Karen Wisdom – Wisdom Marketing & Research
This weeks Success Story interview with is with Karen Wisdom, from Wisdom Marketing & Research.
Suzannah (S): Hi Karen, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. If you could start by saying a bit about yourself…
Karen (K): Hi – I’ve spent most of my career in marketing, having originally studied Business Studies and subsequently Marketing. Before starting my own business, I worked for ITV in various marketing and research roles, and then for a global research agency in a client-facing consultancy role. I’m married, with two daughters, age 11 and 9 years, and we live in Bexley, which is on the South East London/Kent borders.
I work partly from home and have face-to-face meetings and telephone/Skype calls with clients. These are located primarily across South East & Central London, Kent and Surrey, although I have worked for businesses all over Britain and occasionally further afield.
S. What is your Business called and when did you start it?
K. Wisdom Marketing & Research, founded in 2012. It offers a range of marketing services to other businesses, including marketing strategy and planning, social media support, blog/article/newsletter writing and market research. My brand ‘Karen Wisdom Social Media’, is the one I use for my social media management and training work. My website is www.karenwisdom.co.uk
S. Your background must have given you the idea of running your own business, but was it hard to make those first steps?
K. Unlike many entrepreneurs, I hadn’t originally intended to start my own business, but was motivated to do so soon after being made redundant in 2011. Starting out as a freelancer, I very quickly became fed up with knocking on the doors of London agencies, who gave me false promises of freelance work, and so I decided to get in the driving seat to set up a business and to secure more of a regular income.
During that period, I attended several business start up courses, re-evaluated my skills set and focused on what services I could offer to other businesses to generate a reliable income. I created a brand name and logo, a web presence and a business card, and launched myself back out there. I targeted small and medium sized businesses in my local area, where I spotted a gap in the market for such services.
S. I think many of the larger marketing companies alienate the client, so SME’s were probably looking for something more appropriate to them. Having a face to your business makes it much more personable.
K. Yes, it’s definitely proved an advantage to be able to offer support on an hourly, daily or monthly retainer basis….
S. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
K. Starting a marketing business in the midst of the recession, when related budgets were being cut. But if you can survive that, you can survive anything.
S. You do have to see those times through; persistence is vital.
K. Luckily I am very resilient!
S. What have been the best and worst moments since you started your business in 2012?
1. Booking and delivering my first 1-2-1 social media training session with a business owner, who wanted to learn how to use Facebook and Twitter effectively to promote her business
2. Being asked, as an expert speaker in my field, to give educational talks on marketing and social media at business events (and receiving hugely positive feedback from the audiences).
1. At first, I stumbled with my confidence, going out to networking events with my new business card as ‘me’, rather than as a representative of someone else’s business.
2. Also, after enjoying a regular monthly salary for over 25 years, the ‘feast or famine’ nature of being self-employed is something it’s taken me a while to get used to. Fortunately it’s mostly a case of ‘feast’ these days.
S. Did you become more confident over time? Hopefully the positive feedback from your clients helped you to overcome this.
K. Yes, it certainly did boost my confidence, and also the encouragement I received from other SME businesses.
S. Do you think it’s important to network with other business owners, especially in those early stages?
K. Absolutely, I hadn’t realised how valuable business networking would be, from an educational and social perspective, as well as for generating leads/referrals once people get to ‘know-like-trust’ you.
S. If you could go back in time, would you change anything?
K. I would have been quicker off the mark in going networking, even at the start up point (which hadn’t occurred to me at the time).
Through regular business networking, I have gained invaluable advice and made some brilliant collaborative connections, as well as getting new clients.
These days, people I network with understand what I do and how I can help people, and the referrals now flow in freely. You do have to try out different groups though to find ones which feel right for you and your business, and visit them regularly.
S. Yes it can be lonely when you are working for yourself, so that social interaction is really important.
K. My networking contacts are my new ‘office colleagues’; really important to be able to talk to people in similar boats as you, or who have been there and understand your challenges.
S. Yes definitely – we all need to let off some steam and get reassurance from our peers.
S. How do you fit in running your business with your family?
K. I am fortunate to have good flexibility with my work. I schedule most client meetings out and calls in the mornings and early afternoons. Working partly from home enables me to be there when my eldest daughter (age 11) arrives back from secondary school. I use a breakfast and after-school club on the middle three days of the week, which gives me a longer working day. On Mondays and Fridays, I do the primary school run at the normal times. I’ll usually break off work in the early evening to sort out dinner, homework etc, resuming for an hour or two later on. I work at weekends when necessary, although I do keep a watch over the social media accounts I manage on all days of the week (my mobile devices are a godsend for this!).
K. I also go networking at lunchtimes/evenings for 2-3 hours at least once a week, when my husband arrives back from his work in London to take over the childcare. Occasionally I will ask close family members/ friends for a few hours cover, usually in the school holidays, although not on a regular basis.
S. I love having that flexibility too and you’re so right about smartphones! It’s great being able to work on the go – a good use of time when you have some downtime, but aren’t in the office. Do you have times when you completely ‘switch off’?
K. Oh yes, my Friday and Saturday nights are pretty sacred, and my husband and I try to ringfence Sundays as ‘family time’.
S. Are you at the stage where you have any employees, or is this something in the pipeline?
K. Not at this stage, although I use my network of ‘trusted professionals’ to help with my own business needs and with wider work for my clients.
As my business continues to grow, I am using external professionals more regularly to support the delivery of the day-to-day work, freeing me up to focus on developing client relationships and other strategic matters.
S. What 3 words would you use to describe your ‘business’ self?
Resilient, passionate, adaptable.
S. What advice would you give to anyone else wanting to start a business?
K. Make sure you are passionate about what you do/sell, as it will boost your chances of success.
Try to learn some basics about running a business by taking a relevant business start up course (some run by start up organisations are free). We can’t all be experts at everything business-related, but it definitely helps to get advice before you get started, and to help shape your business ideas and operations. For me, the the financial aspects were the most important, but others will take away different things.
Go business networking – to meet contacts, to build business relationships and to learn tips and tricks. Remember it’s not just about the people in the room, it’s their connections you can tap into too. Ask how other business owners have overcome challenges, what worked best for them etc, and listen to their advice. If you are new to networking, you will be surprised at how much support exists from the small business community.
S. Great advice Karen – I think the top one is especially important. Something I have personally experienced when I started something that I just didn’t have much passion about. We live and learn!
K. And outsource those tasks for which you are not an expert, as soon as you can afford to.
S. Who do you look up to in business? Do you have an idol/mentor?
K. I don’t really have a single role model, but I gather ‘good practice’ and numerous tips from many people I’ve come across in both the corporate and SME business worlds, including a couple of unwitting mentors
I am also a member of a business masterminding group, which now provides me with a fantastic opportunity to contribute to helping other business owners, whilst benefitting from advice from others to grow and develop my own business.
David Mellor’s book ‘From Crew to Captain’ was very helpful when I was starting up my business, and helped to inspire me with the knowledge and motivation to succeed.
S. Thank you for the book recommendation – I will bear that one in mind as we will be introducing a shop area to the website soon.
S. Thank you for your interview this evening!
K. You’re welcome, thanks for the opportunity and I hope this encourages others.
Another great interview with some really important tips for others considering starting a business. Karen stresses the importance of networking and I hope this gives other business owners the motivation to start being more social – you never know what it might bring! You can find out more about Karen and her business on the web links below:
Wisdom Marketing & Research
Google Plus: gplus.to/karenwisdom
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