This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!
Tom landed in a career that could easily transition into working remotely. He said goodbye to the office and hello to countless countries. He’s also diversified his work and emphasized earning passive income. Tom offers some great bits of advice to aspiring nomads in his interview below.
Thank you for sharing your story with Freedom Is Everything, Tom!
Key takeaways from Tom’s interview:
“I wouldn’t say nomading changed my perspective on life so much as it cemented it. I’ve always felt somewhat at home on the road, in strange places, meeting new people, and adapting to my situation. It showed me how capable I am of making a success of something if I put my mind to it.”
“My biggest piece of advice is to have a solid plan for making money before you leave. Remember that working online is what you will spend a lot of your time doing. It’s not all just fun and travel, so make sure to put in the effort to set up your income streams beforehand. You will enjoy it more if you feel like you have a reliable plan in place for keeping yourself afloat.”
“Spend your money on experiences rather than products, gadgets, or expensive clothes. Be generous, open-minded, and kind to everybody you meet. Be interested in everything and everyone – don’t constantly be looking to promote yourself and what you do, but take the time to learn about everyone you meet and everywhere you go.”
Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?
My name is Tom Crowe, and I’m an SEO Consultant from London. Essentially I help companies optimise their websites to generate more traffic from search engines.
My nomadic journey actually happened quite naturally! I had been working in SEO and digital marketing for a number of years and had my own websites that I had built as well as little freelance projects here and there. In 2018, I decided to move to Berlin. I was working remotely as Head of Search for an SEO agency that was based in the UK, and I was building up my own business(es) on the side. Eventually, I realised that if I can work with UK clients without being in the UK, I could be anywhere in the world! That was initially how it all happened.
From Germany, I then traveled to Koh Lanta in Thailand, where I stayed for a couple of months before doing a mix of travel/work in the Philippines, Taiwan, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai. In some places, I would stay for longer periods (Bali, Chiang Mai, Koh Lanta). Other times I would just put the laptop away and fully travel!
At the start of 2020, I was in Bali when we first heard about covid, but everyone assumed it would disappear. More and more people left the coworking spaces, and I ended up back in Koh Lanta in March before eventually deciding I had to go home. Since then, I’ve been back in the UK, but I am planning to head over to South America as soon as it’s safe to do so.
What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?
I used to travel a lot anyway, even when I had a job. I would try to take 3-4 weeks of annual leave at once and do big trips around Asia, which really whet my appetite. In fact, I had covered quite a lot of Asia and Europe even before I became a nomad, so I was very familiar with the places and cultures, and I knew I loved it!
I’m not sure how I first heard about the digital nomad scene, but it was a no-brainer for me as soon as I did. My industry is so easy to transition to remote working, so I always had it in the back of my head that this might one day happen, and when I was ready, I grab the opportunity with both hands!
I wouldn’t say nomading changed my perspective on life so much as it cemented it. I’ve always felt somewhat at home on the road, in strange places, meeting new people, and adapting to my situation. It showed me how capable I am of making a success of something if I put my mind to it.
Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your business.
My main business is that I am an SEO Consultant, but I also own a range of websites that generate passive income because I should practice what I preach, right?! My business really came about organically. By the age of 29, I felt like I had really good experience and skills in my field, and I was the Head of Search for an agency. I built a website for my consultancy services. I started generating traffic from Google, leading to a steady increase in leads over time, leading to this income source taking over my job. I was doing both at the same time for a while, but that became unsustainable.
Since I am quite SEO mad, I also consistently built new websites to test, learn and grow new sources of revenue. Back in 2016, I built a website about interesting foods around the world after spotting a few SEO gaps in the market, and that took off quite quickly. I also love to travel and try new foods from different cultures, so that really helped, but it was the knowledge of SEO that really allowed it to become a reliable source of income.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?
My biggest piece of advice is to have a solid plan for making money before you leave. Remember that working online is what you will spend a lot of your time doing. It’s not all just fun and travel, so make sure to put in the effort to set up your income streams beforehand. You will enjoy it more if you feel like you have a reliable plan in place for keeping yourself afloat.
Meeting people is easiest in places with coworking spaces and nomad communities, so if you thrive in social situations, definitely head to places like Canggu, Chiang Mai, Koh Lanta, Tulum, or Medellin.
What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?
My absolutely favourite place in the world has to be New Zealand. It’s an absolute wonderland of awe-inspiring landscapes and geological features – mountains, glaciers, lakes, volcanoes, caves, beaches, hot springs, geysers, rolling countryside, and so much more. Although it’s not as easy to work from there!
In terms of properly living the nomad lifestyle, Canggu in Bali has to be the absolute best. There are so many like-minded people, coworking spaces, great bars, excellent food, strong internet, and amazing places to explore. It’s super cheap, too. You can live a really good lifestyle without breaking the bank (but remember that wages are low in Indonesia, so be sure to be generous with tips and respect the locals who make the privileged experience possible).
What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone who wants to travel with a similar style?
I’m very lucky with what I do since I’m self-employed, I can work as much or as little as I like. This means I could do inhibited travel for weeks, then work for a couple of months in a spot like Bali and travel again for a few more weeks.
