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Overcoming The Obstacles Of Going Solo

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Friday was the last day of my security. Today, I’m a full-time business owner.  I’m completely out of in-house, and 100% dedicated to Greenlane Search Marketing, LLC.

I’ve been doing work through Greenlane since 2005.  Most of the time it was split between other internal roles with agencies or in-house.  I went 100% solo once, and failed.  Naturally, I was a little gun shy about trying this again. But I’ve realized things truly are different (if not evolved).

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”

Richard Branson and other off-beat CEOs have been the subject of a lot of my latest readings. Clearly, I’m getting the bug again. I’ve sat in rooms with some incredible CEOs and CMO’s – some well-known, some not. My father is very successful in a large company in Philadelphia, and an influence. I like the way many of them look at running a business as an art form, where there is no real playbook. I like that many successful CEOs aren’t the serial-killer personality types that we’ve come to expect. I’m not smart enough to compete on an intellectual level with most Wharton grads, but I started to get confidence that reminded me I didn’t need to.

Then again, I’ve run important marketing departments. I ran SEO relationships with companies like GNC, Petsmart, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, and Mattel. So I do have some experience. The only thing that was holding me back was the risk of security and the memory of past mistakes.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” 

I have that quote from TS Elliot on my wall. I’m not a big risk taker, but I do want to explore as much of life as I can.  This quote was strong for me.  A motivator.

I used the excuse, “the timing is bad,” when thinking about going on on my own. But when is it ever good? I have a lot of expenses (an ex-wife, a wedding coming up), my fiance is on disability for a few months from a necessary surgery, and there’s some other potentially expensive things going on. Plus I have an 8 year old son. I’m sure I’m going to rack up some credit card bills, but I’ll be able to see my son and fiance more, while finding happiness in (re)building a business.

This was also a motivator.

I had the fear of failure, but a lot of thoughts on how to learn from my past mistakes. I weighed it out, and made some adjustments.  I suck with accounting and bookkeeping, so this time I partnered with an accountant. I was not disciplined enough to work from home, so this time I got an office. I didn’t enjoy being a one-man show, so this time I teamed with consultants, and built with a partner who is much smarter than me (more on that later, but it’s someone I know and trust, and is more of the straight man to my shenanigans).

So now I have a team.  I already had great clients, and was forced to turn some good ones down. That pained me. I had the same business plan, just more robust now.  I had a defined, reachable business goal. Based on the skills of our team, we even had some stronger differentiators now.  What I didn’t have were core values. We looked into what we believed in, based on what we’ve seen from other agencies (including SEO), and pulled heavily on our past experience. We realize we’re altruistic people angry at the game. So, we built something around that.

Let the past feed the future.

Not a quote, just common sense. From fear of more mistakes, and the time clinging on to a security blanket, I did make some good choices. I’ve done B2C agency work for over 10 years, but had little experience doing in-house B2B.  I took a position in a growing, well-funded company.  This was a conscious decision to learn something new, and hopefully have a long stay.  I had some serious on-the-job training by a company of seasoned businessmen.  I’m quite proud of that decision, and struggled with leaving a good company two years later.  I simply found myself always returning to Greenlane.

Working in-house was an amazing eye-opener. I recommend all agency folk try it at least once in their life. Want to really understand the game? Put on the client’s shoes.

The biggest motivator – Inspiration.

If this industry should be remembered for anything (in my opinion), it’s the warmth and openness of the people. What is it about SEO and digital marketing where so many of us want to be writers and confess honestly the issues of running a business? Wil Reynolds is a friend and early influence.  It blew my mind how much he gave away to an industry full of people who would use the info to win business against him.  In my first agency run, I was forced to be closed to the blogosphere.  I was asked to present (being with GSI Commerce/eBay), but I couldn’t do the SEO presentation I wanted to do.  Julie Joyce was more than happy to share her heart and soul with me, and gave me incredible motivation (even if she didn’t know it). AJ Kohn, James Agate, Dan Shure, Rhea Drysdale, and Mackenzie Fogelson are all people I met in person only a year ago, and I thought about them often when designing my second run. They’re very inspirational. Nick Eubanks, Eppie Vojt, John-Henry Scherck, Mark Kennedy, David Cohen, Anthony Pensabene, Justin Freid, and all my Philly SEO friends have been incredibly valuable. It’s inspiring to be surrounded with a great support system.  And of course, my original SEO rock band of Ian Howells, Bill Rowland and Anthony Moore.  The most influential team of my life.

Thanks to everyone in this industry for helping me realize my dreams, and giving me the courage to make them a reality (and ultimately push me into the pool).

 

 

 

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    Comments

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    1. Anthony D. Nelson
      April 15, 2013

      Best of luck Bill. I enjoyed reading more about your story and how you got to where you are today.

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 15, 2013

        Thanks Anthony. I’ve always been influenced by your stuff as well.

        Reply


    2. Gaz Copeland
      April 15, 2013

      Hey Bill,

      Good luck sir! Very exciting times for you :)

      Gaz

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 15, 2013

        I’ve been building up to it for so long. A whole different kind of stress!

        Reply


    3. Steve Webb
      April 15, 2013

      Congrats Bill! I enjoyed the story of how you got here, and I’m sure you’ll be a dominant force this time around :-)

      -Steve

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 15, 2013

        My taste for expensive things demands it! Just kidding – Thanks Steve.

        Reply


    4. Zeph Snapp
      April 15, 2013

      Bravo Sir!

