Early Lessons From Building a Consulting Company

by on May 20, 2013 | posted in Entrepreneurship


Nine months ago I quit my job to start my first company, Siege Media. Three months later, I talked about the mysticism of entrepreneurship, “taking the jump” and how the process was remarkably easy – and also, something I probably should have done earlier.

It was and it is, but that doesn’t make building a company an absolutely smooth ride. Running a consulting business in a state of mediocrity is relatively simple – the demand for SEO services is great and if you’re at all active online, client inquiries come rather easily.

However, growing said company is a different beast entirely – client churn is a distinct possibility if you provide lackluster work, and if that becomes the standard, don’t expect much in the way of client referrals.

So, while running the company is easy, quitting was a no-brainer and should have been done earlier, there were definitely things that I did not expect entering the process that I now know, nine months later.

1. Your Website Won’t Make or Break You

When I entered the process I had the expectation that I would make a company website that others simply weren’t. I would blog frequently, it would be done with the precision and excellence others simply weren’t, and I would finally beat back the SEO myth that we do not eat our own dog food.

Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, clients did. I wanted to blog and spend time tweaking the site, but demand immediately came through providing good work. We got referrals by spending four more hours on improving our clients businesses, not by allocating that time to blog more. More importantly, those four hours insured that our clients would be retained, and longer term contracts would be signed.

So, it was illuminating to know that as an in-house SEO and niche consultant my outside laughter for those businesses who never blogged and had websites that were laughable was really rather based in ignorance – many if not all of these “empty” agency websites may actually be but a few tight landing pages for the thriving businesses that escalated more on the great work that built them naturally.

While the KPI for your ad-driven website may create a psychological bias that blogging more=results, in the agency world, much of the business development comes behind the scenes, in e-mail, during one on one conversations, and in boring Excel spreadsheets.

That said, let me add the disclaimer that I still believe in blogging as a method for driving business, and the other positive effects that come with it. Blogging frequently doesn’t mean an agency is struggling.

However, I think it is worth communicating that you may find it (ironically) surprising when building a company that the initial engine of growth comes not from writing more words for the outside world, but instead, spending more time on client accounts.

2. Account for Personal Life Impacts on Productive Work Periods

Something that has also contributed to my lack of writing is the simple readjustment of my life. In the past two years I have started dating someone I care about deeply, and because of that, what was once a time period spent writing – nighttime, is now spent hanging out with her.

This is a simple adjustment that has caused a syphoning out of one of my most productive times for that kind of work. And that’s not to say that it’s bad – I choose to hang out with my girlfriend instead of write, but it is a reality that as you begin to give and care about someone else more than populating a text field, one part of your work life may suffer.


Screen shot 2013-05-20 at 1.06.27 AM


For you, your night work might be better spent heads down on difficult projects or something else. As someone who might be considering starting a company or entering into another large project, it is worth thinking about your night hours, and how you spend them – if your personal life changes and someone else enters it, how will that impact your work life? Will that valuable part of your working efficiency cause your business to go down in flames? Or will you find yourself pushing that person away in an effort to prevent it, causing a possible hole in both?

These kinds of considerations may prevent one business – or your personal relationship – from losing before they take off. For me, not writing as much has been fine: the business has grown from within, and I now have a more rewarding, enriching life because I am spending it with someone else.

For you, it may be difficult to balance both personal life and work, or your more productive times may be at conflict with your significant other’s time off. Definitely, how you deal with this interplay may define your immediate life trajectory – and the business that comes with it.

3. Zero Employees – Easy. One Plus – Damn Hard.

It took me quite a while to hire Siege’s first employee, but I’m glad I took the time. I found someone great (Bryan Vu, you should follow him), and now Siege has the capabilities to grow and do better work – something I’m extremely excited about.

That said, hiring an employee dramatically changes the game. You essentially have a mouth to feed, cash flow must be monitored more closely, and the business becomes less “just do SEO work for people” and more “build a company with processes, a business bank account, and a future plan”.

In the first six plus months, I essentially ran on experience – no fancy Excel documents, processes or anything like that: this was possible because it all existed in my mind. When you hire someone else, that must be transcribed on paper or at least verbally, and there must be standards for implementation that grow with the company – or your work will suffer as it scales.

Moreso, the choices you make at two plus employees (we’re on the verge of hiring a second) can begin to truly create the culture your company will call its own. Will we be a young company? An old one? Do we work hundreds of hours? Just get stuff done? Telecommute? In office? How will we hire? All of these considerations are important, and suddenly turn a lifestyle business into a real one.

