Marquis Matson is a freelance SEO analyst and expert in how to rank in Google search results. Matson started her career as a freelancer when she left her job as an academic advisor at a University in Miami. She quit to live in Latin America and travel full-time.
Matson taught herself most of what she knows about SEO and writing. However, she also found a mentor who helped give her direction in her freelancing career. (She also has a master’s in marriage and family therapy in California!)
Now, Matson spends her time traveling the world (currently she’s living in Australia) and helping her clients rank in Google. Her clients are primarily in eCommerce spanning all different industries including travel and yoga. She is also starting an SEO and freelance coaching service and has taken on an apprentice (me!) to pass on some of her knowledge.
Year Started Freelancing Full-Time: 2015
Age When Started Freelancing: 26
Preferred Pronouns: She/her
What is your “About You” elevator pitch for what you do?
I usually just say I help sites rank on Google. That’s it I help them become more visible.
How did you figure out what to emphasize and highlight in your elevator pitch?
I think most people know what Google is and how it works as far as their user experience. And so I just tried to put it in their terms because if I start talking about keyword research and algorithm, then I’ll lose anybody who’s interested. So just by focusing on their experience with Google, it’s helped me sort of refine it into one sentence.
What did you do before freelancing?
I was an academic advisor at a University in Miami. I have my master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, but it was in California. The state requirements are different per state, so when I went to Florida, I didn’t have the requirements to be a therapist.
I basically became a counselor and then I actually taught psychology at that University as an adjunct. So that was really fun.
What made you decide to start freelancing?
I just you know, I lived in Miami and Latin America was so accessible from Miami. So every time I had any day off like a three-day weekend or something, I would go somewhere and then I just decided to quit so I could do it more permanently. I just figured I was smart enough to find a way to make money and then that’s how I stumbled into writing.
What have you found is the biggest difference between SEO and writing?
There’s a ton of overlap. SEO is more of a science.
How did you get into SEO?
Yeah, I was writing and making hardly anything writing as a freelancer. So I started looking into ways on how to make more money and there were basically two ways: to become a proper journalist like a respected journalist, which seemed like a really long hard road that I was not interested in or SEO.
And so I started looking into SEO more and more and just using what I could find online to structure my articles and do that. Then one of my clients that I was writing for they just got tons of traffic from it and they went crazy they were so excited they wanted me to teach the other writers and it was just this whole big thing.
So because they were so excited and because the results were so immediate it made me realize that that was the right path for me but I still didn’t know enough so I started looking on Upwork for SEO jobs. Just like entry-level obviously, because it’s Upwork and that’s where I found actually the client in the travel industry.
They were looking in for an entry-level marketing freelancer who would become their SEO apprentice. They were concerned about me mostly because I wasn’t as committed to yoga as they were but I basically said “I will do whatever you tell me I will be yours for as long as you want if you teach me everything you know about SEO “and so then he was like yeah okay that commitment is definitely what I need because it’s a long haul thing, you know it’s not like a six-month thing.
Then that’s exactly what he did and I owe everything to him because of everything he taught me.
How do you make the nomadic lifestyle and travel work with the freelancing?
It’s kind of hard now because I think I’m fully a professional. So I just do it more slowly. I’ll stay as long as I possibly can in a place and sort of create a mini routine in that place.
So I’ll go to the same set of cafes where I know they have good Wi-Fi and they’re okay with me sitting there and I just chunk out my days so like four hours here and then take a break and go kind of see where I’m at a little bit for lunch break. Then four hours there and then we’ll have dinner and explore and then work in the hotel room if it has good WiFi or wherever I’m staying.
So just go slowly is what I’ve learned works best. Also at first you feel really bad and guilty about it because everybody else around you is traveling and they’re like ‘come on you’re working so much you’re gonna miss out’ and you get major fomo but you have to really set those boundaries and be like no, this is actually my profession. I need to work.
When you were starting out, what if any preparation did you do before going full-time freelance?
