We continue our series of case studies, with another of our consultants at Danbro, Emma Louise Gibson.
Please could you introduce yourself, tell us a bit about what you do, your current role, and what it involves.
At present, the majority of my work is as a Freelance Strategic Marketing Consultant, where I work within SME and start-up businesses providing strategic direction for marketing and growth goals – I find many businesses have a huge appetite for marketing activity, but sometimes don’t know where they are going wrong or where to even start!
This is the challenge I love, bringing a fresh perspective to the table, working with management to ensure strategy is aligned with commercial focus, whilst also educating and mentoring the people I work with along the way.
My background as a Director at a Digital Marketing Agency for over 10 years, gave me a diverse wealth of experience across multiple industries, which makes me adaptable to working with different clients on a strategic level on a weekly basis!
Tell us a bit about why you chose to go self-employed.
I loved the agency I worked for, the clients I worked with and my team, however I needed a new challenge, I treated the agency like it was my own business and I was repeatedly told I would be great doing something for myself by clients, friends and family, and I suppose one day I had a lightbulb moment where I thought “Yes! That’s what I’m going to do!” and that was it, decision made.
Also, whilst working in the agency I noticed a pattern of clients not always understanding what they needed from their marketing, and this level of consultancy and support could not be delivered by the agency as we were all so busy fulfilling work – this made me spot an opportunity for a service that was definitely required and could be offered on a freelance consultancy basis.
How did you go about finding your first client(s)?
I’ve been really blessed to have a fantastic, loyal and supportive network of contacts that I’ve built up over the years, once I’d made the decision to go self-employed, I thought about what type of clients or people I would like to be introduced to, then approached people from my network to tell them what I was now offering, and to keep me in mind – the referrals and introductions slowly started to come in from this, it was a very organic approach as I didn’t want to come across as too salesy or pushy.
What do you enjoy about being a freelancer?
I would like to say the work / life balance, but that seems to be a rarity these days…! However, it does mean that I can be flexible with my working, for example, if I’m not booked in with any clients and it’s a gorgeous sunny day, I have the option to treat myself to the afternoon off, and then catch up in the evening when it’s dark outside!
I do enjoy the big impact you can make on such a short amount of time in a business, it’s important to me to be as productive as possible when I’m with clients, so it’s a great feeling leaving them at the end of the day and us all feeling exhausted with how much we’ve covered!
What is your biggest day-to-day challenge as a freelancer?
It’s not really a day-to-day challenge but I would say due to the nature of some of my projects I’m commissioned for e.g. new strategies, re-brand exercises, communication projects etc., some of these are a one-off piece of work, so once they are completed, its finding a new similar sized project to fill the gap – so to summarise, balancing new business and fulfilment can sometimes be challenging.
Since working as a consultant, have you found that you have a better work/life balance?
I briefly mentioned this further above, sometimes it works in my favour, sometimes it doesn’t! You need to have strong time keeping and organisational skills which will help with the balance, I use tools like Toggl, Evernote and Trello to keep track of everything I do – which also helps with the admin and financial side of freelance operations!
How do you deal with the admin side since becoming self-employed?
I try to block out half a day per week to tackle admin work, to cover things like sorting expenses, invoicing, replying to client emails and even online networking, I usually do this on a Friday afternoon or Sunday evening, this is when I seem to tackle it best!
Do you have any tips for those thinking about going freelance?
There’s lots of advice I would love to pass on, but I’ll keep it down to just three main points… 1.) Use and build your own network 2.) Get a mentor – freelance life can be a little lonely at first, it’s great to have some guidance and a sounding board! 3.) Make mistakes, don’t be afraid to fail, but always remember what the lesson from it is!
These types of statistics never get any less frustrating for me to hear, although I do believe a shift is happening in the industry – at the agency I worked for I spent 3 years being the only female in a male orientated environment, but when I left the female to male ratio was higher.
The education system has done a terrible job of encouraging young girls to engage in tech, digital or STEM related jobs, it frustrates me that career paths are still largely split for females / males, and most marketing activity for STEM technology is targeted towards a male audience.
There are so many great opportunities and rewards for women in digital sectors, and we must train and nurture both women and young girls to be made aware of this.
Much has been made of the gender pay gap. Do you think self-employment offers women the opportunity to close the gap, by recognising their own value and charging a day rate reflective of this?
Yes I do, it’s an opportunity for women to know and prove their worth and take ownership of their own take home pay, however it shouldn’t mean that women feel forced to leave employment to achieve this, both should be viable and fair options.
It’s refreshing to hear that large companies have made a promise to report on their performance and pay equality this year, but really, this should just be a given and shouldn’t be something to be super proud of as a business, after all, it is illegal to pay women less than men…
As the first female on the board of Digital Lancashire, do you think we need to encourage more women to enter certain industries, such as the digital industry? And how do you think we can do that?
Absolutely! Being invited to the board of Digital Lancashire was a great compliment, to be part of the trade body voice for digital in Lancashire is a great opportunity, but we were all quick to realise a lack of female presence around the table at board meetings – when diversity and equal opportunity is high on our agenda, this was a little conflicting. However it just shows the unfortunate lack of women in the digital landscape in Lancashire – we need to stop losing everyone to Manchester and London!
Is there a particular businessperson you admire, and why?
This is tough… Martha Lane Fox is fantastic, and she isn’t just a good example for female entrepreneurs, she’s a great role model for anyone who wants to achieve something worthwhile and pay back the benefits of their own success to others.
I also really admire Gabrielle Bernstein, she is an American motivational speaker, life coach and a successful author – she’s founded multiple social networking and mentoring websites for women, written four books, founded a PR firm and set up a non-profit charity to help women in business – she is my absolute inspiration!
My own personal advice to anyone looking to go self-employed is be your strongest advocate, give yourself a pat on the back from time to time, work hard, stay focused and be confident!
If you’re looking for advice and guidance on freelancing, contact us on 01253 600140 and we can talk you through your options.