No matter where you are in your professional career, making the decision to take the plunge and set up your own business can often be life-changing. But, where should you begin, and how do you know when it’s the right time to grow?
When founder and MD of Scriba PR, Katie Mallinson made the decision to leave her role as an account director at a PR agency to forge a career as a freelance communications consultant, little did she know how quickly the company would expand. Here, the award-winning, self-confessed ‘word nerd’ shares her story.
I was 27 when I set up Scriba PR and, until this point, my career had pretty much been mapped out for me.
I loved the industry I was in but, over time, working for someone else made me realise how much I wanted to do things differently.
In the end, choosing to make the break was something of an impulse decision, made on the flip of a coin – heads I stayed where I was, and tails I quit my job and go it alone.
I’m not normally that reckless, and will usually mull things over for a while before I make any decision – in work and my personal life – but I did have a plan, and I was at the ‘should I do it or not?’ phase. It was my partner who encouraged me to leave the decision to a 50p piece!
Once the wheels were in motion, I had quite a clear vision – knowing that I wanted to challenge the norm of a ‘typical’ PR professional and not be constrained by other people’s opinions in the process. I have really high standards in all faucets of life – the classic mantra of ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right’ – and I wanted that to guide my ambitions throughout.
Of course, there are tonnes of PR agencies out there, but few which really focus on who they want to help. I love anything tech or engineering-related, and the deeper I explored the sector, the more an array of opportunities came to the fore.
In my previous role, I’d always looked after the more complex accounts, and that was something I wanted to continue with, alongside the idea of taking a consultative approach. I’m a firm believer in that you really need to get under an organisation’s skin in order to do its PR justice, and I wanted to spend lots of time with clients, work from their offices and prove that media relations can be done differently.
I never had aspirations to grow into a huge company – I simply wanted to do the job how it should be done. In truth, if someone told me that by 2019 Scriba PR would have nine employees and 42 retained – plus dozens of ad hoc – clients, I would have freaked. But now I love managing an organisation as much as I do PR accounts.
Business took off quicker than I could have ever imagined, and I soon got to the point where I had to turn work down if I was to maintain the high standards I’d set. This meant I had to reshape my one-woman business vision. While I probably left it longer than I should have, eventually there’s a tipping point when you realise an extra person can add value where perhaps you can’t.
For example, I knew I didn’t want to look after the finances or design my own logo. Instead, I enjoyed focusing on customer satisfaction, the new business pipeline and stickiness of clients. By taking an honest look at myself, I knew things would slip if I didn’t find someone to help with the day-to-day running of the company.
Once I hired operations manager, Louise Jaggar – who joined as a PR assistant back in 2015 – it became easier to identify when we needed to add someone else to the team. We also invested in systems to help us grow – such as our work in progress reports and a cloud server – from the very beginning, so scaling up was easier.
In terms of hiring new talent, I never look for carbon copies of my colleagues. We focus on strengths, integrity and likeability, not just experience and qualifications. Every one of the team has a completely different CV, and that brings a wealth of skills to the table.
As your own company grows, it’s important to keep your ambitions fluid – while staying true to the purpose you originally set out with. In our case, the brands we work with, words we provide, and underlying ethos is coupled with a willingness to pass work – including web design, photography, videography, or digital marketing – on to other agencies we trust if necessary.
While some teams might thrive on hitting very clear KPIs, others work better when striving towards a collective culture and wider purpose. Of course, there are overheads you must cover with any business, but at the same time, I never wanted to be a massive agency with multiple in-house departments that don’t talk to one another.
As much as I love to have a plan – and I am very meticulous in how I allocate my time and workload – I’ve come to realise that strategies can unwittingly end up taking a completely different path, but by being prepared, you’re better-equipped to handle such forks in the road. As the saying goes, ‘success is not final, failure is not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts.’