Keep your Staff, or the Caan Philosophy

by rishil on January 12, 2010

A Clever Tactic for Agencies

Recently I wrote a post aimed specifically at SEOs who want to start their own businesses. It wasn’t meant to be an encouragement, rather, a self reflection enticement, encouraging people to take stock of their own situations and capabilities before making that BIG move. In reality, I feel SEOs would do better to stick with their agencies if they work in one, rather than branching out themselves, simply because the resources available to them as part of a larger search team than as individuals. In the recession, search is doing well and many agencies are recruiting talent heavily.  This post is aimed more towards agencies that are either losing SEOs constantly, or trying to recruit more talent.

James Caan at freshegg Conference

James Caan at freshegg Conference

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Fresh Egg workshop recently, and despite the fact I couldn’t stick around for the whole day, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Apart from the unique venue, great speakers and astounding turnout, the presence of James Caan added some serious kudos to the event. I must admit, he totally disarmed me when I was being introduced (apparently he has had some of my posts printed out by his office to read when he gets a chance – gulp). Meeting the gentleman and hearing what he had to say was an experience in itself. And this post was inspired (actually the idea behind it was ahem, “borrowed”) by his talk.

Basically James started the company “Alexander Mann Solutions” (AMS), which was in the recruitment industry. However, he had a unique approach to retaining key staff – when a staff member had a good idea, instead of being discouraged, which would in turn encourage them to leave and start their own business, (which happens more often than you think) they are allowed to use the Alexander Mann name to launch a subsidiary of the company, supported by AMS, with a share in the new business. Infact, one of the most successful offshoots of this strategy was the outsourcing arm of Alexander Mann, now with a £140M annual turnover.

This idea struck a chord with me because this is what successful SEO/M agencies should be doing. Growing and developing their key staff. I have often mentioned that SEM as a whole is an industry in its infancy, there are no defined rules, no degrees, no real industry wide qualifications, nor are there set regulations. This means its still pretty much the wild wild west when it comes to possibilities. Yet it’s one that is growing day by day, and the opportunities are seemingly endless.

So how should agencies retain their strong players such that they don’t wander off and start their own businesses in hopes of grabbing a bigger piece of the action? Invest in them of course. How? Use a leaf out of Jame’s book and develop different profit centres – based on ideas that these individuals come up with.

If a key member of staff wants to go back to their home town to start a small business SEO business – instead of letting them leave the company completely, why not set them up in their own town as a satellite with a share of that business?

If a member decides that a particular niche is what they want to work in (e.g I used to specialise in SEO for Doctors) then instead of letting them escape, why not create a specific arm of the business that helps target that niche – with profit share for the team member that came up with the idea?

In essence if carried out well, this is a WIN situation for Search Agencies – not only do you retain key staff members, but diversify and develop your product offerings over time. Infact, why wait for the team members to decide to move? Why not run monthly non-direct business related brainstorms? Questions for discussion could include:

  1. Where should we diversify?
  2. What products / Services can we develop?
  3. Where are there gaps in the market?

These sessions may prove invaluable to businesses – and keeping motivated individuals at the spearhead of these projects is a recipe for success (IMHO).

Sometimes the simplest ideas pave the way to success – don’t let them slip through your hands.

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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

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