Tom Critchlow: I Left Google To Freelance Full Time!
Tom Critchlow is a freelance Strategy Consultant and creator of the very popular courses for SEO professionals at SEOMBA.com
Introducing Tom Critchlow
Tom Critchlow is a freelance Strategy Consultant and creator of the very popular courses for SEO professionals at SEOMBA.com
In today’s podcast, Tom and I talk about his career journey where he started in a support role at an accounting practice. He would later join his brother Will at Distilled and even be hired on at Google. We continue to discuss his reasoning for leaving Google and how he ended up in his current independent consultant role.
Articles referenced in our discussion:
Tom’s Resource Recommendations
How to connect with Tom Critchlow
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Nick LeRoy 00:13
Welcome to the SEO Freelancer podcast. I'm your host, Nick LeRoy. This month I speak with Tom Critchlow SEO and strategy consultant, and also well known for his courses at the SEO MBA. Before we start this month's interview, a quick note from our sponsor, Seo radar.com. We all know how many clients end up making changes that are bad for SEO. Without them talking. SEO is first, SEO radar puts you back in control of your clients issues. Whether it's weird rendering issues that crop up or a content editor that changes titles that have been optimized for Google SEO radars alert will help you stay on top of what's changing. get alerts via slack email or text message. And when that bad alert hits, you'll have full HTML archives and screenshots to easily revert quickly. Get started today with SEO radar at Seo radar.com. Thank you again to our sponsor, and let's jump into this month's episode. So thank you, Tom, for joining us today.
Tom Critchlow 01:19
Oh, thanks having me on the show. Tom, just to kick us off. Do you mind giving us a little bit of an introduction? A brief description of your background? Yeah, sure. So I got started in SEO working for my brother will Critchlow who started the distilled who some of you may or may not be familiar with this is back in the UK in 2008, let's say something like that. When I think we were at the right time in the right place, SEO kind of took off. So so we went very quickly from doing SEO for like a local hairdresser and a local restaurant. I remember there was a Castle in Scotland that I was doing SEO for a long time ago. We very quickly went from that to doing enterprise level SEO for high street brands in the UK. I remember we did a big engagement with Amazon, UK, when they were kind of launching into the UK with a dedicated team. And so yeah, it kind of took off from that. So that was where I cut my teeth, both from learning and learning, SEO, and kind of getting into the SEO industry, but also from wedding business, learning how to manage your team, learning how to close client deals, all that kind of stuff. You know, we went from me well, and Duncan, just the three of us running to steal two, I think when I left in 2011, we were I don't know somewhere about 5060 people across London, New York and Seattle. And that was the thing that brought me to New York. So I've been in New York for a decade. And, you know, I ran the New York office for distilled for a little bit. And then in 2012, join Google. So I want to go to Google for a couple years. That was very much a, an attempt to kind of get out of SEO, in a weird kind of way i i was i was very interested at that point in my career, it just kind of broadening my horizons, seeing what else was out there. And I think being in New York, I was surrounded with a lot of kind of creative technologists and people doing interesting stuff on the web more generally. And so I was kind of interested in pursuing that. Going further on that. So I went to Google for a couple years where I did a whole bunch of random stuff, including like TV ads, and internal innovation videos and product strategy stuff, most of which I was highly unqualified for. Yeah, and then like you said, since 2014, I've been out on my own doing, doing kind of freelance independent consulting work. And that's fantastic. You know, I knew of you, Tom and your brother, you know, back when you guys really started integrating with moss, you know, directly, I suspect that played a significant role into moving into the enterprise side of things, you know, and then you kind of dropped the bomb on us that you were, quote, unquote, leaving SEO and to go to Google at a non SEO role, which I always thought was interesting. And I'll link to it in the description. But I actually came across one of your posts that just said, what is it like three or four ideas you came up with? The some of them were crazy. Some of them were before their time, which again, I thought that was just really interesting. And I could see going from kind of an SEO exclusive role to a role that doesn't have to do with SEO, but is much broader in business, you know, kind of going full circle. Now. You know, I know you do broader consulting, but being able to create this SEO MBA, I suspect you would say that, that that experience at Google, and you're running distill with your brother, like those softer skills, you have to play a considerable role. Yeah, yeah, I think I've certainly got my brother to credit for a lot of that he worked in a management consulting firm before he started distilled and learned a lot of kind of foundational skills about how to communicate with senior executives, how to add polish to your work in a way that I think a lot of folks in the SEO industry in particular at that time, at least, weren't really thinking about, you know, Have, and just kind of professionalizing the work, making it ready for senior level executives, thinking about business strategy and business models more closely. And my brother insults him. And I think to me, I got interested in that stuff. And, you know, the more that I was in the SEO industry, the more that I kind of created this foundational point of view, which was that, you know, SEO is consultative, whether you're working in house or an agency, you have to persuade other teams to invest their resources against your projects, right? You know, you need the content on the PR team, the engineering team, the product team, the data teams, we need all these other teams to allocate their resources in service of our goals. And so soft skills, right, persuasion, negotiation, pitching, cross functional collaboration, communication, those things are just in my mind, those are almost the hard skills of SEO, right, those were almost the most useful bits. And that was what you know, ultimately led me to launch in the SEO MBA was, was feeling like, there was a gap in the industry that that I could I could be useful in and that I can help others learn some of those skills. And and yeah,
