From our latest recruit, Marcel Klebba, social media activist and occasional junior.On gaining an essential PR skill – you’re never to young to start with the multi-tasking…
It’s 5PM. I am drinking my Earl Grey with (skimmed) milk, while writing this post. Playing in the background I have Radio 4’s Today Programme podcast from this morning that I didn’t manage to listen to till the end. As the Polish team is playing some decent football in Euro 2016, I am also following the score on my phone, while at the same time I am on my second screen monitoring multiple tweets and twitter feeds on TweetDeck.
This is taking multitasking to a whole new level, even for me!I multitask all the time. I have to. My life is quite busy so learning how to multi-task is a must for me. I am a PR student, part of the virtual Comms Crowd, while also making beautiful coffees on weekends at my local coffee shop. Whenever I have a bit of spare time from uni I try to get as much work experience as I can which is often hard. Once back home, after a full day of work or lessons or meetings, I still find myself having to to write an essay for the course or do prepare some posts for our clients’ twitter feeds. As I am a good son, who is living away from home, I can’t forget about face-timing my Mum, as well.
Multi-tasking is the skill that nowadays really pays off and that can give you a massive advantage, especially in PR where you need to be able to manage your schedule, meet clients’ deadlines, attend meetings while at the same time carrying on with your routine comms work .
Apart from its numerous advantages, multitasking has some drawbacks. Obviously, when doing too many things at once you run the risk of not doing any of them right Therefore, something tells me that I now need to pause the radio in the background in order to focus on my writing. Knowing when and what to prioritise is essential as well: keeping track of the football score, even though it’s super important for me,is not as time-sensitive and paramount as the work that I need to deliver for the clients. Juggling everything isn’t impossible and is extremely rewarding. Being praised for good work by Sam, is a superb feeling and keeps me motivated.
Talking of Sam and the Comms Crowd, I would not be able to do social media without the agency being, as we like to call it, cloud-based. It gives me the opportunity to work anywhere and anytime… within deadlines, not to upset Sam!
Comms Crowd’s approach is really innovative. Communication between all the members is being done via email and we share all our work on drop box we are all in our own offices, in some cases – living rooms. Comms Crowd gives us all flexibility and the chance to nurture not only startups, but also our kids, our hobbies, or, in my case, get the top mark for my Online PR module at uni. That’s The beauty of freelancing, as Sam has said, the beauty of multi-tasking I say!
Sam Howard reflects on five years of being freelance…
A lot can happen in five years. Five years ago my 11 year old little cutey baked cakes and gave freely of his cuddles and enthusiasm. Five years on and my ‘little’ cutey looks down on me in disdain while raiding the fridge and giving freely of his criticism. He loves me really – it’s just a phase right?
And so too has the freelance life grown up. On the client side we have really found our niche now – tech startups, the way we work combined with our business model make us a great fit for the nimble and ambitious startup. None of us have the appetite for long meetings or long emails – we all just want to get stuff done!
Most recently our client work was short-listed for an award, for a PR campaign we ran in the public sector. And I confess it feels good to be ranked up there alongside the more established agencies.
It’s gone from being just me to a tight little collective of PR Pros, our AR guy, a designer or two and a trio of copywriters, working together and playing to our strengths. And it’s grown bigger in all the right ways, while holding onto the core freelance premise, which is no premises at all!
Proud to say CommsCrowd HQ is still my former dining room and therefore we still have no need for a receptionist, an IT team, an office manager, an HR team or an accounts department. Just outlook, dropbox, google docs, and some wicked spreadsheets (a personal forte).
In addition to the bulking up of expertise, the other fantastic side of forming the freelance collective is that it offers the opportunity for each of us to develop outside of the world of comms. Whether it’s renovating a 300 year old cottage, bagging munros or learning to surf.
I’ve really got into the talent development element of PR and I’m now an associate lecturer for Westminster University and The London College of Communication. College days are the best days, I get an enormous amount of satisfaction nurturing the next generation of young ones and helping them prepare for the world of work.
And when you feel supported by a brilliant team; when you genuinely warm to your clients and get a kick out of every campaign that delivers; when your pockets are over flowing with psychic income and you’re still learning and still evolving – well then there’s no reason to stop. Here’s to the next five years!
