In late 2017, I became the Head of SEO at Foundr Magazine at the age of 20. I stayed on until January 2019 during which I helped 4x’ed their Organic traffic, and then quit to blog at JeremyNoronha.com full time.
It was less than 3 years since I built my first website for $20 to running SEO for a company like Foundr.
This isn’t going to be a tale about how my “smarts” made me “so successful”, that would just be a narrative fallacy. This is a tale that spans 10 countries and involved a lot of luck and a lot of serendipity.
So, let’s began where it all started.
How I Got My First Client
I had just arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal with $200 between my wallet and bank account in May 2016, and everything I owned on my back and had checked into Alobar1000, the cheapest hostel in Kathmandu for $4/night.
As I went over to the lounge area, everything felt so surreal. I had left home with nearly nothing and I was determined to make this “make money traveling” thing a reality. NO MATTER WHAT!
I had started my travel blog at a few weeks before leaving home at ThinkTravelLiftGrow.com and I was working on writing an article that I would share on my facebook and hope to get 100 views.
As I finished writing I saw a group of people sitting around who were playing a game of cards and genuinely having a good chat, so I went over and said “Hey do you mind if I join you guys”
- that’s a thing that’s normal to do in hostels
- worst case scenario: they just say “no” *Guys keep this in mind the next time you are afraid to ask that cute girl out ;) *
They were like sure:)! So I joined them and started having a chat, halfways during the conversation, someone asked me about myself and I mentioned the fact that I had just dropped out of college and was planning on traveling full time.
I showed them my blog and they seemed surprised yet impressed. Unlike the people back home in India who were just surprised and depressed about everything so far!
We went out for dinner and came back to the hostel with a couple of bottles of beer at around midnight. As we sat in the lounge area talking into the wee hours of the nights, one of the guys turned to me and said,
“Hey! I really like your blog, do you think you can build a simple photography portfolio site for me?”
…that is how I got my first client.
Since I have never built a website expect my own before I didn’t know what to charge so I think I settled for $20. Keep in mind that this was when I had less than $200 in the bank, so that’s like 10% of my net worth then haha :’)
After building this website and also having a chat with John Dennehy, author of Illegal (highly recommended), who I met Couchsurfing a day after I built the website, I decided that I can actually make money building websites instead of “content writing” which I thought would be the easiest to start with.
Getting Multiple Clients
So, it’s time to scale right???? ???? 100X everything, come right in and see the Lambo in my garage!!
Well, no. That’s not the real world.
I had to start by having enough money for food the next week.
So, I started out by getting a couple of hostel and hotels as website clients. Being 18 and just starting out, the one resource I had the most of is time.
However, just because you have a lot of time doesn’t mean you should waste it by “just working hard” aka being an unpaid intern.
No, work hard, but build systems or skills so that you are also working smart.
For example, when I was trying to get more clients, one way how I got my first couple of clients was by
- Making a list of all the cafes in Pokhara, Nepal
- Filtering down to the ones that had an active Social media presence
- Going and pitching the cafes that didn’t have a website.
Why is point #2 so important in the above strategy? Well, the people who market their business on social media already know or understand the benefits of marketing online.
So you don’t have to sell them on the idea of “online marketing”, they’re already sold on that, you are just selling the idea of “online marketing with a website”.
So, times rolled by, I built a couple of websites for a couple of local businesses and started to get a portfolio going.
Sounds like I’m gaining traction right? Better capitalize on the momentum, right?
Well, I didn’t. Instead, I decided to quit the internet for 2 months as I camped and hiked in the mountains of India and Bhutan.
Sometime during my hikes in India (….may or may not have something to do with psychedelics), I came to the conclusion that I was going about this entirely wrong.
A cafe doesn’t want a new website, it wants new people to visit the cafe.
And I understood that I wasn’t even that good of a website builder. I used to just set up a simple WordPress blog, slap on a free theme and change up the pictures and text.
So then, understanding that the “building” part wasn’t my strong suit I gradually gravitated into online marketing, as it was obvious that I was good at the marketing aspect from my ease of convincing every cafe owner I met into becoming a client.
The Online Marketing Rabbit Hole
So, PPC, SEO, Social Media, Forum, etc, etc, Where do you even start?
Being into travel I obviously put a lot of work into my Instagram and grew my audience, it took me a couple of years to realize that Instagram was a great way to focus on vanity metrics instead of actually building my business. However, since I was living a very “unconventional” life, people obviously wanted to follow along which was a big ego boost.
However, SEO got my attention for the simple reason that it’s delayed gratification and I started learning all the recommendations and applying tips and tricks.
Somewhere down the line, in a video I watched on YouTube I heard the words “SEO is basically giving Google what Google wants”. Reading that sentence may not convey much, but when I first heard those words, it was a eureka moment.
Just as you may not understand phrases like “everything is connected” until you drop acid/do deep meditation and experience ego dissolution, sometimes, just the right words in the right moment can change the way you look at certain ideas.
So then while I working on a couple of Website projects I worked on building my travel blog using SEO and in less than 8 months of starting my blog, I was in the top 10 results in the world for phrases like
- How to make money traveling
- How to become a digital nomad
- How to learn using the internet
etc. So, I definitely got the attention of people in travel blogging and online marketing communities quickly.
Pareto Principle With SEO
One of the ideas that definitely made a big difference in my SEO learning speed was understanding how applicable the Pareto Principle was in online marketing.
One day when I was playing around the trial of SEMrush, I ended up on the “Organic Pages” which listed the pages of a website with the amount of traffic % to each post.