Nick LeRoy 06:10
yeah, without a doubt, you know, this is one of if not the main reasons I want you on this podcast, Tom was I think you were hitting what is one of the biggest opportunities for all SEOs across the board. And it really is, you know, in this executive presence or soft skills in general. I mean, one of your your first post was talking about just taking standardized SEO data that you and I would look at it export a Screaming Frog, and it all makes sense. But you know, what, once you take a screenshot and throw it on a PowerPoint, and expect C suite to understand what that means, let alone how that's gonna impact their bottom line, like you've completely lost them totally. And it kind of goes back to the conversation that I have, you know, as a freelancer, and I tend to serve as more of the enterprise also a lot of the C suite conversations. And I always say that it's 20% of my job is actually doing the SEO, it's 80%, of communicating, getting buy in and moving the boulder so that they can succeed so that they don't get in their own way. And again, this is where I become such a huge fan of the SEO MBA and a part of the SEO freelancer, I try to communicate that, you know, this is not where you go to learn SEO, you're learning some of these soft skills, and that is what's going to really differentiate you from being a good SEO, from being a good SEO consultant.
Tom Critchlow 07:29
Yeah, yeah. No, I love that what you just said that distinction between between being a current technical practitioner to actually being an effective senior level consultant, or professional, I think is that the skills gap that, that I think both of us are kind of pointing out?
Nick LeRoy 07:43
Yeah, and, and I think you would agree, we all know, some individuals that are just crushing SEO, they're gonna rank for various casino sites and affiliates, and they can make a ton of money. And that's not going to be a priority for them. It's that's the communication because, you know, they found their little niche. But I think for the 98% of us whether, as you mentioned before, whether your agency side in house freelancer, this is just a skill that you can't run away from. And I definitely want to spend a little bit more time jumping into that a little bit. But if you don't mind, let's take one step back. One question that I asked all my guests that people love this is can you explain to us your first job out of school, your professional career, and what were you earning at the beginning of your career? Yeah,
Tom Critchlow 08:28
so my, my first job out of college was working for an accounting team inside a big, it was a big call center organization. And, you know, when I say I worked in accounting, what that meant was scanning invoices. I used like, one by one, I took a piece of paper and fed it into the scanner, and then I stamped it with a rubber stamp. And I did that all day long. I don't remember exactly how much I was earning. But it must have been somewhere like 14 16,000 pounds in the UK. So
Nick LeRoy 08:57
obviously making a ton of money, right?
Tom Critchlow 08:58
Yeah, I mean, it wasn't a highly paid job at all. And then I quickly went quickly went from that to working in a digital agency a few years later, where I don't remember again, exactly how much I was earning probably somewhere in the 16 to 18k range. Because I had no digital experience. Right. That was again, it was your level job as an account manager. And so that was kind of, yeah, that was where I got my start.
Nick LeRoy 09:21
Just out of curiosity, so I'm assuming this was prior to joining your brother with a steel.
Tom Critchlow 09:25
Yep. Yep. So I joined a digital agency as an account manager. And there were a full service agency. So we do SEO, PPC web design, what build and open account manager. So I was, I used to be the first point of contact for clients. And what was interesting for that was, you know, our SEO function at that agency, at the time when I joined was terrible. And in fact, two people in the SEO team left the day that I joined. And so I was the one on the phone to the angry clients all day long, who are demanding SEO results. So that was really the first exposure I had to being like, well, maybe I can figure this SEO stuff out myself, because it seems like people are already annoyed at it. And we don't have a team that does it anymore. I got to do something because people are yelling at me all day long. And that was that was kind of where I first started to dip my toes into reading Moz and, you know, reading the forums and being like, what is this SEO business anyway? And then went from there to join my brother's company back when it was kind of barely a company that was willing Duncan, the two of them started a web design business. And I kind of joined to to add on the kind of SEO component, and, and the rest is history. That's to say,
Nick LeRoy 10:31
I love that story. I think what's interesting, though, is unlike some or most SEOs, where you jump in and day one, you're starting with the Moz, or the Whiteboard Fridays, you know, jumping into the Yahoo Site Explorer, like most of us back in the day, did you know you were actually dealing with the people skills, the sauces, you're talking to people hiring, what the issues were. So it'd be interesting, because I think, little to nobody ever starts their career focusing on that aspect. We all grab, you know, the Moz, SEO, beginner to SEO guide, and you're trying to learn those skills. So like I said, I wonder if this kind of full circle, if that plays a significant role in you know, what you're accomplishing today?
