From Making $150/Month As An Intern To Starting An $84K/Month SEO Agency

Sean Si
Founder, SEO Hacker
$84K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
50
Employees
SEO Hacker
from Parañaque, Metro Manila, Philippines
started April 2010
$84,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
50
Employees
30.5K
alexa rank
25.7K
followers
market size
$431M
starting costs
$11.7K
gross margin
90%
time to build
210 days
growth channels
SEO
best tools
Twitter, Coursera, Udemy
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
2 Tips
Discover what tools Sean reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Sean reccommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Sean Si and I started SEO Hacker when I was 22 years old. We currently offer 12 services including but not limited to Search Engine Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimization, and Email Sales Automation to our partners, and our flagship service has been and always will be Search Engine Optimization.

We have served local and international clients over the years. Here are some of the brands I’ve worked with: Toyota, Lipton, LG, SM, PLDT, Smart Communications, BDO, Ford, Jaguar, Unilever, and the list goes on.

And what I’m proud of is that we’ve remained the best SEO agency in the country ranking #1 for highly competitive keywords in our industry such as “SEO Philippines”. My teams have weathered a lot of challenges, especially during the pandemic, but it only made us tighter and stronger.

When SEO Hacker started, it was just me. Now, we’re composed of over 50 people organized as various teams and we give our best daily to take care of our 60+ partners.

We have been able to grow our annual revenue from $10,000 when I started to over $1,000,000 today.

seo-hacker

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was still an intern finishing my OJT when I stumbled upon SEO. I failed 28 units in college (I was far from being the ideal student) and ended up working for a certain company in Ortigas.

Thing is, in my OJT, the SEO Manager left and I had to learn everything all by myself as the new manager didn’t come in until a month later. I was getting paid a measly $150 a month for SEO work that wasn’t SEO work, and I was exhausted working from 6 AM to midnight most days.

But I learned the ‘whys’ behind all the tasks I was assigned to complete, and I managed to see what worked and what didn’t by experimenting with my first blog, God and You (now redirected to sean. si/ideas). Seeing my efforts take off led me to see that this was something I could do.

By the start of 2010, I had my first client—a gambling company from Costa Rica. The contract didn’t last long due to the client’s operations (thank God, I also wasn’t proud of doing that work), yet it did help me land another client—the biggest scuba diving company in the Philippines during that time.

I pitched a $1,000 contract to the company. The rest, as they say, is history.

Take us through the process of designing your services.

There’s not a lot to it. I took things as I went. I built the teams, processes, and methodologies as I saw needed. I also experimented a lot on what works and what doesn’t.

We are a service company and the way we improve is by creating the best possible culture and onboarding our people and taking care of them to ensure a long career and retention and growth with us.

How we do SEO in SEO Hacker is very different from the rest of the world. But the fundamentals remain the same - knowing what Google and Google’s users want is the key.

I had to do tons of experiments on what works and what doesn’t with Google. There were not a lot of resources on how to do SEO ethically back then so I had to figure it out on my own.

I did not have a set validation process. I was 22 years old during that time and largely clueless about what I needed to do and how I was turning SEO Hacker into a business (it started out as an SEO blog). I had 1,300 pesos in my pocket (somewhere $60) and that’s all the money I had to capitalize SEO Hacker.

Creating websites that are fast, secure, and easy to use on desktop and mobile and making them as information-rich as possible for the target audience is what a really good SEO strategy is meant to do.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Starting up the business is a series of divine appointments. I did not do a lot of planning and launch at all.

I started writing in the SEO Hacker blog and it started getting more views, shares, and inquiries and with that, I got more business coming in. Our first inquiry came out of the blue - during a trip to Hong Kong. I was seated beside a lady who had a relative who owned the biggest scuba diving company in the Philippines during the time.

We had small talk and she told me that she will refer me to that relative. I politely thanked her and I didn’t think too much about it - after all, we just met.

As chances may have it, she did remember to refer me and we got to close the deal. That was the first stream of recurring revenue we got coming in for SEO Hacker.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

There are a couple of things that have worked for us: word-of-mouth marketing, the SEO Hacker blog, interviews, building communities, lead magnets, and of course—SEO.

Let’s tackle them one by one.

Starting out, it was the referrals that got us our first partners, some of which are still with us today. Word-of-mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing because it speaks volumes about your performance when your partners are willingly promoting your services.

Next, we were able to attract partners through my SEO Hacker blog. Positioning myself as an industry leader by writing about my SEO knowledge showed prospective partners that I’m an authority in my field, especially since my blog has remained to be a trusted resource by thousands of SEO beginners and professionals.

Look at our traffic when we just started out:

seo-hacker

Check out our traffic in the same time frame last year:

seo-hacker

And it helped when we began getting contacted for interviews. Over the years, I’ve been featured in the news, in blog articles, and on countless podcasts talking about SEO, digital marketing, business, and leadership. Anyone who is thinking of partnering up with me for their digital needs can simply look me up online and know how I think, lead, and run my company.

They can know my values and how I take care of my teams and our partners. That’s valuable information for business owners looking for service providers as it tells them a lot about what it would be like working with us.

