Aleyda Solis is one of my favorite people in the digital marketing world. She’s whip smart, has a ton of hustle, is always doing interesting things and sharing the learnings with others, and she’s super fun to hang out with (I’ve had hangovers for days after hanging out with her).
She’s also an incredible marketer and entrepreneur, and over the last few years has built a business that she loves running from wherever she happens to be in the world.
I did this call as I was in Alaska and she was in Madrid, so the video is a bit wonky but the material is amazing.
In this video, you’re going to learn:
- Why Aleyda hasn’t built a digital agency, and what she’s focusing on instead;
- How she thinks about starting a company – lifestyle first or business first? and;
- Why hiring people fulltime doesn’t make sense to Aleyda (or me).
John: All right, everyone, welcome back. Today I have with me Aleyda Solis who is a solo international SEO consultant based in Spain, mostly in Madrid, but she is also the co-founder of remoters.net, which is a website that helps people basically learn how to work better from anywhere in the world.
She is often on an airplane traveling places. I’m actually currently in Alaska. So I’ve taken a bunch of lessons from Aleyda. She’s been a friend for a while now. I think we actually met…was it MozCon in 2012? Was that where we first met?
Aleyda: I think so, it was at MozCon, yes.
John: Something like that.
Aleyda: Indeed, yes.
John: Yes, it’s been a while. So, Aleyda, welcome. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? What you do, where you do it from, all those things.
Aleyda: Yes, Yes. Well, first of all thank you for having me, I am very happy to be sharing with you today. I am International SEO consultant indeed. I have been doing SEO since 2007, 10 years ago. I feel pretty old already. So yes I…well I’ve worked in agencies, local agencies in Spain, also US agencies, from Spain to as an in-house SEO. So I’ve done a little bit of all the type of roles until a couple of years ago, two and a half years ago, when I became independent and I founded my own SEO consultancy.
I am very focused on SEO strategy, technical SEO, international SEO, mobile SEO mostly. And, yes, what I usually do is to help mostly now big brands that need external help input validation for complex projects or strategical projects in certain industries or new markets, for example, to help them to develop those projects. Most of my clients, and this is an interesting characteristic, they already have an in-house SEO team. And what they do is to provide external help, external input validations. And so that is very satisfying for me because one of those things that I really wanted to do when becoming independent was to continue doing SEO on a day-to-day basis because this is what I really, really, really enjoy.
And the reason why I am not like a typical agency also I am a highly specialized consultancy. I have a couple of people helping me doing a bit of legwork, but, yes, it’s me doing the actual analysis, recommendations, day-to-day handling clients, etc. And as you mentioned, yeah, I do it on the go a little bit because I travel a lot. I go to conferences as I enjoy also speaking, a lot sharing.
So that is the other characteristic. Most of my clients, despite the fact that I have my base in Spain are from all over. A lot of my clients are from the US also all over Europe. So, yes, that is the other characteristics, which it’s working pretty well, pretty, pretty well. And that is the reason why I have this side project, “Remoters” where I share resources, jobs, any information regarding remote work, and hopefully, I really hope to help others also to be able to be location independent, and actually enjoy doing their work from wherever they want.
John: Awesome. That that’s… You are a busy woman. Every time I look at Facebook or Twitter or something you’re like…you’re at the airport again. You’re in a lounge. You’re heading somewhere else. You’re flying to…where were you recently? Copenhagen or something like that? Like, you’re all over the place. It’s pretty…it’s pretty incredible to me.
So let’s step back let’s go back a couple couple of years. I know you worked for an agency in the States for a bit, and then you went in-house, right? Working for like an SEO tool based there, was it SerpWoo was that…is that where you were?
Aleyda: No. I was, it was WooRank.
John: It was WooRank okay.
Aleyda: The last job that I had in-house, and before that I was at Seer and before that I was as an in-house SEO, so I had many previous roles, both company sides and agency sides indeed.