Tom Critchlow 11:12
Yeah, yeah, quite, quite possibly. I mean, I certainly think that customer service, as a kind of foundational frame is something that sticks with you for a long time, right? Anytime you've had to be directly client facing, you know, helping helping them navigate their problems, sell things to them communicate things through them, clearly. I think that that is a that's a really useful skill that that sets
Nick LeRoy 11:35
without a doubt. So real quick, just kind of wrap it up some of your experience. So you are part of this still, you guys are growing like crazy. You're having a ton of great experiencing growth in your career, you know, as we've kind of saw through the digital realm, but then you decide, like I said, from an outsider perspective, it kind of felt like overnight, I'm sure you and will and others that are closer knew this was coming. But you left to go to Google and not in an SEO role. Can you walk us through a little bit like what had you kind of go with that? You know, angle? And then more importantly, after you spent that time there, you left Google? So yeah, walk us through that a little bit, if you don't mind?
Tom Critchlow 12:12
Yeah, yeah. So I think, you know, there was a moment in time, around 2009 2010, where, as SEOs, we had some of the kind of most, most access and most control over digital dollars, right? So there was this moment in time when SEO was the thing driving companies to go online to launch an E commerce part of their business, and so on and so forth. And as SEO professionals who've been working on the internet for a while, right, we will often very senior, were bought into very strategic senior conversations, and we would look, we would turn it, we would look down our noses at all the other teams, right, we'd be like, well, PR teams, they didn't know how to digital stuff. And, you know, web designers, they don't know how to do digital stuff. And ad agencies, they don't know how to do digital stuff, you know. And so I felt like there was a moment in time 2009 2010 When SEO was kind of most ascendant, right? As an SEO, you could get access to very, very serious decision makers, you can be involved in very strategic projects. And when I moved to New York, and it doesn't 11 I think that was really a catalyst for me to understand that the tides were changing. And that there were just as many people who worked in PR, who had grown up with the internet in the same way that we had, and the ad agencies were doing really innovative digital stuff. And web design agencies and web development agencies actually knew how to do SEO pretty well now. And so I think what I saw the writing on the wall was that where SEO had been one of the most effective ways to get access to the senior levels of business, I saw the SEO was only a way to do that, and that there were all these other disciplines doing really interesting things. And, you know, there was a little bit I think, maybe, maybe a frustration or so right at the back in 2011. I would go to SEO conferences, and people would hold up these kind of quote unquote, examples of content marketing, or like, you know, great, great content campaigns. And I looked at them all. And I'd be like, they were all made by an agency. None of these things that were holding up in the inside the SEO industry, as good examples of contact were made by SEO, and they're all made by content agencies, ad agencies, or PR agencies. And so again, that was kind of just opening my eyes to maybe there's a bigger world out there. And again, so that was kind of the industry shift. And that was coupled with a personal just shift of feeling like I've been in that industry for a long time, I was still kind of young, and I was like, I just want more experienced across more things, you know, and so the the job of Google kind of kind of fell out of the sky and it kind of serendipitous way, which we can talk about another time, but yeah, kind of opened itself up. And I was like, this seems like fun. I'm gonna go do it. So yeah, I went to go work at Google for a couple of years. And that experience was, you know, I mean, I learned a ton inside Google. It was a it was a super, super formative experience in terms of opening my eyes to all the things I wanted to open my eyes to, right. You know, I ran TV campaigns and I got to rub shoulders with some of the, like best designers in the world, you know, the guy that redesigned the Google logo, like sat two desks away from me. And so it was like, it was great. And I really enjoyed that stuff. I also felt like a kind of a, a fish out of water, or a sheep in wolf's clothing or whatever, like, Yeah, I kind of felt a little bit like the odd one out, surrounded, but in particular, by a lot of creative types, with, you know, and I was trying to bring a kind of an analytical and business mindset to the work. So, you know, I never really found my place at Google. But you know, don't really regret my time that it certainly did what it what I set out to do, which was, you know, give me a stepping stone into a new career, a new path, give me a new range of experiences. And then, you know, it's funny, you talk about freelancing. When I when I left Google 2014, I had this kind of high hope that I would do freelancing work around, the kind of stuff that I've been doing is like, a Google right is kind of like, you know, digital transformation, innovation work, you know, blah, blah, blah. And, of course, nobody knew me for that work, right? I didn't have any reputation, or audiences, or the very first contract that I got after I left Google Web SEO projects, right. And that felt a little bit demoralizing, honestly, you know, at first, I was like, Oh, am I gonna go back to doing SEO audits, having just spent two years with Google that feels like going backwards in my career. And what I, what I realized was that being independent, being a solo consultant, versus being an agency gave me much more freedom to get deeper inside clients, organizations deeper inside clients problems, you know, the structure of the kind of work that I was doing was, I would say, Well, I'm not going to do an SEO audit for you. But I'm going to come sit in your team, three days a week, right, and I'll be in your office, I'll be in your flowers. And and that gives you such a richer context for what the problems are solutions, or soft skills that we talked about, you know, getting buy in and budget and winning over stakeholders. And so over the years, my consulting work evolved from what you were kind of affectionately call SEO consulting, into what I now call strategy consulting, although, you know, where do you where do you draw the line? But, you know, that grew out of that, that kind of SEO work. So anyway, that was a long winded answer to your question, but that was kind of the journey that I went on.
