MSMP 72: Slawek Czajkowski on Building an SEO firm

Sometimes the side project you are working on ends up dwarfing your day job and becomes the path you never expected.  That’s what happened to my guest for this episode of Mads Singers Management Podcast, Slawek Czajkowski.  In 2008 he was building a company out of a small village in Poland when his side project, Surfer SEO, offered such possibilities for scale and growth that he knew he had to give it his full attention.  So he did.
Right away Slawek realized that he and his fellow managers had to go from being subject matter experts to managers of experts.  They are entirely different skill sets and the latter requires people who are open-minded to personal development.  When I asked him how management was similar to SEO, he responded that he considered them opposites: people who are skilled in SEO could be bad with people and introverted, whereas those skills would be disastrous in a manager.  While I agreed with that framing, I also noted that if someone in SEO was always looking to just get a little better every day, so could a manager, and that’s an ideal to strive for.

Slawek agreed with this and we also started talking about goal-setting strategies, and how “small” goals are virtually worthless.  Slawek said that he’s consistently thinking “10X” across various KPIs and encourages his team to think in the same tracks.  This is such a great practice because when you let someone set “reasonable” or “small” goals, they will simply end up doing the same things, but maybe with slightly more effort.  But when you ask people to do great, big, unreasonable, scary things, they will be forced to change their way of thinking and get creative.  That’s when exciting things happen.
 
You won’t get anywhere with goals as a company if you don’t have the right team members, and Slawek and I both love hiring from within, though Slawek also does a lot of hiring by referral.  While I think this is a good practice, there are also a couple dangers to be avoided:
  • Sometimes “hire my friend” is more of a plea from someone who would like to work with a friend, not a reference to someone who is the best fit for a role
  • When things go south with a referral, they can sometimes take the employee (or employees) who referred them in the first place, making for a double whammy
I still maintain that one of the best ways to find great candidates is to know a lot of people, which you can do by effective and smart networking.
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The time with Slawek passed really quickly and I think you’ll find his straightforward work ethic and humility as encouraging as I do.

Key Learning Points:
1. Slawek notes that wherever you have processes, you have opportunities to automate - 2:40
2. Slawek talks about how Surfer SEO grew out of a side project - 3:26
3. Mads warns that being a subject matter expert can sometimes lead to your getting “stuck” instead of growing - 6:20
4. Slawek and Mads discuss how SEO and management are similar...and not similar - 6:55
5. Slawek shares his goal-setting strategy - 10:50
6. Mads talks about the “secret” of becoming good at something - 16:55
7. Slawek explains why he prefers to hire almost exclusively via referrals - 20:00
8. Mads shares a pro-tip when it comes to recruiting - 21:35
9. Mads notes why “hire my friend” isn’t always a good idea - 25:10
10. Slawek shares his “secret” to success - 28:05

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