Neil Palmer CEO Of The SEO Works

Meet Neil Palmer – leading an agency during a year of change

Today we have selected Neil Palmer to take his interviewHe is the CEO Of  “The SEO Works“.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

It’s been a very different experience for us compared to many families, as my children are based in Rome! The initial lockdown meant I missed 2 trips to see them, then the second lockdown another trip out there. The third lockdown meant I saw them just before Christmas and only recently went out to see them again. 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 yourself, your career, how you founded or joined this company?

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 and my dissertation on an online retailer. I then worked in recruitment for 3 years before starting an online business selling kitchen appliances. We got big quickly, 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 search phrases.

I used this insight to start SEO Works in 2008 – my first 5 clients who signed up were literally from walking into businesses in Sheffield. 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 your company innovate?

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 data and results. Because we have specialists in every single area, we can improve in real-time according to what is happening and how 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.

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?

I believe we have probably been impacted slightly less than other sectors and smaller agencies. We don’t work with sole traders or smaller SME’s these days, so that has helped. We also don’t have many clients in the sectors that have been severely impacted such as hotel, catering, and hospitality.

We took the decision to support 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.

We moved to home working very quickly – as we are digital and cloud-based this was relatively easy to do without much disruption, although the way we communicated changed. We are looking forward to more face-to-face working in the near future, combined with the benefits of flexible work at home schedule.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Back in March 2020, 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. Core to this was managing the influx of client requests and being flexible in our support.

SEO Works has been growing at around a 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.

A key lesson learned was that we increased our regularity of communication with the Directors of the business – as the situation was changing on a daily basis we needed to remain alive to this and daily check-ins over video really helped this.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Our competitors are classed as large search marketing 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 driving 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

It’s been an exceptionally different 12 months for all of us. Hopefully, we are now starting to get back to some sort of normal, and 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.

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