SEO Business Planning - Allocating Capital

Jul 22nd
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Following on from our posts on SEO business planning, let's take a look at allocating capital. We'll also take a close look at one of the most important areas for SEO consultancy start-ups: advertising and marketing.

Allocate Budget

Never a truer phrase was said than "you need to spend money to make money". Thankfully, in the SEO game, you don't need to spend a lot, like brick-n-mortar companies need to do in order to get going.

How do you decide where to spend your money? Do you go by gut feel? Do you quantify and measure results? Whatever approach you use, the end result is that any spend you make should ultimately grow revenue.

Common Areas Of Capital Allocation For SEO Companies

Let's take a look at three areas in which a start-up SEO company will likely spend money. Equipment, staff, and sales and marketing.

Equipment

The SEO business isn't capital intensive. Many SEO consultants need little more than a computer with an internet connection. If you hire staff, then obviously you'll need somewhere for them to work, but besides that, capital investment is minimal.

Staff

If you're a sole operator, obviously you have no fixed staffing costs, other than the wage you choose to pay yourself.

You'll likely need to budget spend for outside contractors for doing work you can't do yourself, or work that it isn't worth your time. For example, if you're a sole operator, you'll want to spend as little time as possible on non-core activities. Non-core activities are activities that don't lead to revenue generation, such as administration and accounting.

By the way, a good accountant is worth their weight in gold. By ensuring that you claim all the deductions you're entitled to, you have more money to invest in your business. You can write off a part use of your home, your computers, your internet connection, travel and more. Accountants are relatively cheap, and their fees are more than covered by the tax savings they produce.

If employing people, figure out the total cost of an employee and their likely return in terms of revenue. Costs can include office space, equipment, training, travel, insurance, employment agencies, management overhead, and payroll tax. Employees obviously need to generate more revenue than they cost to employ, but so long as this calculation runs in your favor, you can keep adding employees, which will keep adding to revenue.

Advertising & Marketing

So how do you get new business in through the door? Do you employ sales staff? Rely on word of mouth? Advertise in trade papers? Speak at conferences? Buy PPC? Undertake SEO?

Any new SEO business should allocate sufficient resources to advertising and promotion. Without awareness, there are no customers. And without customers, there is no business. On the flip side, spending a lot of money on marketing and advertising that doesn't lead to increased revenue results in no business either.

Methods of Establishing An Advertising Budget

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." - John Wanamaker, US department store merchant

No method is ever perfect. If we knew our spend would always result in profit, business would be very easy. Here's the most common method of determining the appropriate level of advertising spend.

Calculation Based On Percentage of Sales

Advertising is a cost, just like staff and equipment. It's also an investment in your future. How do we know how much to spend on advertising?

Typically, businesses allocate advertising on a percentage of sales basis. They take their total sales figure for a given period, and ear-mark a percentage of those figures for advertising in the next period. Advertising spend should move in tandem with sales.

Here is a more detailed calculation, aimed at retail, but also appropriate for SEO:

Take 10 percent and 12 percent of your projected annual, gross sales and multiply each by the markup made on your average transaction.Deduct your annual cost of occupancy (rent) from the adjusted 10 percent of sales number and the adjusted 12 percent number. The remaining balances represent your minimum and maximum allowable ad budgets for the year.

So what percentage do you use?

This will vary, but as a guide, look at what other SEO companies are spending on advertising. Join trade organizations to get hold of these figures.

Be careful not to duplicate these percentages exactly, because your business situation is unique. There might be times when you spend a lot more on advertising than others, especially if you are aggressively targeting new markets, or looking to out-compete your rivals. There will also be times when you spend a lot less. For example, you might have more work than you can handle, and advertising would just exacerbate the problem! SEO consultancy can be a difficult business to scale up easily due to skill shortages.

The important take-away point is that advertising should move in tandem with sales, most of the time. If advertising spend is not related to sales, then it is easy to spend far too much, and have little to show for it. Spend and measure, spend and measure. Repeat.

What if you have no sales figures?

If you're a new SEO business, you won't have any past sales data to go on. This is why it's important to be aware of what other SEO companies are spending. If you've been going a while, you'll have some past data to work with, but keep in mind that past earnings might not be indicative of future earnings. There will be a fair bit of estimation and forecasting either way.

Always Set Objectives

Set clear, specific objectives when allocating capital.

An objective such as "boost profits" is too broad. Go for something specific, such as "sign up 30% more customers than the month before".

Next, figure out which channel will reach your target market. Conferences? Trade publications? PPC? SEO? Web? TV? Radio? A mix?

Whatever channel you choose, be sure to measure performance against your stated objective.

Unless you're trying to build a significant brand to spin off to someone else, such as YouTube, that objective should be grounded in increased revenue. Few, if any, SEO companies can operate at a loss for long, so base your key objectives, and your spending, around increasing revenue, and ultimately - profits.

Published: July 22, 2009

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Comments

July 22, 2009 - 3:44pm

No T in equipment mate!

Nice article though!

July 22, 2009 - 5:08pm

It's also critical to decide (with help of your accountant) whether your business should be an S Corporation, C Corporation, Limited Liability Corporation, etc. (I can only speak about the US). It's critically important not to run a "real" business in your personal name because if you do fail, your business debts attach to your personal assets which will horribly effect your personal well being.

July 22, 2009 - 6:31pm

Great post. Always have objectives, or you'll never know where you're going or when you get there.

July 22, 2009 - 7:48pm

Another great post Peter. This series is really coming together well - a great guide for new SEOs. You last point about always having a clear and specific objective for alloted capital should be in an H1 tag.

July 23, 2009 - 3:48am

>>No T in equipment mate!

Nice spot. Corrected.

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