Tim Dugan shares how he turned his freelance side gig as a digital marketing professional into a thriving company.
Work-life balance is never easy, especially with a three-year-old boy and a baby girl, but Tim Dugan’s growing family is the driving force behind his web design and marketing business, Web Services Ct. He turned his freelance side gig into a thriving company in 2013—and still juggles a full-time day job—to help small businesses in Connecticut reach customers online.
His specialty? Customized WordPress websites that are user-friendly and search-friendly. In other words, search engine optimization (or SEO, for short) is his forte, and so is getting his clients the visibility they’re looking for.
When did you start your business? Did you have an “aha” moment?
My wife Jodi has her Master’s degree in social work and we were both working. But then she was laid off. This was around the time the economy was taking a real hit. She went back to school for nursing and then she got pregnant, so that abruptly ended.
At that point, I realized something. I was working full-time in marketing for a local accounting firm, doing a lot of what I do now. I was freelancing on the side, and realized we needed to supplement that income because she wasn’t going to be working when the baby arrives. So the short answer is: “Oh, I’m having a kid.” So that was my aha moment.
With a degree in communications and business, how did you get started in SEO?
A college friend of mine owned an auto repair shop. I took him in as a client and built him what I thought was the best website ever, and looking back it was probably the worst website ever. Then it was like, OK, now how do we get the phone to ring? There’s got to be something we can do.
I had done a lot of stuff with computers when I was in college, so I thought I could figure this out. It was a ton of trial and error.
Eventually, I was able to grasp a solid foundation of SEO. That really started this whole thing. He was a small business owner who was struggling, and I thought, what can we do to help? It worked and it was exciting to see that.
It’s a typical work day. Where can we find you?
We moved into a new house last summer with my son, thinking about more space for playrooms with my daughter on the way, and my home office. My office isn’t in the basement yet, it’s upstairs on the main level. I try and do my best to keep my work there, but my laptop typically leaves that office too.
When I’m sitting on the couch and my son’s all over me and I’m trying to work, I don’t get as much done, that’s for sure. It’s a bit less productive, but he’s happy. It’s tricky. My son thinks, well he’s home so why can’t he play?
Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way.
Running the business takes a ton of hours. It’s nothing different than what it is for other people who do this type of business or freelancing. I think that’s a common denominator. If I’ve got 50 clients in a month, between my design jobs and my SEO clients, there’s a lot of me frantically figuring out what can I take on and what do I need contractors to help with.
As far as some hurdles I’ve run into with clients, some small businesses find it difficult to migrate from traditional methods of marketing to where things are now online. Some clients have been very open to that, but others not as much.
Then there are the costs. It costs this much to build the website, then it costs that much to market the website. When you’re dealing with small to mid-sized businesses, you want to do a great job and make it affordable for them. But for some, it’s just not that affordable. I tell everyone that I’m not the cheapest, but I’m not the most expensive by a long shot either.
Not every client is going to be tech-savvy. How do you manage their expectations?
Well, unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize that once they have launched their website, it’s not going to rank for all the terms they want to rank for overnight. You’ve got to market it and build. That’s a bit of a learning curve. I’m trying to educate as politely and graciously as I can. As much as you want the website to rank, it’s going to take time.
What’s next for you and your business?
I’ve had a website redesign that’s been in staging for years, and I’d like to get that going. It’s just again finding the time. My goal over the next couple years is scaling up without sucking so much of my time. But I’m still in that mode where new business owners should anticipate this. I’m still learning.
SEO, or any tech-related industry, can be somewhat volatile. Things can change quickly. SEO has seen its months and years of changes, and they’ve been pretty impactful. And that’s something that if you don’t adapt to an industry like this, you’ll really struggle.
If you Google the term SEO, one of the first things you’ll read is, is SEO dead? They’ve been saying that for years. But the reality is it’s not dead and it hasn’t died off, I think things will just change. As long as you can adapt, everyone in this industry will be fine.
Tim’s 3 Pearls of Wisdom for Fellow Entrepreneurs
1. You’ve got to work hard and be prepared to hit walls, fall down and pick yourself up continuously. If I didn’t work so hard, this wouldn’t have worked.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be a lot of hours.
2. Find a niche in your market. That’s what I did. I still get calls, where people say, ‘I think there’s a way you can get online, and get ranked in Google, how does that work?’ Of course you can, it’s SEO, it’s what I do. It’s still so new to a lot of people. Finding a niche leaves a lot of room for growing sooner than later, and not dealing with an intense competition base.
3. It’s more than just doing the work for the clients, you’ve got to run the business. Consider things outside of the work that you actually do and prepare for them. For me, I was like, ‘I’ve got to learn how to do billing, I’ve got to learn how to do this and that to run the business, or I need a DBA [database administrator] or LLC [limited liability company], but what’s right for me?’ These are things you really don’t think about, but you should.
about the author
National Post, contributing articles on business, food, culture and travel for affiliated newspapers across Canada. She now writes from her home office in Toronto as a freelancer, and takes breaks to bounce with her son on the backyard trampoline. Connect with her on LinkedIn.Karen Hawthorne worked for six years as a digital editor for the