With founder: Jade Pruett
When pitching myself to podcasts or media outlets, the first thing I usually do is introduce myself and my company, as one does.
“Hello, my name is Jade. I’m the founder of HelloSEO, which is a boutique SEO agency that helps small businesses and startups gain visibility on Google and connect with their target audience.”
The next thing I usually say is that I built my agency to six figures while still working a full time job at a startup, all before the age of 30.
While that sentence is technically true, I still can’t relate to it. It’s catchy. It’s what people love to hear. But it makes it sound like everything happened easily. Let me be the first to say that starting an SEO agency is not a get-rich-quick scheme. That said, I am very proud of my journey and where I ended up, even though I’m only getting started.
Here is my path to building my SEO agency in Columbia.
A bit about my background
Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t go to college expecting to do SEO. My whole life I wanted to be a novelist and write YA fiction. Because of this, when it came time for university, I chose to major in English. I thought that someday I would be an author with a backup plan as an editor at a publishing house. I dreamed of moving to New York and working for Penguin Random House. That is, until I got to my editorial class senior year and realized that I genuinely hated editing. I actually still do.
While I was in college and for a time just after, I had the opportunity to work with a few children’s book writers on helping them with their stories and marketing. I ended up carving out a unique niche as a children’s book ghostwriter. This lasted for about two years, and while it was fun, I knew it wasn’t forever. It didn’t pay well and I was constantly needing to pick up other freelance gigs.
During this time, I also had a short stint as a news captioner for BBC and Sky News. They hired a team of contract employees based in the U.S. to battle the time difference. During the live news broadcast at 6 p.m. their time, I would caption the news while it was noon or 1 p.m. in Atlanta where I lived. It was an interesting experience, but yet another one of those things that wasn’t forever. Turns out that watching the news for 12 hours a day isn’t very healthy for your brain.
Freelancing became a big part of my life with a lot of the work I was getting being SEO content. I would get paid $30 to write 3,000-word blog posts on how to get a career in a certain field or what the best brushes were for huskies. Through this, I connected with a particular agency and expressed that I would really love to learn more about what they did. They started giving me other tasks, such as backlinking and internal linking, which was fascinating even though I didn’t understand it. I also saw the people managing me and doing other SEO tasks making much better salaries and having more stable jobs. So, in 2017, I had a bit of an Elle Woods moment and decided that SEO was what I was going to focus on. I selected a niche advanced marketing strategy and just went with it.
Looking back, my dedication to SEO was kind of silly - I really didn’t want to learn about anything else. Though I am happy with how everything happened, I’m not sure I would recommend that level of dedication to something a person knows nothing about.
My SEO Journey
My journey to working in SEO started with a bunch of failed interviews.
I took the statistic that men apply for jobs that they are only 70% qualified for very literally and started applying for positions all over Atlanta. This led to a lot of very awkward interviews because I didn’t understand most of the words I was hearing. However, it is still something I recommend because through that experience I learned what it was I needed to know. For instance, I knew nothing about Excel, but when that kept coming up in interviews, I knew I needed to learn quickly.
I also decided to take a digital marketing course at General Assembly. This is the first time I took out student loans and really bet on myself. After attending all 12 weeks of classes and putting my all into every assignment, I ended up testing in the top 3% of all students upon graduation. Because of my scores, I won an interview with a large corporate company. Because I wanted to stay in Atlanta, I was paired with Jamba Juice. Literally nothing came from the interview and I don’t even remember it, but it was kind of cool.
After my course, I ended up connecting with a branding agency called Wildcat Echo and doing an internship with them after I did my final project on them. I also landed a content writing position at an SEO agency local to Atlanta. When I interviewed with them, I told them I was really there to learn everything that I could. This resulted in me writing content all morning and bothering the SEO analysts in the afternoon with a ton of questions. I still felt like I didn’t know anything, but I had access to people who did and our clients’ analytics accounts to play around in. I was there for 10 months before I started getting recruited by other SEO companies.
