Subscribe to the Sound Advice podcast
Subscribe by email and get the Sound Advice podcast delivered to your inbox every two weeks with a ton of related articles, templates and problem solving guides for small businesses so you can put our Sound Advice podcast into practice.SubscribeSubscribe
Endlessly effervescent is the way to describe small business pocket rocket, Jess Ratty, the energetic founder of The Cornwall Camper Company and Ha-lo PR company. Pitch up and learn how she built them from scratch.
Start with a (simple) side hustle start-up list
And we are back with episode nine. This time on Sound Advice, I’m talking to Jess Ratty, a woman who has started two very different companies over the past few years.
Going from renting camper vans to running a PR communications agency. She’s going to tell us what she’s learned doing it twice, and how you maintain momentum in any start up business.
Thank you for joining us today, Jess. How’s life?
Life’s amazing, Bex.
I love that response.
I think maybe it makes sense to start with campers because I know this is a while ago, but this is sort of when you first took your steps into entrepreneurial life because you just had a regular job before that.
So, tell me how that happened and what prompted you to start doing a little side hustle and renting these campers?
Side hustle is exactly the word, Bex, to be honest.
So, we were also flying by the seat of our pants. Basically, I was working for Crowdfunding.co.uk. It was an amazing job. And what it was, was I was able to work with loads and loads of different businesses that were looking to raise funds.
And I was like, do you know what? I could do this.
And I had gone camping with my partner, Ben. And he’d sort of … We had our feet just hanging over this barbecue, the embers were dying down. And the tent was just full of the smell of soggy socks.
And he turned to me and he was like, “Do you know what? I’ve always wanted to run my own business.”
And I was like, I looked at him… He’s nearly 40 then and I was like, “Mate, if you haven’t launched a business now and you’re nearly 40, what are you waiting for?”
Next day, we went out, bought two rotted out old camper vans. I would never buy anything that rotted out again.
We didn’t have a clue what we were doing.
And I registered the business without a clue, Bex. I didn’t know anything.
I didn’t know how to build a website, or even that anyone normal could go and do these things. And we just went for it, and that was kind of how that started.
And yeah, we sold it last year, which was mad. One of my proudest moments.
From not knowing anything, to building a business that’s thriving, so much so that someone wants to pay good money for it – that’s something to be celebrated. But how did you learn everything that you needed to learn?
Because you mentioned starting not having a single clue what you were doing. What were the first challenges that came up, and how did you overcome those challenges?
I think it’s the funniest thing because people ask me all the time for advice on launching a business. And I think the best thing and maybe the thing I learned with my first company was make it really simple.
I literally started with a list of things I thought I needed to do. And then I worked through them.
And one of the hardest things I faced in my first business was the amount of hours I had to put in on the side hustle while still also working full-time. And the energy it takes.
But when you love something so much, and you’re so excited about it, that passion just sort of drives you. But it was definitely the list. A very, very simple list.
I was like, right, How am I going to get customers? Build a website, get some social media channels? What’s sexy? What gets people excited?
So we’d take loads of photographs and one of the really big things that we did with the camper company was we documented our entire journey.
So there’s pictures of us … You go back nearly a decade, but there’s pictures of us in this old unit that we’d hired in these massive fluffy, fleecy jackets, like, oh, what have we done? What have we done with our lives?
And then I guess we just took it from there with that list. And put in the hours to make it work.
Not a clue? Teach yourself through YouTube
Ben did all the refits, and he basically taught himself everything from YouTube looking how to strip an engine, how to completely reupholster the inside of a camper van. So he took care of that side.
And then you took care of the business operations, is that right?
Yeah, yeah. I’m a marketer at heart. And Ben, my partner, is just one of the most incredible humans I’ve ever met in my life.
He literally Googled and YouTubed how to spray a camper van, and was dancing around the living room with this movement that you had to do to spray vans.
And he built the Cornwall Camper Company and then now, when we sold it, we got some money together. And now we’ve built a house. And the guy’s never built a house before in his life.
And I think if you relate that back to business, it’s literally that you can do anything you set your mind to. And you can learn anything you want to learn.
And there’s always, always people.
I was actually … It’s a cheesy moment but I was listening to a Steve Jobs audio piece yesterday. And he was like, “You can phone anyone and ask for advice, and genuinely, generally they’ll give you the advice you need.”
And I really relied on that recently.
Has that been your experience though, that you’ve just had to ask for help, and then that help has been given? And how have you chosen the right people to give you that support? How have you joined those dots?
It’s definitely a bit hit and miss if I’m honest because sometimes people give you advice that you really … It just doesn’t sit well when you think, well actually, it might’ve worked for you, but that’s not my style.
