by Jenny Hassam
Today is the five-year anniversary of my business, Rhetoric PR.
It is literally a miracle that I made it this far in the ‘journey’! (Sorry to say journey in the third sentence!). And I have never stayed in a ‘job’ that long!
Everywhere I turn at the moment people seem to be starting businesses and to be honest, I tell them to not ask me about my experiences, as I can be a bit TOO truthful of the realities of starting, running and building a business.
However, I do remember that rush of excitement, the future hopes and the amazing feeling of starting. It was such an awesome time. I was young(ish), naïve and filled with hopes and dreams of being a millionaire. I had this vision of an office with original floor boards, white washed walls on Semaphore High Street, with a buzz of cool account manager types and me as the big boss.
The only reason you’d start a business is if you didn’t know the harsh realities of what it entails. I believe you’ve got to go through it yourself.
The start. I’d come out of the only ‘proper’ job I’d ever had in Adelaide and I’d been micro-managed, which is not good for my type of personality, because I like freedom, I don’t like being told what to do and I’m not naturally a detail type person anyway.
So I escaped. I designed my own – looking back on it – terrible rainbow-blob logo, hired a graphic designer to do my website and within a month had three clients, a website and lots of work to do.
The original idea for the business was to ‘get entrepreneurs into the media’. It was handy, (I mean, a totally strategic decision) as co-working spaces, The Hub and Majoran Distillery, had just popped up, so I got onto Twitter, set up some meetings, made some calls and trotted around with my portfolio under my arm and won my first client, the SouthStart startup event.
Oh, it was so amazing to be FREE!! I could do what I wanted, I could work from home, work when I wanted and around my young family of hubby and two little girls at the time. I worked with lots of friends too, thanks Louise Glendon, Meg Drechsler and Kathryn Hocking, who set up their businesses at similar times.
In ten months I’d made a good bit of money. I kept raising my prices. I think my first gig I did two months work for $700! I basically matched what I earned at my previous job in eight months from zero. However, I did have costs as I had a lovely Account Manager and ex-Tiser journalist working for me Bridget Penna, so not amazingly profitable but I was pretty chuffed for my first year as I had only given myself a three-month deadline to get money coming through the door (I achieved that in my first week).
I went to lots of events and met people and networked until people started commenting that I was at everything! (I think that was Chris Hooper!).
Fave campaign of the year – The Click Love Grow ‘Love In’
This was a fully integrated marcomms campaign all focussed on encouraging their customers – mainly mums – to LOVE their bodies by submitting content via social. We featured across national media, managed a social media campaign build up and launch and had a blast at the same time, taking our togs off for the Tiser!
I had my third baby, so revenue, unsurprisingly went down this year as I spent lots of time gazing into his lil baby blues, while also doing some courses on digital marketing with BSchool and photography thanks to Click Love Grow above (both highly recommended!).
During the lead up to having Oscar I had a midwife come to my house and again had the flexibility of working from home. Not everything was perfect, I remember working up to a week beforehand but still in 2014 I’d had 20 separate clients in just six months. So it was definitely a little crazy.
I managed to take six full months off. I finished up projects and handed long-term clients to another PR I knew in Brisbane, thanks Amanda Jesnoewski! I then started working at the amazing Sass Place a couple of mornings a week to start building things back up again, with Oscar downstairs in the creche. Amazing, thanks Carly Thompson-Barry! It was very project-based in those days with short one to two month campaigns, heavily reliant on media relations as a speciality and lots of lead gen from the website, social and referrals.
I think everyone has a funny story when trying to mix business with pregnancy. Mine was finishing a meeting with the directors of a biomedical company at about four months pregnant. I was still squeezing into my corporate dresses and as I got back in the car I sneezed and the whole back of my dress burst open, well and truly busting the zip, thank God it happened after the meeting!
Fave Campaign – Stacey Copas‘s Book Launch – How to be resilient
We created ‘How to be resilient’ quizzes, ran media training before a prime-time ABC radio interview which got shared via their Facebook page to 1m people, set up media interviews around her book tour and generally we just loved sharing the message around the lovely Stacey’s inspirational story to help others.
