Diary of a start-up: Toddling along

A couple of months ago I wrote about taking my first steps into working for myself. I’ve now officially been The Boss for four months and I’m getting used to the new routine. I’ve grown my client base, met loads of other business owners and feel like I’m getting to grips with the financial side of running the business.

Things I’ve loved

There are certain things I absolutely adore about working for myself from home – the lack of commute is pretty close to the top of that list. Over the last ten years my commute evolved from a 15 minute drive across town, to a 30 minute (if I was lucky) train ride into the city with a 15 minute walk either end, to a 45 minute crawl along an almost stationary motorway.

That time is now mine, all mine! I’m still at my desk by 8am most mornings, creature of habit that I am, but now my alarm doesn’t go off until 6.45am and in my world, that is pure bliss.

I also love the flexibility it gives me to work as and when I want/need to. I know I’m at my most effective in the mornings, so I crack through my to-do list then. And now the weather is improving I’m allowing myself 30 minutes at lunchtime for a brisk walk around the village. I do some of my best thinking when I’m walking, so this tends to be a really creative time for me.

Finally, I’m loving the diversity of clients I’m working for and their reactions when I tell them we’ve secured coverage in a key title. Getting my cloth nappy client’s product featured in Mother and Baby really reinforces my belief that SMEs can benefit from a small amount of PR input.

Hello, my name’s…

I also surprised myself that I really enjoyed the networking that goes along with establishing a new business.  Despite having a lot of experience building networks in my previous roles I’d never been to a dedicated networking event.

I was pretty nervous before my first event and sought some tips from Cathy Summers, an executive coach and managing director of Inspired 4 Life Coaching.

The ones I found most useful were:

  • Tell people it’s your first time and they will look after you, give you tips, help you out, everyone remembers how it feels!
  • Remember everyone else is as nervous and apprehensive as you are, however well they hide it! Go easy on yourself.
  • People are unlikely to give someone else business or recommend them to others unless they trust them, building relationships takes time and it takes time to get to know someone, so be yourself and be patient – and don’t expect to walk away with new business. Have a more achievable outcome in mind and will take the pressure off and stop you feeling that you have to sell yourself. A really good one is to go in aiming to help 3 other people. That focuses you on others, which will help you to be yourself.
  • At the same time, know what you’re looking for / why you’re going to this event, what you want from it so that you can let people know when they ask you, then they can help you more easily (for example, to get specific types of business contacts, do market research, get feedback on a business idea etc.)
  • Have a one sentence summary of what you do ready, practised so that it rolls off your tongue. Focus on the result you get for people ie. “I’m a career coach and I help people who are at a career crossroads to make the right decision about their future”
  • Have some conversation starter questions up your sleeve. Some favourites are – how did you get to hear about this event, do you know anyone else here, what do you do, why are you here, I’m new to networking, what’s worked for you before? What other networking events do you recommend? Have you been to this venue before?
  • Ask others why they are here and what they are hoping to get from it. You may be able to help them and that’s a great start to building a relationship – networking relies on ‘what goes round, comes round’
  • Don’t get trapped with someone for ages (or monopolise others) – you can always excuse yourself with “It’s been lovely to talk to you but I guess we ought to circulate as it’s a networking event..”. If you meet someone you want to talk in more depth with (or vice versa), then exchange business cards and arrange to follow up to speak on the phone or meet up.

I have actually won a small amount of business from the real life networking I’ve done, but have also picked up business from on-line networking, in particular on Twitter. It’s gratifying to know that my efforts are starting to bear fruit, both on and off line. I have five new names to add to my client list – a mixture of medium-term contracts and one-off projects, and a handful more in the pipeline.

Ask for what you need

However, there have also been some distinct drawbacks to running the show. I’m still realising what infrastructure I’ll need to help keep my organised.

I’m a big lists person and an app called Producteev was recommended to me. Now that’s where I keep most of my ongoing tasks, alongside the traditional list in my notebook.

I’ve had fun buying stationery (sad I know, but I’m a sucker for a pretty notebook) and will be decorating my office during the Easter break so it feels more functional. I’ve been struggling with the lack of a visible place to scribble ideas, so will paint most of one wall with blackboard paint and buy myself some chalk.

By far the biggest struggle I’ve had has been with technology. I’ve lost count of the hours it’s taken me to get my email set up so I can send them from the correct address on my iPhone.

I’ve discovered I don’t have Microsoft Outlook, so am looking at what alternatives there are for managing my emails, especially as some clients now want me to have an email address for their company too. I’d love your recommendations on this, technology is definitely not my strong-point.

In my old job I would have picked up the phone and a man on the end would have fixed it for me the same day. I know there are companies out there offering tech support, but from what I’ve seen you have to subscribe for a year and I only need occasional advice or support. (Is that a business idea? Not sure if it’s a viable one though!)

Being a new business I’m watching every penny, so I won’t be paying out for a monthly subscription service just yet. Maybe in the future it will become viable, but for now I’m getting by on the wonders of Google and the knowledge of my network of friends and contacts.

Refining the offer

As with any new business I had a proposition – to provide high quality, low cost and flexible PR for SMEs – but that is being refined with time.

I know that PR is a bit of a mystical art for most people, so have been working on packaging up my services so that people quickly and easily understand what I can offer them. It’s all a bit of a work in progress, but I’ve got the main services down to four:

  • Media management – the identification of a company’s stories, writing press releases and persuading the media to feature them, meaning companies have a better profile with their potential customers.
  • Award writing – most companies would love to say “award winning” about their business, but don’t necessarily know what awards they want to enter or where to start with writing an effective entry. I’ll do the research about what awards and categories are best, then work with the business to write the entry.
  • Coaching for media interviews – I’ll work with potential interviewees to teach them the tips and tricks needed to take on the media on their terms.
  • Communications support – this is the catch-all service. I will work with clients to refine every aspect of the business that customers might come across – from customer newsletters to branding, websites to press releases.

I’m also toying with a tweak to the company name based on the feedback I’ve had from people I’ve come across. I’m still undecided about whether I’ll do it – and partly that’s a decision I’ll make based on cost. I’ll update you in my next blog.

In the meantime, I’d welcome your feedback, suggestions and words of wisdom about things I need to do – or not do – in my next few months.




About the Author: Louise Turner is director of Your Virtual PR Ltd, a PR and communications business specialising in providing creative and great value services to SMEs. The service is delivered virtually, but the reality is, it’s on time and on budget. Read more here  www.yourvirtualpr.com

Louise Turner

Louise is a PR and communications professional who has spent the last 13 years working in PR teams in both the public and private sector. She has won a clutch of Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) awards for her work and now runs her own business providing PR and communications services to SMEs. Your Virtual PR’s services are packaged up to give clients clarity on price and service.Louise is also a Member of the CIPR and holds their Accredited Practitioner status, guaranteeing her commitment to continuing professional development. Connect on Twitter or drop an email to louise@yourvirtualpr.com or Visit yourvirtualpr.com

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