I’ve learned a lot about what not to do in business by working with business people that I respect a lot, and seeing their mistakes.
And sometimes in my working career, being a part of their mistakes. And realising that on reflection now, I just wouldn’t do the things that they might’ve done in terms of recruiting too fast or getting the wrong people and stuff like that.
So I’m really hyper-aware of other people’s mistakes. And then I’ve got this amazing advisory network, mostly all my clients with my current business, which is a marketing company, that they’re really open to helping my company succeed now because it benefits them.
And also because they’re just really nice people. We only work with nice people, Bex.
What’s your ambition? Start up and sell is perfectly valid
Well, I’m going to ask you more about that actually because that’s quite an interesting approach to doing business, and having a business that makes you happy.
But just to finish on the camper side, so what made you decide that it was time to sell? And what were the signs that kind of prompted you that this is the right time?
And how big was that company when you decided to move on to the next challenge? How big had you grown it?
There’s a really obvious reason why we wanted to sell it, is that it’s a tourism business.
And we’ve got a little girl, and she’s nine now. And her whole life, she has experienced us working all through summer. And I do want my little girl to grow up learning that it’s okay to work hard, but you’ve also got to enjoy your life.
And there’s been times in my life where I’ve definitely worked too much. And not paid head to the thing in my life that are really important, that at the end of the day, there’s that famous saying. You’re lying on your death bed and nobody ever says, “Oh, I worked too much.” Or, “I wish I’d worked more.”
And it’s just that has been very important to me lately. So that’s why we sold it, but also the time had come, Bex.
The business wasn’t going to grow any bigger unless we sort of put in a lot of investment and decided to become a 16-van fleet and monopolise the South West.
And there’s no doubt we could’ve done that, but I have a huge desire to launch businesses, not just the one I’m on now. And to get involved with start ups. And to be a part of a future that is innovative and doing really good things.
And I found personally that the camper business was holding me back in the end because it was more like I had to … I never wanted to lose my reputation or for that business to slowly grind to a halt.
I wanted to go out with a bang. For me, that’s huge success. You sell a business. You exit successfully. To me, that rocks my boat.
But equally, did it get very big? We had five vans at the end. We stated with two rotters. We made a successful living. There was a profit, a very small one each year. And that grew.
And then some years were hard. Vans break down, especially vintage camper vans. There was the two in the mornings where you’re having a camper van back after doing a wedding, and it just was time to hand over the baton.
And it’s gone to an amazing couple that are really much more auto. They use auto systems. We were very hands-on with our customers and stuff like that. But they’ve taken a step back. And I think they’ll grow it.
So it was really a massive journey. It did what it needed to do in terms of teaching me about starting and selling business. And I feel really lucky that I got to do that. I feel really blessed.
And that I had Ben as my wing man because you go into business on your own like I am kind of with this, the one that I’m doing now.
And it’s hard. When you have a worry, and you’ve got to … I had to eat the frogs yesterday where I had to phone up a customer and apologise because we messed up. And that’s fine too.
The conversation ended with him saying, “Do you know what? I would’ve been a bit frustrated if you’d tried to come up with some excuse for messing up.”
And I was like, “Well no, we just messed up. Sorry.” And he was left really happy with that. He said, “I think more of you for it.”
How to find your first clients and employees – and manage them
I love that you use the phrase “eat the frog”. I’m going to just explain for listeners because in freelancer world, you’ve got your frog that you have to eat before you can go and do the work that you’re really looking forward to doing.
It’s usually the thing that you’re really dreading. So we call that, eating the frog.
So I’m glad to see that someone else has used that phrase as well.
So when you exited Cornwall Camper Company, were you already thinking about Halo? And did you already have a path to go into building your own agency?
Yeah, I had already launched Halo.
So there was a crazy period in my life where I was trying to hand over and sell the Cornwall Camper Company. And Halo was about six months old I think.
Timelines get a bit blurry in business world for me, but I try to keep my milestones. But yeah, it was crazy because I wanted to in the same way that I put a lot of pressure on myself for everything else, I wanted to be the best business seller in the world.
So I put a lot of pressure on myself to hand over every single piece of intellectual property and knowledge and learning to the new people.
Halo was interesting because I always had another job when I was working on the Cornwall Camper Company. But I’d got asked to move on from Crowdfunder and then got this other job, which I found quite boring if I’m really honest.
It was an amazing job, really well paid for a great person. But it just wasn’t enough for me.
And I just thought, oh no, I’ve done it now because have I made myself unemployable by being the person that likes to launch businesses?