When I said goodbye to early mornings at Cheltenham station and trains to PR offices around the UK, one of my main worries (apart from finding work of course!) was whether I’d miss the daily contact with colleagues. According to psychometric tests, one of my characteristics is ‘extraversion’, which means I get my energy by interacting with other people. I’ve always found this to be true, so how could I combine it with a freelance life?
To make things more difficult, I’d been commuting since I moved to Cheltenham, which had left me little time to make friends in the area. At one stage I joined a running club, but two weeks later I began a project which meant lots of time in London, so my only friends in the area were those I’d met via my partner.
The answer came from an unexpected and low-tech source – a noticeboard by my local shops, where I spotted a poster for a business talk organised by a group called ‘Cheltenham Connect’. I thought I’d give it a try and duly went along. The speaker was interesting, the people welcoming and I decided to go again the following month. It might help me make new contacts and would at least get me out of the house. The group also organised an informal co-working session in a local café every week, called Laptop Friday, and this helped me put some structure into my early weeks of freelance life.
Fast forward a few months and Wendy, the human dynamo who’d set up the organisation, invited me out for coffee. That’s nice, I thought – and then she sweet-talked into doing their PR! I didn’t really enjoy local PR but – oh well, why not help out for a few months? The first activity I had to promote was a business conference/exhibition, and before I knew it I was exhibiting and helping with event planning too. But it wasn’t all business related; there was a Christmas craft fair, a music festival with bands from the area….and local PR stopped being a chore because I could see the positive impact these events had on the community. They really mattered to the people involved, and they started to matter to me too.
But this was about more than feeling good by doing some pro bono work: I found I’d tapped into a ready-made support community. We swapped information on local activities, bounced around ideas, tipped each other off on new business opportunities and shared lifts to events. You could ask for a second opinion, or discuss something that was bothering you about running a business – chances were that someone would be able to help. If I had a week with no meetings, I’d arrange to meet one of my new contacts for coffee to swap ideas and recharge my extrovert batteries.
The year rolled round and my business grew, but I stayed involved with the group. I’ve become co-organiser of the business event, which has grown every year and now has 200+ attendees. Through it I’ve met a wide variety of people, from our MP and councillors to entrepreneurs running all types of businesses. I’ve also used it to try new things, such as chairing a discussion panel last year (it went really well, so it’s back again this year!).
As I specialise in technology PR, I didn’t expect any of this generate any business, but surprisingly it did. People sent me leads they’d seen on social media, recommended me to designers needing copywriters and passed on work they were too busy to handle. I even swapped writing a press release for attending a course on social media.
Five years on and as well as a positive glow from doing something for the community, I have a local support network I never dreamed of when I first became a freelance. Many of the people I’ve met have also become good friends. Three of us have had operations over the summer and we’ve had practical support and lots of encouragement during our recovery. My partner is continually surprised by how many people I know – and now he’s offered to help out one of the team with dog walking!
So my message to freelancers everywhere is use that extra time and contribute to your community as part of getting that elusive work-life balance right. You’ve nothing to lose except your inhibitions…
Sam Howard is hitting her prime
Perhaps freelance years are like dog years, for I’m starting feel like I’m in my freelance prime! Four years in, and, as they say on those talent shows, ‘it feels like this is my time’! Oh why’s that then? Well I’ll tell ya.
Tech in general and fintech in partciular is finally hot!
After some 20 years of apologizing for working in a sector of which nobody has ever heard; countless conversations explaining what I do to those whose eyes glaze over in the time it takes to say ‘enterprise-wide trading systems’ – all of a sudden our sector is hot!
Not only is our sector hot, my home town for some 30 years, London, is fit to burst with tech startups and I do love a startup – always have! Not for me the 200 page branding guideline bible, the 83 slide PowerPoint on our ‘core’ USPs. Where’s the opportunity to add value to that (other than rip it up)?
