The embryologist entrepreneur

The embryologist entrepreneur

It’s not every day that you find a qualified, experienced embryologist heading up, amongst others, a specialist SEO business. Edinburgh native Dr Caroline Phillips is a fully-fledged entrepreneur, and she fills us in on how she left embryology behind.

Tell us about your businesses, Caroline.

I run two businesses. Alba SEO services provides digital marketing services to Scottish based SMEs whilst Fertility Clinics Abroad is an online portal which provides impartial information and advice to people seeking fertility treatment outside of the UK.

And how did you get from working as an embryologist to running your own business?

After completing my PhD from Edinburgh University in Mammalian Embryology followed by a two year research project, I began working as an embryologist at the London Fertility Centre Harley Street and then as a senior clinical embryologist at the IVF Unit at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. In 1996, I decided to move back home to Edinburgh and took up another two year research post.

The research was successful, but the project was moving to Western Australia with my research leader and I wasn’t keen to move, so I began thinking about a change of career. I was looking for a more stable job with set hours – lab work is great but the hours can be inconsistent.

I went back to university again and attained an MSc Diploma in Information Technology from Napier University which was a springboard to a graduate entry with the IT services department at the Royal Bank of Scotland.  I had always had an interest in IT, so this was my chance to gain some experience in a new field. I got the job and ended up working at the Bank for 12 years.

I was part of a team that processed the money that went through the ATM machines, before moving to the service improvement department. Working part-time suited me as I had a young family and it fitted in with my work-life balance.

In 2011 I was made redundant and so an opportunity was opened up for me. I had been thinking about starting a business that utilised my skills in IT and my knowledge and experience in embryology and Fertility Clinics Abroad seemed like the perfect fit.

My work as a senior embryologist made me realise how little information was available to people looking into fertility options outside of the UK – there was a real gap in the market for a one stop shop service where you could access all the required information from one place. When the opportunity arose to set something like this up, I felt compelled to go for it.

Once Fertility Clinics Abroad was up and running, the idea to set up a separate digital marketing company came pretty quickly.  FCA is a web based platform, so I knew that I needed to improve my website ranking to attract more people to the site. I started reading and buying books about Search Engine Optimisation. I spent about a year on my own site and achieved a page one Google ranking - I thought to myself, ‘if I can do that on my site, why can't I apply what I know to others?’

So that's exactly what I did. I created another business called Alba SEO Services, built a website and proceeded to get it to the top of Google too.  By doing that, I got noticed and businesses started to come to me for help. At that point Alba was officially born!  Now I run FCA and Alba in conjunction with each other. In fact, FCA could be considered a client of Alba.

Was there a desire to run your own business generally?

The desire has definitely always been there. I have always craved the flexibility and freedom that comes with running your own business. There is something refreshing about managing a small business – I am used to the bureaucracy of large corporations that that can be slow and cumbersome in comparison to SMEs. When you have your own business, you can introduce and test news ideas, bring in new revenue streams, experiment without any proverbial hoops to jump through. You are the master of your own destiny, if you will.

How did you learn all of the skills you need to be successful – marketing, bookkeeping etc?

Most of the SEO skills I needed to set up Alba were self-taught and came about from running Fertility Clinics Abroad. I read books, did a lot of online research and learnt by testing things on my own site.

You could say my first company was the training ground for the second business I set up. Of course I also learnt a lot while working at RBS – bookkeeping, processing records, team building, people management where all part of my role at the bank and put me in good steads for setting  up my own company.

However I think any business owner would admit that no-one goes into business knowing everything – there is an element of learning on the job. It’s ok to make mistakes as long as you adapt and learn from them.

Why is there a need for your business? 

Everything is online these days and most people use Google to find a business, or to buy a product or service. If your business is hidden on page two of Google, you won't get found.

So all businesses need to step up their marketing and make their websites as search friendly as possible. We are seeing demand from companies of all sizes soar – everyone wants a website and everyone wants their website to be sitting at the top of Google searches.

Of course, increasing competition makes achieving this goal harder to come by, which is why companies that provide specialist SEO and digital marketing services are in big demand.

What does the future hold for your businesses?

We are hoping to grow Alba over the next few years. This time last year there were two of us, now there are four, so we are moving in the right direction. In the future, I’d like to be more hands off so I can manage the business rather than implementing campaigns and getting involved with the day to day work. I’d say working on the business rather than working in the business.

I’m potentially looking to take someone on to take on more of the account management role to allow me to step back a little.

Regarding FCA – we’re looking to become the number one place to go for impartial, high quality information about fertility treatment abroad – key to this is having a critical mass of clinics listed so that I can give a truly representative view of the industry across Europe.

However, I’m not really looking to grow in the sense of employing people or generating new revenue streams. It’s more about improving the quality and quantity of information we provide