I feel like I have so much to give, and I feel like when I look at other people building businesses, I want autonomy in that.
And I didn’t have that in that job.
So then I was really upset one day. I’d been called a promo girl in an email to somebody. And I got upset. I was like, “I’m nobody’s promo girl, baby.” I was like, “I ain’t no promo girl.”
And that was a real pivotal moment for me because Ben sat me down. He said, “Look, you’ve done it before. You can do it again. People love working with you, Jessica. Just launch your own company.”
And it was another one of those moments, Bex. I phoned up, I respectfully quit my job. And then the next day I sat down where I’d always say at my kitchen table and I built Halo. And there we go. It can be simple.
You make it sound too easy. Hang on, hang on, hang on. So you sat down at your kitchen table. So how did you get those first clients, because that is always the … Finding your first customers is always the hardest thing.
And presumable when you’re leaving one employer, you can’t just be like, “Hey, everyone that was working for me at old employer, come and jump ship.”
At least not for a while, you can’t. So what did you do to get those first names?
I wasn’t working in an agency, I was working for a company. So I wasn’t able to steal any clients, nor would I wish to. I think that’s bad form.
I had been freelancing on the side. So I was side hustling again. I had actually, I was freelancing for an amazing man called Richard Brown. And he’d built the world’s first ever jet suit.
I was also working for an incredible man called Adam Beaumont. He booked me to do his social media and that was amazing fun. I got to go and live on a yacht for a week and do this guy’s life socials. And it was really both of those people, Richard and Adam, they both supported me as I moved into take on more clients.
It was also a time where I learned a lot about how much to give everybody of myself, Bex. Because when you’re on your own, I had no idea how much time per client I needed to allocate.
And because I was working with Richard Browning, he is so well-known. He’s this maverick. Jet suits, right? It’s not difficult to PR a jet suit company. But what was difficult was managing their messaging.
So I was getting a name for working with a really incredible person. And that bought other clients in as well. But I definitely needed to sort of learn very fast how to manage multiple clients.
And that meant building a bit of a team, which frankly I hadn’t even thought I would be in the position to do in my first six months to eight months.
It’s not easy. I do make it sound easy. But that’s because I love it so much. It’s not work if you love it.
But how did you then manage to put those boundaries in place?
Because I can imagine when you’re starting your own agency, and as you say, you’ve got these amazing clients, you just kind of want to be on 24/7, all weekend, even if you feel like you’ve done a good job, you want to do a better job.
How did you figure that out?
I’m still figuring it out quite massively. They don’t tell you in the business that at the point when you’re growing your fastest, is also the point where you have to learn how to recruit people. And how to manage that time load. I’m really bad.
We’ve got some smaller clients that get just as much love as some of our bigger clients. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but my reputation is at stake every step of the way. Whether it’s a little job or a big job. So I’m still learning that.
I don’t have an answer really.
I guess the answer would be to have to employ brilliant mavericks like I’ve done. My team are unbelievable. And they do keep my on track.
One of them was like, “Why are you doing that for that client, because it’s not on the work agenda?” And I was like, “Good point. I’m going to do it anyway, but good point. I’ll remember that for next time.
How did you find these mavericks? Because you mentioned that you’ve got to learn recruitment like you learned everything else.
But recruitment can be a tougher thing to learn because it’s not like you can just learn human nature or you can just learn how to read people as easily as maybe picking up basic accounting where everything is the same every time you look at it.
How did you learn the recruitment?
It’s something I’m going through at the moment. So the first person I employed was Georgia, my right-hand woman. She’s fresh out of university, had worked at Fifteen Cornwall (Jamie Oliver’s restaurant).
She had a very high-end waitressing job and was managing the restaurant. And I got introduced to her, and I said, “Look, I don’t know if I can employ you properly for a little while, but this is my journey, this is who we’re working with. If you want to join me, just jump on board the ship.”
And she did. And then in November last year, I employed her full time.
So that was a real benefit that I didn’t have to … it wasn’t really an interview.
And then Leanne who works with us, is an unbelievable maverick writer. She can turn her hand to anything, and she’s a freelance. So she’s got the option to be employed, but at the moment is quite happy as she is, which is quite a relief for me because it means I can then focus on this recruitment.
And we also have an apprentice who’s a guy who did his work experience with me a few years ago. And he needed a job. I know how hard it is to be really young, and to want to do what we do. So I built an apprenticeship for him. So my core team sort of came to me.
And now, I put my first job out last week. And I’ve had 150 applicants to work with Halo. It’s not a massively, brilliantly paid job yet, which kills me inside because obviously I want to be the best at paying people as well, and that’s really important to me. But I’ve had so many applications.
