What I’ve learnt from my first year in business

Honest Communications, a specialist garden and home PR agency, social media management, content creation and communications agency

Honest Communications turned one in November – a cause for celebration that I’d got to this milestone. The agency’s first birthday was also a good moment to step back and take stock of everything I’ve learned in the first 365 days of running a business.

The transition from lone freelancer to becoming an agency and an employer isn’t an easy one, so I wanted to share some practical advice for anyone who might be thinking of growing their one-person enterprise into something more.

Obviously, Honest is still evolving and I’m still learning every day (like we all are in the business community), so I wanted to share some ideas, based on what I’ve learnt along the way so far. Here are my top five tips!

1. Get involved with the creative community

When you’re working alone, it’s great to reach out to other people who are doing similar things. Derby has a wonderful creative community to get involved with and it’s a good idea to go to as many events as possible to start building up a network of contacts. In my first year, I met so many people through networking who have helped me along the way. I’ve been given great advice and support as well as building relationships that have brought me work, whilst also being able to help others. The more people know that who you are and what you do, the better!

2. PR yourself

Honest Communications provide PR services to our clients, but it’s important not to forget to spend time on your own PR too! You wouldn’t trust a well-rated hairdresser if their own hair was terrible, would you? From the very beginning, I’ve scheduled my own PR and marketing efforts to make sure I stay on track. I set challenging but realistic goals for the number of articles and press releases that I wanted to see published about Honest Communications in the first year. Writing guest articles and blogs is another way to help raise the profile of your business, and it’s a great way to get your name out there in the early days.

3. Build your ‘little black book’

Building your agency will mean calling upon the services of other agencies or freelancers who provide things that you don’t (currently) have the ability to do in-house. It might be design, website development or SEO. Find people you trust, who have the skills that you need, and build a mutually beneficial relationship where you can refer work between you. Over time, these people will become invaluable to your business and there could be exciting opportunities for collaboration further down the line.

4. Define your values and terms

It’s important to know what your values are, right from day one. Your values will guide everything you do, and they will become part of how your business functions. Your values even have an impact on who your clients are and who you choose to work with. Likewise, make sure your working terms are clearly defined. Nothing sours a working relationship like misunderstanding and miscommunication, and these can be avoided by setting crystal clear terms and expectations. Be firm about both your values and terms and you will gain respect.

5. Play the long game

When you’re starting out and saying yes to most opportunities to grow your profile and your business, you might do bits of work at reduced rates, or do people favours. It’s a good way to showcase your work, build a portfolio and to bring people on board. Work hard and make sure you give new clients great service and fantastic value for money and they’ll (hopefully) stick around for a long time and recommend you to other people too. On that note, ask them for testimonials and Google Reviews and use these in your marketing materials (we’ve got a page full of them on our website!) Playing the long game also applies to networking – making friends and connections might not result in work as soon as you walk into the room but may well do so in time. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt with networking is not to sell to the room. Go along to meet people and get to know their business, it’s about building relationships and trust, in time that will pay off. ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ is a good motto to live by in your first year of business (and beyond).

We’re looking forward to a busy year at Honest Communications in 2020. I’ve taken on a full-time member of staff to share the load and to help continue the growth of the agency, and our calendar is full of projects throughout the year. It’s absolutely been worth all the hard work!

If you’re thinking of setting up a business, follow these five tips and they’ll hopefully stand you in good stead. If it’s something you’re thinking of doing, and you’d like to meet for a chat and pick my brains, drop me an email at holly@honestcommunications.co.uk.

For a window into agency life, follow Honest Communications on social at @HonestComms (Insta) @HonestCommsUK (Facebook and Twitter).