Up to the first hire, your work is easy: you are still doing what you always did. At some points during the first and through the second plus employee, you suddenly are thrown into a world of process documentation, paperwork and long-term business strategy – efficiencies that were never truly developed building links in-house.

So, be aware of the challenge and difficulty of that transition. For that reason, I am taking it slow. No outside funding, no forced hires, no 80-hour work weeks to force growth: the decisions will be methodical, and hopefully, the end product will be rewarded.

What’s Next? Transition

I’m finding that the next stage for Siege Media will be building out the competencies to create effective content in house. We are currently an outreach and strategy shop – while that has benefits, it is also limiting for the clients who do not have the content development capabilities in house, and we have also found that sometimes communicating content needs can create a gap between idea and end product.

I will always believe that clients should have that piece within their own doors – where true vertical efficiency can be built – but for some, that is just too difficult to do. So, we will begin to do it here, and hopefully do it well. We will hire the people that can do that, and we will take on the clients who believe in what we do and trust us enough to take our recommendations and run with them.

At the end of 2013, Siege Media will also be opening a new office in San Diego. How that transition occurs will be another building block that will shape the company, and it is a challenge I look forward to.

And, if all goes well, I’ll hopefully find the time to blog about it sometime soon. Hopefully.

tagged as

  • http://twitter.com/content_muse AnthonyPensabene.com

    i can relate a bit to your ‘maintaining the blog sentiment,’ regarding freelance writer/content strat enterprises. having an online presence is great, and expected if you’re accepting money to help others with theirs, yet one’s personality and physical presence, especially when single or boutique, is an undeniable and incredible asset.

    good luck with things to come. hopefully, i can get to chat with you in person again sometime soon (i’m going to moz.) Your prior post on wanting to improve public speaking had an impact on me regarding my video endeavors, so thanks for that.

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      Thanks Anthony – looking forward to seeing you at Mozcon and checking in with how things are going.

  • jasonmun

    Hi Ross,

    Thanks for recording down and sharing your thoughts in this blog post.

    I made exactly the same move bout 7 months ago, taking the leap in to entrepreneurship to set up my own shop and can certainly related to all the points that you have made. Particularly around finding the time to blog and doing some inbound marketing for the business.

    Time is so extremely precious when you have to do everything your god-damn-self, from invoicing, finances, taxes, reports, strategy docs, etc. Not to mention finding that ideal work-life balance. I believe automation and processes is key…

    Good to hear that things are working out and Siege is growing at a steady pace, congrats to that. Maybe we can bounce some ideas off each other one day.

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      Yup, these are the things I hate, and undoubtedly will have to do more of. But they’re a necessary beast, I guess. I look forward to the day when I hopefully can get someone else to do that for me, as I bet you do too!

      Would love to hear your ideas/experience as well, any time.

  • http://twitter.com/JoelTurner Joel Turner

    Nice post Ross – some great insights. Hope you enjoyed Europe last month! Cheers J

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      I did Joel – thanks!

  • adam 2290

    Great insights! I just joined up with a start-up company that is just moving into a new office. It’s always interesting to hear and compare the experience of others.

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      Definitely is – which is why I hoped it was valuable writing this post and hopefully more in the future.

  • http://www.kizi800.com/ kizi

    Not to mention finding that ideal work-life balance. I believe automation and processes is key…

  • http://seo-hacker.com/ Sean Patrick Si

    Very honest post about your experience in building your business Ross. I’ve built SEO Hacker and we’re coming in 2 years now with an in-house team. We’re around 15 in-house people (but that’s because it’s relatively cheaper to hire here in the Philippines) and right now I can honestly tell you that managing people is the tough. Leading them right is even tougher. Your people will look at you as the primary model – you are the prime example of your company DNA. So how you talk, act, work, spend your time – all these things will shape your team and how your core team is, will shape your company as it grows. Congratulations on your breakthrough to hiring your first teammate!

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      Very cogent point Sean, and something I think about a lot. If I leave early and don’t even consistently get 8 hours in the office, will that look lazy, if I’m not being so? Will other weaknesses of my own be company DNA as well? All things that enter my thinking when working, and will definitely show itself in the company culture over time.

      Thank you for the kind words and the comment!

      • http://seo-hacker.com/ Sean Patrick Si


        About your 8 hours dilemma, I want to share with you that as a boss and leader (though I have my own in-house managing director now but he’s leaving after this year so that leaves me to take up the mantle again next year), I’m usually out of office. I work in the office only on Thursdays. Other days of the week I’m out meeting clients, selling to prospective clients, buying stuff for the office, working on new ventures, etc.