Oh, I didn’t do any. I’d used up all of my vacation days in the summer and went to Columbia and did this big jungle Trek. And I came back and I had to wait until I could accrue more vacation days to go on another trip and I was like nah, I’m not going to do that. I’ve got thirty thousand dollars in my bank account, I’m just gonna quit.
So I did and was like, I’m a smart person and if I put myself in this position, I’ll figure it out. That’s what I did. I just ran out of money eventually and was like, okay now I need to actually earn a living.
What was the most challenging thing when you first started?
The first year was challenging because you’re not making that much money and you don’t know really anything about the industry or anything.
But what the most challenging thing was when I actually got my first SEO clients was learning. What a good client is. I really don’t like the first clients that I had because of various reasons, and I didn’t know that yet because I didn’t have experience.
Yeah learning about red flags I think was the most challenging thing.
What helped you the most when starting out?
Yeah, I really do think having a mentor. If I tried to figure it out on my own, I don’t think I would be where I am already. Maybe eventually I would get there because I’d figure it out but having someone who was five steps ahead of me, it just shortens the time it took to get to where I am because they told me everything right from the start.
How did you get clients when you first started?
So this mentor of mine connected me with someone else who he knew who was looking for an SEO and I interviewed with him and he decided no, I’m not ready right now to hire you and so that was kind of sad but also like a relief because I didn’t know if I could handle it yet. But then he recommended me to my first real major client [who I’m still working with].
And then after that, yeah, I think honestly just having my name on certain articles that sort of explain certain aspects of SEO has attracted a lot of clients.
And now it’s word of mouth completely like I don’t really even try to find clients. It’s pretty cool.
When did you make a website portfolio for?
I’ve had so many. When I left the US I started one that was called backpacks and mascara and I would just write about all of my different experiences just so I can have fun with writing instead of it being like here’s the best carpet for your home and then it took off one month because of the people that I was writing about. They spread it to their families and their family members spread it.
And then it crashed my website because I was on the cheapest hosting payment option and it crashed it and then I didn’t want to have to pay to redo it and increase the capacity because I was like, okay, it’s just like the people I’m writing about are the only ones reading is so I just left it.
Then the one that I have now, I just created honestly a few months ago because I just thought it would probably be nice.
I really think that I didn’t start getting all these random offers to work for people until my website went up. I don’t know if that’s correlated or not. But I think it looks legit and then people can know okay obviously she took the time to make a website.
How do you work in vacation or sick days?
Yeah. Usually it’s really easy cause there’s like things I want to do. Thanks to that Mentor I mentioned I’m very much into yoga. There’s usually some kind of retreat or center or an ashram or something that I want to visit.
So I’ll just look at what’s going on there, and then I’ll book it and then request that month off and it’s not even a request is just like “Hey, I’m going to go do this, let me prep and make sure everybody’s ready for me to be gone.” Now, it’s been a lot harder because of the pandemic, I can’t really go anywhere, so I’ve just been working. And only right now I’m like wow, I just need to take a few weeks off and not be online all the time.
So yeah, that’s my personal experience. But for the most part, nobody’s given me a guilt trip. Nobody’s made it hard for me to take time off. They’re usually pretty okay with it.
How do you handle your accounting?
By the grace of God? Okay. I don’t know, I don’t do a good job. I just like yeah, I have no idea. Honestly. […]
Any money I earned I would just pay for rent and food and then save the rest and it’s always been fairly easy, but now that I’m like paying people and tools out of my own pocket. I’m yeah, I’m going to have to figure out a better way to do that.
I’ve been using QuickBooks and I’ve had an accountant for a few years now mostly because I don’t want to have to figure out all like I’m in a different country all the time so I don’t really have a state that I live in. I just tell her how much I earn and how much I spent and she does the rest for me. I’m not even sure what goes on behind the scenes.
How do you manage retirement funding or do you?
No that’s actually something that I’m not actively doing anything right now, but the main goal why I went into this to begin with and SEO in particular is so that I could manage my own passive income website and then build a few of them with the goal of it just generating income even when I’m not working on it so that when I am older it can continue building income and I could save the money that I’ve earned.
