We talked to Neil Palmer of SEO Works about getting more customers online, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Neil Palmer: It’s been a very different experience for us compared to most families, as my children live in Rome! The initial lockdown meant I missed 2 trips to see them, then the second lockdown another trip out there. It’s been tough not seeing them for 10 days a month like normal, but we are safe and well. We try and keep perspective compared to the overall devastation of the pandemic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SEO Works.
Neil Palmer: I grew up in Sheffield and left school at 16 with poor qualifications. For the next 6 years, I moved from job to job, including a spell at Pontins! I finally decided to go to University to study Business Administration, aged 21. I knew I wanted to run a business but had no idea what I would end up doing.
At University in Nottingham, I loved the marketing modules and got the feeling I would end up working online; it was all kicking off with e-commerce at the time. My dissertation was on the retailer E-Toys. When I left Uni, I worked in recruitment for 3 years before starting an online business selling kitchen appliances. We got big quick, but the margins were horrific! Cash flow issues and the competition saw the business go under. I learned an awful lot.
One thing I learned how to do running the appliances website was to optimize it. We were number one on Google for ‘kitchen appliances’ ‘appliances ”cookers’ and many more generic phrases.
I started SEO Works from home in 2008. I was desperate to get things moving quickly. The first 5 clients who signed up were literally from walking into businesses in Sheffield, where I live. I asked them if they had heard of SEO, showed them the potential, and gave them an idea of how it could improve their turnover.
When we got some traction, my business partner Simon joined me. He is the tech guy; I am the marketing guy. I knew I needed someone with me to run that side of things, and we are a great team. We have a lot of respect for each other, and that’s part of the reason for our success.
I now live in-between Sheffield and Ilkley with my partner Katherine. We are lucky to have the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District close to both homes, as we love walking. I enjoy traveling, golf, eating out and spending time in Rome with my 2 children, Elena and Harry. I’m lucky that we have an amazing management team in place so I can leave work and have quality time with them.
How does SEO Works innovate?
Neil Palmer: The SEO Works have always been at the cutting edge when it comes to SEO. Our business is structured in a way that allows the various teams to focus heavily on performance-driven results. Because we have specialists in every single area, from outreach to technical compliance and onsite SEO, we can improve in real-time according to what is happening and where we think the algorithms will change.
Our ‘pod system’ breaks down the red tape in the workplace and allows each staff member to be exposed to all the industry’s latest changes. From there, we brainstorm and bounce ideas around, and implement effective changes.
Rapid innovation in the world of SEO is a very dangerous game to play, as we are all at the mercy of the algorithms! Here at The SEO Works, however, we make small, incremental, and very carefully considered changes to our methodology, which are devised by some of the UK’s leading brains when it comes to search engine optimization or paid search.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Neil Palmer: I believe we have probably been impacted slightly less than some of the smaller agencies. We don’t work with many sole traders or smaller SME’s these days, so that has helped. We also don’t have many clients in the hotel, catering, and hospitality industries, just a handful.
We took the decision to help existing clients to ride the storm and come out the other side. Pausing contracts was the impact on us, which amounted to around 20-25% of turnover. As we are a strong business, we were able to ride this out and support our clients.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Neil Palmer: The SEO Works has been growing at around 30% increase in turnover, per year, for the last 5 years. With this kind of growth, we were fortunately in a position where there weren’t so many difficult decisions to make; we just had to accept we may have a year of consolidation. Luckily the sales team run by Alex has been in great form this year, and we are still on track to grow. However, in March, we had to plan for a lot of scenarios and outcomes and continually review KPIs on an almost daily basis to ensure we made decisions that kept the business in good health.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and SEO Works in the future?
Neil Palmer: A very successful friend of mine once told me to surround myself with much smarter people than myself! The 5 directors of The SEO Works are such a close-knit team of lovely, smart, and fun people. Our values are based around integrity, and because of that, I am very rarely stressed about work. We have a high performing team and support each other. Delegation and having the right people in the business can be the biggest stress reducer.
I’m not sure there is ever a right answer when it comes to safeguarding the future of a business. There is so much disruption these days. By concentrating on what we do best, instead of looking too much at competitors, we can continue to innovate. This allows us to drive forward the already high level of organic, paid search, and web services we offer.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Neil Palmer: Our competitors are classed as the large SEO and/or paid search agencies. We moved into this category last year.
We have always maintained that we need to keep satisfying customers. It’s not just about the sales growth for us. It’s about client retention through exceptional performance and returns on investments for our clients. Our mission is to help our clients grow online, and if we stick to this, great things will happen.
Our award cabinet is close to breaking with all the accolades we have gained in the last 5 years. Hopefully, this will continue in the coming years and give us an even better reputation than we already have!
Our MD Ben and Client Services Director James are very hands-on with every aspect of our business, and we understand how to support and develop staff – so they can enjoy their work and perform at a high level. Ben and James are the main reasons we have such a happy ship and why we keep meeting the challenges of growth with little disruption.
Your final thoughts?
Neil Palmer: It’s been an exceptionally different year for all of us. Hopefully, we can get back to some sort of normal in 2021, so those affected the worst can start to rebuild. My thoughts go out to the ones who have lost their businesses, I know how that feels, and it’s such a tough place to bounce back from.