It's New Year’s Day, and I’ve been reflecting pretty heavily over the Christmas period on my 2020.

I tweeted some highlights the other day on my year.

I wanted to expand on these highlights and talk about some thoughts I’ve been musing over for 2021.

I’m going to try to avoid the topic of COVID-19, other than to say I feel incredibly fortunate to of had a great year professionally while many have been negatively impacted.

The TL;DR summary:

  • Freelancing has been a success — 6 clients in my first month of freelancing
  • I gained 1,500 followers on Twitter, mostly within the past 3 - 4 months
  • I worked with two big brands, Interflora (full-time) and REISS (interim contract).
  • I started to reinvest business profits into my first affiliate site
  • I developed a personal brand and grew my audience

2020 in review

Interflora

One pivotal moment of success for me was my time at Interflora.

I turned a five-year decline around into a 55% growth in search visibility.

This was also great timing in preparation for demand surging.

As in many industries, demand for flower delivery services went up massively during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Considering the ‘peak’ time of year for flower delivery is a few days before Mother’s Day, demand was equivalent to that every day for over a month.

Thanks to the increase in demand and rankings, paid activity was reduced and instead organic, and the SEO strategy I implemented was relied on.

What was the strategy?

Fixing fundamentals like:

  • Meta optimisation
  • Content improvements
  • Internal linking
  • Blog content strategy

There was a lot of insights/data behind how each of those worked, taking things into account, such as:

  • Size of opportunity
  • Difficulty to rank
  • Seasonal insights
  • Cross paid/organic strategising
  • Competitor analysis

But it still came down to getting on-page fundamentals right. What’s even better about this result is I did it with just two tools — one for data, one for auditing.

The takeaway?

You can get a lot done in SEO just by doing the fundamentals well.

Becoming a freelance SEO consultant

One of the larger moments of my professional career so far, I decided to go self-employed and begin Ecommerce SEO consulting.

Looking back, this was well overdue.

I had only started a full-time position at Interflora back in January of 2020, but soon after taking on that position, I had people reaching out to me to work with me on a freelance basis.

These leads were all inbound from articles I’d written in my spare-time on train journeys to London and back during August 2019 - January 2020. I had an interim position as a ‘Digital Optimisation Manager’ at REISS in London at the time.

I followed the advice of not handing your notice in to go self-employed until you needed to. But I took that advice to its limits.

I didn’t realise as much at the time, but the stress of working most evenings and weekends was taking its toll.

Usually, starting freelancing is stressful enough, but I ended up in a situation where when I began freelancing, despite being busy, working became more relaxed and my headspace improved.

One word of advice to anyone wanting to begin freelancing.

Don’t seek too much security.

I was in a great position of having retainers lined up for when I left my full-time job, and I would be earning more. But I still didn’t ‘pull the trigger’ until months later.

Consulting so far

While I’m still early on in the world of self-employed consulting, so far, it's been great.

I’ve won multiple clients, with six in my first month.

I’ve managed to work with some fantastic brands and had referrals and requests for additional work from the majority of my clients.

All good signs that people that work with me like what they get back.

On top of that, the people I work with are positive, likeminded and passionate about digital marketing.

Exactly the types of clients everyone wants to work with.

A growing audience

One highlight of 2020 for me has been my growth in following. On Twitter, I started the year with around 300 followers. I ended it on 1,800.

I’m hoping to continue to see strong growth next year, and I’m committed to spending more time promoting myself to achieve that.

I’ve also had excellent growth in site traffic, mostly from social.

I ended the year with 45,000 sessions. I’m pretty happy with that, considering I’ve had minimal time to dedicate to blogging since I spent most of the year working full-time.

sam underwood traffic 1

I’ve also had reasonable growth in site authority, going from 2 to 32 since the beginning of the year.

sam underwood site authority 1 1

Not bad without doing any outreach!

2021 - What's next?