So that’s in the back of my head. I don’t think it’s the wisest thing but I think that it’s kind of hard as a freelancer to plan for that. Especially I’ve just only picked up in the last like year and a half where I could actually start saving a significant amount of money. So yeah, it’s not really I don’t have the best advice for that.
How do you decide your rates?
I started out asking for $500 a month, which is absurd but it was mainly because I just wanted to be able to practice on someone’s website and then see what that was like and that’s where I started to learn about what makes a good client what makes a bad site and one that’s going to pay $500 for SEO is not going to be a good client.
And then I just slowly raised it by $500 dollars every time I got a new client just to see how far I could go. Then I just started making it up arbitrarily honestly.
I saw an industry report where the average SEO charges $2,500 a month so I thought that was just a pretty good standard to go by and then yeah nobody’s really questioning me with it they’re just like yeah okay.
How do you decide when to bump your grades up?
I base it mostly off of what would be worth my time at this point. Like I don’t even want to take on a new client if they’re not going to pay me at least $2500 a month because it’s just it’s a lot of work and effort. So it’s not worth it if it’s going to be anything less. It’s just a huge headache.
So that’s really it and I think that’s still pretty arbitrary. But I think that’s going to vary from person to person what they feel is worth their time.
How much did you make in your first full year freelancing full-time?
I don’t even think I know. What I can tell you is that I was living in Ecuador and I had a goal. I did want to move back to the US.
When I left the US […] the whole goal was to be somewhere cheap so I could learn a new skill and then come back and afford to live in the US on that new skill. My goal was to do that within two years. What I thought was a livable income was $2,500 a month.
When I reached that is when I moved back to the US, so I would say when I felt stable that’s how much I was earning. Then it only goes up from there.
Approximately how much do you make annually now?
Well, how much I was making at the start of the year is very different than how much I’m making now. But now if I continue at the rate that I am,it would be over $100,000 a year so I’m definitely doing okay now.
That’s why I’m so excited to bring other people into this like come you can be rich too.
How do you do invoices?
Every client’s different. Some will just know to pay me every month and others I have to send an invoice.
Paypal has a really good invoice feature so that you just put in what you want and it looks all official. Then you can send it to them and they can pay right within the app. And so that’s really nice. […]
That’s what I’ve learned also as a freelancer and what I would recommend is just however you can make your clients’ life easier, that will make them want to work with you more. One of the ways is to make their taxes and everything as easy as possible by providing timely invoices with a lot of details and reports.
Have you ever had to dump the client?
Yeah this is where I just learned what a bad client is. Her website was built on some weird format and she was just having a lot of problems and she was trying to redesign it and the developers were having a hard time and it was expensive and they couldn’t do this and they couldn’t do that.
I couldn’t access the website at all so I had to put in Google Docs the content that I recommended she should put on her website and of course she never did because the person that she’s working with that was redesigning the website was like “no no no, I don’t want to do anything. I’m going to build a new one anyway.”
After six months I finally was like you have no traffic changes because I haven’t even touched your website whatsoever since we started together. I feel like you’re wasting your money and time and I’m wasting mine as well and I didn’t feel good about it. So we decided to end it and it all was good.
But then when she went to go file her taxes and realized how much money she spent on me. She was really really upset to discover that she paid me for all those months and I hadn’t actually done anything. It was a whole big thing and it was really scary.
It was one of my first clients and I was scared. Actually the contract that I had made is what protected me because I said in the contract you must give me access from day one. If not, I will not be able to do my job and because of that she couldn’t really do anything about it. Contracts are so important.
How do you find the right clients?
What makes a bad client for me is a low-budget not because I’m like, oh, I’m not getting paid. Partly, but mostly because if they have a low budget and they’re not going to pay me well, they’re also not going to have a writer stipend. They’re not going to have the right tools. You’re not going to be able to do anything really except write your own content. And as an SEO, you can’t do that. You would be exhausted, your brain would tire out before the end of the month.
So that to me is what a bad client is, so by setting higher prices. I mean, you can’t set high prices right from the get-go, but it does filter out a lot of bad clients in that regard.
