Founder & Group CEO
Milk & Honey PR
Five things I wish I’d known…(I’ve cheated and added a couple!)
I have worked in communications for almost 30 years, which is scary when you say it out loud. I have had the great pleasure of working for some of the world’s most admired PR agencies and with an array of amazing clients large and small. Five years ago, having been made redundant, I decided to set up on my own. I wanted to create a new kind of agency. One where people came first, where everyone could feel heard, where there was time to think. A land of Milk & honey, hence the name! In five and a half years, we have grown to a team of 54, expanded internationally into Sydney, New York and Munich. Won multiple awards, been recognised as the best place to work three times, and become one of the highest scoring B Corps in the world. Plenty to be proud of. But despite playing senior leadership roles in multiple international agencies I was nervous about setting up and running a business. I was always nervous about being self-employed. As a child of two self-employed parents, I learnt very early on, that to be successful in business you can’t rely on talent and hard work alone. Both my parents were highly intelligent, great sociable beings and worked extremely hard. But neither were successful. They just weren’t commercial. I didn’t want their life. I was determined not to scrimp and save and go-without as my parents had. So, I moved down to London and got an education. And over the years I have built my commercial credentials and proven to myself I can strike out on my own. So, what have I learnt along the way?
1) Never, ever step on anyone. Just don’t. I work in public relations, specifically reputation management. We work with ambitious growth companies and give their ideas and innovations a voice. A big part of what we do is content development, another big part is sharing that messaging – often through the media. So, probably like most of you I come into contact with a wide group of people, daily. We have all heard the mantra ‘look after your people and they will look after the client’. Very true. But in the world of networking, it is amazing how small a universe we exist within. This of course is brilliant for brand development and for building understanding of your offering and endorsements. Also, terrifying how any dismissive comment, or poor intern experience will come and bite you in the butt. A perfect recent example of this is a lady that came to interview with us last year for a senior consultant job. She was highly talented but the timing didn’t quite fit, so we didn’t offer. She then found a great job in-house and asked us, as rank outsiders, to pitch for her European business in the healthcare space against some stiff, specialist competition. She was rooting for us as she loved the people first brand ethos she had experienced at interview. Anyway, we got through and they became our largest client! Your personal brand reputation will precede you, step gently!
2) You need to make your brand standout. Do all you can to reinforce that positioning. Be as easy as possible to buy. In a sales environment, it is not what you can do and what you have done before that wins contracts, it is clearly identifying what a brand, company or product must do now. That is so much easier to buy. Resist the temptation to take on work that doesn’t reinforce your offer. It will dilute what you stand for and make your position in market less clear. Making you more difficult to identify as the ‘right choice’.
3) Use specialists to deliver non-core work. Sadly, in the short amount of time Milk & Honey has been in existence we have been hacked three times. THREE TIMES!! Cyber criminals have got in through our website into our email and then changed bank details on our invoices. It happened again last year, hence being elevated to top of the FREAK OUT list. Needless to say, we have spent a substantial amount of time and resources on security software, ensuring everything has two-step verification and monthly changing passwords. We are not alone. 70% of small businesses are hacked annually. Every year. Frustratingly little is done by the police or Action Fraud. So please don’t wait for it to happen to you. Get two-step verification on everything now. Regularly sweep for Trojans, malware and viruses and protect your website’s back-end. But it is not only I.T. we outsource. We run our business from a rather fun co-working office; we bring in specialist trainers to keep our skills up to date; we have recently brought in-house our an external HR consultant and tax accountant.
4) 90% is good enough, we don’t control the decision! Another key learning for me is get the work out the door. There is still quite a bit of adapting on the fly, but much of what we do is a numbers game. New revenue pitches, media story pitching. It must be strong, of course, but we don’t have control of the decisions so get the breadth. With existing clients, it is about delivering award winning work (we’ve collected several over the last two years), but also putting ideas and improvements forward in every face-to-face encounter. Numbers again.
5) Work is called work for a reason! Whilst I have always adored my job, weirdly bounced out of bed and am truly excited about what the day holds, it is still work. I purposefully make myself do the things that frighten me, like public speaking, regularly. I want to learn and get better. I structure my day so that I have ‘fun jobs’ every day. And reward myself for successfully doing the less exciting deliverables, with doing the bits I love. So, by the end of the day I can feel proud of myself and have genuinely enjoyed my work too. For anyone thinking of going it alone, I would encourage you to truthfully ask yourself – are you commercial? If not, don’t do it alone. The first few months threw up a whole array of expected and unexpected challenges. I was ready for the frustrations of managing without tech support and the accounts department (thank goodness for YouTube and QuickBooks). I was prepared for the challenge of starting out as a party of one.
What really surprised me was just how much support and encouragement I’ve received. PR is all about relationships and I was blown away by just how wonderful my business network has been. Friends and colleagues from years back inviting me for coffees and offering projects to get the ball rolling. Ex-clients, business partners and industry friends making introductions, getting me on pitch lists and offering recommendations. The first few months were quite a confidence boost. It hasn’t been without the pit falls…
But it is working. We have been going for five years now and have grown to £4 million turnover with a team of 54. We have won awards for every client we have represented for over 12 months and have been celebrated for our ethical working practices and stand out team. We have won a new retained client every month and most importantly of all only lost a tiny percentage. I’m not kidding myself that it is easy running your own business, but I only work with smart, fun, brave and energetic people. Both in the team and client side and I love that. More bouncing out of bed for me!
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Head of Sales
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1. Great communication skills. 2. Ability to negotiate. 3. Power to motivate people.
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Head of Marketing
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Chief Sales Officer
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