John: Totally. So what was the main thing that made you wanna go out on your own? And then I’m all about lifestyle design, I’m all about building a business that you actually wanna operate and that lets you live the life that you wanna live. And it seems like you’re doing that. So tell us a bit about, like, the beginning stages of that going out on your own, getting clients.
And then what are some of the stages you’ve gone through over the last couple of years to be able to live the life that you’re living now, which seems like the life that you want to live?
Aleyda: Yes, indeed, indeed. So this very important and I love that you mentioned that you’re able to settle, and to live the lifestyle that you want before waiting for, I don’t know, 10 years or whatever years it takes for you to sell your company.
Aleyda: Or even retire if you’re an employee or something like that, right? So for me, it was that for a long time already I had been doing SEO for a while. I had been speaking for a while, too. I started speaking in Spanish, my native language, since 2009 and then it was 2012 indeed when I started speaking in English internationally, right?
So, and also written Libro SEO. So that helped my personal brand definitely. So many more companies started to ask me to help them, right? So when I was working for agency I’d refer them to the agency, or when I was working in-house I was like, “Okay, maybe I can do this side project, etc.”
But these opportunities started to come more and more. On one hand…so I knew that I had the opportunity to be independent already because I had this reputation thankfully that will allow me to not start from scratch, that will allow me to have a certain number of clients from the beginning.
And I knew that when I start to say that, “Now I am available. Now I’m completely focused on doing consultancy.” I knew that more were going to come rather easily because I had already established such a reputation.
Aleyda: And then, on the other hand, the reason…well, that was like a really nice base to have, right? And however, the reason why I did it is, like, in all of my different roles that I had, right? One of the main reasons that I continue changing and looking for more opportunities is that I wanted to have the influence to build something important, something big to really influence positively the business that I was working with particularly when…whether working in-house sometimes there’s so much bureaucracy around it, right?
Or when you’re agency side, you cannot go really in depth into the projects because you have you’re handling so many clients and you don’t even decide of them, right?
John: You can’t pick the protocol or your specialty or something like that. Yeah, totally.
Aleyda: Indeed so I wanted to have the flexibility and the opportunity to really select the companies, the businesses where I would really think that I would be able to help the most, to really move the needle of that company, and to make sure that these projects work and where I will have the resources and flexibility to do things, right?
Aleyda: So they were more aligned to my own also mission, vision of everything from business perspective, too. So thankfully, since I had again, like, already more or less established reputation at the point, I thought. “Okay. I need to give it a go, I need to see if I am able to do this.” Also one of the aspects that pushed me to do this switch at that point is that I was being requested much more to go and speak etc. So less of me asking for permission every single time I was like, “Oh, my god, I wish I was independent to be able to go wherever I wanted, and work from wherever I wanted.”
So I was like, “Why I cannot do that, I can definitely do that.” So this was one of the reasons also that that made me decide to do it. So you can see that this makes up reasons from business, from flexibility perspective and also a lifestyle perspective, right?
John: So would you say that establishing your own, like…you mentioned a couple times establishing your own, like, your own name and your own reputation within the industry as as an expert like you’re a speaker. I mean you’ve spoken at MozCon many times or you’ve spoken at the biggest conferences in the world as far as social marketing is concerned.
John: Would you say that that is definitely, like, that that’s a huge reason why you were able to go and do your own thing and thus far be be successful in it?
Aleyda: Indeed. Indeed that definitely…and thankfully this is, this was not something that is forcing me because I know that it depends on your personality and what you’re really in the way that you are, right? Like maybe you are not a person who likes to write or write to share, or write to connect and network that this is how I am thankfully.
So it was very natural for me when I was starting my SEO company, I would love to share what I learned for good or for bad and then shared this also on a stage, which probably in English there was this added challenge for me that English is not my native language, but so it was such a nice challenge to have, and I ended up enjoying it a lot and push me more I would say.
