This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
There were things that didn’t work for me in the decade I spent in the big-dog-corporate advertising world.
One was the overuse of unnecessarily complicated and convoluted language to describe things that needed to be really clear, unique and simple, in order to stand out.
Another was the crazy working hours, which resulted in me burning out – sadly an all too common story.
But ultimately, I was working for clients whose values didn’t align with my own.
So, I decided to set up my own, uncomplicated, marketing and communications consultancy to work with ethical & sustainable businesses. I’m now able to rest when I need to and work with companies that I really care about.
What was the moment that everything changed for you?
I had had enough. I was working 12-hour days. One day I was so exhausted that I fainted on my bathroom floor, concussed myself, and had to go to A&E. That, mixed with the fact that my new boss and I weren’t seeing eye to eye, were the key catalysts.
So, I just left. I sat with my laptop. I got back in touch with old clients I’d already worked with, having cheekily bootlegged on the side of other previous jobs. I saw ads on Instagram for marketing manager roles and explained that I couldn’t work full time, but I could offer consultancy if they had the budget. That worked with the 3 key clients I had in my first year.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
In all honesty, I didn’t commit fully to myself and my business for over a year. I wasn’t taking the advice myself that I was giving others. That might have come from a fear of failure – the more you talk about what you do, the more people know your intentions, the further your reputation has to fall if it doesn’t work.
I’d been working with and around people for years. Now I had no one to be accountable for but myself (and my clients, of course!). I’ve recently hooked up with a new partner to bounce ideas off, find new leads together, and hold each other accountable. We met in March – we’ve still never met in person – only over Zoom! But it’s been great, and I’ve been twice as productive in that time.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Halfway through my first year I realised I was set to make the same money as I had done working as a Business Director at a digital agency that billed over $4 BILLION globally. I successfully made the money that year, and I was able to take 3 months off to placate my travel addiction and recharge my batteries.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
I’m self-funded, but considering my outgoings are a laptop, a place to work and an accountant, that is far less impressive than several other start-ups!
What has been your best investment?
My cat. He was only £75 from Battersea Cats & Dogs home! He has tethered me to a routine that can be so easily lost when you work for yourself and there is no set working structure – the potential is to work all day, every day. Or to take off weeks at a time. In the last 6 months he has kept me company. He has a great knack for knowing when I’m on a really important call and deciding that’s the best moment for his input in the conversation.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
I have let people talk to me like sh*t.
I have undervalued myself financially, which meant I felt resentful when the client became demanding, and my commitment started to dwindle.
I’ve had to chase clients 3 months down the line for payment as I was a bit too soft with my payment due dates. It’s strange having to act as the hard-nosed financial director in one email, then the charming consultant the next.
I’ve not looked for the next job whilst still working on a project – which has meant scary, gaping holes between work.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
When I first started, about 13 years ago, it was an artform to work as a female in an office environment run mainly by males. When I was a creative, only 6% of all creatives in the UK ad industry were female. Crazy, right? So, when I teamed up with another female colleague, we were the first female creative pair that we knew of in all of the media agencies in the UK.
What I’d like to see change is the stereotype that successful females are bossy and assertive, or overly maternal. Everyone has both an assertive, dominant, ‘masculine’ side, and another softer, more nurturing ‘feminine’ side. We need both qualities to be successful in business; the active, doing side and the more passive, listening side. I want us all to be unashamed and unembarrassed about these invaluable sides to our personalities.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Don’t wait for it to be perfect before you start. Don’t procrastinate. Just get it out there. Start now and start messily.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Yep, my Dad. Cheesy right? He works in marketing, took a hell of a lot of knocks, but still started his own business. He’s motivated, hard hitting, successful and knows his worth. Having support like that gives you the strength to be firm when you need to, and confident in what you do.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Note to self: create a 5-year plan. (start messily, see?)
What’s your biggest learning from 2020 so far?
To not take things personally. Sometimes things are out of your control and it’s NOT a reflection of you or your ability.
What can our community do to support your business?
Be a forum to have conversations, to test out ideas and insights with inquisitive minds, and to be a supportive community.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Make sure your creds are in good order. Have a point of difference. Listen to people who criticise what you’re doing – both the good and the bad. You don’t have to agree but be grateful for the feedback.
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
I’m Samantha Jameson, the Founder of British hand, bath and body care brand, Soapsmith.
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