But then the other thing is I just sort of try to get on a call with people before I even send a proposal mostly to see if they get it. Like do they get the value of SEO? Do they get that by hiring me they will have greater returns in the long run and I will make their lives easier by helping them earn money in a roundabout way.
If they don’t get that, I don’t want to take my time to explain it and convince them that I’m worth the money. I’d rather just see that they get it and they have a budget and that’s it. And if they have those two things, it’s super easy.
How do you decide you’re at capacity or not going to take any new work?
Oh my God, I haven’t yet. It’s like it’s too exciting. Like, you know, when you start dating someone for the first time and you’re like, oh my god how exciting all the possibilities that’s how a new client is for me. So I don’t like turning them down, but I’m pretty much at capacity right now.
But yeah, also having a partner is probably a good way to have someone remind you that you’re at capacity. Otherwise you might not notice it yourself.
What do you think you’re best at as a freelancer?
I think that I have a remarkable ability to focus for long periods of time. Not like I can focus for 4 hours without ever breaking concentration. No, of course, I get up and find excuses to do things. But I can start working at 7 a.m, and work until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. and genuinely enjoy it for the most part.
Not saying that everybody needs to do that. But my brain and my ability to focus is really perfect for freelancing. I think that’s probably my greatest asset.
What do you like the most about freelancing?
Being my own boss. Like yeah, I have clients who technically pay me but they don’t tell me how to dress or how to spend my time or anything. They just they’re like, yeah sweet. Cool. What do you need from me? Great. Do your thing.
What tools do you use for your business?
Ahrefs. SurferSEO and marketmuse are two optimization tools.
I think that those are really the only ones that are essential. But like Google Docs is where I keep everything because I’ve had my computer crash a couple times over the course of these years and because everything’s on Google Docs, it’s not a problem. I just borrow a computer and it’s all there.
Zoom, Canva, I do pay for canva – it’s pretty cheap, but you get a million royalty free photos, so it’s worth it to me.
Notion I started using like four or five months ago. And I used to use Trello and I like Notion so much more.
I pay for QuickBooks a few months leading up to tax season so I can sort it all out and then cancel it.
Have you ever gotten burnt out?
Yeah, earlier this year I finally told [the travel client I have] I didn’t want to work for them the way I was anymore and to be treated like an independent contractor because up until that point I had to log my hours even after being with them for so many years. It’s just the way that their business is structured and I wanted to respect that but it was too much.
I was managing a whole marketing team on top of the SEO. Then I went to India for this training and I took a month off and then a couple people on my team quit so I had to do the training and also manage the transition. It was just too much. I got really depressed when I came back to Australia and finally, I told them I can’t do this anymore.
That’s when I just started really hiking on the weekends and going for long walks after dinner. That kind of bounced me back.
How do you decide when to strengthen current skills or learn new one?
I’ve found that it happens naturally as problems arise honestly.
There’s a ton of things I want to learn and have been on my list of things to learn like schema markup. But it’s almost like little problems pop up here and there and then I have to fix them because I’m the SEO and that is my job and just because I don’t know how to do it doesn’t mean it’s not my responsibility. Then I have to go and learn really quickly and now I have a new skill.
What one piece of advice would you give to a woman freelancer in the outdoor industry?
I think anybody, just take care of yourself. Don’t forget to listen to your body and your mental health.
As a woman, you’re gonna be questioned more than men. I’ve found with most of my experience, I come up with cool ideas and solutions and I see things. I’m not the best obviously, I’m probably intermediate compared to the SEOs out there, but there would be other intermediate SEOs who are men who are not questioned or other people on teams that I’ve been on that are not questioned. Then I’m only taken seriously when another person sort of validates something I said and it’s yeah, I don’t know.
I don’t know if there’s advice in there for it, but it happens a lot. I think that this is kind of our time to shift that or at least hold strong for the women that come after us. We’re going to be questioned and guess what? I’m really good at my job anyway, and fine, I’ll answer your questions because I don’t have time to make a big deal out of it.
To learn more about Marquis Matson, visit her website where she provides more in-depth information about the results she’s provided for her clients.