I then began working for Global Savings Group (GSG), which does all of the SEO for CNN and Business Insider’s affiliate marketing programs. This ended up being the best job I could have possibly gotten and I’m still obsessed with that company. They would basically hand over 200 accounts to each of their employees and let them do whatever they needed to fix them. I ended up on the long tail team, which was assigned the absolutely worst of their accounts - those that were ranking on the 80th position in Google - and we had to overhaul them. It was an incredibly rewarding and also very demanding job that made most of my other ventures seem easy in comparison.
After being with them a year and a half, I was then recruited into an SEO manager position at a semiconductor startup in California. This was in 2021, so remote work had become very much the norm after the pandemic and I was able to work from Atlanta. This job introduced me to an entirely new world of SEO and leadership. Suddenly, I was managing other people and focusing on only one account - the business I worked for - rather than hundreds.
Just before this in November 2020, I connected with a lawyer on LinkedIn who needed SEO help. It was an incredibly busy time of year as Black Friday was the biggest event at GSG, but when he asked for help, of course I said I could do it. I googled what to charge, he agreed to the price, and we got started. This was another eye-opening experience. I always thought I didn’t know a lot about SEO and lacked confidence in talking about it. But suddenly, I was talking to a lawyer about exactly what was going on with his website and coming up with my own methods to make it better. This revealed to myself just how much I did know about SEO and the impact I could have on small business websites.
I also loved being Venmoed an extra couple hundred bucks a month. I had recently gotten a raise that gave me an extra $5,000 a year and at the time, it was a life-changing amount of money. So when I realized I could take on extra clients and earn even more money, the entrepreneurial bug bit.
The Birth of HelloSEO
And now we’re at the true moment of HelloSEO’s conception.
I started hosting webinars and teaching business owners about SEO. With each one, I scored a handful of clients. It felt like I was on top of the world and that I had somehow hacked the system.
However, my main problem over the next two years was figuring out how to replace my California startup salary with my SEO income. There’s only so much I could do on the side while working a full
time, demanding job. I never took a weekend off and usually worked until late into the night. Or I woke up extra early. Because I was working remotely, my husband and I decided to move closer to his family in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s weird to think about it now, but at the time, I thought I was selling out a bit by moving out of the big city. Atlanta was always a place that showered me in opportunity and I thought that after I moved somewhere smaller, those opportunities wouldn’t exist anymore.
Turns out, it was the opposite.
I’ve always been a sucker for a good co-working space, so that was at the top of my list even before buying a house. I toured a bunch of spaces before I came across FemmeX. I was immediately hooked on everything they had to offer and booked a desk. Working at FemmeX reminded me of a scene from “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The main character finally makes it to Canada and finds herself being showered with everything she needs. She walks through the door a bit shell-shocked and is met with friendly female faces as they hand her blankets, clothes, water, food, a place to stay, and everything she needs to succeed.
This was FemmeX for me.
I met Nell, the owner, and spoke with her about my business. Within a month or two of working out of there, she was taking me to all the networking events around town. She introduced me to everyone I needed to know and made email introductions to successful venture capitalists, advisors, and people who might need my services. I met my advisor Agata, who literally broke my brain when she reframed my entire business within two hours of meeting each other.
I went from thinking maybe I would get to quit my full-time job after a few more years to her asking me if I’d quit in a month or two if we could get my revenue where I needed it. I didn’t believe her, but of course I was willing if she could make that happen. Needless to say, she made it happen. We started working together in August and I put in my two-week notice at the beginning of October.
Also thanks to Nell, the day I finally quit my job, I also got to pitch my business at the Growth Summit, an entrepreneurial conference in Columbia. It was a surreal experience to have what once was a side hustle up on a giant screen in front of hundreds of business owners. That pitch is still bringing people in.
From Now to the Future
Since quitting my job in October, my business has doubled once again. I built it into a six-figure company by the time I quit and now it continues to grow exponentially. It is so cool to get to work with small businesses and help them succeed. I absolutely love everyone I work with and it brings me joy to see other people’s businesses grow and thrive through SEO and other marketing tactics. Columbia is such a cool place to be a business owner, especially a woman business owner, and I’m so glad we ended up here.
I feel like the sky's the limit for HelloSEO.