The company growth went a bit crazy. I’d brought on an ex-PR highly-experience business coach for $3k a month, I’d just come back from a month-long trip to the UK and I was ready to go all in. I brought on Sarah Bartholomeusz from YouLegal as a client and we had such amazing results with her that the referrals came flying in. I already had one Account Manager up to capacity and I hired another. We moved into our first office, then quickly upgraded to a bigger office, decking it out with rose gold and baby pink decor.
The company grew five times in revenue compared to Year One.
When companies grow, it all looks super glamourous and exciting on the outside. I was high on adrenalin and stress and constantly worried about staffing and client satisfaction and downloading meditation apps a lot!
At one point I think I had three Account Managers working for me part-time, so I had hit the dream of a buzzy office with white washed walls and super cool office, but I didn’t really have time to appreciate it.
Hint: meditation apps were not the answer here. I was stuck on this hamster wheel with messages gained from free Entourage events and elsewhere which said, keep growing, scale, exponential growth, sales, sales, sales. I had so many leads coming in and I was trying to convert each one, never really thinking, is this client going to be a good fit for Rhetoric.
Fave Client – Dr Sicknote (now Qoctor)
These guys are awesome! They’re still our clients after three years. We’ve helped them launch, rebrand – they’re now called Qoctor, the quick online doctor – and we run their media relations for them. As a group of GPs in Melbourne they’re passionate about helping people to get the most ethical and convenient healthcare online. Over the years we’ve gained them hundreds of media hits and – fab for SEO – backlinks which has helped build their brand, build trust and supercharge their Google ranking with lots of large media sites pointing to them. The CEO repeatedly tells me that the spend has been a better investment and value compared to TV and radio advertising.
21 clients. 1 Account Manager. 1 lovely office. It probably wasn’t as stressful as the year prior, but Sophie, my Account Manager, and I were still juggling a lot.
Pure media relations (or PR as others call it) is a funny game. When I started up the company I used to joke that we’d get so many referrals because no one else wanted to do the job. We partnered with so many marketing consultants, none of whom offered PR.
We’re content creators, we find the stories and interesting ‘gems’ in what our clients do and then we package it up to fit with certain ‘media outlets’. Ie: this story would go well on Sydney Morning Herald small business section, this ones great for lifestyle.com.au. Sometimes we’d send out media releases and just get crickets. That’s when we would get stressed and the more you’d plug away the more demoralising it would become. PR is the business of rejection and always rates highly in ‘most stressful jobs’ sections!! The highs of the media hits comes with the lows of the ‘crickets’ moments!
The other highs include when you or a client wins an award. It’s a great time to reflect on the work you’ve put in and we were super honoured to win an award this year from the PR Institute of Australia #MicroAgencyofTheYear!
Fave client – Advantage Pharmacy
This campaign was a fully integrated campaign using video content and digital strategy via researched social and media channels. One of the thrills of doing what we do is bringing a brand story to life, showing the owner’s and company’s passion, values and point of difference. For these guys it’s all about being a trusted advisor to the community in rural and town-based pharmacies across the country.
Well I made it to Year Five but sometimes I feel, only just! We went home to the UK and I had my 40th birthday in Barcelona with my best friends from school. I told them where I was at and they suggested I look for a ‘proper job’, I was toying with the idea, but in those four weeks, I’d had just a big enough break to think clearly about what I wanted to do and also to remember the things I love about running the business.
After all, this was my gig, I could run it how I wanted, work with who I wanted, turn down clients if I chose and pick the areas of work we’d focus on in the future.
I think these decisions were made easier by the fact that the company had a good reputation by now. We had larger clients, with larger budgets and I was managing expectations better through onboarding ie: clients not expecting front page Sydney Morning Herald in Week 1 or videos going ‘viral’ every two seconds with no Facebook ad spend. Here are my new rules:
- No more short term projects
- Long term relationships with good quality, small/medium sized clients who are looking at growth
- More writing and content (social and video) creation
- Less reliance on media relations
Once I’d made the decision in my mind it was easy. Things changed overnight. I’m now in my most profitable year ever, with growing revenue year on year and a suite of amazing, varied clients based mainly in the eastern states. Clients include travel, engineering, finance, pharmacy and national florists.
So my announcement is, I’m going to continue on haha! (Sorry for the clickbait, but I’m a PR!).