I love the pace, the energy, vibrancy that comes with young tech companies. They are brave, bold and, my lot at least, quite audaciously brilliant. But it’s always struck me, that at the point a young company needs the most care, nurturing and attention to its comms, is just when it can least afford it. Sometimes, that’s not a good fit for a standard agency, where there can be an expectation mismatch, (a big PR budget for a small company is still a small client for a big PR agency). But it’s a great fit for collaborations and small networks of specialist freelancers like The Comms Crowd. Freelancers by our very career choices have often rejected the status quo and defined ourselves as fellow disruptors.
Another great thing about working with young tech companies is the absolute lack of formality. This suits me down to the ground, I want to use my time helping that company do smart comms, not validating how smart I am. Decisions are quick, turnarounds fast, reporting is a spreadsheet in google docs and emails are brief, often littered with typos from both sides. Witness recent email exchange, informing client CEO that we had secured media interest from a noted publication.
ME – OMG We’ve got Forbes!
CEO – F*** yeah!
And of course when you work in a hot sector, in a hot city, with hot clients, you get to talk to media that you have never had the temerity to approach before, but that, it turns out, are really just like us, if you have a decent story to tell. And call me a easily impressed but for a long-toothed B2B fintech PR to be suddenly talking to the nationals, is just really rather cool!
So yeah, in this the fourth year, I find myself, in the right place, with the right business model at the right time – happy freelance birthday to me and the crew, being four rocks!
Are you stiing comfortably? Then I’ll tell you how I fell into PR
Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a very bored admin manager who worked for a software development company. She found her job excessively dull, and so would spend much of the day quietly sitting at her computer, writing short stories. For some six months, she (barely) managed to perform her admin duties while working tirelessly on her craft, and soon enough her stories started to get the literary recognition she so desperately craved.
But then one day, the CEO – an entirely overly motivated individual, in her opinion, whom she’d successfully managed to avoid in the main – summoned her to his office. Her heart sunk when she saw upon his desk a sheaf of printouts, not of the latest tedious project timelines, but varying drafts of her stories and poems.
She braced herself to be fired: what cared she? She would live in an attic, make a career move out of being miserable and thin, wear fingerless gloves and die a fine and beautiful death of consumption.
“These are rather good,” he said evenly.
Momentarily thrown off balance but determined to remain on the offensive, she replied, “Well if you can’t give me enough to do, I have to get through the terminable day somehow.”
“My fault entirely,” he concurred with a half-smile.
She glared at him balefully. Was he just passing time waiting for the HR lackey to come in and do his dirty work for him?
Apparently not. “So I was wondering if I might prevail upon you to apply your talents to writing a few stories about the company, our solutions and how we help our customers grow and so forth…”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” she interrupted, immediately seeing a flaw in his plan. “They’d be so boring: who would want to read those?”
“Ah, yes,” he replied with a mere smidge of a vindictive twinkle in his eye. “But it would be your job to make them interesting, tell a good story, engage the reader and what not. Then, maybe, you might talk to a journalist or two, see if you could interest them in writing their own stories about us…”
She looked at him aghast. Why, just the thought of it made her feel queasy. “PR! You want me to do PR??” How very dare he? ”I shan’t do it, I shan’t! You can’t make me!” she wailed.
“Well, no need to agree the brief right now. Why don’t you have the rest of the afternoon off to think about it?”
She grabbed her papers from his desk and stalked with great dignity from his office, not trusting herself to speak.
And so it was that after a sodden gin review of her overdraft facility, our heroine reluctantly conceded that just possibly there were worse things one could do for a living than telling corporate stories.
She’d just do it for a few months before she went and found herself a proper job or, at least had saved enough for a deposit on an attic and a pair of fingerless gloves…
And so, best beloveds, thanks to the thankless intervention of a remarkable CEO, I began my twenty year, hugely enjoyable and vastly rewarding career in PR.
Funny that now, ‘PR is all about telling stories.’ I thought it always was…
What’s it like being a freelance PR when you’ve only got a few years’ experience under your belt? Our first freeelance account exec, Hiwot Wolde-Senbet, weighs in on the perils and perks.
