Kirsty Hulse On Why the SEO Industry Should Be More Fluid

In the world of SEO and agency:client rela­tions, some­times agen­cies can shoe­horn clients into exist­ing agen­cy struc­tures and hier­achys. Do agen­cies need to be more flu­id in the way they allo­cate resource and deliv­er on projects?

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Start­ing your own busi­ness is nev­er easy, as Many­minds‘ Founder Kirsty Hulse has recent­ly dis­cov­ered. I caught up with Kirsty to find out a lit­tle bit more about the chal­lenges she’s encoun­tered start­ing up a new busi­ness in the dig­i­tal and SEO space, and to dis­cuss her thoughts on how resourcing and teams could be improved in the indus­try.


First things first, tell us about your current role and the project you’ve been working on for the past few months?

Kirsty HulseI’m the founder and man­ag­ing direc­tor of Many­minds. Many­minds is a col­lec­tive of inde­pen­dent experts that col­lab­o­rate togeth­er accord­ing to project needs. We’re fair­ly new, about sev­en months in, and our busi­ness mod­el is that we oper­ate entire­ly with free­lancers, and are more flu­id about the way we work and are resourced.

We’re sim­i­lar to an agen­cy in that we deliv­er again­st the same kind of work that agen­cies do, and our out­put is very much the same. But the big dif­fer­ence is we have no full-time employ­ees, and it is essen­tial­ly var­i­ous dif­fer­ent peo­ple work­ing on a project basis that are used as and when we need them.

What have been the biggest challenges in getting off the ground?

Any new ven­ture comes with it’s chal­lenges. For us, because the mod­el is so reliant on hav­ing the right resource, get­ting the right peo­ple to work togeth­er in the right way was dif­fi­cult to begin with.

It was a chal­lenge to make sure I was match­ing people’s skill-sets and per­son­al­i­ties togeth­er prop­er­ly. To begin with a bit of the work was being dupli­cat­ed, and roles were being over­lapped. That took some tweak­ing and fid­dling, but I think we’re on top of that now.

One of the oth­er chal­lenges we faced was being a new busi­ness and get­ting through pro­cure­ment process­es. Being new in the indus­try, and not nec­es­sar­i­ly hav­ing estab­lished cre­den­tials and case stud­ies beyond everybody’s indi­vid­u­al exper­tise and expe­ri­ence, was some­thing we had to over­come.

Also, learn­ing how to do tax and VAT was the most hor­ren­dous thing. I felt like I’d climbed Mount Ever­est in flip flops when I final­ly fin­ished all the paper­work.

What kind of team have you put together?

A lot of the work we’re doing at the moment is SEO relat­ed, more specif­i­cal­ly tech-relat­ed stuff, and I work with some real­ly incred­i­ble tech peo­ple across the world.

It does vary on a project by project basis, but at the moment we have about 15–20 free­lancers, col­lab­o­rat­ing togeth­er on mul­ti­ple projects. We have PR spe­cial­ists, con­tent spe­cial­ists, data spe­cial­ists, tech spe­cial­ists, ana­lysts – every ele­ment which you might see in any good dig­i­tal agen­cy, or specif­i­cal­ly on an SEO con­tent cam­paign, fea­ture!

Per­son­al­ly, I like to keep the skill-sets quite niche and speci­fic. SEO is a field where it can be real­ly tricky to be good at every­thing. Some ele­ments are super tech­ni­cal and oth­er ele­ments are real­ly reliant on good inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships, so there are always mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent skil­lets at play in order to deliv­er great SEO.

What would you say are the main points of difference in the Manyminds model?

One of the key things I have noticed when work­ing with free­lancers or inde­pen­dent con­sul­tants, is that their work is very impor­tant to them. Ulti­mate­ly it’s their rep­u­ta­tion that is on the line, so their qual­i­ty of work is always excel­lent. They’re much more invest­ed in doing a fan­tas­tic job and deliv­er­ing again­st expec­ta­tions, because that’s incred­i­bly impor­tant when you’re putting your own rep­u­ta­tion and your own indi­vid­u­al brand out there.

And of course it has it’s chal­lenges but i think the raw con­cept is that there’s a whole world of resource and tal­ent out there, so as a busi­ness own­er who is try­ing exe­cute good work, I don’t want to lim­it myself to a 20 mile radius of where I hap­pen to be. I want to be able to access the huge tal­ent pool we have in our indus­try.

Do you think agencies can replicate this to an extent?

Absolute­ly… first of all, it’s worth say­ing that agen­cies also have a lot of incred­i­ble resource too, but they can also use and rely on free­lance resource to extend on that.

It might be that resource is thin if they’ve just won a new client, or they need some real­ly spe­cialised exper­tise. I think using free­lance resource is open to every­body. The nature of free­lancers is that they are dis­creet, can hit the ground run­ning, and can dive into projects eas­i­ly so there’s noth­ing stop­ping any brand or agen­cy from access­ing all the tal­ent that’s avail­able to them. It’s find­ing them that is the tricky part!

How has the brand response been?

Well the proof is in the pud­ding! As of today all of our clients are hap­py. And of course, it’s still ear­ly days and as always in busi­ness to win somebody’s trust and real­ly get a client on board, you have to prove what you’re telling them to be the case.
But clients real­ly like the mod­el, can see it’s val­ue and can see the ben­e­fits. Peo­ple have been incred­i­bly recep­tive and now it’s up to us as a team to make sure we’re prop­er­ly exe­cut­ing long term.

What are some remaining sticking points in the industry you think probably should change?