So there was these many things that again they’re not necessarily natural for many people, thankfully for me they were pretty natural, and I can definitely say that helped me a lot. Still right now, I have the great benefit that most of my clients right now are companies that came to me or were referred by other companies, or former clients that I had at some point, or other consultants that referred them to me, but at the end it’s not me needing to go and do outreach and sell myself and do proposals and all these type of things. So I thankfully have the opportunity to really focus on doing what I really love doing you know, instead of selling or pitching or these type of things.
Aleyda: So yeah.
John: So let’s talk about that a little bit more because right before we started recording, we were talking about that you don’t have employees, you haven’t gone the agency route, which a lot of our friends have done. We also have friends that are still solo consultanta. You’re still solo. I’m still solo. But why did you make that choice specifically?
And if someone else is at that kind of point where you were and they’re like, “Well, I’m doing my own thing and it’s, like, it’s pretty good but like maybe I can make more money running an agency or or something like that.” How do you talk through that?
Aleyda: Well for me what was important is to keep doing what I really liked and I really love the most. On one hand, where the type of flexibility that I really enjoy because this were the two reasons, right? At the end of day why I ended up founding my own business and becoming independent.
So just to scale or to grow I didn’t want it to lose that because for me, it would be to miss all the benefits that I had by having my own thing, right?
Aleyda: So if I lost that I will rather well go back and be again an employee, right?
Aleyda: So to be able to keep that I thought of how do I grow without losing that? So for me the way that it has been possible is that instead of growing with a number of clients, higher number of clients is growing with the sizes of projects that I worked on.
Aleyda: More complex projects, more specialized projects, bigger companies, bigger brands that are able, of course probably because they are much more critical, so they’re willing to invest much more towards this project. And then I also have got an external help of people who are also consultants themselves, and they are very happy to say, “Okay. I will block half of my time to support you on doing this task.”
Aleyda: That is a lot of, for example, research, validation and things like that, crawling, data gathering, segmentation where I don’t add that much value, and what I continue doing, of course, is ensuring everything that is well done from certain standards that I require on one hand and then I’ll go and analyzing the data, doing recommendations based on the data, and establishing strategies based on it and start following up with it of course.
So I have been able to delegate and identify tasks that are really repetitive and so very simple for me. Where I don’t add that much value then I’m able to delegate them to these other people who are collaborating with me because it’s nice work on one hand and they are also working from whatever they want and they also have their own projects, etc.
So it’s a win-win type of a scenario. And it’s not as straightforward as you can see and you need to take a little…you need to be willing to take a little bit more risks, and try things and verify things. But for me, it has worked pretty well like this, and thankfully I have been able to grow much more like this while keeping the lifestyle that I like and while also in keeping doing the things that I enjoy the most, and continue giving my clients also the unique selling proposition and the big benefit of working with me which is that I handle the projects myself. They always speak to me.
When we interact, when we analyze, when I recommend it is just me handling it and not a junior person at a big agency, things like that, right?
John: Great. Totally so did you start…I’m curious. Did you start with the lifestyle that you wanted to have and then built your business around that? Or did you start building your business and then basically realized that you had built like the wrong thing? Like where do you even start with that?
Aleyda: No. I’ll say in my case it was… When I became independent, I realized Oh, my god, like one of the reasons why I became independent is because I wanted to be my own boss, right? To be able to go and, for example, speak whatever where I was being asked, right? But then I realized like the typical evolution, or the next step for everybody was to set a nice office in the center of a big city or something like that and start hiring people to go to the office.
And then I realized, “Why do I need an office?” If all of my clients in my case, right, were not local when I started…when I became independent, I was fully independent, I was in Brussels, and I had zero clients in Brussels at the time. And I was like, “Oh, should I really establish or try to establish?” I started to go to a co-working, but then I realized that it was not I think the network, to keep a social thing going on, but I cannot even practice myself and doing the actual work, right?
So I ended up just going once per week or twice per week or something, and I ended up doing the work at home. So that taught me, look I am going to make the most out of it and I really like…let’s ditch this big office idea as as a type of metric for success, right? I don’t wanna know, my metrics for success is to be able to work from that big benefits, right? To be able to work from whatever I want.
Aleyda: And let’s then go to nicer places to work from. So that was where it all started like this, right?