      Can’t wait to talk to you about the challenges of agency life.

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 17, 2013

        Reunion at Mozcon?

        Reply


    5. Anthony Moore
      April 16, 2013

      Way to get back on that horse, captain!

      It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with and learn from you over the last few years. I have no doubt that this 2nd time will be the charm.

      Anything you need from me, I’m happy to help where I can.

      Good Luck, my friend!
      Anthony

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 16, 2013

        Oh, I’ll be sure to call on you more…

        Reply


    6. Karen Strunks
      April 16, 2013

      Hi Bill,

      My first time here, but what a great ‘first’ post to read.

      Agree with those quotes and as you say, let the past feed the future.

      We are all wiser today than we were last week or last year. Going it alone is scary and it can be like a thrill ride, and one of the most exhilarating experiences we can have. We can grow so much from ‘just doing it’.

      Good luck Bill, not that you’ll need it!

      Karen :)

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 16, 2013

        Thanks Karen, I’ll take any “good luck” wishes I can get! I hope you come back again :)

        I really appreciate it.

        Reply


    7. AJ Kohn
      April 16, 2013

      Congrats Bill! I really like the realism here. None of the faux-transparency about how failure turned into learning. Shit is tough and I’m thrilled that you’ve taken the step (again).

      Hit me up any time to chat.

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 16, 2013

        My hope by hanging myself out there was that it may help someone else. I’ve gotten so much from the bloggers in this inudstry, and how open they are. Yourself included.

        Reply


    8. Christy Correll
      April 16, 2013

      Way to say YES to Life, Bill!

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 16, 2013

        My only regret is not doing it sooner :)

        Reply


    9. Mackenzie Fogelson
      April 16, 2013

      Congrats Bill on jumping off. Like you said, there is no good time. And there will always be hurdles and challenges and roadblocks. Even when you feel like you’re experiencing traction and having success, it will always be something. So good for you for taking the plunge.

      You know you’re going to build something great. Failure is all relative. Everything is just a stepping stone to the next great thing that you get to do in life. It’s just having the perspective to see that when things suck, you have to keep going because there’s always something great ahead.

      Here’s to the ride. Cheers.

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 16, 2013

        Love this!

        Reply


    10. Jeremy Rivera
      April 16, 2013

      Very thrilling and terrifying! Let me know if I can be a resource or can help :)

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 16, 2013

        Thanks man. Love the raven!

        Reply


    11. Rhea Drysdale
      April 17, 2013

      Bill, enjoy the swim! :) Congrats on the launch and we should touch base on a call soon. Always looking for incredible folks with similar values/approaches to refer clients to. I feel like you probably have a backlog of potential clients, but would love to send work your way and vice versa when it’s appropriate. I think that’s my favorite part of this industry–healthy competition and support among direct competitors, because there are so many companies in need of quality services and teams they can trust. We’re a rare breed! You’ll do well and look forward to catching up in the future, there’s nothing more precious than entrepreneur buddy time… it gets lonely and the highs are high and lows low, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now. :)

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 17, 2013

        I have some prospects, but not a backlog yet. I’ve always found the struggle in the agency world is the broken heart… sometimes you have a great partnership brewing, and for no apparent reason, it collapses. Part of the game.

        I’d be honored to be connected with you all. Truly.

        Reply


        • Rhea Drysdale
          April 17, 2013

          It happens! Had our primary contact with a new client leave yesterday with no warning. Account still looks active, but there are so many things outside of your control when it comes to client relationships. Important to just have a lot of diversity. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket! We finally have our biggest client down to 26% and I won’t be happy until they’re at 15% or less. Knew of one agency who had one client that accounted for 94% of their work! I couldn’t sleep knowing that one client had the entire livelihood of our team by the balls like that. Sorry to be crude, but you have no control over your company at that point. Ok, that’s my rant… just be cautious and always plan for the worst and you’ll be good. :D

          Reply


    12. Bill Rowland
      April 18, 2013

      Bill,

      Good luck & great post!

      I’m sure that you’ll be successful and you know that you can count on me to help whenever & wherever possible.

      Cheers.

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 19, 2013

        You’re merely an IM away!!!

        Reply


    13. Steve
      April 19, 2013

      Hey Bill, sorry I missed this when you published it but thanks for passing it on just now during our emails.

      Risk of security has been my biggest fear. And obviously fear of failure (obviously – hah)! But I’m also really, really excited. Sounds like you are too.

      It’d be good to keep in touch and see how each of us get on, especially as we’re ‘taking the leap’ around the same time (bar a couple of weeks here or there). All the best – Godspeed! :-)

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        April 19, 2013

        Always things we can learn from one another. We have email addresses now!

        Reply


    14. Riaan Aggenbag
      May 14, 2013

      Bill,
      Love the realness.
      I’ve gone solo myself, after having failed 3 times :)
      Still going strong after 5 years this time around and inspired by you to keep going for longer.
      Will certainly see you around.
      All the best,
      Riaan

      Reply


    15. Jeffrey
      May 17, 2013

      It’s great that you have such a support network. That is one things that is harder to develop here in Malta, because there is no community of internet marketers so support must mostly be got from the internet.

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        May 19, 2013

        I’m definitely lucky on that front. I’m thankful everyday for the relationships I made, but even though there’s a great Philly scene, most of the relationships were made through Twitter and my past experiences. I take every chance to network, and nurture those relationships as much as I can.

        Reply