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Starting a consultancy during lockdown

When is the right time to launch your business as a Comms Consultant?

How do you know if you’re ready? Who would your clients be? How much would you charge?

These are just some of the topics I examine in my new How to be a Comms Consultant – Exploration Online Masterclass. Someone who has experienced the in-person version of that course is Adam Driver of Authentic Comms.

Adam was on the verge of launching his own communications consultancy, but found himself in the middle of a pandemic. What would you do in that situation?

I’m delighted to welcome Adam to share his experience of starting a consultancy during lockdown with you. It was certainly a challenge but, as you’ll discover, there’s been opportunities too.

Starting a consultancy during lockdown


Adam – please tell us about your business.

Authentic Comms is a strategic communication consultancy that started life mid-pandemic.

We help brands, organisations and businesses develop and deploy strategic, measurable communications through PR, internal comms, digital marketing, SEO, social media and advertising.

Four months in and things have thankfully turned a corner after a challenging first period. I had always planned to not make any money for a few months – workload, pitching for new business, 30-day payment terms etc. – however, the speed at which plans unravelled since launching in April 2020 was unnerving.

My two key prospects that were close to retainer stage (get me, right?!) were paused during lockdown, as they were both connected to the hospitality world. Luckily the long-term relationships are strong and smaller projects have been happening. 

The wife and I decided to take a mortgage holiday to relieve some of the anxiety, and I adapted to focus my energies writing blogs and on my personal brand. I also used the time to learn more about areas I wanted to improve in – advanced SEO, email marketing and in-depth analytics.

What made you decide to launch your own business?

It sounds clichéd, but it’s been an ambition of mine for years. Even though I forgot about it…

When leaving my last role, my director reminded me that when I interviewed years before, I was asked what I would like to be doing in the future. I apparently said running my own agency.

Glad I’m ‘on track’!

I’ve always had an inquisitive nose (the journalism training?) and been slightly outspoken, not afraid to give my opinion. I think that helps with the drive to be empowered and make decisions, even though I have never seen myself as a natural leader.

After a tough few years with some personal and family situations, I decided the time was right to give it a go. So in summer 2019 I started Authentic as a blog (remind you of anyone, Rachel?).

(Yes indeed! All Things IC was a blog, originally named Life Through a 2.0 Lens in 2009 – anyone remember that?! Then I rebranded it to be Diary of an internal communicator until I launched All Things IC Limited in 2013 – Rachel). See My Story to find out more.

How did you prepare to launch?

The blog was one of the best things I could’ve done. It gave me that editorial freedom to write without a brief, expressing my own personality and experiences. In addition, I began having conversations with people that I really wanted to work with.

This was key to sowing the seed for current clients now and – more importantly – for a strong pipeline for the future. Not everything happens within six months; it takes time.

Also, I set aside more savings, and researched a business plan (although that went up in smoke). I also found the All Things IC ‘How to be a Comms Consultant’ course really useful, and spoke to a number of people who had gone out on their own in recent years. 

I 100% recommend the Exploration course if you’re considering being a communications freelancer/consultant.

I took Rachel’s course (in person) and it set me up for launching my own business and gave me the confidence I needed to bring Authentic Comms Strategic Consultancy to life.

It was properly inspiring, especially with the blog writing and values side.

What advice would you give others who are thinking of doing the same?

It’s never too soon to start having conversations. Speak to people off the record, have a coffee, go for a drink, DM on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Also, find your tribe – like minded souls. One person last year wanted to charge £2k as a consultancy fee, whereas others kindly gave some advice for free. There is no right or wrong.

Everyone is different. Don’t take it personally.

However, I’d recommend connecting with people you feel align with your values, or are the kind of person you want to be. There are many out there willing to help. Just ask.

Get your finances, contract and day rate nailed first, before you do anything. This gives you a solid foundation to work from, as well as confidence that what you’re doing is profitable and working towards your strategic goals.

What sort of work do you do?

My background is in hospitality, leisure and FMCG (beer and brewing), With the onset of coronavirus I have not been able to work much in this sector, as priorities are on survival right now. Still in the mix for conversations, but it’s taken a little time. 

As of now, my clients range from: helping launch an innovative engineering product; strategy for a higher education membership organisation; a variety of digital audits (website content/UX, Google Analytics and social media); digital marketing and paid social for a couple of hospitality clients; content for a security firm; marketing strategy, SEO and PR outreach for an architect firm and a photographer; and supporting an e-commerce website. 

What has surprised you so far?

The kindness of strangers. Put yourself out there and you’ll be amazed by how supportive and helpful people can be. It doesn’t always need to always be about competition and making the most money.

Be kind, patient, help people with connections, and it will all come back around. Believe me.

What’s your plan for your next few months?

In a nutshell, get to 2021. As I said, there were two major clients on the brink of signing retainers that disappeared. With that new opportunities do appear, of course, but I’m currently working on a project-by-project basis and keeping going with my new business pipeline conversations.

What have you learnt along the way?

  1. Don’t take it personally. When you put your heart and soul into a pitch document, finish, be proud of it, but move on and imagine you don’t have it.  Anything else will be a bonus. Business is business.
  2. Talk to people about what you’re doing – might be a partner, best mate, friend in the industry, or even a counsellor. Luckily, my current counsellor used to be in advertising agencies, so is well-placed to give me situational business reassurance. Regardless, just find someone that can help you feel confident in whatever you’re doing, and that can subdue that pesky imposter syndrome.
  3. Prepare to be unprepared. Remain flexible, nimble and creative. Back in late Feb – when I handed my notice in at my previous content marketing agency – there were only a handful of people with coronavirus in the UK. Fast-forward to mid-April, when I left, and we were two weeks into lockdown, after thousands had sadly died. A different world.

My final thought is to aim high, believe in yourself. You’ve got to be in it to win it.

Adam is founder and MD of Authentic Comms Strategic Consultancy Ltd. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter, and sign up to his blog here.

Thank you for sharing your experience Adam, I’m so delighted to see your business dream become a reality.

Learn with All Things IC online via my new Masterclasses

My new Online Masterclass are part of my business dream. I’ve been researching them for two years and I’ve loved hearing from the first cohort of Comms professionals who have already completed their training.

I’ve designed the courses with you in mind. I launched them a fortnight ago today and Comms professionals from the US, UK and Norway have already signed up and either completed their Masterclass or made a great start.

Thank you to everyone who has been tagging me in their posts on social media using @AllthingsIC on Twitter or @rachelallthingsic on Instagram. I love seeing how you’re getting on.

VIP options are available for all Masterclasses, which is where you submit assignment/s to me for personalised feedback so you and I can work together during your course.

 

The beauty of the courses is you have 12 months to access the content from the date you enrol. It’s your course at your pace, so you may decide to study intensively, which will take you one-two days. Or you can study at your own pace, choosing a chapter a week/month, it’s entirely up to you.

There are three options to choose from:

Listen to the story behind my new Online Masterclasses

Thank you to Debbie Aurelius of Peppermint Fish for inviting me to be a guest on the Be a Bigger Fish podcast alongside one of my beta testers, Erica Goodwin @EricaMGoodwin.

We examined the benefits of online courses, why I decided to create them, what IC professionals can gain from studying in this way and much more. Plus Erica shared her experience of completing the How to be an internal communicator Online Masterclass.

You can listen to our conversation via Apple podcasts, or direct on Debbie’s website.

Be a bigger fish podcast

Thank you for stopping by and to Adam for sharing his story.

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC blog 30 July 2020.

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