How to start a content marketing consultancy during a pandemic
When it comes to potentially awful business decisions, starting your own consultancy in a recession during a global pandemic might be at the top of the list.
However, it could also be a brilliant strategic entrepreneurial move (here’s hoping!).
But no pressure, no diamonds, as they say.
I’ve been working in content for almost 15 years. After finishing up my last job - a four-year stint as Global Content Director for an agency in the UK - I decided to do some freelancing before I went on maternity leave in 2019.
Things went well. I got some work. Made some great connections. Earned some cash money. I even had a few verbal offers for a full-time job when I returned to the workforce.
I went into my 12 months leave feeling confident about my employment situation post-baby.
Six months later, the pandemic hit.
By April, I saw the writing on the wall. I’d kept in touch with my contacts, and the agencies that had offered me work were struggling – like most businesses around the globe.
So, what was a new mom with only a few months left in her maternity leave with no job prospects to do?
Well, I sobbed.
OK, not really (well, maybe a little). I knew things were tough for everyone, and that in times of crisis those who innovate and adapt are most likely to survive. (But I swear to God if I see the word ‘pivot’ ONE MORE TIME).
So, I decided to start my own consultancy. Crazy? Probably. Necessary? Absolutely.
In September 2020, I launched my content marketing business. And while I’ve only been consulting for a few months, I have some tips to share with anyone who is thinking of taking a similar leap.
1) Ask for help
I have something to confess: I’m a know-it-all. It’s a terrible trait and something I am desperately trying to fix. But nothing is more humbling than starting your own business and realizing you do not, in fact, know it all. In reality, you probably know very little.
‘You don’t know what you don’t know’ a wise woman once told me. And that’s painfully true when it comes to starting your own business. So, I reached out to everyone I know to ask for help and advice – agency owners, business consultants, the local chamber of commerce, networking groups (more on that later), friends, family, my dog (he was surprisingly very unhelpful).
If you go into a new business venture knowing that you don’t know everything, you will learn so, so much.
I am embarrassed to say it has taken me 35 years to learn this but it has been so immensely helpful to me on this journey.
2) Market the sh*t out of yourself
One reason I used to be hesitant to start my own business is that I hated ‘the hustle’. I didn’t want to sell myself or brag or have to prove my worth or convince people to buy something they didn’t want to buy.
‘I’m not a salesperson,’ the writer in me used to tell myself.
But the thing is, if you start your own business, you absolutely must be a salesperson. While it would be nice, people don’t magically drop projects off at your door. And while I find ‘hustle culture’ problematic, there is something to be said for tooting your own horn, especially when you’re starting out.
I reached out to my alumni network (both high school and university), I leave business cards everywhere I go, and do my best to speak to the owners and tell them about what I do. I connect with agencies to help partner with them on projects. I join business networking groups, and entrepreneur groups on social media and contribute often as well as promoting my business.
I harass my clients to leave me Google Business Reviews.
And it’s resulted in more than a few jobs.
Self-promotion for a business owner is hard. But I promise you one thing, if you run your own business, you will never care more about a job in your life, which makes it a lot easier.
3) Join networking groups
I was also reticent about joining networking groups. I was never certain what the calibre of members would be like and if I would get any value out of attending the meetings. And while I will admit that COVID-19 is making the whole meeting-people-in-person thing challenging, it’s not impossible to network virtually.
One of the most thoughtful phrases I’ve heard in support of networking groups is that even though you’re on your own as an entrepreneur (and there are almost 600 million of us globally) you’re never alone.
I joined a local small business group through an old client a few months ago and I’ve already worked on quite a few projects with contacts I’ve met there. But not all groups are created equal, so do some research on the make-up of the members, the goal of the group and ensure it aligns with your business objectives.
I’ve also joined some amazing local entrepreneur groups on Facebook, and I began following the small business subreddit on Reddit. Try and find a local group relevant to your industry – I am consistently blown away by just how helpful fellow entrepreneurs can be!
4) Master your brand
Having worked in marketing for several years, I knew how critical it was to develop a high-quality brand identity for my business. It was something I was prepared to invest in even though I wasn’t making much money yet.
Luckily, I have some talented family members who helped put my website together, but I would have paid top dollar for it. Competition is SO fierce these days and you have but a second to make a first impression.
The old ‘shoemakers children go barefoot’ excuse won’t work – if you want clients to take you seriously, you have to show them that you are serious about marketing your own brand as well.
5) Be prepared for hard times
Despite a few brief stints of freelancing, I’ve mostly worked full-time jobs. So, moving to a permanent project-based working situation was tough. There are days that you will do a lot of work, marketing your business, putting together proposals, having scoping calls and introductory meetings, and you will not make a red cent. That is scary when you’re used to going to work and getting paid every day, even if you spend most of your working hours watching TikTok videos.
6) Work with the pros
I was shocked (and comforted) to find out how much help there is for small businesses and entrepreneurs – and a lot of it is free. Many local municipalities know that businesses are feeling the crunch during COVID-19, so there is more support for those just starting out.
If you run a main street business, check out the Digital Main Street program (Greenlight Content is an accredited vendor) that helps businesses with their adoption of technology.
If you want even more advice (and $5,000 in sweet, sweet cash) check out the Starter Company Plus program run by local business centres in Ontario. Greenlight Content just completed this program and it’s been so incredibly inspiring and helped me think much more strategically about my business.
7) Just do it (*the most important point*)
I was nervous to start a consultancy. What if it fails? What if I make no money? What if I have to give up and find another job? But as Michael Scott famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. So just do it - and remember that even though you want things to be perfect, sometimes ‘good enough is good enough’.
Just get a website going and then tweak it. Start your social channels and post content, learn what does well, and amend your strategy accordingly. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s honestly the only way you will learn.
I have no idea if I’ll succeed at this. But I know that I tried, and to me, that’s what counts. I would love to hear your stories about the successes (and failures) of launching your consultancy.
And if you need help with your content marketing or you just want to connect, feel free to book a meeting with me.