PR guru calls creative types to Enterprise Week

“Contemplating running your own business is a scary concept. You often don’t know where to start; so many things that could go wrong deter you – worries about tax, managing accounts, building a clientele, can all seem far too daunting.

The great thing about Enterprise Week (UK-wide, November 14-19, 2005) was the array of events where people stood up and reassured wannabe businesspeople by saying: ‘if you have a start-up problem, there are so many groups and business support organisations on-hand to help.’

Just hearing my peers stand up and tell stories of their experiences in business questioned my fear of going it alone. As a 27-year-old graduate, I thought, ‘if I don’t take the plunge soon, I’m going to lose all that youth and ambition,’ which is essential for running a small business.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what pushed me from employee to freelance exactly, though Enterprise Week was instrumental. When I was working in a big department, I often felt I was simply a cog in a much larger wheel, despite holding senior positions.

Even though impact from my achievements was evident in the workplace, I found things moved quickly and soon my achievements were almost forgotten. Sometimes I think companies unknowingly tempt their staff into self-employment because they don’t give people the recognition they deserve.

Lack of workplace freedom was also a problem for someone with my strong social streak. I don’t think I always work best between 9 and 5. As a socialite, I felt I needed that extra flexibility. My second job working as consultant really gave me a good taste of working under my own steam, as I was no longer in-house – rather working via an agency.

However, ask my then-employer, and they’d say the job gave me a ‘dangerous taste’ of working alone. Not only because I really thrived on independent working, but also because I knew I wanted to breakaway and start-up myself.

Besides overcoming the fear factor, making the jump to self-employment was therefore not such a tough task.

The idea of achieving something completely on my own and the feeling that comes with building something completely independently - without limits – means you never know how far your idea or business can go!

Maybe I’m different from today’s wannabe entrepreneurs, because I always knew deep down I wanted to work for myself. Enterprise Week simply convinced me the time was right to get on and achieve it!

My holy grail as an aspiring freelance arrived in the form of an ex-client who gave me backing. They said they would be interested in supporting me if I made the jump to a freelance career.

I didn’t want to squander such a fabulous opportunity and fortunately, it’s worked out; the client is still with me today! My client from my previous employment was therefore another pull factor, which was instrumental in helping me ‘go freelance.’

However, I couldn’t have made the jump from the corporate world without my family and especially my parents. Initially they were horrified –‘what the hell is she doing’ they were heard to ask, not least because they’d seen me climb the corporate ladder and I was now on the verge of a much riskier venture. Eventually however, they got behind me! They continue to be a valuable source for emotional support.

I started Toast PR with just one client and I now have five monthly-retained clients. In addition, I typically accept three other projects, so at any given time you can find me fulfilling the needs of eight separate parties!

I’m now enjoying the peak of company growth after expansion over the last few months. My network of helpers that I call upon to increase the quality of my service has also increased. Word-of-mouth referrals have been great for Toast PR, and recently I’ve even had to outsource work to other freelance businesses to cope with the sheer demand.

Even when I’m exhausted and admittedly not in the mood, I force myself to attend all manner of networking events in a bid to constantly increase my connections. And while I don’t perform exercises for free, if I see an opportunity that’s PR pretty – perhaps on behalf of another small business like myself, I take up the odd project if I have capacity, sometimes for charity, sometimes for individuals.

It’s amazing how much you can amplify word-of-mouth recommendations even further with the odd bit of hard, perhaps low-paid work.

My job as an entrepreneur running a PR firm is a lot about getting on the telephone. If I were in a corporate environment, it would be a case of having to call clients because I had to. Nowadays I often find sitting alone in my office, without co-workers, calls on the best of my motivational powers, especially on those odd occasions when I’m just not in the mood!

I have a tutor and small business mentor at The Hive in Nottingham, who helps bring perspective to any company issue that’s troubling me. Creative entrepreneurs, whether they are in cinematography, art or media, should definitely have a mentor.

But it’s important that someone does more than simply reaffirm how great you are – the mentor has to challenge you, make you stick to your commitments and should be strong willed. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty pointless exercise.

The best thing about being self-employed is the freedom and rewards: As I said, I work best in the evening, so I often work a couple of days during the week until the small hours, and then I’ll take a morning off, once of course client deadlines are met.

It’s really an unbelievable feeling to be able to indulge in such a choice, especially while your peers reluctantly file into the office at regular times. It also makes me smile when people ask, ‘how much holiday have you taken this year?’ I never know is the honest answer, because when I want to do something, I’ll simply plan my work around it and I’ll do it!

Achieving something that’s completely yours is the ultimate feeling of being an entrepreneur: I bring the money in myself, I pay my mortgage myself, and any new investment for the business is decided by me alone. Achieving success so transparently and independently is just a great feeling!

I do miss the informality in the workplace. It’s nice to have grumble with a co-worker, either to talk about work or even last night’s television, you don’t get to do that so much as an entrepreneur.

However, I do have a good network of people to call upon, including freelance journalists, who are ‘all in the same boat’ of self-employment, so we share our experiences and bounce ideas off one another to make up for those lost grumbles at work.

Five years before my company was born, I knew it would be called Toast PR. It’s based on the idea of toasting success. It’s also a very warm word, which, from experience seems to resonate with clients and journalists alike, as it’s a frequently asked question!

Anyone planning to start-up a company alone, or with help from Enterprise Week should check they possess the necessary attributes.

It’s crucial small business owners either posses or develop; confidence, the ability to take risks and the ability to communicate excellently with a wide spectrum of people. Oh, and there’s one more thing to get you through:

In business and beyond, my theory is this - ‘there’s nothing that a good sense of humour and a good cup of tea can’t sort out,’ – most of the time anyway!”

Freelance UK was speaking with Julia Mitchell, founder and director of Toast PR, a public relations agency based in the Midlands. Toast PR specialises in media relations, crisis management, event management, branding and marketing communications for small and mid-sized clients. Find them on the Web:


18th October 2005

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