John: Totally. And I love that because that also shows that you’re willing to test things, right? You’re like,”Oh yeah, I’m in Brussels on this, I’ve got a co-working space because that’s what independents do.” And then you’re like, “Actually, like, that says it, like, getting me to this is not why I started, like, my own thing.” And like…
John: “I don’t wanna go to an office.” I personally I don’t have an office at a co-working space. I thought about it but I’m like, “But I get the most work done at home, so why am I gonna do that?”
Aleyda: You know, yeah I realized like, “Oh just because,” and I go to the co-work, or right, or make me go to the co-working and I end up doing something that I can’t afford which was commuting, taking the subway, or even driving or like, “I don’t like this, why should I? If I have the control now to be able to do it or not, right?” So, yes, indeed.
John: Totally. Totally. So let’s let’s shift gears a little bit, I wanna talk about…so you… I mean, you consult with enterprise level companies on like super complex projects, but you kind of defined a specific niche for yourself, right? I mean obviously, you’re quite technical. I mean we’ve had some awesome like technical SEO talks and stuff, but like your thing is international, right? Your big thing is international.
One thing I hear a lot of consultants say is that they don’t wanna niche down because what if they lose clients? Right?
John: But, like, you found and I found myself with my own consulting that, like, actually by niching down, you can get more clients and more of the right clients. Can you talk about the little bit more? How you arrived at where you are now?
John: And what that means for you?
Aleyda: Indeed. Indeed, but that is a little bit at a more granular level, right? But it’s like the same, oh, I do everything online marketing, digital marketing, or I do only SEO, or only conversion, or…is the same way, right? Like, indeed, you don’t have a high volume, but those clients, if it is like, if your service is profitable enough, and useful enough, and you’re able to give value, and it’s really demanded, you will end up having these clients that really will go for you because they will know you’re the person, right? So I was trying to find that.
And indeed for me I was… It all started for me like this because even like at my first job in a SEO, I was I started working at this online marketing agency that was in Spain in Salamanca, most of the clients of the agency were abroad because the agency was focused on the travel and a learning education industries, so there were many language schools, international language schools, online travel companies, portals, etc., at the time.
So, yes, a lot of these clients that have been not from Spain international clients, and they ended up also having multilingual type of settings and multilingual audience or international audience so that is why most of all of the SEO projects that I started with they were by default international.
So it was like very straight forward for me of thinking or doing an international SEO project right from the start and thinking about that like multilingual settings, configurations from a technical perspective, also understanding the search behavior, keyword research perspective and content perspective. Everything was like done at an international level, right?
So that is how I started doing that and that is why when I started sharing my experience, or writing, or blogging, or speaking that is why I started doing that about that, right? Because I was sharing what I was already doing, right? And was not the typical stuff that everybody was talking about also.
Aleyda: So, yes. So I think it was very natural again for me. I was very lucky with that, it was also something that was attractive and open and not very hard for bigger companies. So they were willing to really invest in that and they were having so much more interest around it, especially after Panda was released.
Aleyda: Right? And a lot of people started to think, “Oh, now I have a straightforward way to handle this, so now I will take that into consideration instead of not just not taking care of it.” Yeah.
John: Totally. Totally. And I’ve seen that a number of times. I mean you’ve done it. People like Tom Critchlow [SP] have done it, right? He works with a specific set of people, you know. I’ve worked with, like, I don’t know 8, 10, 12 different marketplaces now like very large websites driving millions of visits that have a ton of links and have no technical SEO and like there are a lot of people that need that sort of thing.
So it seems like a very kind of natural step to, like, if you wanna live the solo consultant lifestyle to then find what you’ve been doing, and do more of that as opposed to going to take a local SEO project or something like that, right? Like a restaurant that wants to pay you $200, 200 Euros a month.
