Want to take advantage of a bad economy? Why not try hiring a few people who have been running their own shows but have fallen on hard times? As it turns out, there are quite a few individuals out there who may be underemployed in their “home based business” but could still fit a full time job into their schedules.
Entrepreneurs aren’t too hard to find in the fields of SEO and Pay-Per-Click marketing. Many of them run their own small optimization and paid click firms and get by on a handful of clients. People outside of the SEO business model might be more surprised to know that a lot of entrepreneurs are ensconced within the confines of search marketing agencies, developing their dream businesses while they manage in-house and client accounts. While a lot of people in the normal management world may discourage this kind of moonlighting, it turns out that there are a lot of advantages for SEO agency owners when their employees manage personal businesses on the side.
If you owned an auto shop, and had to choose between two otherwise equal employees, would you pick the one who is restoring a collectible car or one who only picks up a wrench on company time? Most likely, you would want an employee with a love for the trade and some practical experience. The same is true in search marketing, and you’re likely to get more value out of someone who does research and development on his or her own sites. Many people in SEO spend extra time and money investing in e-commerce or lead generation projects that generate enough extra money to make ends meet, but could be self-sufficient in the future. In fact, if you aren’t offering a competitive enough salary, your employee’s side project proceeds may be the only thing that keeps him or her from seeking greener pastures.
In the SEO world, employees with side projects can also be very helpful in spotting emerging trends or uncovering new search engine penalties. Lead generation, ecommerce drop-shipping, affiliate marketing, and traffic monetization are popular “moonlighting” projects because they don’t require a brick-and-mortar presence or active support. In several cases, people who noticed rankings changes on their own sites were able to spot search engine trends before they were announced, and if you’ve ever experienced an odd penalty you are going to counsel your client not to make the same mistakes. In any client relationship that requires consultation or strategic advice, the ability to relate a personal search engine story, good or bad, is going to improve your credibility.
On the paid side, employees who “play the game with their own money” are likely to keep a better eye on client and in-house PPC budgets while they use firsthand knowledge of conversion tactics to strengthen a campaign. In contrast, people in SEM with little practical outside experience may be somewhat detached from the needs of external clients and internal initiatives. Even if you go with an employee who has tried but not succeeded in an outside ecommerce, SEO, or PPC venture, you are hiring someone with better experience who is likely to avoid some of the “rookie” pitfalls that can lose you a profitable account. Entrepreneurial types naturally have a better eye for the “big picture” and understand the need to produce results. Anyone who has run a small business has also worn quite a few hats, can be more creative with the resources at hand, and probably knows a few automation tricks that can improve the efficiency of your entire staff.
What are the downsides of going with a part-time entrepreneur in the world of SEO? For starters, you are working with someone who likely has a goal and an exit strategy. Even if you have a person who is a couple of years away from cutting the cord and going completely independent, you need to plan for that time. Since the fields of Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click management don’t require expensive tools, it is remarkably easy for people to set up similar firms in their own homes. Most of the time, people will find a profitable online field and use their SEO or PPC skills to dominate that sector. Naturally, people have been acquiring skills and starting their own businesses for years, but all you really need for a search marketing job is a computer and a few online tools, most of which you can get for free.
As a side note, allowing for entrepreneurs in the workplace also gives you better opportunities to avoid conflicts of interest. If you’re aware that your employee also drop ships car stereos through an online store, you can avoid the appearance of a conflict by ensuring that no similar account is handled by that individual. A real complication could arise if your customer is the one telling you that his/her account manager is in direct competition. A clear policy tolerating side projects should always indicate that the employee should disclose any conflicts.
Choosing an entrepreneur may be a better bet than picking someone with a fresh MBA. While the MBA may have work experience, and may have potential in the future, the entrepreneur has already dealt with real-world issues that usually involve solving complex problems, working within tight budgets, and generating money. Even a failed entrepreneur has a wealth of personal experience and may be able to navigate you past (or warn you about) blunders that aren’t always apparent until you experience them firsthand. As a supervisor or stakeholder, choosing the experienced employee also makes sense because he or she will already understand many of the pressures that come from running a business.
If a fair number of people in your SEM agency are moving into successful businesses of their own, this can be seen as an endorsement of your company’s knowledge base and collaborative power. While there is a certain sting in losing good talent, you get more knowledge sharing among employees, and foster a more creative atmosphere as a whole. In fact, prior employees often make superior corporate partners since they understand aspects of your business in a way that other vendors can’t. If you can maintain a pipeline of entrepreneurs in various stages of their “side business life cycle,” you can get the best of all worlds by harnessing superior talent before it breaks out into the big time. Finally, a creative and rewarding atmosphere in your own company may convince your entrepreneur to stick around and make a committed contribution to your firm. By tapping into the spirit of mavericks like these, you can trade a static “work” environment for one that is much more dynamic and visionary.