Nick LeRoy 17:14
Yeah, I think everything you said was fantastic. And the first thing that you said that you noticed, back in 2011, that I think is coming around full circle, again, as you know, ad agencies and PR, are doing a lot of work that is essentially working for SEO. Right. And I think before you called out its content creation, but I would argue all the like Link Building wins that we are seeing now. Nobody's talking about going out in manually outreaching. You know, they get six links, and this is winning, and they're creating PR campaigns. Right. And it's really amazing to see not only that you were forward thinking and seeing that 10 years ago, but that is still I don't want to call it an issue. It's the evolution of SEO, SEO has gone so far beyond, you know, let's do your on page SEO, let's structure everything, let's create some content, and you quote unquote, when it really has evolved, so I definitely understand, you know why that can be frustrating, you know, especially when you're on the agency side. Yeah, I'm a recovering agency guy, too. I did 10 plus years on it before going out on my own. So you and I definitely understand that. But going back to what you're saying, I think a lot of people would look at getting a job at Google, that's kind of like a pinnacle career point. You know, that's a huge job at a huge company, you know, and assuming salary kind of goes along with that. I think a lot of people that are interested in freelancing look as an opportunity to double down on the freedom and you know, the the earning potential, but so you're coming from what I understand the pie to be a sizeable income at Google, and you're having to go out, and that's what I'm sure was kind of the baseline for you defining success. So with that in mind, I'd love to know, like, what precautions if any, did you take before you went out on your own? And like, at what point in time did you kind of realize, alright, I'm on my own. And this is going to work like I can keep going versus I need to, you know, throw my resume back in to the cesspool?
Tom Critchlow 19:20
Yeah. Well, I definitely had a good safety net, you know, I think and that safety net takes a whole bunch of different kind of kind of forms, right? I had money in the bank, which was nice and necessary. I'm also like, a white dude, right? Like, you know, like there are kind of opportunities available. And I don't take that for granted or try not to take that for granted. But I think definitely a part of it right. There was a kind of a general safety net or some feeling of safety that I could get a job if I needed to, if this thing didn't work out, had some runway. If I remember correctly, back at the time, I think I had somewhere between three and six months. Kind of, you know true runway, a feeling like If I don't earn a single dollar for three to six months, I'll I'll be okay. After that things, things start to get rocky, as I hadn't had some some cushion, I had some safety net psychological safety and financial safety. I also had kind of preliminary client relationships. So like people are, I'd already had some discussions with folks about maybe doing some consulting work. And that gave me the confidence or feeling of safety that client work was there without any effort, right that I could, I could draw that up. And so all of those things kind of combined to when I made the leap. You know, I mean, honestly, the big trigger for making the leap was that you haven't been at Google for a couple of years and not feeling super happy that it was when I finally got my green card, in my hand, sure, gave me the final bit of kind of safety to feel like I could actually go and do my own thing rather than having to go and get another job. But it wasn't all roses, you know, I stepped out on on my own. And it took me it took me a bow a year or year and a half ish to get back to the point where I was replacing my Google salary. And probably took me another, let's say, 18 months to feel like I was kind of like, alright, this is the path that I want to be on, right. And in the middle of all of that there were ups and downs and highs and lows, as I'm sure you're familiar with. You know, I remember I did some interviewing right and sent my resume to low spots, I remember there was a low spot was a summer of 2015 2016. So a year or two in a lot of my consulting work dried up just just the way it went. And I sent my resume, I sent my resume out to you, I was like maybe I want a job. Maybe that's the thing that I need to be doing. You know, had some job interviews and job offers, and got very close to taking some of those and ultimately decided that the freelancing consulting world was too enticing and client work pick back up and then, you know, so I don't think it's quite so linear or straightforward. Or, you know, it's not so black and white as we as it maybe looks in hindsight, right. You know, this was always the path. And this was what I was doing the whole time, you know, you kind of zigzag across these things, for sure.