Aleyda: Yeah. Yeah, definitely it’s what you are able to provide like to local companies to provide to local companies that will pay you very little. You need to do it at a high volume level. And of course for a solo consultant like me or a small agency even, that’s not viable. It will be very tricky to get our profitability right now and you will need to end up being like a super high… All these yellow pages companies are now the providers of this type of small businesses…
Aleyda: Because they’re able to optimize a lot of the process yeah.
John: Yeah. I mean it’s simple math, right? Like if you’re a solo consultant you can only manage a certain number of clients by yourself. So you can either have like 10 clients each paying you 500 Euros a month, or you can have like two clients each paying you 5,000 Euros a month. You can have much less overhead and be able to get deeper with them and solve more problems for them, so…
Aleyda: Definitely. Yeah.
John: Simple math. Interesting. So let’s…the last thing I wanna touch on is…and we’ve touched on it a little bit, but like how did you go about finding, like, because you don’t wanna hire people full-time, how did you go about finding people that can do the things that, like, you don’t love to do like research or whatever, how do you identify those things that weren’t necessarily worth your time or were not your major value at?
Aleyda: Yeah. Yeah. So, for example, for me, and that is one of the good benefits, great benefits, I would say to go to conferences and network because you end up like running into people that is like, “Oh, I would love to do what you do, but I don’t have enough clients or I don’t have good reputations, or I’m just starting I don’t have good experience, I’m unable to provide the whole thing myself.” Things like that, right? That on one hand, and then on the other hand and the is the reason I continue giving and teaching SEO courses and Masters here in Spain because these are people who are…who want to have a good opportunity in SEO, and the usual thing is that after they do their Master they go and work at agencies as juniors, SEO, or entry-level SEOs.
And after a while, some of them real off the agency life or the in-house life and they continue working at a corporate level. Others, they realize, “Oh, I hate living in a big city, or commuting, or whatever. I would love to go back to my town or by the beach or whatever, but I don’t have a proper SEO job there.” So this is where it comes handy to know all these people because this is when I tell them, “Oh, let me know when this happen or if this happens,” and then when that happens they tell me, “Hey, Aleyda, do you or…I’ve been looking for somewhere, when you look for someone let me know, I’ll be happy to chat.”
And this is how actually I’ve been able to hire these people. However, I know that that is not how totally the situation, as many of us and it’s really tricky…and this is the one thing, all these people that I have been working and collaborated with, I knew them because I have taught them at courses or I met them at conferences actually. So I knew that they were willing, for example, they were proactive, they wanted to learn, or they were willing to go to conferences. They were willing to get like proper education to be able to really advance their knowledge of it much more faster, right?
It’s much more…it’s trickier when you don’t know the person at all. You don’t know if this is a proactive person, if he’s someone who’s really committed, etc. And I know that there is this higher level of riskiness when hiring someone completely online or remote, right?
Aleyda: So these…what we wanted to the facilitate also with remoters a little bit. But, yes, I can’t completely see, I can’t completely understand how you…in this type of environment you need to test a little bit more and this is what I do. Whenever I say to someone, “Okay, let’s collaborate.” I will send you a project that I am doing myself at the same time,” so I know what the outcome will be.
Aleyda: Or one of the outcomes will be.
Aleyda: “But I will give you this project also to yourself and I will pay you for that. Give me a consultancy.” And I don’t care to pay to that person for that extra even if I am doing it myself because this will give me a great input to analyze and verify actually in a couple of weeks and see what the person’s outcome and what I have done myself, and compare and see the level of their work and my level of the work, and if at least they have been able to do what I will be requiring from them.
I won’t be requiring everything that last, of course at this strategic level, and analysis, and our recommendations. But at least there is no missed data. There’s the whole process of segmentation is at all the accurate levels, or areas, or types of figures or analyze. So I am able to see their level of knowledge, to assess the level of knowledge. Are they rational for the problems that arise at a typical project, right? So I am able to see it like, “This person will be easier to teach or not.”
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Aleyda: Or is more often to feedback and when I get feedback I also see the reaction a little bit. And based on that we’ll see if we’re collaborating or not. But, yes, it’s tricky and you need to be willing to test all of it like this, otherwise, yeah, it would be much more difficult indeed.
