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July 28, 2010


The Jerry Maguire Syndrome

by Anthony Verre

Or: How I Got on the Road to Entrepreneurship

The SEM Jerry Maguire SyndromeThis is a bit of departure from the normal SEO/SEM talk I usually have here. But a topic that’s equally important, perhaps even more so, when you’ve mastered your craft and have to decide which way to turn.

Search engine marketing didn’t start in an agency setting. It wasn’t created in a board room of an agency/firm; it just got incorporated that way when people started needing the service. That’s how a lot careers start; the marketing department of an agency that focused on websites.

If you’re lucky, you always love the shop life. And the shop life will always love you too. Or, you can be like a few SEOs/SEMs I know, wake up one morning, find yourself in a place, and not be entirely sure how or why you got there. Take a few minutes and see if this mission statement scene from Jerry Maguire rings true to you.

Everyone Goes Through Tough Times in Shop-Life

Maybe you’ve never reached that point. Maybe you have. Maybe you’re even there right now. The fact is, everyone goes through something in agency/shop/firm life. It’s just a part of the game; people leave, new people arrive: dynamics change. The question is do you work through it and try to implement changes, put your head down and barrel onward, or do you find the nearest exit and bolt? Every situation is going to be different. Different variables and factors.

Let’s be clear for a moment. Putting your head down and barreling through a rough time does not make a person of gelatinous nature. I’d argue that it takes a hell of a lot more spine to stay in an untenable situation and work toward making changes that make your job easier. And, yet even as I say that, there’s a point where spine turns to stupid and thick-headed.  So how do you know if you’re there?

Phases of Entrepreneurial Decisions The Phases of “Dealing With It”

This is a collection from my own personal experience over the years, and I’m sure there are some that I’m missing so feel to let me know.

  1. Anger

  2. You’ve been pissed for a weeks. For no reason at all: on weekdays you wake up depressed and angry. You drive/bike/commute to work and you’re pissed. Your day is a swirl of annoyance. You get home and it melts away until you go to bed.

  3. Working on Changing the System

  4. After a certain amount of time, a month or two, you realize being angry just sucks. People think you’re an asshole and it’s not making you situation any better. So you decide if you want change, you have to change yourself and the system. You bend the ears of co-workers, you bend the ears of management. They love your ideas, they want to implement them. You make your list of things to improve and how to achieve it.

  5. Defeat

  6. Months later you’re still getting the run-around. Phrases like: “It takes time”, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and “We’re working on it” seem to be all you hear. Meanwhile, the anger backfills. You’re getting the picture: this place is the Hindenburg and we’re all going down in flames.

  7. Apathy

  8. Fuck it. Why care about it? No one else does. Everyone is perfectly happy to sit and wallow in the doom they’ve created. They’re screwing themselves and their clients. You just want to be left alone, collect paychecks, and stay off the radar. No hassles, no problems.

  9. The Breakthrough Change

  10. One day you wake up, and it hits you; I’m going out on my own. Your skill set is in high-demand, you are damn good at what you do, and you know for certain there are a lot of people who need (really need) what you do.

Your Personal Manifesto

This is that Jerry Maguire moment. Standing on your ethical and moral high-ground you march out into the forest. You know how you want to conduct business, you know the clients you want to work with, you know how to charge and how to produce meaningful results. And, as Dicky Fox said, “It’s all about personal relationships.”

For me, that is my manifesto. I want partnerships. I want clients that are serious about marketing themselves online and believe and trust I have the toolbox to make it happen. It’s why I created my company. It’s why I have the utmost respect for the Danny Sullivan’s, Rae Hoffman’s, Aaron Wall’sAndy Beal’s, Janet Driscoll-Miller’s, and David Harry’s of the SEM world.

What’s your manifesto?

It’s Scary Out There. It’s Exciting Out There Too.

I’ll be the first to tell anyone that going out on your own isn’t easy. It’s downright scary.  There’s no safety net. You walk the tightrope or you fall. You’ve got to bring your game-face out every day. The struggle is real.  Especially with the veritable flood of SEM agencies, traditional agencies going “digital”, and hack-freelancers crowding the market. You’ll fight for every inch you get.

But, it’s exciting too. You call the shots. You make the rules. You get to name success. There’s a real satisfaction from helping a small business or the person going at it alone, and making their business grow. It’s a great reward.

Or maybe you’re taking small steps; keeping your full-time gig and working projects on the side. It’s a great way to build your reputation and keep security. But you’ll be burning the candle at both ends and soon you’ll have to make a choice. Hopefully this post gets you pointed in the right direction and helps you make the right choice.

  1. Jul 29 2010

    Awesome article Dude! It’s funny how we all too easily think we’re the only one who goes through this while we’re in the experience leading up to the transition.

    Then we learn that it’s the same essential story so many others have lived.

    I will offer this though, Tony –

    You say:

    “I’ll be the first to tell anyone that going out on your own isn’t easy. It’s downright scary. There’s no safety net. You walk the tightrope or you fall.”

    Guess what? Working for others under untenable conditions isn’t easy either is it? You already know that. Working for others knowing you rely on their paying you on a schedule, and that paycheck is dependent on you successfully walking their tightrope, where they make the rules of that walk, and that if you make too many waves, you’ll be knocked off that tightrope, without warning, is just as scary.