Here are some interviews if you want to check them out:

Lesson 14: It’s crucial to have the “written word” on your website, with Sean Si

seo-hacker

Expert Interview Series: Becoming An SEO Expert - Sean Si of SEO Hacker and Qeryz On Becoming an SEO Expert

seo-hacker

EP40 - SEO Hacker: Top 5 Factors Why Business Start-ups Fail | OOP Podcast

seo-hacker

We also took the time to build communities. I want to focus on one in particular: the Leadership Stack—my podcast on leadership and the different aspects of the business—Discord group.

Every Thursday at 8 PM I do a Q&A, sometimes with guests, sometimes without. I’ve built good relationships with my guests and the people who come in and ask questions, and I’ve gotten partners out of it.

seo-hacker

For our lead magnets, we have five case studies based on what we’ve learned over the years, and early this year we released a State of SEO in the Philippines 2022 report.

seo-hacker

We have gotten hundreds of great leads with these. Those looking for case studies show that they have an issue and are looking for a solution, and the ones who downloaded our report are businesses that need to migrate online.

Understand why you want that business in the first place because you will have to sacrifice a lot for it. Building and running a business is fun, but it’s also hard work

Lastly, SEO. I won’t be able to say we’re the best in the business here in the Philippines if we aren’t ranking for our keywords. Prospective partners won’t find us online without it. So it’s all thanks to our discoverability and the high-quality content we’re willing to create that landed us in the sights of our partners.

Now that we’ve covered how we got our partners, we’ll cover how we retain them.

The secret to this one is pretty simple: we treat them well. This is why I don’t like calling them my clients because it sounds like a transactional relationship. It’s not.

When you’re looking for a service provider, you’re not looking for someone to pay to work for you—you’re looking for someone who will take care of your needs and grow with you. It’s a long-term relationship; hence partners, not clients. And we take very good care of our partners.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today SEO Hacker has grown a ton since we started up and we are looking forward to our first building here in Metro Manila as we build the team to grow bigger and better in time. Aside from the rent, our biggest expense is manpower cost and then our recurring software payments.

As the pandemic shook a lot of businesses, ours was also shaken albeit in a good way. We got tons of clients coming in and wanting to work with us. This was unexpected so we have to ramp up our hiring efforts and we are building a lot of leadership materials and value-building materials for our team to learn from and grow in the long run. It’s all about building a fantastic team.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I am an eternal student and I’m still learning a ton - especially with how to lead myself and others better.

At the get-go, I made huge mistakes in hiring. I hired many wrong people and I let them into my organization. The result is a really bad culture. There’s politics, gossip, back-biting, unresolved conflict, and so on. I learned a ton from this and now our hiring process is way better.

We now have a 6-step hiring process which you could also apply to your business by listening to this podcast episode. This helps us weed out potential bad hires and get only the best team players out of the huge pool of applicants we have to wade through.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We have a list of our recommended tools in our SEO Hacker Internal Toolbox. I’d like to highlight three of them.

First is SE Ranking. It’s one of the best keyword ranking tools out there. It’s accurate and easy to use and gives us all the information we need especially when Google releases an algorithm update that makes rankings spike or drop.

seo-hacker

Next is Overloop. This Customer Relationship Management tool that centers on conversation, giving prospects a good experience with your team members who do outreach. It’s a full-fledged platform that has everything you need.

seo-hacker

And lastly, Liquid Web. It has never let us down and is 100% our top pick for a web hosting provider. If you’re looking to start a blog or a company website, you should check them out.

seo-hacker

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

  • John Maxwell’s books and podcasts - He’s been my mentor since I was 13 years old. I have been reading his books and it has changed my life and made me a lifelong pursuer and learner of leadership.
  • Dave Ramsey’s books and podcasts - He is a fantastic businessman and mentor and we share the same values seeing as he is a born-again Christian. I learned many of his principles and business processes through his books and podcasts and have applied many of them to our processes.
  • Patrick Lencioni’s books and podcasts - His books help me create better teams and understand people better. And his books are very easy to read because he uses fables to emulate the scenarios and lessons to the reader.
  • Jim Collins’ books - I have learned many things about what a good business is going to be and why these businesses last for years and years to come. This is so important because as a businessman, sometimes problems and projects can get in the way and make you shorter-sighted.
  • Seth Godin’s books - Helps me to think out of the box. He’s the number 1 marketing thought leader in America for a reason.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Check your cash flow, and understand why you want that business in the first place.

Check your cash flow, because no matter what people say it’s what matters. You can have all the passion in the world, but if you’re losing more money than you’re getting, it’s not gonna work.

Understand why you want that business in the first place because you will have to sacrifice a lot for it. Building and running a business is fun, but it’s also hard work. That business is your baby—you will invest a lot of time and effort to make sure it grows as well as it possibly can. Especially when you start hiring employees, because they are your partners, and not taking care of the business means not being able to take care of your employees as well.

seo-hacker

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Absolutely. We’re currently looking for a Project Manager. It’s a full-time, paid position. They will serve as the connection between the operations and our partners to deliver positive results for the latter’s expectations and initiatives.

They should have impeccable organizational skills to delegate tasks, set reasonable project timelines, and monitor project progress. They can apply through this link or by emailing our HR at [email protected] with the subject line: I AM YOUR [insert position].

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more about me and my company through these links:

If you want to learn more about SEO you can check out:

If you want to connect with me:

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Sean Si, Founder of SEO Hacker
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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