The next obvious step is to scale up what I’m doing with consulting.

While I’ll see where 2021 takes me, scaling up the consulting side of what I’m doing isn’t part of my plans.

Instead, I’m going to keep refining how I work.

I’ll continue consulting with businesses I know I can add significant value to and live by the mantra of being better, not bigger.

Being a perfectionist, the quality of what I do is important to me. I’ll continue to find new ways of delivering higher quality work and faster.

My goal with consulting from the start has been to become a reliable and valuable source of SEO information and results. I want businesses to know if they come to me, they’ll receive work worth every penny.

I’m going to continue on this path in 2021.

Here are some additional focuses for me.

Outsourcing

Part of being able to deliver high-quality work is ensuring critical work receives the time it deserves.

As I move forward, I want to make sure I don’t get caught doing work that doesn’t necessarily require my expertise but is needed to move projects forward.

I will be expanding my network of support for admin and creating operating procedures so my focus can remain on the bigger picture and driving performance.

Branding

I want to further refine my personal brand in 2021. Early in the year, I’m planning on refining my site to be a bit more ‘me’ and have a bit more of a personal touch.

Funnily enough, when I originally made my site, I had the thought of starting an agency, so I made it with that in mind. I completely 180’d on that and have made small refinements so it’s more personal since.

I want to do a more extensive redesign early this year.

Passive income

One area I’d like to explore more this year is earning passive income. I’m still figuring out passive income in a way that works for me. But I see this working in a few ways.

Partners

I want to spend more time supporting businesses by referring tech/software partners to help them achieve their goals.

I also want to find agencies and other freelancers with skills that differ from mine that I can refer.

At the moment, I’m looking to expand my network in general. I’m looking for:

  • Developers (Ecommerce platform-specific experience)
  • Designers
  • Analytics whizzes
  • CRO specialists
  • Copywriters (both general blogging + CRO copywriters)

If you’re a specialist in any of the above, get in touch!

Affiliate marketing

Over the past couple of months, one area I’ve been exploring is affiliate marketing.

I currently have one affiliate site under my belt that is still in its early stages.

I want to reinvest some of my consulting income into affiliate sites to earn more passive income from them later in 2021.

Paid resources

My experiences in SEO so far has given me some unique insights into:

  • SEO processes that work
  • Consulting with large clients
  • Starting a successful freelance career

I share some of this insight on my blog and Twitter, but I still keep the majority to myself.

Therefore, I want to explore selling resources that will benefit business owners and SEOs.

I like giving things away for free to add value to the SEO community, like I’ve done with everything I released in 2020.

But I’m exploring what resources I could create that’ll significantly benefit businesses and SEO’s who desire to become a freelancer.

Personal notes

I thought I’d add a few personal notes, although, like many, 2020 has been a little less eventful in this area!

Family

My family has all remained healthy throughout 2020, which is brilliant. There were some health concerns coming into this year from 2019, but they were thankfully resolved.

If anything was a highlight of 2020, that would be it.

Investing

It seems many have started this in 2020, but I also started investing to future-proof savings from my work.

Learning about investing has been a nice side-hobby throughout the year, and I’ve seen some great benefits from doing so already.

Although we’ll see what my thoughts are on this next year (given the economy), so far, it’s had a positive impact on how I think about earning.

Work/life

I spent a lot of time in 2020 working, and not as much time as I’d like exercising, traveling, and exploring new hobbies.

Lockdowns and restrictions to everyday life made it easier to fall into a pattern of overworking. Some of this was expected. Going self-employed is often a time where you push yourself more than usual.

In 2021, I plan to strike a better balance, focusing on what I want to achieve professionally while finding the time to do the things that improve my headspace and have a net positive impact on everything I do.

Wrapping up

2020 has been an amazing year for me.

I’ve had some fantastic opportunities and achieved things I’ve dreamed of doing for years.

I’m excited to see what 2021 brings.