It was quickly apparent to me that if a blog had over 200 posts, less than 10 of them brought in over 50% of the total organic visitors. So when it came time for me to write content instead of writing the 200 blog posts to grow my blog, I would focus on just those special 10.
Using that strategy I was living off my travel blog from Amazon affiliate income between Organic, Facebook group, and Quora marketing.
During this same time, I was traveling and lived in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
So, I validated my SEO skills by actually building up my own site, I then felt that I was qualified to put myself out there as an SEO consultant.
Becoming An SEO Consultant
Now that wanted to get my name out there as an SEO consultant. I started JeremyNoronha.com as a landing page for SEO clients, during the same time I wrote an article titled “Top 10 Mistakes made when hiring an SEO consultant”, mistake #10 was not hiring me (haha cheeky, I know!)
I managed to rank that post in the top 20 results at its peak for the word “SEO consultant”
Guess how many clients that got me?
0… ZERO! NADA
No one was Googling SEO consultant and hiring someone on page 2. Who are the people Googling “SEO consultant” the most? Other SEO consultants who’ve optimized for that keyword and want to rank higher and come back every day to check their results.
But that wasn’t in vain, just as being on page #1 on google for “make money traveling” was proof that I knew what I was talking about so was being on page #2 for “SEO consultant”.
So, what else did I do?
Well, I put myself out there,
- I shared my landing page on Facebook and relevant groups
- On every guest post, I did I mentioned that I do SEO consulting.
- I offered it as a service to anyone who would reach out for website work
However, how did it go from doing that to Foundr Magazine?
That’s a bunch of random funny events.
I would say that the seeds were placed long before I ever started SEO consulting.
I used to spend a lot of time marketing my travel blog and also sharing case studies in Facebook groups which is how Eva from NomadApp came to learn about me.
In April 2017, She, Juan (her cofounder) and I talked about me working as an SEO for NomadApp, however, things didn’t work out so we never actually worked together. But we still kept in touch and I always followed what they were up to because I was a fan of their work.
However 3 months later,
Juan’s growth agency was working for Botlist a really fast growing Bot search engine, and well, the chips fell into the right place and I ended up working as a consultant for Botlist.
Just goes to show that you shouldn’t burn a bridge or be rude because a single deal/negotiation fell through. You never know where the dots will connect looking forward.
In 2019, it was thanks to Juan again that I was on the And.co podcast!
Thanks to my blog, the SEO work was a bonus and I wasn’t dependent on the money so I could be picky with clients which is why before Botlist I spent more of my resources improving my skills instead of accepting just any client.
Always Deliver Results
After a few weeks of work on Botlist, Seth the founder shared a post on his personal Facebook and in a group of Online marketing about our SEO results and he tagged me.
Nathan Chan, the CEO of Foundr saw that post in the group and reached out to me to work on a small project that then turned into me becoming the Head of SEO there.
I used to follow Foundr on Instagram since 2016 and was amazed at how fast the company was growing and was happy that I could be a part of that journey.
Well, we’ve come full circle to how I became the Head Of SEO at Foundr at 20.
- I focused on getting good at what I do
- I focused on getting known for what I do
- I focused on delivering on what I do
There is always a lot of luck involved in all of this, however, that doesn’t mean you have to give up and just wish for things to happen.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever” – Steve Jobs
There’s always something you can do right now that’ll make it easier for you to capitalize when opportunities that come your way.
There’s no easy “10 step guide to get your first client” because the truth is if there’s an easy to follow a guide like “Sigh up to UpWork” EVERYONE would do it and then the market is saturated and it’s not worth it. You need to be creative.
So what am I doing now that I quit Foundr
In early 2019, I quit SEO consulting and working at Foundr. One of the major reasons was because I wanted to spend more time writing blog posts like these and also I spent 2 months off the internet traveling India with my girlfriend and doing a vipassana meditation retreat etc etc.
It’s not easy to go 2 months off the internet when you work in an internet business. So right now I’m spending more of my time blogging at JeremyNoronha.com about all topics that are interesting to me and helping others to see a different perspective on things.
Instead of complaining about why a client wants to pay you only $20 for an article/website, why not focus on your skills to the point that businesses are begging you to work for them.
Just cause you’re young, old, brown, black, Indian or from Nigeria, doesn’t give you an excuse to play a victim.
So, what does the future hold?
Honestly, I have no fucking idea. If you told me 3 years ago that I would be quitting an amazing job like working at Foundr I would think that you were crazy. The past 3 years have been insane, and knowing my attitude towards uncertainty, I’m pretty sure the next 3 probably will be too.
For now, I’m taking a short few months break from the entire “hustle” of consulting and freelancing and spending more time reading the books I like and learning about ideas of interest to me.
I don’t believe in copying people, but one of the people who I think has built his brand the right way would definitely be Ryan Robinson, his podcast is one of the few ones in the online marketing spear that I still listen to.
Why do I think Ryan’s doing things right?
Because his blog is his side hustle. He works as a content marketing consultant for companies like LinkedIn and blogs about online marketing on the side. The fact that he makes $50k+/month with his side hustle is crazy but all things considered, I love his content and though he has maybe a decade of online marketing experience over me, connecting with and talking to people like him is something I definitely want to spend more time doing.
In my article on why I quit Freelancing, I mentioned that if you have the skills to grow a blog to $10k/month, you can usually consult for a Fortune 500 and make $50k/month. Ryan’s an example of someone doing just that (the right way!).
So, what do you think about my journey from $20/website to Foundr? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below :)