Getting to Know Our Team 1: Philip
The first in a series of responses to a standard set of interview questions sent to all our employees in the summer of 2020
Please tell us about your professional background before you joined GWS.
After completing my A-levels, I initially studied for a year towards an H.N.D. in Horticulture at Pershore College, with the aim of starting up my own herb nursery, which I began working on the following Spring in lieu of an industrial placement.
However, that summer, owing to a pending change in family circumstances, it became apparent that I would lose access to the premises I was using to propagate and store my plants the following year, and I realised that it would not be possible for me to retain my stocks and get the business going fully. So I applied through clearing that September to study towards a B.A. (Hons.) in French at the University of Hull instead, and graduated from this at the age of 23, having spent my year abroad posted as an assistant English teacher in a French professional and vocational high school (lycée) - pictured top right dining with some of the teachers I worked with during the year.
A year later, I was planning to start my own organic food shop in Shrewsbury, and after putting together and revising a thorough business plan, was offered a loan by the Prince's Youth Business Trust and a further loan from a high street bank, but it became apparent that the level of financial risk was high, so I felt I had to shelve the project. The planning process had still given me some additional valuable insights into what is involved in setting up and managing a small business.
From 2000-2001, having moved down to Bristol the previous year, I studied music production at Weston College for a year, and during that time did some voluntary work for Leigh Court Farm at Abbots Leigh, returning to my horticultural roots and helping with their organic box scheme.
The following year, I began to be involved in the management of an online community website on a voluntary basis, which gave me my first direct experience of web design for a member website, as well as SEO and CRO in that context. This was a role I maintained for five years. During these years, I did temporary work through Bristol-based agencies, and trained to be a teacher of English as a Foreign Language to Adults, qualifying from ITTC Bournemouth in the Autumn of 2003.
I had been starting to apply to TEFL jobs in Eastern Europe when I moved to Sweden the following summer. There, I worked on a writing project with my Swedish partner of the time for several years, studied Swedish to an advanced level, and studied the equivalent of A-level maths, small business economics and social studies taught in Swedish, passing all with excellent grades.
In early 2014, with the help of the award of a small local business support grant, I started up a sole trader business in Sweden selling out-of-copyright books compiled in digital form onto a range of DVD and CD titles. This gave me extensive experience with business processes such as accounting and filing tax and VAT returns, social media marketing, e-commerce website development and related SEO work, and order packing and shipment. It also gave me more specific experience with book scanning, editing photographic documents in Adobe PDF format, and designing and printing inlay cards and on-disc print.
The market for this business was a niche one, and although my customers were very happy with the quality and value of my products, it was more of a lifestyle business, so when in mid-2016 David offered me a job at GWS I decided to take up his offer and return to the UK to start work there.
Please take us through the kinds of things you do in your job at GWS in a typical week
In a typical week, I liaise with our promotional clients for whom I am in some cases the first point of contact, as well as with my colleague Sophie. Depending on the task, I may be able to update their websites myself or might assign tasks to our design and development teams.
Some major parts of my role are SEO, copywriting and user experience analysis. I am frequently to be found poring over data from Google Analytics, Google Search Console and SERP Robot to check the progress of website visibility for our clients.
Sometimes I’ll work on optimising meta-tags and writing or copy-editing new pieces of content both for clients and for our own websites.
I help with some of the invoicing, and am on hand to provide input and advise David in relation to any matters requested.
I’ve been inducted into networking too, and participate in at least one event per month.
Which aspects of the job you enjoy the most?
What I enjoy the most is the satisfaction of helping clients meet their goals. It may sound a cliché, but the human element is key to job satisfaction, and when I can see how work we’ve done on the website is driving higher rates of visits and enquiries, and when clients express gratitude for tasks completed in a timely manner and on brief, that is what keeps me engaged and motivated.
What has been your biggest achievement / something you are really proud of?
Subjectively, I tend to value my creativity the most, so I’d have to say the songs, (thus far unpublished) novels and numerous articles I’ve written over the years.
Websites and Digital marketing are constantly evolving. What changes do you see happening lately that affect the work you do in your role (be it design, development, SEO, copywriting or social media)?
The SEO landscape has been radically redefined by Google’s algorithmic changes in the past five years or so. Tactics that used to be industry-standard for increasing visibility are now regarded by Google as gaming the system and are either ineffective or, in some cases, subject to penalties. High-quality content that can be recognised algorithmically as a result of how it’s presented as a good match for what people are searching for is a key part of SEO these days.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside work?
I have long been fascinated by astrology and its place in the history of science as well as in contemporary culture. Outside my work for GWS, I’m best-known these days for maintaining and cataloguing an internationally important archive of the printed literature of astrology, including books printed as early as the 16th century. I was invited to lecture on the philosophy of astrology in the early 19th century at a conference in Italy in 2017, and also frequently contribute articles on the history of modern astrology to the specialist astrological magazine press. I’m hoping to get these compiled into a book soon.
