7 Tips for SEMs to Survive a Recession

Original cartoon from bLaugh

Even if you don't own property and don't often pay attention to economic-related news, you can't possibly have missed credit woes that many financial institutions are dealing with these days. Not just in the US, but across the globe. But things in the SEM world are just peachy so why worry about such things, right? Well, having been a web developer prior to the dot-com boom and subsequent bust, I highly recommend you prepare for a day when SEM jobs became hard to come by and new contracts all but disappear.

The first thing you need to accept is that companies don't necessarily react to bad times in a logical way. The PPC folks would argue that their PPC campaigns will never be canceled because they all have a positive ROI. SEOs are no different and they would argue something along the lines that SEO delivers free traffic and so who would be foolish enough to scale back efforts? Politics, panic, fear, nepotism, and a whole host of other things can conspire against you and leave you without a job. If you accept this possibility, then hopefully you'll be open to the following suggestions. For those “old timers” out there that have seen a dip or two in their professional lives, feel free to add your suggestions via the comments form.

1. Diversify Your Skills

To make it harder for you to be laid off, you need to make yourself more useful than the next guy relative to your compensation level. The more you're paid, the more value you need to bring to the table. First and foremost, you should be GREAT at your primary responsibilities. Beyond that, having some secondary skills could go a long way to increasing your value (perceived or real). For example, if you're an expert SEO that also has some PPC experience, web development experience, or even sales experience, you're in a much better position than if SEO is all you do.

2. Get Involved

Have you been dragging your feet when assignments come up that are outside of your job description? Now is a good time to change that approach and get involved. Similar to diversifying your skills, diversifying who you work with and what you work on will make you a more valuable resource. Just be careful to not take too much on. Whining about having too much work to do and missing deadlines isn't going to work all that well.

3. Save Some Money, OK!?

This isn't so you can retire early. Instead, having some backup funds will help you avoid acts of desperation such as jumping ship just when things are turning around or completely moving out of SEM which will make your resume look weaker when the market rebounds. As is often the case with investing, hanging on while others are panicking can result in great opportunities.

4. Have a Backup Plan

A backup plan for what you can do when you can't do SEM should seem like an obvious suggestion. What may not be obvious is the quality of life bonus you get from having such a plan. When you can go to work in the morning knowing that even if you get there and management has changed the locks without telling you, you'll still be able to pay the bills goes a long way to eliminating stress that would otherwise weigh on you day in and day out.

5. Additional Income Streams

A co-worker once asked me if every SEO dreams of building websites while sitting on a couch and making thousands of dollars via Google AdSense. I laughed and said, “yes”. AdSense may not be right for you, but surely there's something out there that is of interest that you can use to earn some side money. The key is make it something that doesn't rely on others paying you e.g. consulting on the side isn't the a good choice, but running affiliate programs is. An alternate income stream probably won't disappear at the same time as your primary income stream so it'll help smooth out any transition and allow you to, as in item 2, avoid the same acts of desperation. Need an example? Check out Gyutae Park who is an SEO by day and money-making blogger by night.

6. Establish Your Network Now

The more people you know, the more likely you'll be able to continue working at the things that interested you. It's important to build this network before you need something though. No one likes to get an e-mail from someone who hasn't said a peep to you for over a year, but who now needs a job. Participate in the community that piques your interest and build some equity today while things are good. That community could connect you to the right people in troubled times in a way that going through recruiters and using job boards can't even come close to equaling. In addition, if your current employer is already paying for you to go to conferences, make the most of the networking opportunities.

7. Bring in a Client

If you're at an agency, bringing in a client buys you a get out of jail card. Yes, the revenue from the new client going to have a positive impact on your employer's bottom-line, but that's not the only benefit. You'll also get an added layer of protection because ending your employment would surely become known to the client who may become less inclined to continue the newly formed relationship with your agency.

So there you have it. Seven steps to coming out on the other side of a recession in the SEM market relatively unscathed. I'd like to say that following the steps will be as easy as writing them, but that would be a lie. It takes effort to not become complacent when everything is going well.

Note: This post has been expanded from a previous post now that the bottom has really fallen out of the economy.

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  1. Having a business in Canada things are slowing down some but not as bab as some of our US clients.
    I think one big thing is cut spending.


  2. The things going on right now are scary. It seems that internet marketing as a whole is affected less than other professions but it is still taking a hit. The number of clients I have hasn't gone down, I'm guessing because they feel keeping me will ultimately bring them more business, but a bunch of clients have lowered their monthly budget. So it's nice to see loyalty, and there's hope that things will go back to normal eventually (well, client's budgets anyway), but for now we just have to suck it up and work on our multiple streams of income!

  3. Lately I have had more work than I can handle, but the talk of recession really has me worried about the coming year. You have some great tips here for weathering out the storm, some of which I am already doing.
    Let's all hope this recession is short lived and we can all get through without too much loss.

  4. all good advice. saw that dotcom boom and bust the first time round from another angle (IT Recruitment) still just as messy. we had web developers previously earning £75 per hour, a year later scratching around with many months between contracts and lucky to scrape £25 per hour if they did find one.

  5. seo is good to u earn more and more money, if u use your brain in seo sure your income more than milion per months so u use seo

  6. SEO is itself a great income source. As long as there are search engines there are SEO jobs and money.

  7. That is good, practical, financial advice applicable to everyone. #2 in particular strikes me, because as I have gotten older (and got married), I look back on how wasteful I was as a "well to do single guy".

  8. Lately I have had more work than I can handle, but the talk of recession really has me worried about the coming year. You have some great tips here for weathering out the storm, some of which I am already doing.
    Let's all hope this recession is short lived and we can all get through without too much loss.

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