I had every intent on starting a side hustle after completing the SEO Audit Guide online course. But, it didn’t work out that way; instead, I launched my own digital agency. And, none of this would have happened without a chance meeting with Claudia Pennington at a blogging conference in Ohio back in 2016.
A digital agency in the making
My wife, Wendi, is a blogger. Her blog is Wendi’s Weekend Trips & Whatnot, and it can be found at www.wendiwarren.com. Because of her blog, we decided to attend the Bloggy Conference in September 2016 at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Our reason for going to the conference was to figure out how to monetize my wife’s blog (something we have yet to do. I think the way we started it makes it difficult to transition into a different type of site).
In leading up to the conference, I had been reading about this thing called SEO. I was feeling good about my understanding of the topic, but it was really a case of thinking I knew more than I did about search engine optimization. At the time, I was working as a full-time journalist for a newspaper in Wooster, Ohio, and as we focused more on our website, I was able to share some things about SEO. Yeah, I thought I knew so much.
Attending an SEO workshop
While at the Bloggy Conference, I noticed Claudia was leading one of the workshop sessions on search engine optimization. Knowing that SEO would be important to growing my wife’s blog, I decided to sit in on the session. And, I am glad I did.
Having worked for a large digital agency, Claudia understood what needed to be done to make a website SEO-friendly. Her experience in the field allowed her to present realistic expectations of what a person could charge doing search engine optimization audits for businesses and bloggers on the side. With SEO audits, an SEO technical specialist could charge at least $75 an hour. Having worked as a journalist and never coming close to one-third of that amount for an hour, I was intrigued.
Exploring an SEO side hustle
I remember after Claudia’s presentation, I rushed up to speak to her about the possibility of taking the course. She was offering a special for those who attended the conference, and it made the offer even more attractive.
When I told Claudia about my background in journalism, she immediately starting offering insights into how wonderfully my writing background would pair SEO audit services and how I could charge $50 an hour for content creation services to go with the $75 an hour SEO audits.
To be truthful, at the time, what she was saying flew over my head. I just knew there was the possibility of making $75 an hour. Basically, if I worked 10 hours a week doing SEO audits, then I would earn more than my 40-hour a week job.
Taking the SEO Audit Guide course
So, I dove into the course, trying to learn as much as I could. It has been a couple years since I took the course the first time, but I think I finished it sooner than I thought it would take. Because my wife has a website, I was able to use her site as a guinea pig. While I was in the midst of the course, I reached out to a friend of mine who was a small business owner. I offered to perform an SEO audit on his website at no charge. I did this for a couple reasons:
- If I am going to charge someone good money for a job, then I want to make sure I can deliver. Working through my friend’s site allowed me to gain real-life experience. Performing an SEO audit on my wife’s site did not pose the same challenges or pressures.
- If he liked the service I provided, then he would be able to provide me with a testimonial about the service I provided.
Full sail ahead … almost
I was excited to have the first full SEO audit done. However, my friend got very upset at his web developer because there were so many things not done properly on his website. To be fair, web developers are not necessarily SEO specialists, just like I am not a web developer. We have different points of focus. He was mad, really mad. I never got that testimonial, not because of anything I had done.
I decided on a name for my side hustle: NavigateSEO. I bought a domain, created a website, and was preparing to launch in Q1 2017. However, a funny thing happened on the way to my launch: The newspaper where I worked was sold to a large corporation — a $1.2 billion corporation, to be exact. It had its own digital agency. The employee handbook stated workers cannot compete against the company. My SEO and digital marketing agency side hustle would do just that.
Consequently, NavigateSEO would not chart a course for new horizons. It would remain tethered.
OK, this time for real
As 2017 progressed, I just knew it was time for a change. I had wanted to start a side hustle, but it was on ice. Wendi and I went back to the Bloggy Conference in 2017, and we caught up with Claudia and her husband, Garrett, again. It was good seeing them again. We talked several times over the year about questions I had about doing audits and starting the business.
It was not too much longer when I decided I was going to launch, not a side hustle, but a full digital marketing agency. I thought through everything. I formed an LLC. I got an employee identification number from the IRS. I opened a business checking account. I received a business credit card. I set up initial meetings with business leaders I thought might be interested in my services. I came up with a one-page business plan. Two of the area’s business leaders mentored me through the whole process. I was headed for the big time: I had a banker, an accountant, and an attorney.
On Jan. 8, 2018, Wooster Media Group LLC was launched.
So far, so good
For me, launching a business instead of a side hustle has proven to be a good decision. In my next blog post (which you can now read here), I will dig into the numbers in an upcoming blog post, and you will see just how I did this. Every month, the amount I have billed clients continues to go up. I am surpassing my targets, but more on that in the next post.
What is it that you want to do? Maybe a side hustle is the way to go for you … it’s a smart play because you can build up some cash until you can replace or come close to replacing your income. I didn’t have that option: It was either all or nothing.