This apart, I’m interested in philosophy, environmentalism and progressive politics in general (I took modules in both politics and philosophy as additional subjects at university and wrote an 18,000 word dissertation in French on the global environmental movement).
But my greatest love other than for people is undoubtedly for music. I took piano lessons from a young age and was writing songs on and off from my childhood to my late 20s, during which time I performed, produced and recorded several of them. I’ve been too busy to write more in recent years but still enjoy listening to the music produced by other artists on a frequent basis.
How have you found adapting to a different way of working during the lock-down?
I have missed the face-to-face interaction with team members, but not the early starts on a Monday morning to catch the 7:45 train to Bristol Temple Meads!
Essentially, however, and apart from the format of team meetings and client meetings, work from a computer is not much different whether you work remotely or not.
Communication is almost exactly the same by email or instant messaging over Skype as it is in live voice, because it stems from the minds of the same people.
Have you got any work hacks you could share?
No, sorry! I like to do things properly and don’t like the connotations of the word ‘hacks’, e.g. a bad journalist writing for the tabloid press is commonly called a ‘hack’. I know it’s one of those trendy phrases that have been going round in recent years, along with people calling themselves ‘ninjas’, ‘gurus’ in their respective fields, and suchlike, so I’m probably showing how old-fashioned I am here in terms of the use of the English language, but the idea of ‘work hacks’ intuitively suggests to me cheats or shortcuts at possible compromise to quality, which is not the way I work.
Where do you look for inspiration: a person, a blog, a brand?
Inspiration is something that I’ve always experienced as arising by itself from the effects of the unconscious mind processing everything it has experienced before. I’m not someone who really needs to seek out much outside inspiration to remain inspired. I’ve never had heros or followed gurus or ‘thought leaders’.
In terms of ideas for new article content, however, I make frequent use of Google searches to undertake relevant research. This I see as being very similar to the process of academic research, only without the use of a physical library. Often it’s not really about inspiration but about fact-finding. Especially when you are writing articles and copy for business websites, you need to get your facts right before anything else.
Quick fire round:
Tea or coffee?
Coffee, organic if possible. Tea is too strong for me and I don’t react well to it!
Oat flapjacks are my favourites, though they are more cakes than biscuits
Omnivore or vegetarian?
Vegetarian since age 16
Mac or Windows?
I prefer Windows although earlier versions from Windows 95 to Windows 7 were more intuitive for me than the current Windows 10 is. Macs have their specialised uses, such as music production, however.
Favourite genres of music (e.g. classical, jazz, blues, folk, country, pop, rock, metal, disco, house, rap, trance, EDM)?
British and continental indie music of the early-mid 1990s (though not nearly so much the heavy American grunge / post-punk / alternative scene), American doo-wop ballads of the 1950s and girl groups of the 1960s, electronic dance music from the 1980s to the early 2000s (including house, rave and trance), British new wave and new romantic bands of the early 1980s, and thoughtful singer-songwriters of all ages
5 musical artists you enjoy listening to?
Stereolab, Shonen Knife, Cranes, Jan Johnston (not so much her DJ collabs as her own songs - her two solo albums are both excellent), Emiliana Torrini
All-time favourite song?
Very hard to choose, but I’ll go with ‘Paradise’ by All About Eve. It’s so beautiful, just thinking about it is enough to raise a tear. I’m a huge fan of Julianne Regan and her poetic lyrics to this day (believe she has been involved in teaching songwriting in nearby Bath in recent years).
Favourite chart song of the past two years?
Not an easy choice, but it seems to have been quite a creative time for new music, and there have been some stellar female vocalists around in particular in the chart scene in recent years. Clean Bandit’s ‘Baby’ (featuring the lilting tones of Welsh singer Marina Diamandis) was seriously cute, and the young New York singer Ava Max’s quirky singles ‘So Am I’ and ‘Freaking Me Out’ were both a lot of fun. Overall, I might have to go for ‘Without Me’ by Halsey though, as it’s an epic ballad and so powerfully peformed by her.
Morning or night person?
I always have a clearer head after a good night’s sleep, so in that sense, at least when it comes to work, morning…. Evenings are good for unwinding with music though.
Favourite subject(s) at school?
English and French
Cereal or toast?
Cereal (of the no-added sugar variety) or bread (untoasted).
Item you couldn’t live without?
I think we can all live without anything other than food, water and clothing. However, I’d certainly feel impoverished without my music.
Work-life balance or workaholic?
A good work-life balance is only healthy, and tends to extend your working life. I hate being non-productive, and make a conscious choice to live without TV as it’s too passive for my taste, but productivity doesn’t all have to be about paid work.
That’s really hard to choose. Obviously there are many things I love about the UK, from its music scene to its beautiful hills and lakes, but I’m an internationalist and find things I enjoy about all countries. I suppose I may still have a special affinity with France before the rest.
Thing you’ve missed most in lock-down?
Company (in the social sense of the word), and not having to worry about the risk of infection every time you enter a shop or other enclosed space – which unfortunately remains a factor at this point in time (August 5th 2020).