Helping develop the next generation of talented people has been something I’m most proud of. I’m in touch with most of the contractors and employees who’ve worked with Rhetoric over the years and am so proud of what they’ve all achieved. I’m definitely not the perfect boss but I have tried to be the opposite of some of the terrible ones I’ve worked for over the years!! Thanks Bridget, Justin, Penelope, Mel, Amy, Ilona and particularly Sophie and Emma. Some are leading Adelaide branches of national PR agencies now and two have set up successful businesses of their own.
My clients, building trusted relationships where clients value your opinion is such an amazing feeling. I remember very specifically in Year 1 of the business when I suggested to a client to have a professional photoshoot (which is what we do with all our clients now as part of onboarding). He just agreed and said he trusted me and he’d invest and I will always remember that point, it was a total mindset shift and it felt I had moved from employee to a senior-level strategy type! Someone had actually listened to my advice.
Nowadays, I pick up the phone and ask my clients how their mum is and I’ve known some of my clients for years now. I’m a relationship builder so the original business model of quick campaigns and constant churn didn’t sit well with me at all anyway. Thanks Darren, Matthew, Michael, Fellicia, Lauren, Rob, Aifric, Stephen, Julian, Kaia and your amazing teams, I really am very lucky to have such lovely clients who I can’t wait to work with every day.
Learning. I’ve never stopped learning and this is one of my core values. I have never felt like I wasn’t pushing myself, growing or bored in what I was doing. Super important for me, however, that did nearly push me to burnout and – even though my endocrinologist would disagree – I would say can’t be a coincidence that when I got diagnosed with a dodgy thyroid it was around when I was at my most stressed out!
Wins on the board. Getting those amazing wins for clients. The big media outlet mentioning your tiny client, your client gaining seed funding off the back of your work, increasing client sales, brand building and that all elusive media hit, which still gets me every time. It’s such a thrill!!
Fun! Being invited to the races in Melbourne, trips to Palm Cove Peppers Resort with entrepreneur friends and working with truly inspiring people living their passion and making shit happen!
And my advice?
Run your own race. You’ll only learn by doing and that’s been my motto for life. Your experience of running a business will be very different to the next entrepreneur. I’m not that resilient….although I feel I’ve built this over five years, I am pretty laid-back but many things have got to me over the years which have hurt. I wasn’t one of those people who set up a lemonade stand when I was five, however, I hate being bored, I’m a risk-taker and I’m outgoing, which makes it easier to sell and market what I do. I think everyone has the capacity to go out on their own for sure, and as for the skills you don’t have, bring them in as business partners, suppliers or employees. Thanks Adam, Belinda and Derek for IT, book keeping and accounting support!!!
Make your own luck. To be honest, I live in a small town, moved here when I was four months pregnant, had barely any contacts and had to make my own luck. In some ways I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, my biggest heroine was Anita Roddick who set up The Body Shop. In other ways there weren’t really the jobs in Adelaide that I could go for, so I just made up my job to suit what I wanted to do and what I thought the market needed at the time. It’s easy to come up with ideas, however, to make it to five years takes consistency and hard graft and I’m lucky to have had had a good education and amazing life experiences which has given me the confidence to go for what I wanted, thanks Mum and Dad xx
Be honest with yourself. You have to LOVE what you do because you will spend ALL your time thinking about your business and working in and on your business. Also, I’ll write another blog on this, but if you think you’ll work less than working in a ‘real’ job this is a total myth. Yes, you’ll have the flexibility to work whenever you like (I’ve worked till 1am MANY times) but you won’t be working less, you’ll work more and often for a lot less money!! There are a lot of people servicing the ‘entrepreneur’ market who make it look glamourous and super easy. It is neither of those things most of the time. Don’t believe the hype.
And the next five years?
This is my most profitable year so far and revenue has grown year on year (apart from baby year!) and I plan for another 20 per cent increase in size of business this financial year, easily. Oh and I’ve just taken on a Virtual Assistant and some contractor copywriters, so I’ll hold the client relationship while the more adminny stuff is done behind the scenes.
I also want to do more corporate social responsibility – which is what I did back in London for one of Prince Charles’ charities – and we’ve been donating our time to Aboriginal and women’s rights organsiations much more recently too. It would be cool to travel a little more again too, so I’ll put that one out there to the universe too!
And for now, thanks for listening to my rambles. I’ve literally skimmed the surface. Thank you so much for supporting me over the last five years, even if it was just by reading a blog post 😀. And the most thanks goes to my amazing husband for his support and making me laugh in the good times and in bad ❤.