I’d love to start by getting an understanding of your career beginnings?
My mum’s a single mom and I was born near Middlesbrough. I was the first person in my family to go to Uni but luckily my mum was quite forward thinking and said to me, ‘when you go to University, go to do a subject that you’re interested in rather than something that you think you should do’. So I did a degree at Middlesex in Interdisciplinary Performance and Media. We did video, music, drama… but it wasn’t jazz hands performing arts, it was conceptual and modern.
After I graduated, I really wanted to do events and so I got a job working for part of The Restaurant Group, and I was based above Chiquito in Leicester Square. That was when they did all the film premieres so I worked on things like the world premiere of Casino Royale. It was super fun but it wasn’t very good money. You’d work 90 hours a week, for pennies really. I thought I can’t do this forever but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do so decided instead to research companies that I really wanted to work for. Companies whose ethics I liked and offered good opportunities for development.
One of those was The Guardian. They had a telesales job in their job site team so I joined there. I got promoted fairly quickly and kept working my way up. I ended up being at The Guardian for 12 years. I was the Director of Government and Public Services for a number of years, and then my last two years, I was the International Head of Partnerships, so that could be across a live event or it could be like an editorial sponsored supplement.
Amazing – a career defining company for you then! What was the trigger for stepping away from that environment and founding your own business?
Being a creative company, finances were always fluctuating and so a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to leave. People had been saying to me for a while, why don’t you set up on your own, and I just thought it was a time in my life where if I don’t do it now probably won’t do it.
That was in March 2019 and then started my business Goho which stood for Girl On Her Own, and it was just me and my laptop.
Obviously you’ve got a brand background so you knew how to like tell a story, even with the name!
Yeah. Actually at the start I did a bit of audience research and testing with people and most of them didn’t like it, but I just ignored it. I really liked it, so I went with it anyway.
After sitting in WeWork with my laptop for a few weeks, I landed a contract with Condé Nast International to help them launch one of their newest publications. I was helping them with marketing and building the brand. From there I secured a couple of other smaller clients and that’s when I had to hire someone because I couldn’t deliver it all, on my own.
One of the things that used to bother me with big agencies is the focus was always on the profit margins, not actually on the creative process or how pleased the client was at the end. I was really keen to not do that because you can still make enough money and do it in a decent way. I wanted all my clients to be so pleased that they would work with us again. It means we’ve grown organically because we get most of our business from referrals or people recommending us.
“I wanted all my clients to be so pleased that they would work with us again. It means we’ve grown organically because we get most of our business from referrals or people recommending us.”
Now, I’ve grown to a team of 8 and I keep thinking oh my God we’re going to wake up tomorrow and it’s all going to be gone. Last year was so tough when we went into lock down because 85% of our business centred on events. We tried to kind of pivot the business and the focus of our marketing as quickly as we could, and so to come out the other side, and then to grow as well… I’m really pleased with myself. Women are always nervous to say that, but I am!
Well there’s that nervousness that, what if I’m really pleased it’s going really well and then it doesn’t. But at the same time it is going well, so you have to count the wins!
Yeah I do also believe that the moment you get complacent, and feel you’ve nailed it then it’ll all start falling down.
So what was the first thing that you did to actually establish the business? You obviously knew your field well already, but how did you announce yourself and get the word out?
I actually worked with a good friend of mine, Mike Black. He is a freelance designer and we’ve been friends for years. I remember we went to Ole & Steen and got coffee and loads of those cinnamon pastries and went through what I wanted to do with the brand. I wanted it to be feminine but not too girly, and I wanted it to have Scandinavian influences as my family’s Swedish. He’d come back the next week with all these mood boards and plans and ideas.
Then the other main thing was switching my LinkedIn job status. So many people commented and asked to meet up and have a chat. That was great but I tried to make sure that I used my time wisely. At The Guardian I’d have massive teams of people so had more time for coffees. I had to try and recognise the ones who were actually going to potentially want to work together off the back, because I had to start getting some money coming in. I had to be very careful with my time.
That’s good advice! I was thinking, a lot of people over the past few months or right now are in situations where they might be offered redundancy packages and could be seeing it as a good opportunity to set up independently. Do you have some good bits of advice or wisdom for navigating that?
