Alumnus Tom Crowe proves you can find a passion you didn't know existed
After completing his studies at the University of Portsmouth, alumnus Tom Crowe is now a freelance SEO specialist. Here he tells us about his journey since leaving the University of Portsmouth.
At University I studied a BA in International Relations, and I was particularly keen to go on to a career in international development that would enable me to work for a good cause. However, my career took many drastic changes that led me to the position I am in today, building my own successful SEO business. (SEO is ‘Search Engine Optimisation’: the process of optimising websites as a means to achieve increased traffic from search engines).
When I graduated in 2012 I had a vague notion of finding a career where I was contributing to a cause that was helping others, particularly in developing countries. Without any real idea of the specific area of work I was aiming for, I applied to lots of internships and achieved a position at WaterAid working with corporate partners on their employee giving programmes. The internship gave me skills which led to a job at the NSPCC and then from there a fantastic role at The Children’s Society. By this point I had somewhat wandered down a career path I hadn’t intended to, my role was predominantly in fundraising which wasn’t particularly my passion. However, The Children’s Society opened up lots of possibilities for me, allowing me to gain experience working within different teams.
I was particularly enthusiastic about working with the Policy team, however much to my surprise I really disliked policy work! Even more to my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed digital work. Something I never thought would be my passion but there it was. I learned how to manage the website, email marketing, SEO, PPC (pay per click) and much more. In particular, I loved how technical and complex the digital field could be. I was using digital tools to solve problems and find solutions, it felt comparable to sitting down with a sudoku puzzle every day and the consequent high of completing that puzzle. Digital work (particularly SEO) requires such a varied degree of skills including coding, data, writing, analysis and more. When a new task arrives you can dig in to your toolbox of skills and pick out the relevant ones to use, so it can be hugely fulfilling.
After becoming a little obsessed with the digital world, the Digital team at The Children’s Society offered me the role of Digital Coordinator where I managed many of these digital areas for the whole organisation. This position allowed my skills to really flourish. From here it led me to start building my own websites and experimenting to see if I could experience the same level of success by starting from zero. I built lots of websites, experimented with different ideas, failed a lot but, importantly, I learned a lot! Then finally I started seeing results for my work and my websites started to perform really well (I have even kept a couple of these websites live as they have continued to perform well and earn passive income. I have one about food and travel called Travel Food Atlas for example).
By this point I was confident enough in my skills to start offering freelance SEO and website services on an ad-hoc basis. During the day I was working a full-time job and in the evenings I was delivering SEO projects for a range of websites from around the world. Over this period I also worked for The Guardian, a voucher affiliate website, and for an SEO agency as their Head of Search. Every one of my career moves enhanced my digital skills even further and offered even more experience of websites in different sectors, and particularly within SEO.
It wasn’t long before SEO freelancing became my main source of income as I experienced repeat clients and referrals through word-of-mouth recommendations. Since then my operations have continued to grow and I am now very lucky to work with some great clients across a wide range of industries, working on very exciting projects. I have the option to scale my operations and hire staff but right now I’m unsure whether that’s a route I’d like to go down. SEO can be a lucrative industry but it’s the passion that drives me not the money. I get to do work which I find interesting and innovative, and I have the freedom to work whenever I want from wherever I want. The independence, freedom and ability to work on projects that you feel invested in is what makes this career so great.
Whilst my career isn’t in the field I studied, I credit my university education at Portsmouth with giving me highly transferable skills both in work and in my personal life. University teaches you to be analytical, to research, to question things and to reason with conflicting points. These are skills I use every day and enable me to take on new challenges with confidence. For those who don’t yet know what they want to do in their career, I would say that’s absolutely fine! Your passion might be something that you had never thought about and it might take you by surprise. A university education is incredibly valuable whether or not you choose a career in the specific field you studied.
Tom’s graduation day in 2012