Giving up Corporate America to be a Search Marketing Consultant

In 2015 I had at least 20 people come to me wanting to or needing to, due to a layoff, become a Search Marketing Consultant. For the most part I gave them all the same advice and wanted to share some of it with others not in my circle of friends. Note, most of these people I talk to are coming from corporate jobs and this post is tailored to my experiences with them. I will work on a second for agency people, as it is often a few other things they have to consider. There is the third category of people that I have talked to which are younger solo consultants, who are scrappy and want smaller projects to pay the bills and are not looking for larger scale projects.

Are you prepared financially?

This is the big one as t often has a significant impact on the family. In many cases the layoffs come with a nice severance package so they have some money for a while. It is very hard to start making money in the first month.

Tools and Technology – All those tools the agency had you need to buy yourself. While you don’t need one of the Enterprise Search Tools you will need a handful of tools and a decent computer and that will cost you some money.

Corporate Payment Terms – The big problem for most is the payment terms. If you take a typical enterprise scenario, they are typically Net60, and you can bill monthly. In some cases you can bill the first month immediately but that is still at least 60 days. In many cases, you cannot invoice until the end of the month and with a Net60, that means not being paid for 90 days. This is if you lucky and you can get all the vendor details set up. Most likely you are waiting for 120 days or 4 months until that first check arrives.

Quarterly Tax Payments – This is what kills most consultants, especially in the first year. In your corporate job you were getting a salary taxed before you received it. Now you get the full amount from your client and you are required to pay “estimated taxes” on your expected income on a quarterly basis. If you don’t you will be penalized when you file. This is why I suggest getting a great accountant to help manage this burden.

For example, if you are lucky enough to get a consulting gig at $10k per month for the rest of the year, keeping the math easy of $100k for the year. If you are married and this is your only income your tax rate is 27% so each month you need to set aside $2,700. If you are single, it is $31% or $3,100 of that $10k goes to taxes each month.

Liability Insurance Nearly every project I work with requires liability insurance of at least $1 million dollars. This insurance with an umbrella costs around $2,700 annually.

How much money do you need to make?

This is the big one. While you might be known in the industry from your corporate job, you may not have any cred as a consultant. I see many people making six-figure salaries who want the same as a consultant. It is possible but has some pain points. In the chart below it shows you need to bill accordingly. For example, if you want to take home the same $150k from your corporate job, keeping a similar work/life balance you need to be 100% billable 8 hours a day for the year (not including weekends and holidays) at $200 per hour. This is not a factor in any expenses, but you get the idea. To make more you either have to bill more hours and/or raise your hourly rate.


Time Management -The primary asset of a consultant is their time, so make sure you manage it correctly. Projects are $25 per hour and take as much work as projects at $400 per hour, so try to focus on those that matter. Most “starting your business,” books tell you to do a lot of pro bono work to build a name and a client roster. Reaching out to your network for projects can be far more valuable. I am not suggesting you don’t give back, but watch those free hours especially if you have a good reputation and real experience.

Can you do the work?

The ability to manage a search program at a Fortune 100 company does not mean you can do the work. I had one friend who has been running a large program for the past five years and has never actually audited a page and only looked at the Adwords management system and did not have time to try to learn everything, so he opted not to be a consultant. Fortunately, many people currently do the work or have done the work, so with a little review, they are ready for business.

Are you leaving on Friendly Terms?

Don’t burn bridges on your way out. In nearly all the cases with layoffs, the person may eventually invited back as a consultant, earning more than they did as an employee. This is a great way to start building a book of business that may lead to other projects. Ask for this if you were the only person working on a specific project, software or project and continuity is needed. I have seen a number of companies lay off entire search teams only to hire them back as consultants.

Reach out to Friends and Connections

This is critical that you network like crazy. Buy lunch for a few people in your network who can help you make connections to other professionals and give suggestions on what they have done to maintain their business. Post questions on Linkedin or other channels. I find people in the search industry are generally willing to help you out with advice, referrals, or introductions.

Find a Great Lawyer and Accountant

I often make this tip #1 as it is critical that you get your company set up correctly to maximize your legal protection as well as your tax protection. The accountant is critical as I have shown above, taxes are a bitch so you need to make sure you have a great plan. They can also help you set up your accounting structure and basic bookkeeping. You don’t need a big system so something simple like Freshbooks or Xero work fine. If you only have a few clients and minimal expenses a good Excel worksheet with a tab for each month can work well.

The lawyer is needed as I mentioned for setting up your company structure. Most can get by with a simple LLC. I typically do them myself as they are fairly straightforward in many states. However, in others, they require filing in local papers and Articles of Formation or Incorporation. You can also use LegalZoom to help with this. You will need a set of contracts and samples of scopes of work. If you had a corporate job, you may have samples of these already, but if you don’t, try asking friends in the industry for some.

Decide on a Niche

What do you do best or like to do? Do you have experience in a specific vertical or area of Search Marketing? Many of my projects come from referrals. I specialize in a few areas, such as enterprise, global, and complex technical problems. These are things that typically don’t conflict with other consultants, so they refer people to me. The more you can focus your efforts, the easier it will be to stand out in a crowd.

Write about Obscure Problems and Topics

This is a great way to get people to find out about you. Also, I call this “epiphany marketing,” where you write an article that gives people that awareness they have a problem they did not realize they had. I have written less in the past few years, but a few specific articles have generated significant referrals for me. They were articles or presentations at conferences that made people think. The first was about organizing their search program, the second evaluating their agency’s performance, and the third was about maximizing their performance across multiple portfolio brands.

Slowly Integrating into Consulting

Unless laid off, you can slowly work your way into consulting. If your company allows it, start with smaller projects for friends and family. I have helped a few friends who wanted to move in, using them to help with larger projects. This allows them to keep their day jobs while easing into the workflow and setting up their organization.