I’d say really sit down and work out how much money you’ve got and how long that will last. Even though I got clients quite quickly, you don’t get the money instantly – there are payment windows etc. I tend to plan for every eventuality, which would be the advice I’d give. Just be prepared for everything, because then, if you’re prepared for everything, then even if the shit hits the fan you’re going to be able to sort it out.
Yes, so that if things don’t go your way you have already worked out the practical next steps without being hit by emotional stress.
Yeah, I do think a lot of people think that maybe the money starts sprouting but it’s really an important thing to work out how long you can afford to not potentially earn anything for.
I wonder if that’s a bit of a thing as well that people are cautious to talk about. Everyone tends to add gloss when sharing their experiences of starting independently.
I think, when people are running their own business, they do always want to say, “I’m doing, really, really well”, because they probably think it’s a bit embarrassing to say otherwise. But I’m not gonna lie when we went into that last year we lost nearly all our revenue and so I didn’t pay myself for about four or five months,, because I wanted to make sure that my team still had jobs.
I had some new people that didn’t qualify for the furlough scheme. Some of them literally wouldn’t have been able to pay their mortgages or rent, and I really want to invest in them. I felt I was comfortable enough with my plan that it would be alright in the end, but again, that was another commitment. It’s not always glamorous, but I do think you’re right that nobody wants to say oh that yeah I messed that up or that has actually gone really badly when of course some stuff does.
“when we went into that last year we lost nearly all our revenue and so I didn’t pay myself for about four or five months, because I wanted to make sure that my team still had jobs.”
I think working on your own business has a kind of intensity that means you get to know yourself in a different way. Is there anything specific that you learned about yourself through the past couple of years?
Mmm, I’ve definitely grown a lot more resilient. One of the things that always pisses me off about men is their tendency to say women are too emotional, because I think being emotional is a really positive thing. You can empathise and there’s bravery in showing how you feel. However I do think I don’t let things upset me so much anymore and don’t take things personally. It’s something that I’ve been trying to work with my team on a lot. If you get feedback, or if a client isn’t happy, don’t always take that as a personal attack. You can learn from everything and move on. I’ve realised I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was.
Roger that and totally agree. What are some good books you’ve read recently or that you would recommend to people.
There’s this chap called Chris Baréz-Brown. Who runs this organisation called Upping Your Elvis. I’ve been on a couple of their courses and it’s just amazing. He’s written a few books which are a lot about learning how to facilitate your energy. One of them is called Shine: How To Survive And Thrive At Work. Another one is called How to Have Kick-Ass Ideas. I’d really recommend them. And then personally I also loved Lily Allen’s biography, it’s brilliant.
Nice, and then finally, who are some women who inspire you?
Well, founder wise, Vivien Wong who started Little Moons. We met at an International Women’s Day event several years ago – we were both speaking on a panel and have stayed connected since then. She’s really good and supportive and is doing, really, really well.
And then, one of my best friends, she had the BRCA2 Gene so had to have a double mastectomy a few years ago, but she’s so totally kick ass. Her and her husband run their own business out in Dubai. They’ve got two kids – the youngest has really severe cerebral palsy but she’s not letting any of that limit any of her life dreams or goals and is just making the best and being grateful for everything she’s got.
Another woman that inspires me every day is Roxy who’s on our team. She’s our head of business development, and last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. So on top of coronavirus and lockdown she was in treatment for that and she’s a single mom. She had to deal with everything and homeschooling. She said, “last year, I thought I was going to die, and now this year, anything can happen”.
Wow. What women! One of my thought processes for getting through this is the circumstances aren’t going to change, whether you feel bad or good about them, so as much as you can, try and find a way to feel good about things. I think it’s really important.
Yeah I always say to my team, remind yourself every day of at least three things that are actually really good and you’re really lucky to have.
And then, the final question I want to ask you, we touched a bit on resilience but I was also wondering if there were any piece of career advice you’ve had along your journey that have been really valuable to you?
I think one of the things I was talking to my team about the other day is, try and be consistent. It’s easy to get excited and to burn yourself out in moments of excitement and then dip down. It’s much better to be consistent.