Nick LeRoy 22:07
But it's great, you know, someone that, you know, has the success that you've had, it's great to hear that, you know, like you said, it's not black and white, you didn't, you know, leave day one make a million dollars, and it just continues to go up go up hill every day. You know, I think for everybody listening to this, and, you know, read my newsletter, it's like, there's always this picture of freelancing is only amazing. And I try to kind of balance it off with you know, things are crazy. You know, I've talked about health insurance, which I'm sure you would have very strong opinions coming from the UK to New York, where you're having to talk to your family. Yep, no, I literally just posted the other day, it's like a screenshot from my bank, I pay $1,800 a month for my family of five. You don't have I know you have a family. It's probably just too expensive. But like I said, I won't necessarily go down that rabbit hole. But one thing that I would be curious about. So when you went out on your own, you said that you weren't necessarily happy at Google. So the change makes sense. But did you have like a perceived goal? You know, what did you What was it strictly the freedom? Was it that you wanted to what I call a kind of chase the money you wanted to, you know, make X amount of dollars? Or what was it that was really exciting and ultimately made you
Tom Critchlow 23:24
take the leap? Yeah. Again, there's a kind of a complicated, multi layered answer to that question. When I quit Google, I was actually the kind of the, the narrative of the story that I was telling people. And I told myself, even when I quit Google was that I was launching an art startup. So me and my partner had launched this online art collective, called fiercely curious. And that had done some interesting things. We were making art sales, we had a collector of artists here in Brooklyn, we were running pop up shows around Brooklyn, and obsessively. That was a little bit of the cover story, if you like, that wasn't the cover story at the time, was I was going to focus on that we were going to build this business. It was like a little ecommerce thing. We had these live events, and it was growing, and it was driving revenue. And we thought Great, I'm gonna go full time on this. I'm going to do a little bit of consulting and freelance work on the side to, you know, keep some money coming in. But that was the thing. So you think about goals or aims? You know, I think my goal and aim was great. I'm going to quit Google so I can work on this thing that I have, right? The shirts off business. You know, and that was kind of attractive in a certain sense of, I'm building something I'm being like a startup person, you know that some of these things were more attractive to me when I was younger. But it was it took about, I'd say about six to nine months of two things happening. One realizing that making money in the art world is really hard. And to that I actually really enjoyed consulting work. And so it kind of were about six, nine months into it when we decided that you know what, actually I'm going to you know, my partner stayed full time on the art business, but I was gonna go full time I'm on the consulting side. And that would, as a family that would give us more stable income, so that we could actually increase our runway for our business and keep doing that. But it took some of the financial pressures off. Because consulting is just honestly more lucrative than ours. And, you know, sometimes I wish that wasn't so but I actually really enjoy consulting. So maybe that's not a bad thing. But yeah, that was kind of the story. When you think about stepping out of Google. Yes, it was like getting out of that situation, doing something new. But it wasn't I didn't really have clarity that I didn't know I was going to spend, whatever eight years that I spent now, as a consultant, right, I didn't know that being being a consultant was going to become this kind of big part of my identity, I didn't know that I would enjoy it so much. You know, I've done a lot of client work previously to still write. So I was no stranger to client work. And I didn't necessarily imagine the client work would be as fulfilling or as creative or as interesting, as I'd managed to make it. I think that was a kind of as much of a surprise to me as anyone else.
Nick LeRoy 25:55
I love that you kind of made a double hop, it's like you left Google with one dream. And then you know, something that you were interested in, let's just even call it a hobby, that aspect of the consulting side. And then I don't know, are you still doing the art? Like, is that still running too?
Tom Critchlow 26:11
You know, I think it's been a little bit on the backburner with, you know, we had two kids over the last six years, and there's just been a pandemic in the way and that's throwing a wrench in some of our plans for a, you know, kind of doubled down on consulting as a way to kind of get through all of that. So but so that, yeah, we just, funnily enough, we just had a big commission from, from a hotel chain that wants to, you know, find some some custom work in every one of their hotel rooms, and stuff. So definitely, really interesting stuff happening on that side, it's been a very creatively fulfilling project and an interesting project to run. It's opened a lot of doors and built build a really interesting network of people, especially in New York, that I never would have built a network with otherwise, right? You're very much outside of the tech industry, you know, in creative industries, you know, both artists themselves and everyone who has kind of adjacent, it's been a great way to open doors and build networks and make friends, which, you know, it's not, it's not necessarily the reason you set out through these things. But certainly, in hindsight, that's been one of the biggest kind of a biggest areas of value.
