two months, Craig’s going to probably be on my case because what Craig is actually looking for is assurance. But as soon as Craig starts to trust me, Craig’s going to get busy doing his other shit because the whole reason Craig’s paying me two grand a month, because he’s too bloody busy to do it for himself. So, once you bridge that gap, I then found, and I have found, that clients just actually start emailing you less themselves.

C: As I say, it’s a good thing that you’ve you’ve actually tried and tested, and it’s great to hear. As I say, I love talking to SEO guys when you just hear of weird things like that. Whereas, prior to this, I would have argued with you all day long. Don’t give them a 15-minute response, that’s too soon. Blah, blah, blah, blah. So yeah, as I say, we always learn every day and I think learning from people actually testing shit and being able to say, “This actually did work.”

C: That’s the kind of guys you want to be following and listening to, and as I say, getting in touch. Everyone’s going to, or a lot of these listeners are at one point probably going to start doing their own agency or whether they’re an agency or a freelancer, regardless, we should definitely work on communication because I was pretty shit at it and you’re clearly doing better than me at the agency life.

Videos over Long emails

D: I don’t know pal. I think you’re right, I think it’s a challenge. I think that different people definitely have different approaches. There are lots of successful agency owners, I’m sure, that don’t do stuff like that. And I do also think that it’s probably a particular style of client who works with that. The other thing also, the final thing on that kind of whole tip front, I think, that was useful for me, is that I’m quite anti-long form email. So we tend to respond to everything either via … I say, “Look guys, if you’ve got his Skype, send him a voice note. If you’ve got his WhatsApp, send him a voice note. If he requires a question, rather than send a 30-minute email, record a five-minute video.” And that has been a big help in saving time.

D: So that’s probably the other thing that I … there’s also another internal rule, which is respond to an email within 15 minutes but don’t make the email response more than 10 words. Then follow up, if you need to with a technical document there’s no avoiding the technical document because you’re going to have to produce it anyway. But if they’re just asking a strategic thing, don’t spend 30 minutes writing an email, just record a quick 5 minute voice note. So what I tend to do now is, client ask me a question on email, I’ll record a voice note when I’m out in the pub. I’ll upload it to SoundCloud and then I’ll send them the SoundCloud link.

C: I think, what you’re saying, I do quite a lot of as well but it’s not voice notes. If someone asks me something, I’m not understanding this or I’m not understanding that, sometimes I do, it’s a lot easier and quicker for me to do a quick screen cast and ping it off to them.

D: Yeah, perfect.

C: What I would say, and again it’s something I would have probably argued with, would be the WhatsApp voice notes and the Skype voice notes. I’m not sure how effective they would be. This is a personal thing though, see when someone sends me a WhatsApp voice note, I hate it. I don’t know why, I just, I don’t like it. I’d rather text but it’s all about saving time for you guys and as I say, that’s the key part there.

D: You’re right though, I mean, I say it’s my bias. There’s also some people who say, “Deepak, please don’t WhatsApp us.” We get shot down. Or, there’s people that we Skype and then they say … or they don’t respond for three days and I realize that you know what? These dudes don’t ever log into Skype. So, in those instances, we definitely revert to email. So I think, as you said Craig, and that’s the challenge guys. If you’re thinking about being an agency owner, that is the challenge. The differences of opinion that Craig and I have are fundamentally the life of running an agency. That is 60% of it.

D: Your client, when they think about link building, they think you’re going to post links also on social media. Then you only discover six weeks in that, that’s what they thought about with link building and then the contract might be wrong and then there’s think kind of ill will because even though you’re right, no-one likes being told that they’re wrong because they just think you’re an asshole. Then, very quickly, they find a way to exit the contract or to delay payment and all of this other crap.

D: So we’re of course not working together, Craig and I, commercially, but if it was a business and there’s misunderstandings, your biggest challenge is how to actually position it so you make them feel good but you still get the actual delivery. And that, I think, once you get beyond your first couple of clients, is always the challenge of how to scale and whether you actually want to bother scaling, or you’re like, you know what? This is too much fucking work.

C: Yeah. I’ve got one last question for you Deepak.

What Does Deepak Report on?

C: When you’re dealing with clients, any kind, good or bad, what is it your agency actually reports on? I hear a lot of people reporting different KPIs and I was always of the belief that clients always wanted to know too much of how SEO worked. I would always say to them, “Buy a training course if you want to know how SEO works. I’m not explaining it to you in a monthly report.”

