Aura turns 10 today and I have to say, it’s be a rollercoaster of highs and lows, but I wouldn’t change any of it for a second. It’s been challenging, thrilling and very rewarding.
Instead of “10 of the biggest achievements in 10 years”, I wanted to write about what I’ve learned in 10 years of running a public relations business. I think it’s more valuable than a quick brag! I’ve also dug into the picture archives…
Finding my feet
I’d say it took me four years to really find my groove, to feel comfortable about making sound decisions, and to have built up enough confidence to know I have the skills, experience and knowledge to make this business what I want it to be. The reason it took so long is because I had a business partner and a team in the early days, before I decided to operate as a consultant.
In the initial years there were some confidence knocks, lack of moral support and frustrations about growth, (hey, it was a recession). The rest was a steep learning curve. One where I had to learn to stand up for myself, have confidence in my own ability and not worry about the challenges – that’s when I realised that I could turn the challenges into opportunities.
We’re very good at shouting about our successes and rightly so, but where people can really learn from others is when we talk about our mistakes and what we learned from them. In addition, what we have learned from other people’s mistakes. This is a longer read but I do hope it helps you formulate your thinking and know it’s okay to make mistakes – it’s how you move on that matters.
Turning #AuraTurns10 (follow the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram!) into an opportunity to tell people what I’ve learned in 10 years running my own business is my way of giving something back and at the risk of feeling slightly naked. We’re all humans, who make mistakes, but it’s what we do with the learning that counts.
No-one ever said running a business was easy, but it has appealed to me since I was young. My Dad, a big business inspiration in my life when he was alive, worked hard. In fact, he worked seven days a week for most of his working life. He was work-obsessed, but he achieved great things. From him I learned about being dedicated and being firm and I also learned that there has to be a balance between work and personal time. No-one wants burn-out or to miss important parts of life.
How I started in public relations
To give some perspective, for those who don’t know how I happened to work in public relations, I trained in hospitality after leaving school (I left after my standard grades, to the horror of my school). By the time I was coming to the end of my Higher National Diploma in Hospitality Management, I had already been invited onto a management training programme with a reputable Scottish hospitality firm which owned many restaurants and bars across Scotland, a club in London and a club in Australia.
Due to losing its license in Australia, the company went into liquidation. I was looking for another job as I didn’t want to work with the company which was rumoured to be taking over
One of my regular clients offered me a job working in her lifestyle PR and marketing agency and the rest as they say, is history. That was over 18 years ago.
I’ve worked in-house, I’ve run 24/7 press offices, I’ve always worked across the broader spectrum of communication and engagement, including forums, websites, media, events, influencer relations and advertising. At one point in my career, this was a negative mark against my name as I wasn’t obsessed with media relations, as every other agency on the planet was… I saw the opportunity back then to integrate how we worked.
However, on with the story…
10 years ago, my business partner and I set up Aura PR. I remember working around her kitchen island as we mapped out our plan, our target clients, how we’d operate as a boutique agency but have the mentality of a plc and basically, we planned world domination. We had many sessions over a glass of wine or two (ahem), getting excited about what we could do as duo. I think differently to traditional practitioners, so my hunger for being forward-thinking and standing out from the crowd, got us excited.
Fast forward four years to when I bought her out of the business. That year, when I revised the brand (was part of the agreement), I dropped the ‘PR’ out of the brand identity. It’s funny seeing M&C Saatchi making a big deal of this just now, as I did it years ago. I even blogged about it!
To me, using ‘PR’ as a term was dumbing down what we do and the power and influence we can have. I generally try and use the full term, ‘public relations’, when discussing what I do. The same goes for communication. A lot of people say they work in ‘communications’, but communications, plural, are the tactics. Communication is the art. Communication is where the strategy lies.
Anyway, I completely changed the brand again in 2014 and again, it didn’t hit the mark. I was attracting the wrong types of clients and enquiries. So, in 2017, I embarked on a nine-month journey to redefine my brand and how that sat with my personal brand. The new AURA brand was born and carried “Chartered Public Relations and Communication” below it. It now makes a bold statement and coupled with the design, now attracts the right clients.
There’s so much to tell you, but I want to keep this post about learnings, so here are 10 from the last 10 years:
#1 Understanding ‘business’ is equally as important as knowing public relations– both from running my own business profitably and understanding my client’s. Everything from finance to HR, to legal and processes such as sales funnels. Granted, every business is different, but having good business acumen has helped me get further, quicker
#2 Only work with people who have the same ethics and morals as you– it reflects on your brand and your reputation
#3 Cash is king– when starting out we had a steady income, but in order for Aura to scale in its younger days, we needed to be clever with our cash. Some months I wasn’t able to pay my business partner and myself, because we had to pay staff, suppliers and HMRC first. That’s another lesson – always look after your staff first!