I think the whole world of work is becom­ing more nomadic. Tech­nol­o­gy and the fact that we all work from portable devices now, means we’re not inher­ent­ly tied to a sin­gle loca­tion near­ly as much as we once were. And that is a mind­set and way of work­ing that’s becom­ing increas­ing pop­u­lar.

I think at the moment, being free­lance still has some neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions of some­one work­ing in their pants in their bed­room, but over­all the accep­tance and the under­stand­ing that peo­ple can be free­lance and deliv­er excel­lent work is grow­ing. I do think the world of work will shift to a more accept­ing mod­el of peo­ple work­ing inde­pen­dent­ly and brands rely­ing more and more on inde­pen­dent resource.

At the moment, it’s main­ly a change in the dig­i­tal and tech indus­tries, but I think that will broad­en out to all forms of man­age­ment, and I’m even start­ing to see cas­es doc­tors and lawyers doing a sim­i­lar kind of thing.

So I see a path for agencies to become more adaptable… but what about brands?

It’ll sound like a cliche, but the fact is that a lot of orga­ni­za­tions acci­den­tal­ly end up work­ing in silos, and that’s due to team hier­achies, and exist­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures of hav­ing peo­ple in speci­fic roles, with speci­fic remits, where peo­ple tend to stick to that role and that remit.

Teams ulti­mate­ly become siloed, and a lot of the brands I work with still work in incred­i­bly sep­a­rate teams across dif­fer­ent chan­nels. I think every­body has an aware­ness that silos prob­a­bly aren’t a great thing for cross col­lab­o­ra­tion, and I do think it requires a shift in the cul­tur­al mind­set to over­come.

The aware­ness is there though, and a huge glob­al cor­po­rate brand I know, was a few years ago, in the process of chang­ing their whole office to a hot­de­sk­ing envi­ron­ment. The fact that a huge glob­al orga­ni­za­tion was com­mit­ted to chang­ing their entire office to hot­desks is indica­tive of peo­ple start­ing to under­stand and acknowl­edge that you should prob­a­bly work in terms of projects, rather that around speci­fic roles and remits.

It’s more effec­tive to have teams of peo­ple who work togeth­er and have a sin­gle remit of deliv­er­ing again­st a project, rather than one indi­vid­u­al per­son hav­ing a speci­fic area that they look after. And I think that the cul­ture with­in brands will con­tin­ue to change to sup­port that.

How do you keep the projects across channels consistent and also maintain that flexibility and fluidity of resources?

That’s one of the ques­tions we get asked a lot, and there’s ways you can build that in. It’s impor­tant to be flu­id, but at the same time process­es are huge­ly, huge­ly impor­tant. As is hav­ing quite vig­or­ous task man­age­ment process­es that are man­aged from a cen­tralised basis. At Many­minds, I work with a cou­ple of real­ly good project man­agers, and they keep every­one on task and make sure the out­put is con­sis­tent.

Con­sis­ten­cy is some­thing that the brand would have to own. Work­ing with free­lancers tends to be on a project capac­i­ty where a brand needs some­one super spe­cialised for a cer­tain amount of time to deliv­er on a speci­fic area. So in that sense, for brands it is a lit­tle bit more eas­ier to man­age than hav­ing mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent free­lancers on a main­tained capac­i­ty.

Also, I’ve realised that learn­ing to write a good detailed brief is one of the most impor­tant things for any­body who ever works with anoth­er per­son. And some­thing i’m still try­ing to get bet­ter at!

How do you approach internal culture?

In terms of build­ing cul­ture, we imple­ment it in the same way any oth­er agen­cy does. We have team days, and recent­ly we took a heli­copter ride across New York. We hire hous­es and vil­las for con­fer­ences, and we try to bring about that idea of a team, or a cul­ture, even when peo­ple aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly employed by us or work­ing under the same roof. So we still get that fun stuff from an agen­cy that is build­ing an inter­nal cul­ture.

Essen­tial­ly we try and treat our free­lancers with all the perks they might get in an agen­cy but whilst main­tain­ing that auton­o­my for them to man­age their own work­load, and to pick work that they want to do.

Do agency teams need to be more ‘fluid’ in the way they resource skills and expertise?

Talk­ing about Many­minds is a tricky one, but I do firm­ly believe that work­ing with inde­pen­dent resource to exe­cute again­st a project, is ulti­mate­ly a very pow­er­ful thing. I gen­uine­ly believe you can deliv­er incred­i­ble work when have flex­i­bil­i­ty and flu­id­i­ty to get the best peo­ple work­ing togeth­er!

Also, I wan’t to be clear in that I don’t want to come across as say­ing that tra­di­tion­al agen­cy mod­els don’t have a place, and that they don’t equal­ly do excel­lent work. They have qual­i­ty, scale and con­sis­ten­cy, and that’s impor­tant.

How­ev­er, I do think that agen­cies need to get bet­ter at being more flu­id in terms of billing struc­tures and how they deliv­er again­st and ser­vice clients.

At the moment, it’s not uncom­mon for some agen­cies to shoe­horn clients into their exist­ing agen­cy struc­tures, so clients get dif­fer­ent lev­els of ser­vice, because that is what the agen­cy offers. The agen­cies have their inter­nal heirachys of account man­agers, client ser­vice man­agers, account direc­tors and so on, and they can tend to slot clients into that struc­ture. That’s not always good for a client and aligned with what a client nec­es­sar­i­ly needs.

So it would be good for agen­cies to start deliv­er­ing again­st projects accord­ing to the specifics of what a client brief entails, rather than apply­ing their struc­ture!


Con­nect with Kirsty on Linked­In, or find out more about Many­minds.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex’s data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

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