When I travelled to New Zealand, I was able to take virtually a month off just to be able to travel properly. I did this by selling high-value services that can be delivered in 1-2 days. This means that I could book a hotel for a day, get my head down and earn enough money to keep me going for three more weeks.
This style of travel is most suitable for those who are freelance or have passive income. If you own a business, like I do, I would recommend promoting high-value services that last anywhere from 1 day to 1 month. These services really kept me going and were a unique offering compared to competitors who prefer long-term clients.
What is one of your favorite travel stories/experiences?
There have been a lot, but I honestly think that going to less developed countries is a hundred times more eye-opening than any paradise like Bali. As much as I would prefer to stay long-term in Bali, I had the most overwhelming experiences in places like Myanmar and Laos.
In Myanmar, I had been staying in Inle Lake and was due to catch a 16-hour bus back to Yangon. Before getting on the bus, I must have eaten something dodgy, and the mountainous roads are very windy and undeveloped, which meant the first 2 hours of the journey were torture.
As soon as we got off the mountains, I asked the bus driver to pull over, and I took my bags off the bus and stood on the side of the road in some random town in the middle of the country. There was virtually no one around, much less anyone who spoke English!
Eventually, I found a guy with a scooter and communicated through gestures about finding a hotel. I jumped on his scooter with my 60L backpack and rucksack, and we drove for miles before reaching a hotel, the only one around, who said they were fully booked as they were hosting a big family celebration.
I sat there dejected before they came back to me and said they do have a big family suite I could have, which I snapped up! After settling into the room, I could hear the humdrum of the whole family all singing and playing instruments outside the rooms (there must have been 70 or so people). I came outside, and they welcomed me to sit with them, drink beer and eat traditional Burmese food. No one could speak a word of English, but it was an amazing experience.
The next day I went to catch another bus, but I somehow ended up at the wrong bus stop, which meant the bus drove straight past me. I flagged down another man on a scooter (everyone is a taxi driver for the right price) and got him to follow the bus until it stopped, which it luckily did after another 10 miles through the windy mountain roads!
My experiences in less developed countries felt far more eventful because things are much more difficult! It’s tougher to communicate, the services are less catered to tourists and more local, and the infrastructure isn’t great, but the experience is way more authentic and unexpected!
For someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur in your field, what’s the best advice that you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?
My best piece of advice is to build your own websites where you can constantly test, monitor, tweak and improve. You learn a hell of a lot by failing, and it’s so much easier to do that with your own websites than with a company’s!
I would also highly recommend actually properly working in the industry, in an office with a team and high-value clients, before going nomad. The experience you gain from working for a company can be crucial to your success and developing a well-rounded skill set.
I would also recommend reading well-respected SEO blogs such as Moz, Ahrefs, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable and signing up for newsletters such as Blue Array, SEO Notebook, SEOFOMO, and Growth Memo. There are tons more incredible resources, but it’s important to just keep learning and learning!
Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain customers and scale your business?
Of course, as an SEO Consultant, my main acquisition channel is through organic search, where I am usually ranking number 1 for my main keywords. However, retaining and scaling is a whole other story.
In all honesty, I work very, very hard, and I spend a lot of time thinking about customer satisfaction. My main priority is about being transparent to clients and putting systems in place that allow them to have a full overview of projects, regular updates, and quick replies. I get a lot of reviews, and they are all five stars which I am pretty sure is because of the amount of effort I put into client satisfaction.
Scaling is really hard because good people cost a lot of money, and cheap help is generally pretty bad. I have managed to build up a small team of freelancers who can help me with really process-type tasks, but it’s almost impossible to find somebody who could take on all the high-level work to the same quality without breaking the bank. But the passive income sites are a lot easier, I can train freelancers to write according to SEO and house style and to use WordPress, but I still spend a lot of time checking in and making changes, so they’re never truly passive!
What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?
Funnily enough, covid has virtually doubled my income as companies spent this year focusing on their digital presence, so SEO was in high demand! As an SEO consultant, I am at absolute max capacity and couldn’t grow any further without transitioning into an agency, which I don’t want to do. I don’t like to share my income but suffice to say it’s low six figures.
My future goals are to grow my passive income streams to overtake my consultancy income. This is going well as my sites are making enough money to reinvest back into my team to keep growing the sites. I have lots of plans for growing this side of the business, but of course, it is a big job whilst also managing my consultancy.
If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?
Spend your money on experiences rather than products, gadgets, or expensive clothes. Be generous, open-minded, and kind to everybody you meet.
Finally, be interested in everything and everyone – don’t constantly be looking to promote yourself and what you do but take the time to learn about everyone you meet and everywhere you go.
What digital tools do you use for your work/business?
Ahrefs is basically always open on my laptop, but I think the biggest game-changer has just been the Google Suite of tools (sheets, docs, Google Meet, Gmail, Data Studio) as well as Google Analytics and Search Console. I would genuinely struggle to live without all the Google tools!
Other tools I use are Asana, Slack, Screaming Frog, and good old handy Notes on Mac/iPhone.
What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?
Mini refillable travel bottles for shampoo/conditioner/shower gel
Multi socket travel adaptor plug
How can people learn more about you and your work?
I occasionally post to LinkedIn about what I’m up to and my work. I tend to mostly just share SEO-related content, though, as my travel photography is not great!