- Ryan Darani is an SEO consultant who left an agency two years ago to go off on his own.
- When he started his business, he posted on LinkedIn daily, which helped him grow his client list.
- He now makes up to $40,000 a month and works fewer hours than he did in full-time employment.
Ryan Darani is a freelance search-engine-optimization professional based in the UK. Insider has verified his revenue with documentation.
In May 2020, I decided to quit my job as a senior search-engine optimization lead at the UK-based digital agency IPG Mediabrands. I’d successfully generated millions of dollars in revenue for brands in the finance, travel, and retail sectors and seemingly mastered my craft of ranking websites and building organic strategies.
But despite my wins, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit lost.
The pace of a large agency can be overwhelming, and I was working on too many clients. This meant that if I didn’t work 14- to 16-hour days, my clients would suffer, and it started to take a toll on me. Everything started to feel fragmented.
It was the fear of losing the passion that ultimately led to my plucking up the courage to leave.
I’d always wanted to have my own business
After seeing huge success in the SEO industry, I felt as if I could do more alone without restrictions or navigating corporate politics. I wanted to challenge myself and break away from agency life, and I wanted to lift the curtain to reveal the inner workings of big-budget SEO campaigns I’d delivered in the past. I decided to focus on one platform: LinkedIn.
Before starting my business, I’d only ever used LinkedIn to share company updates. I knew nothing about the algorithm or how to grow an audience on it. But, as with anything, if you’re consistent enough and test everything you do, you’ll eventually learn how something works.
LinkedIn works based on engagement and popularity signals. The more (and faster) a post is engaged with determines how successful that piece of content will be. For example, I know right away that comments within the first hour on a post will mean more views.
This is how I began popping up in people’s feeds first. Timing is everything.
I decided that if I could earn what I was earning at the agency, I would be happy
So I set myself a goal to hit 2,000 pounds, about $2,600, in monthly recurring revenue, or MRR, within six months.
I kept my pricing and my services simple. I’d learned from being in the agency that pricing by the hour was difficult to manage. It always meant we were chasing the deliverable, rather than doing the best job for our clients.
I decided to price per project and offer only a selection of SEO services varying from content auditing to complete organic strategies. It’s what I specialized in. I can hold my own in most areas of SEO, but I felt it made sense to focus on where I could deliver great results.
With that benchmark in mind, I simply started posting. The springboard to my lead generation was simply announcing that I had decided to go freelance. You’d be surprised at how many people want to work with an individual rather than an agency. I started my business in September 2020, and within the first 30 days of being freelance, I’d achieved my six-month milestone.
Initially I landed one-off projects. When you’re just starting out, you’ll take whatever you can get to pay your bills. But my real goal was to find retainers — clients who would pay me a fee every month.
With my first goal hit, I needed to focus on growth
I set a new target of 10,000 pounds MRR within the next 12 months. This kind of money would be life-changing.
Over the next 30 days, I started to test new content ideas on LinkedIn. Instead of offering insight, I tried being controversial by saying the things that people are afraid to say about SEO. I stood by my goal to make SEO simple and easy for everyone to understand.
Within three months of doing this every day, I was generating between 5,000 and 10,000 views on my LinkedIn content every month. Those views turned into anywhere from three to four leads per week ranging from startups to enterprise businesses.
In addition to testing new content ideas, I’d spend 30 to 60 minutes a day engaging with people on LinkedIn.
I don’t mean cold-messaging them with a pitch. I mean helping them, answering questions, and jumping on calls (for free) to build a relationship. The more I did this, the more times my content was shared and seen.
This was the most critical part of building my business
I had a completely free offering that people could take advantage of, and I never sold them a thing.
My offering was incredibly simple: a free 30-minute consultation call. I’d often pack so much value into these 30 minutes that people would either ask for a proposal to work together or book additional consultations.
By November 2020 — two months after I had started — I had my first 14,000-pound month. The compounded effect of posting and engaging with people started to pay off.
I was achieving my financial goals more quickly than I could plan for them, but I couldn’t become complacent. If I stopped thinking about the next goal, I would’ve stopped growing. It’s very easy to hit your goals and then slow down, and I didn’t want to do that.
Client retention should be priority number one
Achieving revenue is great. But what’s not easy is retaining your clients. Holding relationships with people every day who trust you with their money is the key. I always make sure my clients are cared for and respected. I’m driven by results, but I wouldn’t sacrifice my integrity to get them.
The biggest takeaways I’ve learned are:
- Speak your client’s language: Spend the time to learn what excites them and what causes you to lose the room. I knew all my clients responded to revenue. It’s how their investment in SEO is justified. If you can’t communicate that somebody has put in X and they’ve generated Y because of it, you’ll have a hard time holding onto your clients.
- Embed yourself into the team: Don’t be seen as an outsider. I made it my mission to become immersed in a client’s business. I attended meetings, learned about their personal lives, and built relationships with different departments. The more people know about your skills and qualities, the better.
That’s allowed me to upsell and ask for higher rates. Trust and relationship building took my business to the next level. I’ve been comfortably clearing 30,000 pounds, or about $40,000, a month this year without adding to my list of clients.
Building my business this way was the best I knew how because I didn’t like selling (and I still don’t). I’m very lucky and thankful to be in the situation that I’m in, and I’m grateful that my clients trust me enough to continue to work with me.
The transition into being a freelancer has come with challenges
Managing my work-life balance in the early phases was impossible. For the first six months, I was working 14- to 16-hour days to get everything done, much as I was in an agency.
This is natural. I didn’t have a crash course on running a business I could rely on. But I made mistakes and learned as I grew. I learned to delegate. I learned to set boundaries with my clients. I realized that being “always on” didn’t return the results I thought it would. Now I work about six hours a day, and I don’t work weekends anymore. I’m financially stable and find the time to enjoy life outside of work without feeling guilty about it.
Are you a freelancer who wants to share your story? Email Lauryn Haas at [email protected]