Nick LeRoy 27:17
One thing that I imagine you would agree with here is I wrote a post recently talking about how freelancers should be aware of diversifying their revenue. You know, similar to what you had said before, you had the quote, unquote, bad years where clients leave. And that is the biggest risk to being a consultant or freelancers your clients come in, they go, and the goal is to never have them all leave, we're all on board at one point in time, right. But when you can have things like this aren't venture that you have, or smaller things that I'm trying to get into, like Seo jobs.com, it's like an opportunity. Because if you can diversify your revenue, then if one were to ever dry up, hopefully, it's never both of them at the same time. So there's diversity in the actual clients you take, there's diversity in the types of revenue that you have stopped. I love hearing that you are not just consulting all day, every day, you have the SEO MBA, which I want to talk to you a little bit more about, you know, you have this artventure, you might have others, but it certainly gives you more safety than what I would say a regular nine to five job can provide, you know, or just doubling down in only the art world or the consulting world.
Tom Critchlow 28:25
Yeah, I actually disagree with that a little bit, I have some complex thoughts. I actually wrote a blog post called called the jigsaw of independence, about trying to assemble an independent life and put all the pieces together. So I don't disagree with you that having a kind of blended income source is useful. But I think that one of the things that I've seen for independent consultants and freelancers that causes a lot of anguish, and anxiety, and burnout, honestly, is trying to chase too many different types of thing at once, like trying to build a startup while you're doing consulting, or trying to build a product and a recurring revenue stream while you're doing consulting. And actually, you know, the, for me, I actually kind of handed off a lot of that business to my partner quite early on, right? And for the longest time, right, so let's say 2015 to 2020. Right? At least five years, consulting was the only revenue stream. And that gave me an incredible amount of focus and peace, did it dare I say it was like, I know what I'm doing. I know, I know how to make money. And I'm not trying to chase these other modes work, right. Consulting is my job consulting is how I pay the bills. And consulting is almost always the most important thing, right? It's kind of like, you know, if a consulting client on boards, and that's where I spend my time, if I have somebody paying me money, then that's where I spending my time. And I'm not trying to balance that or compete that with some other priority that has this nebulous kind of time commitment, emotional commitment, and so on. I say all that because when I launched the SEO MBA in 20, last year 2020 to 2021. Time pandemic screwed up everything. Absolutely. When I launched the SEO MBA, suddenly, I had these two competing priorities right, I was doing consulting work, and I was trying to launch the SEO MBA. And that brought back to boards relief, this feeling of very much competing priorities, right, it's very, very difficult to prioritize your time, compartmentalize your time, assign focus, when you have these things that have very different modes of working very different timescales of value. And, you know, you want is self directed one is client directed one is paying immediately one has this kind of nebulous payoff. And so balancing the the consulting work versus the SEO MBA has actually been very challenging for me, over the last year, year and a half. So I say that as a kind of word of caution of a lot of people, I think, try and chase this kind of diversified revenue stream building products, building recurring revenue, and in doing so, they make consulting really stressful for themselves, right. And so I don't kind of strictly disagree with what you're saying, I diversify revenue is useful, but I just think it's really important to be clear about, you know, consulting alone is hard enough, right, managing three or four clients at once is hard, right? And so when you layer on any kind of other project, any other kind of thing, then you're really running the risk of burnout of stress of, you know, and sorrow. So, just a word of caution or something to think about it.
Nick LeRoy 31:39
No, I think that's, that's great. You know, there's nothing more better than when you can have healthy conversations, especially when you're coming from two different sides of it. You know, I think I certainly have three or four, you know, rebuttals, and like I said, less of say, you're right or wrong. You know, I think it's just very interesting. I think everything that you said makes a lot of sense. And I do think there's a lot to be said to mental health and burnout especially. Yeah, I think everything in life is about balance. Yeah. And I think it really depends. You know, what, what is most important for your goals today? What are some of your goals for the future? And like you said, maybe it's not one or the other, but it's leaning towards, you know, what helps you meet some of those goals. So, really, actually appreciate that take on, it just shows that to people having a little bit different approach to it can actually be 90% overlap. Yeah. You know, again, yeah, just how do you how do you get to those goals? Yeah,
Tom Critchlow 32:32