Freelancing was the last thing I thought I would be doing at this early stage in my career. But, as a natural risk taker, this opportunity came with perks that I could have only dreamed of, so I grabbed it without hesitation.I figured, I had participated in enough weekly meetings; done a few new business brainstorming and planning sessions; pitched in plenty of stories; not to forget the never ending reporting; to give me a rounded view of the PR life. But let’s face it, I may have spent a few years as a junior in a few agencies, but there aren’t enough clippings in all the world to prepare me to fly on my own.
This is why being a part of The Comms Crowd works for me, as it’s made up of senior freelance PR and marcomms people, with loads of experience. So I get to work on what I really enjoy while they shoulder the responsibility, they even look after my training and devlopment too. And just because I’m the ‘junior’ doesn’t mean I get to miss the hunt, in fact, in less than three months of being a part of The Crowd, I found myself sitting in front of a possible client sharing my ‘out of the box’ thinking – way out of the typical junior’s comfort zone. As Sam says, “Well… you’re a freelancer now, no one to hide behind, so get on with it.” So you do just that and learn from your experience.
As a freelancer, I get to work from home so, I make my own hours. It sounds fantastic right? You would assume so when you are on the ‘nine to five‘ schedule and wish you could skip the rush hour. But freelancing comes with its own set of issues, not least isolation, turns out you really miss the mini chit chats and light hearted banter that gets your day going in an office.
And there are times when life as a junior freelancer can make you feel like pulling your hair out (the occasional side effect to Excel drama). And you really miss the days that you used to ask your colleagues to help you with those unsolvable IT problems (which you probably took an hour to deal with) and then they come and sort you out in a click, leaving you feeling inept but ready to roll. When you are a freelancer, your time is money and just that fact alone makes you become very aware and conscious of your time. So you can’t afford to spend an hour on some stupid Excel issue, yet you have no choice. Not having a colleague that sits next to you means are a bit at the mercy of email response and there are the inevitable, albeit occasional, misunderstandings that you get from working remotely. So everyone really has to work at overcoming the ‘cloud barriers’, but we’re getting there.
But then the niggles just melt away, when you look through your window and see that it is sunny and bright outside. It feels like it’s calling you to come and enjoy it, feel the sun touch your skin. Living in London, I already know sunny days don’t come by often, so I pick up my sunglasses and iPad and move to the café nearby with an outdoor space. I get my to-go cappuccino and lay on the grass to draft an artcicle. That’s when I realise that I am living the dream I never had, as a real life Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City. Except I don’t do my research in nightclubs.
When you live and work in the same place, life can truly get tangled up. Becoming a freelancer will really test and challenge your organisational skills. However, with clear objectives, support and training; the cloud-based agency model can help you release your inner Carrie and achieve a fair work life balance. Until then, be prepared to, learn fast and be out of your comfort zone.
On how being kind can be good for your career. Really! Recently I was asked how I got started as a freelancer. “Oh it was Karma really,” I replied. And this greasy sort sidled up.“Who’s Karma?” He said. “Are they hiring?”
Come to think about it, maybe ‘they’ were:See, it all started when I was agency side… Once a year I would host a day for visiting US students. It started off as a favour for a client, but we loved engaging with the students, so sunny and bright and we became a regular stop on the US tour. And this lone kind act, helped counter-balance those days when I used to lock myself in the office bathroom and recite, “I’m not paid to be popular,” before marching back out there to rain on someone’s parade.
A few years passed, then one day in 2010 the US tour organisers asked me if I knew of a senior comms consultant that could head up a London internship programme for media post grads for The USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.And I thought, that could be me that could…And within a week of resigning I was jetting off to LA
So that became my first freelance contract, going to LA and working with the sunniest people on the planet. We are on our fourth contract now and it’s one of the most satisfying projects I have. But it doesn’t stop there…As a result of that work, I gained a great understanding of the whole PR landscape, not just my bit. I also experienced first-hand how incredibly difficult it was to secure internships in our sector. So I volunteered my services with the Taylor Bennett Organisation to share what I had learned with our home grown talent, helping the trainees prepare for their first roles in PR. I have been working with TBF for the last three years now, and I love it. I stay in touch with many of the trainees and it’s a huge buzz watching them develop and succeed in their careers…
And it didn’t stop there, either. Chuffed to announce The Comms Crowd has just taken on our very first freelance junior. A TBF alum! You can only imagine what a difference she has made to the team, and by all accounts she’s pretty happy to be working with us too, being able to execute agency-calibre work but with the freedom of the freelance lifestyle.
