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What I’ve Learnt: Tom Etherington, Operations Director, Evolved Search


Tom leads the strategic offering at Newcastle-based Evolved Search, having joined the agency three years ago as Head of Search.

A multiple award-winning company, Evolved Search was founded in 2014, working on SEO, PPC, digital PR, content marketing, CRO, and more to ensure the best ROI for clients. In 2020 alone, Evolved has won five awards – including a Northern Digital Award and a Drum Search Award.

We heard from former Rising Star and SEO specialist Tom about the lessons he’s taken away from his career.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Writing a to-do list. I tend to get pulled from pillar to post in my role, so I’ve found that the most effective way to get more done is to write a realistic list of actions for the day, prioritise them, and try to get through as many as possible. It definitely helps to feel like I’ve accomplished something come the end of the day, too.

What’s been your luckiest break?

There are quite a few moments that I look back on and consider “breaks” that helped me to get where I am today, but I’d put most of them down to determination and a lot of effort, rather than luck.

The one that I would consider lucky was winning an industry ‘Rising Star’ award back in 2016, which definitely got my name out there and helped to land my next job interview, at the company where I’m fortunate to work now. I still don’t know how I won though!

What’s your best failure?

There have been a few memorable ‘sink or swim’ moments, including a few nervous client phonecalls and meetings early on that made me realise that not being able to present could hold me back. I’ve presented to full rooms of people and stood up in boardrooms of global brands, but would never have imagined that would be possible when I first started out.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

It would have to be any time and money that I’ve spent outside of work on learning, whether it’s buying domains and hosting to build websites to practice with, or training courses and books.

This really helped me to progress quickly in my first couple of years in SEO, and it’s something I’ve encouraged other people to do. I’ve also freelanced in my spare time for a while, which has meant sacrificing a lot of evenings and weekends, but it’s definitely worth it for what I’ve learnt.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

A few of my potential suggestions have already been mentioned in this series, such as ‘Agencynomics’ and ‘Shoe Dog’, but I still have to go with ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Dr. Spencer Johnson, even though it’s been said. I only recently heard about this book and, although it’s a simple concept and can be read in under an hour, the principles can be applied to different aspects of work and life.

Making sure you deal with changes in the best way is advice that people could need right now more than ever.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

It wasn’t too long ago that I was 21, and the main piece of advice would actually be about age. Don’t let this become a factor in your progression or how people treat and respect you. I should have had more confidence despite the traditional view that experience and seniority is based on time served. Luckily, I had some brilliant managers and people around me that pushed me forward.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I think being thrown in at the very deep end in my first full-time role has had the biggest influence, effectively managing all clients and the day-to-day running of a small agency – although it wasn’t fun at the time.

In terms of people, I’ve had some great managers, but it has to be Ian McIntosh and David Watts, the co-founders of Evolved, who brought me in and have trusted in me to help grow the business.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

It’s only by chance that I ended up in digital marketing, as I had studied journalism at Teesside University, completed all of the additional NCTJ qualifications, and was already working as a sports journalist covering Premier League and International football – it was pretty much all I wanted to do.

It surprised quite a few people when I left it behind, but the novelty had quickly worn off and my heart wasn’t in it – the only downside is that my mates don’t find my work stories half as interesting now.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

The obvious and much-needed change is more flexibility when it comes to remote working, but as we’ve always encouraged this, for us I think it will be how client-agency relationships have changed. There has been a very “human” element to the crisis, seeing your clients’ businesses potentially at risk, your main contacts being furloughed or working from home, and generally the health and wellbeing of people you work alongside or with.

It feels like walls have come down that are often created during client-agency relationships and more honest, transparent conversations are happening, which will no doubt have to continue.

What does success look like to you?

Success for me is running a business that people are proud to work for and that clients want to work with, and taking that as far as possible to leave a positive impact and legacy on the industry. In the distant future, I’d like to be in a position where my toughest daily decision is whether to spend time at the pool or the beach, but there’s still plenty to do before that!

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