yeah, no, I agree. And I think, you know, I've been a big champion in my writing of, there's no one way to be an independent consultant that no one way to be a freelancer. Right, everyone carves their own mix in their own perspective and their own approach. And I think that's healthy. That's the way it should be. You know, I think that one one last point on that kind of mix of projects is, and I wrote about this, in that post I wrote, The jigsaw of independence is people, people focus a lot on time capacity, right? They focus a lot on kind of kind of the time, kind of bandwidth or the calendar bandwidth. And so they try and slot in, like, can I take on another project right now kind of take another client, etc. And I'd argue that the type of work that you do, the number of types of work is far more impactful than the raw time commitment, right? You know, I've had, I've had moments when I'm working 60 7080 hour weeks. But there's a huge alignment of it being like a certain type of consulting or a two clients in the same kind of niche, same type. And there's a lot of kind of momentum that I can get all kinds of clarity that I can get focused by, by keeping everything in a tight frame, versus having a few different clients in radically different industries or clients in radically different types, right. One is a big retainer. One is a lightweight consulting thing, you layer on top trying to like build it, build your own course on side like that, where the number of even though the actual time commitment, commitment on paper is not extreme, the different types of work that you're trying to do create this, this mental health headspace, right? They fill up your kind of band, your mental bandwidth, in a way that I think is quite insidious, right? It's quite, it's quite easy to track yourself accidentally, emotionally signing up to these different types of things. And there anyway, that's, you know, and again, everyone's perspective is different. Everyone has a different approach and a different kind of perspective. But I think it's something again, that it's something I tried to do in my own writing of when you read a lot of the kind of commonly accepted literature about how to be a freelancer, how to be an independent consultant, you read a lot about, you know, carefully managing a time tracking and your capacity planning and all of this kind of stuff. And I like to bring a slightly alternative approach, which is I think that you're kind of mental headspace is is the dominant thing. Or rather, I should say, my mental headspace is the dominant thing for me more than my actual hours as the thing that guides my stress levels, and so that I pay more attention to my mind. mental capacity that I due to the actual number of hours worked.
Nick LeRoy 35:04
And you and I are very much on the same page. And I wonder if it's a lot of our previous agency experience, like, you know, where you tend to work a lot more than maybe you need to or should write because I do also prioritize a lot of the mental side. And, you know, this is a conversation I had with Eli Schwartz a lot, you know, it's very much the SEO value based pricing versus trading your time for money. Yeah. And I think from my perspective, it's like, in a perfect world, we're always trying to automate making some money, we're trying to chase that elusive passive income. So it's just making sure it's like, how are we able to hit some, you know, like you said, it's paying the bills today versus paying the bills tomorrow. And it's really interesting, I do agree with you, there's a lot of effort that I think a lot of people don't necessarily realize, in taking your brain from consulting with clients, and switching over to a course a newsletter, a podcast. And those are things that you're risking to guaranteed payday of working with people that are paying you, whether it be for the hour or for retainer versus something that may or may not work. So I do agree with you. I think that it's I don't know, again, I'll kind of go back to what I said. I think it's just really balancing it all. For me, it's more of a balancing game. Like you said, maybe it's it's not doing the balance, but I think that's just really kind of learning what is best for you what's healthy, you know, and ultimately gonna go back to like, we said, what are your goals? Totally?
Tom Critchlow 36:28
Yeah, yeah, I think everyone has to find the right balance.
Nick LeRoy 36:31
And so I want to be respectful of your time here. But let's wrap up by talking a bit about the SEO MBA, you know, you talked a little bit about, you know, existing and spending your time and you know, it's kind of a venture into the unknown. But can you walk us through a little bit more? You know, what the purpose of the SEO MBA is, we talked quite a bit at the very beginning about, you know, the soft skills and how it's a gap in the industry. But can you elaborate a little bit more? Yeah, well, so
Tom Critchlow 36:57
the origin story, I think, is kind of interesting. So I was, I was working on a big consulting gig in 2019. And 2020. It's kind of just right when the pandemic was starting, and I was helping a big fortune 500 company, basically build an SEO team from scratch. They went from a team of SEO of three SEOs to a team of like 50 people, nominally in the SEO team, of which, you know, we're like eight, I think, full time SEO is there's a big product squad, there's a big editorial squad. And so as all of that, you know, I put the strategy together, got buy in from the CEO, and from the board, and they said, great, go spend, you know, a few million dollars on building out this team. And then the CEO turns around to me, and he says, Well, okay, so you gotta go, you gotta go hire this VP of SEO, it's gonna oversee this big team, right? That's your, that's the first thing you got to do. And I was like, oh, right, I gotta go execute this plan, not just put it in PowerPoint. And so anyways, I spent a long time, a lot of the other 19, lot of 2020, interviewing exclusively senior level SEO professionals for that VP of SEO role. And I spoke to a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds. I spoke to many people that knew a lot more about the technical workings of SEO than I do. I'm not, you know, I'm not the best at that. And what was clear, though, was that I couldn't find anyone that I was comfortable putting in front of the CEO, I couldn't find somebody who could manage a p&l, build a, you know, run a team that size, and operate a kind of program inside a company of that size. And it all came to a head when I found this one person in particular that we were very, very close to hiring. And I went to CEO and