While some small business owners are on board with the idea of search engine optimization many still aren't. However, even with those who aren't quite on board yet, there's an increasing awareness of this thing called search marketing and small business represents a fertile market for SEOs. The difficulty is the increasing awareness still hasn't reached the point of realistic expectations and costs for many small business owners. So how does an SEO sell services to a market who's needs and wants are often out of alignment with realistic expectations and pricing?
You've probably had your share of encounters with a small business owner inquiring about seo. Often after putting together a package of services along with a price you never hear back. There's a sense that small business either isn't willing to pay a fair amount for search marketing services or that they simply can't afford to pay for those services. Both are certainly true of some, but I think the truth is a little different.
My experiences with small business owners has shown the truth isn't so much that they won't or can't pay, but rather they can't afford to pay for everything all at once. An approach other than an all inclusive package with associated pricing is often necessary. What's important is to understand who your potential client is, what he or she is looking for in your services, and how best you can deliver a win-win situation.
Who is the Typical "Mom and Pop" Client?
The definition of a small business varies somewhat. In the U.S. a business with under 100 employees is a small business. But a company with 90 employees is very different than a company with two employees. The businesses I'm referring to here are more the microbusinesses and "mom and pops" with less than 10 people working for the company.
Most of us won't have to look to far to understand who the microbusiness owner is since most of us fall into the category. Think about your own business for a moment and consider how you decide on purchases. I know there are plenty of things I want to buy to help my business. I know that many of those things will ultimately help me make more money fully justifying the expense. I also know that many of those things aren't going to be purchased by me in the immediate future.
It's not that I don't have the money to afford say some software application. It's more that with so many different things I want to purchase I have to prioritize which is most important, with rent and bills usually taking the top spot on the list of priorities. Your "mom and pop" client is the same. It's not that they won't pay for your services, it's that they have a lot of choices to make about where to best spend their money.
You and I know the value of search marketing. Your typical "mom and pop" is still learning. They're often still at the very early stages of search knowledge at the point where meta tags are seo. They've heard of seo, but don't yet realize the work that goes into building a search presence.
They may also have been burned in the past by a less than reputable seo firm who promised everything and delivered nothing.
"Mom and pop" are ready for seo services, but they need to be gently brought into the process.
Selling SEO to "Mom and Pop"
The approach that's worked best for me to get "mom and pop" to buy into seo services is to not overwhelm them upfront with all the site needs. Instead of presenting everything at once you might do better to identify a few smaller, but important things the site needs and sell the smaller work, while explaining what you are doing and what results can be reasonably expected from the effort.
Spend a few hours fixing a duplicate content issue or plug the whole in the site's shopping cart. Once your client starts seeing the results you won't have to work so hard to sell your client on a blog strategy.
"Mom and Pop" may balk at paying several thousand dollars right away for services they still aren't sure will work, but they will often accept a series of smaller fees for smaller projects. Again it's not about being unable to afford services, but rather being unable to pay for them all at once.
If possible try to uncover how much your client is willing to budget for your services and then figure out what you can deliver within that budget. Your clients will usually want more than than they have to spend, but most will be reasonable and understand that their budget is the limiting factor. All they ask is that you can provide value within that budget.
It's also very important to educate your clients as you work on their site. Many "mom and pops" are still at the point where they see seo as magic formula. Place a few words here, add a few others to your meta tags and your done formula. Before negotiating a price I find it best to explain in some degree how much more the process is and do what I can to bring expectations back to reality.
If you can sell a smaller project withing the larger process, explain what results can be reasonably expected, and then deliver those results you'll find it much easier to sell the next small project. In this way you can slowly pull your client into the seo process and in time sell them on all your services.
Why Work with "Mom and Pop"?
SEO clients fall into several different types. You probably aren't going to get rich working with "mom and pop," but you can still make a good living and working with them has additional rewards. "Mom and pop" are often much more appreciative of your efforts than larger businesses will be. They also tend to become more loyal to you as you'll inevitably end up working more closely with them.
Larger business will be less inclined to worry about you if the time comes for them to consider a new vendor. The contract might be greater, but the feelings of loyalty for past work isn't. "Mom and pop" will remember what you've done for them, not just what you've done for them lately. Once you have built trust with them you might find less need to "sell" your services to them.
It can also be very rewarding to know you've directly helped another individual with their business. Helping a large company make thousands doesn't compare to helping a one person operation pick up a few hundred dollars that keeps them in business longer. At least it doesn't for me.
There's a sense of satisfaction working with someone who in the beginning had little understanding of what value you could bring to their business and slowly bringing them through the process until they do see that value.
The key to working with "mom and pop" isn't about forcing them to do things your way. The key is to understand where they are coming from, who they are, and what they are capable of putting into the process and then finding a way you can offer value within the limits defined by your client. Working with microbusinesses is about you fitting into their way of doing business, not forcing them into your way. If you're willing to adjust your thinking the market is ripe and the rewards are great.
Steven Bradley is a Web Designer/Developer and SEO. He writes about topics related to marketing and search engine optimization at TheVanBlog and can be found in many places online under the username vangogh.