Thanks so much for this entry, Laura! I loved the way your post is so practical, straightforward, newbie-friendly - and most importantly, how it emphasizes the bottom line at all times. It's easy to get "lost in the fog" of SEO with so many looming tasks and forget the main purpose, so it's wonderful to have a straightforward outline of what to do and why certain tasks need to be done. I look forward to reading your future insights!
In addition, you can also use tools like Majestic SEO to see who is linking to your competitors. Once you identify the links to your competitor’s sites, you can analyze these links, learn how they got them and implement a similar strategy for your website. For example, did they donate to a charity causing the charity to link to their site? You can do the same thing.
I second Rand's comment! Congrats on moving from the corporate world to the independent consultant. This is my goal for the near future. I too have been testing the waters of independent consulting, but it doesn't quite pay the bills yet! Sometimes I feel like I should find a mentor who has been where I am now and is where I want to go. Perhaps i'll find a few in this community over time!
I completely agree that defintion of a target audience isa great first step, but would ask if adding in competitors to the analysis (mentioned here as a later step) helps draw out who your target audience would be via comparisons, i.e. showing who you are an who you are not - would be very interested to hear opinions on how this tactic can be used within the overall step in coordination with targeted keyword discovery.