John: Totally. So you basically started…so I’m a big fan of The Four Hour Work Week and Tim Ferris talks a lot about like, which I bet you are as well, like being able to go and work from wherever and take time off if you want to. And he talks about doing the same with virtual assistants, right? Where you give them like a specific defined task and if they come back to you, and they’ve done it well, then you keep on working together maybe over time give a little bit more like responsibility.
But like you started off small so you’re not like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll hire full-time.” Like full-time hiring makes no sense to me at this point.
John: Because why would you hire someone you don’t even know to pay them like tens of thousands of dollars a year and you’re not even positive if they can do the work, right? You just have like some conversations with them, haven’t seen what they’ve done. Like that makes that makes no sense to me. It seems like you basically built your own like farm system, and now like…the great thing is like if you wanted to start your own agency you could, no problem of remote people, right?
John: But you purposely choose not to because like you don’t need the money and that’s not necessarily really what you wanna do because it would all the things we’ve talked about.
Aleyda: Yeah, definitely.
John: And the things you do around, right? Like with Mujeres in Digital, right? Like women in digital in in Europe and remoters and all of that all kind of, like, then feeds into the work that you’re doing day-to-day.
Aleyda: Indeed, indeed. I mean that is the one thing, right? Especially when you build an agency, you end up having to do a lot of management work, or managing people, and coordinating people and all that type of things. And these are things that I don’t necessarily enjoy doing, right?
I enjoy doing much more client work and interacting with client and establishing strategy, and testing things like, for example, this afternoon I have spent the afternoon testing progressive web apps. I’ve created a prompt page as I have been testing all these things. So I love doing that, I don’t love to be like trying to figure out HR type of systems to be able to motivate people, things like that, right? So you need to find a balance a little bit. So in my case, for example, I always knew that if I wanted to grow, I needed to grow with the sizes of projects on one end, and the maximum amount of people that I ever want to be like coordinating or collaborating with at the time is five. Because more than that is too much and I will end up, like, allocating much more time and a natural coordination than doing things that I enjoy.
Aleyda: So you need to establish these rules for you to keep you, like, in the right path, otherwise, it’s so easy to say yes, yes, yes to many things.
John: So like….
Aleyda: And end up having like, “Oh, now I need to really end up…” Like you get pushed to hire lots of people. And especially with agency work or consultancy work, it’s so easy that you have 20 new leads right now. And for these 20, only 10 will end up hiring you let’s say, right?
Aleyda: And then you end up having three cancellations the next month, but do you hire one person to be able to take care of this type of things?
John: Don’t wanna do all of that.
Aleyda: Yeah. Yeah. So indeed like, of course, this is my type of what fits to me, what fits and feels right for me, not necessarily what will be right or will be actually enjoyable for all the people. All the people that I know of like they have been like, “Oh, no, I really want like the traditional agency, and go and grow it and sell it after a while, things like that.” I am more like non-traditional I would say…
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Aleyda: I want to be able to…
John: Why not do it now? Yeah.
Aleyda: Yeah, indeed.
John: Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. Well, Aleyda, I wanna be respectful of your time. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about this and share your knowledge with the credo community. Where can people find you online?
Aleyda: Yes. So thank you very much for having me, again. It has been a really nice conversation and joy sharing this too. And I am aleydasolis.com actually, like, I am like about to launch a new version of my site and I’m so excited about it.
Aleyda: So wait for it in a couple of weeks.
John: That’s good, yeah.
Aleyda: You will have it, yes. And then in Twitter, I am very active in Twitter, @aleyda is my handle and for this, the best way to interact with the community and also to learn and to be updated, so I am, like, I’m very active there. So looking forward to seeing you in any of them. And also if you’re going, for example, I will be going to SMX also, to PubCon also to Brighton SEO. So if you’re going to a few of the conferences in the next month, so looking forward to see you at any of the major conferences because I will be likely be there.
John: Fantastic. Well, Aleyda, thank you so much, and I will speak to you soon.