I said, got this one person, I really liked them. They're almost there. They're just, they're just lacking a little bit of that kind of executive presence, the need, and the CEO said, Well, maybe we should hire them. And you should train that in. And I was like, I could do that. And then I was like, I kind of paused a bit. And I was like, oh, yeah, I could do that. Yeah. That was like, Oh, right. This is a thing that is like, a huge skills, skills gap in the industry, right? I've just spent all this time interviewing candidates and seeing firsthand, like, as the hiring manager, I'm not hiring these people, because the lack of the skills and like a concrete skills gap in the industry. It's a thing that is super needed, and is the thing that kind of takes somebody from being a technical professional to a to a, you know, a senior, kind of executive professional. And it's also a thing that kind of uniquely fits my skill set. Right? I have the SEO background, I spent a long time caring about consulting skills, working with senior decision makers, senior executives, and so on. And so that was really the genesis I was like, Alright, I should go do this. So the SEO MBA that the name stuck, and I was like, that's the name that's the brand. I'm going to launch it as a newsletter. I always knew courses were going to come on the horizon. And that was the first quarter it was the fourth first course in November last year, that was the SEO MBA course on executive presence. And then the second course was launched about a month ago the audit client management. first course is very much for kind of anyone who's seen here, whether agency or in house, the course it just went live the audit client management is all about agency side SEO? So it's all about if you work at an agency, how do you manage clients, effectively client communication, client, retention, upsells, all of that kind of stuff. And both the newsletter and the courses again, focus exclusively on the things we talked about the soft skills, right, the communication, the leadership strategy, working with senior stakeholders working cross functionally, I try, I try not to teach anything about how to do SEO, the kind of technical skills, I think there's plenty of other good resources for that. And that tends to be a more commonly accepted skill set. So yeah, that was, that was the background of how we launched it, where I'm at looks at the second course was went live, in terms of where it goes next. That is very much TBD, trying to figure that out. Right now, if you have ideas, send me a postcard.
Nick LeRoy 40:42
Yeah, and as we had talked about before, I can't remember if it was offline or online earlier, I truly believe that the soft skills are the difference between what makes a really good SEO, and a really great SEO. And honestly, you can take, you know, he's writing this course and you know, the newsletter for SEO specifically, but a lot of what he's writing about regularly within the newsletters, you know, the posts, the actual courses can be helpful for any specific area of skill set. You know, this, this ability to be able to communicate the value to taking in the weeds information, and taking what's most important, create headlines, easy to consume. PowerPoints is just so critical. And it's something that, you know, I continue to prioritize and work on extensively, because I know it's what really can make a freelancer even stand out versus an agency or potentially even an in house team. So, again, go to Seo nba.com. At minimum, sign up for the newsletter, check out the content. If you haven't already, I think you'll quickly realize how great you know Tom's work is, again, Todd just can't publicly thank you for doing that. I think this is a huge gap in our industry. And, you know, looking forward to a lot more of your future work?
Tom Critchlow 41:57
Well, I really appreciate those kind words, it makes getting feedback that people enjoy and find value in the writing and the courses is makes it all worthwhile. So I really appreciate that.
Nick LeRoy 42:08
Real quick, before we let you go here, can you give us any recommendations just from being a consultant? Are there individuals that you think people should follow courses outside of the SEO MBA, you know, our newsletters that you recommend people, you know, follow or sign up for?
Tom Critchlow 42:27
Yeah, I mean, Paul Millerd, a friend of mine has a great podcast called Think boundless. And he also has an online course about thinking like a strategy consultant. I think that's a great, a great course, for anyone who's kind of independent and thinking about how to navigate that stuff. Does there's a book the business of expertise by David Baker, that I found really useful. There's another book by Alan Buys million dollar consulting, which is a little bit more rah rah, like, I don't always love to tone. I kind of very aggressive. Yeah, like, I'm not sure I would like Alan, if I met him in real life. And that's no, no, don't get me to speak badly of him. But I just, you know, we don't think we see things the same way. And yet, there was a lot of good advice in the book, if you can kind of repass for the rah rah stuff. So yeah, those are some of the sources that have been useful for me. And then yeah, I outside of the SEO MBA on Tom Cruise, show.com. I do a lot of writing about independent consulting generally, and the ups and downs and inner workings of that that life. So if you're into that, yeah, check out check out some of that
Nick LeRoy 43:32
Fantastic. And last, but not least, people listening today, how can they get in touch with you?
Tom Critchlow 43:38
Twitter is probably where I'm kind of most active and probably a waste most of my time at Tom crystal on Twitter, my personal website, Tom picture.com. And yeah, the SEO MBA, which is Seo mba.com. Fantastic. Well, thank you again, so much, Tom, for joining us today. I'll make sure to link everything that we've talked about with full transcript down in the description below. You can find that at the SEO freelancer.com Thanks, Tom. Thanks. I'm on the show.