More women are starting up their own businessAccording to a News Corp article of March 2016, “…. increasing numbers of women in Australia are choosing to opt out of corporate life and start their own business”. The article went on to say that in part, this rise was due to technology making it much easier for people to set up a viable business.
In the article, there is reference to surveys that indicate that women entering their thirties are more likely to leave the corporate space to start their own business.
Well this particular story is about a younger entrepreneur who was in her early twenties, when circumstances propelled her into setting up her own consulting business.
Ashleigh McInnes is the founder of PaperMill Media. It is a business specialising in PR, event management and the design of targeted social media campaigns.
She is quite a remarkable young woman who during the past six years has built a company that is respected as a leader in its particular niche market – servicing architectural and property development firms. As her business grows, she is having to learn about employing and managing staff – but her success so far suggests she is an astute learner.
She shares some of her small business story with us …..
1. Tell us a little about what initially motivated you to start-up your own business?
I was working for another PR agency and the owner decided to close the business. She actually suggested that I go freelance rather than finding another job, so Papermill was born from there.
So off I went, using my spare bedroom as my office with nothing but a laptop and buckets of enthusiasm.
2. What about selecting your business name – which I think is one of the most important early decisions a business owner makes in the start-up phase – how did you come up with Papermill Media?
I actually went through literally hundreds of iterations before I came up with Papermill. In the beginning, I had lots of great ideas but most of them were already taken.
Then I got desperate after a few months and started to pluck random words out of thin air. Then I stopped thinking about it because I was fatigued from the process. Then one day, a thought popped into my head – that communications was once reliant on the written word – travelling via horse and carriage, then carrier pigeon, then the post in more recent times. My thoughts then shifted to how communication is now invisible – it’s all around us and sent via wi-fi and social media.
Then ‘Papermill’ popped into my head as a name that was referential to the past, of a time when communication was solely a tool for paper, and reflected how far the industry has come. From that day on I knew that would be our name….. For me, it was really important to find a name that conveyed a deeper meaning.
3. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, in establishing your business?
Starting the business at just 24 years of age and liaising with clients who were usually at least twice or three times my age was initially challenging and somewhat intimidating. I constantly second guessed myself and wondered if I was even qualified to be giving advice in the realms of PR and media. After about two years, though, I had a lightbulb moment, and realised that I had earnt my seat at the table, so to speak, and I knew what I was talking about and my opinion was valued. After that moment, everything changed and Papermill really took off.
I would say the other challenge was initially being in the business alone, without any employees, meant I couldn’t bounce ideas off anyone. That was particularly challenging at the beginning but I quickly learnt that Google was a girl’s best friend and I’d always had a knack for faking it until I made it, so I quickly self-taught myself any skills I felt I needed to improve upon. I learned how to rely less on others and instead trust my own judgement.
Fast forward to the present day and we have a team of ten in our office. I would say that we have succeeded in creating a collaborative and supportive environment - which is so important for any young professionals starting out. We try to create structures of support and encouragement while exposing the junior staff to lots of opportunities they might not have experienced elsewhere, and the feedback we receive from both staff and clients has been incredibly positive.
4. What do you find most rewarding in running your own business?
A major reward is the sense of satisfaction gained from working with our clients to add real value to their business and brand. Feeling like the work that we are doing is contributing to a wider purpose is incredibly motivating.
Many business owners might say a benefit is having the flexibility of setting your own hours - but for me personally, I rarely take days off because I find there’s never a shortage of things to do. Instead I try to go on two holidays every year, in order to switch off and refresh – and to remind myself what life is all about.
5. You’ve had projects that have focused on building large social media followings for some major brands. On a smaller scale, what advice would you offer to entrepreneurs as they seek to grow their business – how should they go about aiming to incorporate social media and content marketing in their marketing plans?
The first and fundamental thing to consider is whether social media is actually right for your business. An electrical engineering firm, for example, would likely not be best suited for Instagram or Facebook, as it’s mostly a corporate B2B audience. In that instance, LinkedIn would probably be better suited to their target audience.
However a public-facing company (B2C) with opportunities to generate a significant amount of visually appealing content would likely see a real value in Instagram. The important point I would emphasise is not just be on social media because you feel like everyone else is doing it - but instead because it provides a platform to create real conversation between your brand and your target audience. Despite popular belief, social media is not right for every business - and that’s OK! ….. So don’t let a myth compel you to invest time and money in a strategy that isn’t going to generate a sufficient return.
6. For those businesses that do sell direct to customer (B2C), can you offer some tips on how they might aim to build a social media following through content creation?
Use the 60/40 rule. Talk about yourself maybe 60 percent of the time - then the other 40 percent of the time, use your content to let your audience know what inspires you or what your values are. This could be quotes, beautiful imagery or sharing examples of other businesses that you admire. The key here is to recognise that part of your content becomes an avenue for you to represent what your brand stands for.
Another tip is this – quality over quantity. It’s all about the quality of your images. If you post a fuzzy, dark, out of context image, it’s hard for your audience to engage. Focus on posting less often as you start out, but ensuring each image is of the best quality.
However for the majority of small businesses, without the benefit of paid amplification, it is unlikely that you will see your following skyrocket. When you are starting out, it’s all about building a slow and steady growth in your following.
7. You were a finalist last year in the Telstra Young Business Woman’s Awards – what final words of advice would you share with budding entrepreneurs, be they young or old?
My main take-away from that experience is to back yourself and give it a go! Never in a million years did I expect to be in the situation I am today when I started Papermill six years ago.
Our successes are directly correlated to our philosophy of working hard and not expecting anything in return. All our growth has been organic and being open to exploring new things as we go along. My experience is that you don’t necessarily need a comprehensive business plan or a clearly defined, specific goal of what you want to achieve ….. Sometimes it’s just about being willing to explore and to keep on putting one foot in front of the other until things start to click. And the rest can end up falling into place.
I’m not saying that approach will necessarily hold true for everyone, but that’s simply how it has been for us. My experience is that some people can “over-think” and “over-plan” their ideas for a new business and can neglect to recognise when it is time to take some action and get on with it.
Thanks to Ashleigh for sharing her story. It is a nice reminder that anything is possible when you have self-belief and apply yourself. .....If you are thinking of starting up your own small business, then you might be interested in another post "How To Be An Entrepreneur" that explores both the qualities and mindset that are necessary to succeed.
About the author
Brian Carroll is a qualified psychologist and the founder of a Melbourne based corporate training business, Performance Development.