But wait! There’s more! Courtesy of a recommendation from another TBF alum we have a new client, which is great of course, but this client happens to be the UK’s foremost skilled volunteer and charity matchmaker and itself is a massive force for good. In the UK alone GWYGA has enabled professionals working in IT, Finance, Marketing and HR to donate £12 million worth of their time to some 3,000 charities around the world.
And now we are helping out with the PR around that, spreading the word, which has to be a very good thing right?Thank you Karma, a pleasure doing business with you.
Sam Howard celebrates three years of being an independant PR person and sharrs the sometimes painfiul lessons learned.
The fabulous Victoria Wood once told this joke about how you lavish so much attention on your first child, that you go so far as to score the wall recording for all eternity your firstborn’s height with wonder and awe (since my 13 year old son is already clocking 6ft 3′ we are adding a soupçon of morbid fascination in to the mix now too). Anyhow she went on to remark that by the time you have your third child, you merely note their vertical progress by the rising tide mark of nose smearings on your coat sleeve…
And so it is for freelancing. First year I had a cocktail party and people came from miles around, Second year I at least opened a bottle of champagne and shared it with those that happened to be passing. Third year, Feb 10th completely passed me by. Writing this, with a vodka and tonic in hand is as much as I can muster to commemorate the occasion. Just like a third child – it’s not that I love the freelance life any less, far from it, but just that I’m really busy – new clients, new projects, new sectors, new territories and I got accredited. Even the dog behaves pretty good now.So as is now customary, sharing a few random lessons learned this year:
Motivational moment – spread the skills spread the love
As you get busier you may feel inclined to focus on just the high value projects or to really specialize. For example, in line with the industry’s increased appetite for credible content, I have seen a surge in demand for copywriting skills this year, but if I just did that all the time I’d burn out. Much better to have several diverse projects on the go, it keeps the mind agile. And even when you are busy, don’t’ forget to fill your boots with psychic income – my work with the Taylor Bennet Foundation continues to be the most fulfilling aspect of my freelance career.
Cautionary tale – mates rates have outstayed their welcome
So I’m still working at 2011 mates’ rates for my early retained clients and now I know them so well, asking for an increase on the day rate feels kind of #awkward. But the nicest client in the world is unlikely to suggest you take a pay rise. I’m just going to have to man up – distasteful as it is. Suggest to avoid getting into this situation in the first place any day rate deal you agree comes with the proviso ‘to be reviewed in six months’, ample time to prove your salt and get you on more equitable terms.
Motivational moment – When pickings get plentiful, share the spoils,
Share the stress, share the funds, share the love, keep delivering above and beyond. Officially forming the collective was the smartest thing I did this year.
Cautionary tale – Now it’s seven days a week 11-7, and that’s normal.
The weekends have become the time to do the behind the scenes stuff, the banking, admin, marketing etc. So to make sure you don’t lose sight of why you turned freelance in the first place, in my case – to spend time with that gargantuan boy of mine – take enforced breaks, ( I’m averaging about eight weeks leave a year). Anywhere that is a Wi-Fi black spot will do nicely.
Motivational moment – I’m really proud of myself
Three years ago I turned my back on the security of an established and respected career, with the attitude of how hard can it be? That was the wrong question. I should have asked, ‘how intense can this be?’ Flipping intense actually. But it turns out, when you learn not to measure your worth by your job title, not to value security above freedom and control, you become infinitely richer, eventually!
Possibly I have been spending too much time with children this festive season, but I got to thinking if I could have one super power what it be? I ponderd several fabulous skills but came down to, The power to be in several places at once. As a single parent and freelance PR, multi-tasking is more of an adrenalin sport than an art form.
And it’s not just about prioritizing. Recently a client has a PR crisis, the day the dog got bitten by a snake, the day of my son’s school play, the day I had a hot date and just for once wanted more than seven minutes to get ready. It was all important. In the event, sorted out client on the fly, ignored the dog in a fingers-crossed kind of way, missed only a bit of the play, looked crap for hot date but picked somewhere dark and dog survived to tell the tale.