    And let’s be real. In America, it’s expected that you’ll give at least 2 weeks notice when you quit. Yet I can think of a plethora of situations where people were being fired, and not told about it until the end of the day – and where they were escorted off the premises by security. No warning, no time to process, no opportunity in the moment to protest, or have a mature dialogue with those doing the firing…

    And I’m not talking about people who committed crimes, or anything that truly deserved such harsh, instant treatment. Except that’s corporate policy all over this country. Regardless of reason. Because they “don’t want the workplace disrupted”.

    And more than once I’ve bailed out of companies where I felt the wind shift. And learned afterward that they ended up moving their operation out of state, leaving entire divisions of people out on the street. All so they could pay other people less money.

    No – let’s be clear here – corporations have no loyalty to their employees when push comes to shove.

    So it’s not more stress going out on one’s own. It’s just different stress. And it comes with a freedom and exhilaration and potential for success that could never happen working for the man. Or woman. 🙂

    • Jul 29 2010


      Thanks for the props on the post! It’s really interesting how many of these un/common experiences everyone goes through. There’s no doubt that corporate life these days, especially for the “grunts”, is just as unsettling and frightening as going out on your own. Each company is different in how they value their employees, but in general (with that huge brush stroke) I’m right there with you that Corporations have “zero” loyalty to anyone.

      It’s almost another topic all it’s own, but you brought up a relevant comment about “felt the wind shift”. That’s one that really should be included up there; one externality that you can’t control but forces your hand. Learning to “feel” that takes time and requires some familiarity with corporations, making all that much harder for expendable newcomers, to see coming.

      And, I agree with you that going out on your own is a different kind of stress, but equally a rewarding stress if you do what you do well! 🙂

  2. Jul 29 2010

    I know (1) all too well. I’d commute an hour to work (which isn’t so great for the anger to begin with), and then, the moment I stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk to the office, it was like a cloud descended over my head. By the time I walked 50 feet and opened the door, I was pissed, and the work-day hadn’t even started yet. It took me too long to realize that that was a lousy way to live the rest of my life.

    • Jul 29 2010

      (Dr.) Pete,

      [Wanted to keep this reply informal, but you’re PhD for goodness sakes! You’ve earned those rights man!] It took me years to understand that life was too short to go through it being an angry pile of crap everyday. I think that comment may have just saved someone a year of their life. (And you should thank Pete if that’s the case :)) It’s refreshing to hear that no matter who you are, we all have these common feelings and that you’re not alone. Thanks for the great comment!

  3. SEO Veteran
    Jul 29 2010

    Tony, fantastic post!!! I was absolutely enthralled by it and know all too well about EVERYTHING you discussed here. It was as if you wrote it specifically for me, scary man. I’ve road all of these waves and am currently in between steps 4 and 5. I totally understand what is going on and what I will end up doing very soon. It is like putting off the inevitable. I’m not afraid, I’m confident and have been in this long enough to know what I am looking forward to. But all things in time. Right at this moment it is not my time. So I am pushing through and when the time is right, I will know it. But man, what a fantastic post!!!

  4. Jey Pandian
    Jul 29 2010


    This is my first time in shop life and I’m already going through those paces.

    I remember being pissed for months because one client said I have only 10 hours a month allocated to do SEO work (I refused) and another instance where I got super pissed when I was asked to do an SEO audit in one hour for a website spanning 100s of pages.

    There are times when I feel like I’m on top of the mountain and things get completed, then there are those times where it takes 2 weeks to get something done (which I can nail in ten minutes – this one pisses me off like nothing).

    It’s only my first year at shop life, I’m determined to learn as much and bring as much value as possible but when should one start thinking about other opportunities? I have a tendency to think long term and as you said: “Rome didn’t get built in a day,” I believe that anything worth having will be a struggle in life.

    I also believe that one can get anything if they are willing to sacrifice everything for it. I just want to be a master of my craft (lol).

    Good post, thankfully I haven’t hit 4-5, hopefully it never comes.


  5. Jul 29 2010

    I left two different companies once I realized I felt like the video clip below. The first one took me 15 years to get to that point. The next one was a LOT shorter.

    (Not a good movie, but a fantastic opening)

  6. Jul 29 2010

    Boy, did you hit the nail on the head with the progression from anger through the breakthrough change. Many working for big companies never experience the mind-numbing and baffling frustration that happens when an entrepreneurial spirit is trapped within the confines of the corporate structure.

    Some are merely working for a paycheck. They really don’t care about how, if or how efficiently things run. They don’t pursue excellence. They believe good enough is good enough. They are of the “I’ll do just enough to keep from getting fired…” mindset and they are content working for companies whose goal is to pay them just enough to keep them from quitting.

    And for those people, the daily grind is simply a reality of life. But for those with the voice of entrepreneurship constantly whispering, “This can be done better…”, “Why do we do it this way?”, “This is just wrong…”, “That guy is an IDIOT!”, though – it’s torture and at some point we turn into ticking time bombs just waiting to explode.

    Kudos on the post! You summed it up beautifully.

    • Jul 30 2010


      Thanks for the props on the post, I appreciate it. The call of entrepreneurship is a unique one, and I think it’s one that’s more prevalent in the SEM field. Honestly, I can’t think of another field where the opportunity, the prospect of going out on your own, stares you in the face every day.


      Thanks mate!

  7. Jul 29 2010


    Great article, I can completely relate to what you are saying. I thoroughly enjoyed the post and thought you summed it up perfectly!

    Good luck with Silver Arc mate. I wish you all the best success!!

  8. Aug 9 2010

    If you dont own it – you are a slave. Simple. True. If the Big Dog is a POS, youre screwed. Rugged Individualists and -ism cant be cowed. Add to that a low-IQ owner and you are well and truly f***ed

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