#4 Don’t have all your eggs in one basket– we had a major client a number of years ago. We put all our energy into that client, delivering some amazing work. We were indispensable, or so we thought… One day the client served us notice and handed the contract to some fancy London agency which promised the earth. This meant we had to make a redundancy
#5 Be a grown-up– in public relations, it’s easy to get drawn into tittle tattle and thankfully I’ve managed to mostly avoid this, by getting on with the important stuff – being myself and getting on with my work. However, toxic behaviour sadly does exist in every industry, and I’ve experienced it within my former team. It can be extremely harmful for the business if it’s not dealt with quickly. It’s hard not to take that personally, but you have to remember your own reputation and getting on with being the pro you are
#6 Fire clients who make you nervous– your gut is so important. Running a business which is your baby (and let’s not kid ourselves, 60-65% of your life), gives you permission to give a shit about what might damage it. Your gut, well mine anyway, is always right.
I once had a client who ended up ripping people off. They didn’t start out to, but they ended up doing so because they were terrible business people. Businesses and staff lost out financially. Sometimes firing clients is required in order for you to protect your own reputation and take appropriate, ethical action
#7 Stand up for yourself. Sometimes in public relations (or any industry), people act with jealousy. When Aura first launched, I managed to get some amazing trade coverage in The Drum and front page of the CIPR’s member magazine, plus a double page spread inside. It was amazing. It laid out our plan and had everyone talking.
Naturally, some feared us, we were definitely a force to be reckoned with. This started some pretty nasty industry pettiness and males in particular seemed to feel threatened by a younger female making a noise.
Similarly, when I started properly blogging about public relations in 2013, other agencies started to talk about me and ‘who does she think she is’.
I was not put off by this. The thing is, I was one of the first, if not the first in Scotland, to start blogging, recording video for YouTube and more, for Aura (when I look back I see how outdated they are now!). I was developing my own platform to be able to talk about challenges and opportunities, trends and new tech.
Stand up for yourself. Don’t let others put you down and please remember that the only reason people get like that is because they are scared of what you are saying and are disappointed they didn’t think of it before you
#8 Don’t take the client for the money if you can’t add value to their business– when you first start in business you tend to take any business you can get because you need the money. You need to think of the bigger picture and implications. If you want to attract a certain type of client, you need to only work with them. If you’re not able to figure out how you can help that client’s business, then don’t take them on. It’ll cause you stress and it’ll ultimately damage your reputation
#9 Don’t be scared of people who are ‘better’ than you. Instead, employ them or collaborate with them. No two people are the same. Seek people who are better than you in different areas of work and make a point of finding out how you can work with them. That’s the part of my work I love. You can make anything happen!
In the world of ‘freelance’ and independent consultants, imposter syndrome is all too common, with people worrying if they can do something, scraping through competitor content on social media and comparing themselves. It’s unhealthy. We’re all different. As I like to remind people on Instagram, being YOU is your super power
#10 And finally, last but not least, the biggest mistake anyone can make, not investing in yourself.Anything from your professional and personal development to wellbeing and health, it’s so important that we realise investing in yourself is essential. Without you, there is no business. If you invest in yourself, you’re investing in your business’ growth, the value you can add to client’s, your own time, your family and friends.
And because Aura turns 10, I’m going to give you a Brucey Bonus! #11 Be yourself.Be genuine, be yourself. Admit when you’re wrong, don’t be a dick, be genuine to everyone who you come into contact with, be nice. We all know Karma can be a bitch, and one thing I’ve thought a lot about recently after I read a really raw blog post, if I died, how would people remember me? What would they say? How do YOU want to be remembered? Well then, act like it. It’s your personal brand. Actions speak louder than words.
Throughout November I’ll be delving into some of themes I’ve been talking about on Instagram. I’ve genuinely enjoyed writing them and being open about business, Aura and the world of public relations.
My passion for being the best PR consultant I can be, has taken me down many paths, opened many doors, but the biggest thing for me is that I’m proving to myself that I am good at what I do, and clients choose to work with me because of who I am and my reputation.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. I was a bit scared about writing it, but I’d rather share the knowledge I have so you can learn or even just be satisfied you’re not alone. If you enjoyed my post and think someone you know may get something from it, then please do share it among your network. It’s a special post for a special occasion.