But even the none-emergencies fight for space along the time continuum:
· Get in a regular swim to stay healthy v update blog lest it looks like I’ve died altogether.
· Pick up all the apples off the lawn v source all the coverage for my client – if only less was more.
· Do my Sunday book-keeping v take child to the movies, he’s even offering to buy the popcorn.
Bereft as I am of super powers here’s my top three multi-tasking tips for us fraught and overwrought mere mortals.
- You need a list but you need a multi-tasking list as life does not proceed in a linear fashion. Think of it as a grid not a list. And you need to be selective about what even makes it onto that week’s grid and give equal weighting to all the varying pull factors that particular week. So that by the time you cross everything off you have moved forward several of the most pressing projects in your life and so have some sense (however deluded) that you are in control of your life. To sustain the plate spinning analogy indefinitely, make sure the grid strikes a balance between the good, the bad and the accountant, make time for exercise, for a big walk with the dog, for meeting up with mates. I aim to complete 30 things off my grid each week.
- Unlike a world leader, you can’t get by on four hours sleep as, unlike a world leader, you can’t get away with shouting at people who really don’t deserve it. If you need to work at optimum performance, all day every day and be civil – you need to sleep the sleep of a hibernating hedgehog on Tamazipam. Go to bed with your children, train them to sleep in late.
- Guess what? You can’t have it all and the only price to pay is a slightly tousled hairdo. Know your limits. My social calendar as well as my fridge operate on a need to know basis. The first time my son and I watched The Great British Bake Off, he thought it was a Sci-Fi series. I catered an entire party over Christmas with all the food coming from the local petrol station (admittedly it had an M&S nestled in the forecourt). Friends obligingly text me what, where and when I’m set to enjoy their company, calls only get returned when I’m walking the dog, texts on the train, while holidays are agreed without even clicking on the links. My advice – avoid organising anything for anybody – you’ll only cock it up or shout at people in the process.
This post is based on an artcile for Parenting Solo Magazine profiling lone parents in business.
Never lose sight of why you went freelance. It’s all too easy to constantly be hunting down your next job, but the people (and animals) you love are right here, waiting for you to switch off that laptop.
So I’m comparing tans and my friend and the puny one says, ‘So how come you keep taking all these holidays?’
’Cos my boss said I could.’ I smirk.
My pithy repost was met with a sigh of exasperation.
Obviously what my mate meant was, ‘So how on earth do you manage both to afford and to maintain client service levels when you are away for much of the summer and you are just a humble freelancer and therefore at everyone’s beck and call 365 days a year?’
But one of the main reasons I went freelance was to get closer to a good work/life balance. And I’m guessing that’s why you did too and spending time with the people that matter most is a big part of that. I can’t imagine you turned freelance to earn loads of money – so once the bills are paid, ‘affording’ to take time off is really just a matter of priorities. New bike, or a cycling holiday? New wardrobe, or a tan? It does help that I usually share the work I have got, so it’s easy enough to ask one of the collective to be at the end of the line if a client needs urgent advice while I’m away.
Some freelancers just enslave themselves to their desks due to lack of faith, both in their own worth and the proverbial uncertainty of the future, rather than any real concrete reason. Do your best the rest of the year to look after a good client and a good client will look after you – afterall who needs a bad client
It should be remembered that the proverbial lament of the self-employed, ‘If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.’ Can be flipped on its head to also mean, ‘If I’m ok with not getting paid, I can take time off.’
So this year I did.
Time off in search of half term sunshine on a farm in Greece, country house coddling in Snowdonia, armed with a dongle, we holed up in Devon for weeks, and then went quite AWOL on a vast eating tour of Puglia with the annual 50 miles trek around another bit of the Cornish Coast to get back into all our clothes.
Ok so the blogging, the marketing, the banking, and the admin, the networking, the reading, erm they are in need of tending – but the clients and I are back on track and the house hasn’t been repossessed, theres plenty of time for filing when it’s cold.