        It doesn’t make you look lazy if you are accountable. Just remember to tell your team where you are, what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished for them. If you don’t do this, you’ll really look lazy. I use Trello for my things to do. You could check out our Trello board here: https://trello.com/b/cKGTa58z

        There are daily tasks there for my team and I do input my thoughts everyday to what they’ve accomplished. So that even when I’m out of office, I’m in touch.

        I watched your recent video by the way: http://siegemedia.com/content-marketing-strategies-2013 – love it. It’s the first time I’ve heard and seen you speak. Thanks for sharing that piece Ross.

        On another note, would I, by any chance, interest you in a duo-post? Here’s a little background on why I want to do so: http://seo-hacker.com/coauthor-rank-centering-rankings-web/

  • http://reebesreef.tumblr.com danreebes

    I have been thinking about going out on my own for a while now but still havnt taken the jump. I have a good job with great benefits and its pretty sercure but its not really fulfilling and I dont make enough just at that job. So I have picked up a few clients on the side and it really helps paying the bills. But I dont really have enough time or mostly energy to give my side clients all the attention they need. I sent this over to my side work partner and he called me right after and said, QUIT! I think Im going to do it sooner than later. Just wondering if you had many clients before you went out solo Ross?

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      Hey Dan, I definitely did. And I also had confidence because I had an audience online that came from tweeting/blogging here a ton, and I also was speaking a bit, so I had that knowledge as a confidence builder. The question is, where is your consistent client generation going to come from? If you have a good feel for it and confidence in it, that’s a good reason to jump.

  • http://www.yepididi.com/ Yepi Didi

    Thanks for the article very useful

  • josephjrobison

    Do you plan on opening an additional office in San Diego, or moving the current one?

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      That’s exactly the difficult question I am trying to figure out myself.

      • josephjrobison

        Well if you don’t know any locals in the area, I can point out a few good spots to help you find good locations (hint: terrible traffic in the Sorrento Valley area).

        • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

          I’m currently thinking downtown. I’ve done some exploring in the last three visits I’ve made in the last 4 or so months and that seems like the best bet. Really like the big town feel. And I hate traffic!

          • josephjrobison

            Yea, I concur that downtown is best. You’re never more than a 2 minute walk from anything, and it only takes a 15-20 minute walk max to get anywhere downtown. The East Village area is the up and coming creative area and I believe it has the best rent prices, a good amount of design and tech shops over there. Good luck!

  • http://friv-2.yepi-yepi.com/ Friv 2

    Time is so extremely precious when you have to do everything your god-damn-self, from invoicing, finances, taxes, reports, strategy docs, etc.

  • Mike Perez

    First off, you killed it at Boston Searchlove last month. You, Wil Reynolds and Eppie were hands down my favorite presentations.

    This post is right on point in so many ways. I have an agency where over the years we just have never made the time to blog, not because we didn’t want to but because our priority has always been spent focusing on our clients success. At the end of the day that’s what keeps clients on board long term, it maintains the recurring revenue and it’s how they become great evangelists for your company which just leads to more business. Add a wife and 3 year old to the mix and there are just never enough hours in the day.

    I love seeing people start their own businesses and have success. You’re going to grow Siege probably as quickly as you really choose to so as you start to grow and expand be careful of getting sucked in to spending too much time handling things that you shouldn’t be spending time on (invoicing, generating reports, general paperwork etc.) When you are first starting out of course you don’t have a choice as you have to but one of the mistakes I made was waiting too long to hire someone to handle these things. Your time is much more valuable in other areas. Adding employees can be scary (like you said mouths to feed) definitely makes things difficult (I know, I have 30) but you won’t get to where you want to go without the having the “right people on the bus”. If you haven’t read Good to Great by Jim Collins, I recommend it. Just my two cents on telecommuting vs in office, it can work both ways but you can build a much better company culture if they are in the office as a team. Communication, training, etc. is also just so much easier. It’s a pretty good feeling to create an environment where people actually want to come to work everyday and be part of that and you just don’t get that without your team being together in the office.

    Very cool that you are coming to San Diego, you’re going to love it.

    • http://twitter.com/RossHudgens Ross Hudgens

      Thanks Mike! Great advice. I have read Good to Great and definitely liked it a lot – I should probably re-read it now that I am not working in-house. Glad to hear you’re another friendly face in SD! Would love to connect once I’m settled in/sometime in the interim when I’m visiting the area.

      • Mike Perez

        That would be great, anytime.

  • http://www.yepididi.com/ Helena

    Thank you. it’s really helpful to me. hope that you will have many more interesting articles

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    Defiling my women is an art and the destruction of self respect, morals,
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    this wild ride. do it for mom, she will be proud.

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