At the beginning of your career, you may be faced with the question of where to move next, in which direction to develop and where you will get the most exhaust. In the CIS market, an SEO specialist most often has to choose from such alternatives: work in a grocery company, in an agency or freelance. I’ve been at this crossroads before, but instead of choosing one option, I just tried everything.
In this article I will tell you what is the difference between these types of employment and at what stage of your career each of them will be useful to you. Hopefully this saves you time and helps resolve your choice dilemma with less loss.
A freelancer has an obvious advantage – it is a free schedule. Your load and hours of operation are determined by the number of projects you take over. This makes freelancing an ideal option for students looking to enter the profession. You manage your own time, are not tied to one place of work and can form your portfolio with projects from different niches.
Besides students, freelancing is good for Middle and Senior professionals. Having a lot of experience, but not wanting to apply to management, on freelancing you can work with projects that are interesting to you and completely control your income, because 100% of the earnings are yours.
Freelance income will vary depending on the amount of work you are willing to take on. On average, freelancers are running 4–6 projects at the same time. But if you are a leader in labor, you can take 8-10 projects – and then you can count on amounts higher than in other forms of employment.
Freelancing also has disadvantages that you should prepare for, regardless of your level. The search for clients lies entirely with the freelancer, which made it difficult to work in quarantine. If the projects you are working on are closed, there are risks of not soon returning to your usual income level.
You also communicate with the client without intermediaries, which means you will have to smooth out the rough edges and explain each step yourself. There will be no one to pay for tools and services, which, accordingly, must be covered at their own expense. And, of course, do link building on your own.
Due to self-employment, it is more difficult with a professional network with specialists from other niches, which means that potential stagnation in development is possible due to the lack of exchange of experience. And finally, it’s easy to get bogged down in work and find yourself, in principle, seven days a week.
In addition, I would not recommend staying in freelance for more than three years, otherwise it will be very difficult to go to work. When hiring freelancers on the staff, they look at them as those who may not get along with the team, because the person was sitting at home and did not interact with the team. There is also a stereotype that a freelancer goes, for example, to an agency to gain access to new tools, learn, and then pick up clients.
Therefore, after a maximum of three years on freelance, if you are a beginner SEO specialist, go to an agency and develop your network. If you are an experienced Senior and understand that you are comfortable with freelancing, consider opening your own mini-agency. You will still be self-employed, but you will be able to grow your income.
Here the prospects of a specialist largely depend on the size of the agency. The more SEO specialists, the more experience and clients. If the staff is under 30 people, there will most likely be few SEO specialists. This means fewer projects. But on a staff of 50 people there can be 8-10 SEO-schnicks.
In any case, sharing experience in an agency will be much easier than freelancing, and therefore with networking too. You can always get useful advice or ask for help. This is a great way to jump-start your career as a Junior SEO. You will have the opportunity to “catch everything on the fly”, trying yourself in different niches, and understand how each of the processes works from link building to automated uploads and Google Analytics settings.
If you decide to go to an agency after freelancing, you should prepare for the fact that the salary level will be an order of magnitude lower. Much will depend on niches, markets and projects with which to work. But this is a stable income that will pay off with new experience. First, you will have at your disposal many different tools and services that you can try out in diverse markets and niches. Communication with clients will be minimal, but there will be plenty of tasks for development.
However, as usual, there is also a negative side. Due to the large influx of tasks, the constant flow of projects and deadlines, there is a risk of burnout. It is not for nothing that agencies are called “juicers”. Therefore, as soon as you feel confident in what you are doing, try to stipulate your working conditions: attitude towards overwork and work on weekends. In addition, it can be difficult to get promotions in agencies. You need to be prepared for tasks other than your profile, such as sales or copywriting for a corporate blog.
Also, the agency is characterized by high turnover, which is fraught with the need to regularly get used to new people. And in working with a client, you may more than once come across the fact that your recommendations will be perceived as a deception, and, accordingly, programmers on the customer’s side will implement no more than 50% of your requests.
Here we will talk about a company with a staff of 10 people per project. After all, only with this amount you can feel the difference with the agency. Here you will have 1–2 SEO specialists in your team, a separate link builder or at least an assistant. If the project team consists of less than 10 people, most likely, the SEO specialist will work on a part-time basis or he will simply have to close himself, for example, YouTube and Pinterest. That is, to perform not quite your tasks, which means that the work will not differ much from the agency.
So, a product company for a team of 10 people or more is a good option for a Middle-specialist. It will be morally easier to work here: there is no pressure of constantly “burning” deadlines, ignoring your recommendations and urgent switching from project to project. But it will be difficult to achieve the rapid development of skills. For example, if you have long dreamed of learning how to build PBN, and this method is not fundamentally used on your product, then there is a great risk of not learning how to do it. Plus, you have to argue all the SEO tool purchases. And because of working with only one niche and the lack of a variety of tasks, the exchange of experience is limited, and the work can gradually get bored.
On the positive side, the freedom of multilevel experiments opens up for you without any special barriers on the part of the customer. There will be a need to develop strategic thinking and multitasking, because now, before introducing a new process, you need to immediately think about how feasible it is from the development side, and understand how your actions will affect the entire team. And in general, teamwork will take most of it, but the responsibility for the result will lie entirely with you.
And, of course, one of the inherent advantages of working in grocery companies for SEO specialists is the opportunity to receive bonuses for high performance. And the salary fork itself will depend on whether it is an in-house specialist or full-time in the office, and on what product it is. The income level is likely to be higher than in many agencies. And in comparison with freelancing, it will directly depend on the effectiveness of the specialist himself.
To summarize, as expected, everything has its pros and cons. But hopefully now you can determine what is right for you today. And, of course, no one forbids trying each of the options, as I did.
There is even an unspoken formula for successful career growth: 2 years in an agency, then 2 years on a product, again 2 years in an agency, and so on. Thanks to this approach, you will be in the subject of all the new market instruments without having time to burn out. You will be able to delve into a specific niche, and when you feel that you are too late, return to the agency for a fresh look and stream of sites.
If your goal is to work for yourself, then after visiting both the agency and the product, do not go second circle, but immediately scale or become an expert.
But, as always and everywhere, advice to advice is different. This is just my experience and a lot depends on the team with which to work, the leader, projects, niches, and the rate of market growth. So if your experience is different from mine, do not hesitate to share it in the comments.