C: What I would always report on would be key words, traffic and conversions. I’m just curious to know because it’s probably been five years since I had my agency. Yeah it was 2015 I gave it up. So, four, five years ago. I’d be curious to know, is that still the same or do you still get people saying, “I want to know where all the back links are” and all that kind of stuff. Do you actually report on that stuff?

D: Yeah, so it’s a good question. So the fundamentals, not any different for us. We just send the automated weekly SEMrush export. So we set them up, we show them their key word tracking movement and their analytics, which is their Google Analytics. Now, a lot of people will say that’s too much. It shut down a lot of our questions once we started doing that. So that was why we did that.

D: Then in the end of month report, we do share all of the links that we built because the challenge that we had was, it limited my ability to take on a bigger client who thought they knew SEO or they do know SEO, because they don’t work with anyone who doesn’t send them a report. But I do know that there’s also other agencies that just work off the SEMrush dashboard and they track things in SEMrush i.e. they don’t share direct links with them. So I think there’s a bit of both but personally from our end, we do exactly what you just described and then at the end of the month we’ll share probably 80% of the links that we build.

C: I’m just curious to know whether you actually done that or not. Obviously SEMrush are pulling a lot more back link data through as well but, I feel that, or back then, I used to use a lot of PBNs and stuff. And obviously I wasn’t wanting to share my assets with people.

C: So I always kind of kept kind of loose but people seen that as some kind of, me trying to dodge something or maybe I wasn’t doing something. I always felt that that was the way I was being looked at for not reporting all that kind of stuff. But it’s interesting to hear how you operate just now. I know loads of guys do different stuff and some people don’t even care, they just buy links and just show them to the client or whatever, and charge them a flat rate fee for them or whatever. So, whatever works I suppose.

D: No, I agree. I agree. It’s been a long journey to figure out what a client actually wants. We also have clients that told us to stop sending us reports because they got confused. So ten it was like, oh okay. So then my SEO team get pissed off because they’re like, “Deepak we’re SEOs, we’re not reporting.” Then Deborah or Debora’s equivalent, we got a couple of project … everyone’s always fucking different and that’s the challenge where it’s like, do I want to scale and try and take on 30, 50 clients?

D: We’ve got about 15 to 20 clients and my goal, if I’m being honest with you Craig to finish up, is to get to a stage where I can have a maximum of 20 clients that have a really kind of standardized to a degree, process, and we can just focus on those guys. That for me would be great. I’m happy with this, now I can maybe look at doing other things, as we just discussed, with the bootcamp stuff.

C: Yeah. No, I hope that all goes well for you and it does come to fruition. You certainly seem to have made good movement over the last few years in terms of building your agency and stuff. So, fingers crossed that the bootcamp stuff and all that kicks in as well. But for anyone listening who wants to know where to find you if they’ve got questions or maybe want to use you or whatever, where’s the best place for people to get you?

D: So guys, just as with Craig Campbell’s name, Google my name, Deepak Shukla. It’s very cool. You will find me alongside, unfortunately a guy who’s an expert in HIV and infectious diseases, who’s got a Wikipedia link. He’s got the same name as me and I cannot rank above that fucker some of the time. He just keeps popping up to the extent that my picture started appearing next to his Wikipedia link and people started asking me, “Oh are you also an SEO expert as well as an expert in infectious diseases of a sexual nature?” So that was always a challenge but otherwise, just the agency name guys, Pearl Lemon. Pearl like pearl necklace, second work lemon. Either of those, just type them into Google and you’ll find me.

C: Good man and thanks from me Deepak, for taking the time to talk and share some of your tips and pain points, and whatever else. So I appreciate it man, and I’ll no doubt get you on again in the future and maybe get a different angle. Chat about some other stuff as well.

D: Yeah. Yeah Craig listen, it’s been a pleasure. Once I saw a couple of your speeches that were on the stages and you were your extravagant self, and then I saw that I think Ross posted, “Come and be on Craig’s podcast.” I was like, “I’ve got to get on this fucker’s podcast.” Because we exchange the odd Facebook kind of comment on a public post but I was like, “I want to talk to Craig. I want to talk to Craig.” So thank you also, for taking the time to share some stories with me, dude.

C: No worries at all. It’s been a pleasure man.

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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

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