And I guess, how am I doing it? I am in the process of devising an advisory board for Halo. So we work with some incredible people across a really wide variety of industries. And most of them are being asked if they will publicly stand as my advisory board.
And one of them is a woman who is head of HR for a really massive tourism organisation. And she has offered to come in on the interviews with me. So I’m going to learn from one of the best in the industry, and she’s prepared to stand next to me with that.
So that’s where you know you’ve got something really good sat on your shoulders. Somebody who really wants you to do well. And when I say to her, “I want to build a million pound company.” I’m not messing around now. I want to do this properly. She’s like, “Okay, well I’ll help you get there.”
And there will be a time when I can thank her properly and maybe pay for that advice. But right now, she’s right there with me, as are so many other people.
Find an accountant who works with start ups – it could save you £25k
You haven’t always got it right with some of the people that you’ve asked for help from. What happened when you were shopping around for an accountant? You had some pretty expensive decisions along the way.
Yeah. I feel like accountants are allergic to me. I will happily take the blame for my lack of knowledge in accountancy. And I think that if it’s not me, then there’s a problem. I’m hoping it’s not just me. There’s a problem in the system.
Some accountants talk to you as if you know what they’re talking about. But actually in start up land, you don’t know what they’re talking about.
So I had a really … I would never say nasty things about anyone. I had a really great team of accountants. They’re quite prolific in the South West. They advised me to stay as a sole trader in my first year. And I said, “Oh, shouldn’t I go limited, because doesn’t that help with my tax and saving? And I don’t want to be paying tax on my turnover as a sole trader.” Because I knew that much.
And I said, “Look, I’m forecasting just under 100K in my first year.” And they were like, “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Let’s just keep you as a sole trader for now.”
And I had no idea that I should’ve pushed back then, and should’ve said, “No, look guys, I’m serious. If I earn just under 100K, do I personally have to pay tax on that if I’m a sole trader? Because it’s my money that I’m earning.”
And I know that now.
And I really felt the cost of that in January last year when I paid £25k in tax, personal tax, which I should never have paid if I was limited because the company earns the money when it’s limited, not me personally. And I just get my wage out of it.
So that was a massive mistake.
I’m a really extrovert person. So if I’ve got a problem, I phone them up and go, “Oh, I’m stuck on zero. I’m doing this.” And what I didn’t realise and what they weren’t clear about, and it’s my fault Bex, was that they were charging me every time I phoned them up for a bit of advice. The clock goes on.
So when I thought was paying £500 a month in accountancy fees, they were adding on, on top.
So when I said, “Hey guys, you kind of messed up a bit here. I’m having to pay all this tax.” They then said, “Okay, cool. Here’s your bill.” And it was three or four grand. And I was like, oh my God.
That is insane.
How was I supposed to know all that?
No, you weren’t supposed to know. That’s why you hire an accountant, because we don’t know. And they’re supposed to know better. That’s just outrageous.
So that happened. And then I went to another accountant, and because I trade as Halo PR and communications, that’s a business name I was advised on.
I consulted lots of people talked about it. I still don’t like it that much, but it is what we are at the moment.
But my company name is Team Jess Limited because I wanted to set up a company that I could build other businesses under, like an umbrella thing.
So the new accountant I got said, “Oh, well you should be trading as the same as your company name. So let’s set up a new company in your trading name.” I did all that, tried to shut down the original company of Team Jess Limited. And I was like, oh, cool, accountant’s telling me what to do.
And basically I needed Team Jess Limited in order to get my mortgage. My company had to have been running for two years. So I had eight days left before I lifted the close down on Companies House, on that company. And then I shut down the other one.
And then I went and got another accountant. And my current accountant is amazing.
There’s been things I’ve learned about how she works. She’s got my back, but she’s very busy. And actually I think she works with very big companies with million pound turnover.
So I think we’re still together through mutual love, but it might be that I’m too needy for her.
So my history with accountants Bex, is I feel very needy, very weak, very much still like I don’t have a bloody clue what I’m doing. And it’s a journey. It’s painful, but I’m hoping one day, third time lucky maybe with my current one?
Yeah. You’re making me feel really lucky because I met my accountant before he was an accountant. When he was selling me vodka Red Bulls at a festival bar when I was in my early twenties.
And then he went on and retrained from being barman and became an accountant. And is now an amazing accountant. But if I hadn’t been there at two in the morning buying vodka Red Bulls, I wouldn’t have him today.
I need to get his name maybe.
You know what? I’ve given his name to so many people because I love him so much that he actually had to email me and say he can’t take on any more clients.
He’s super maxed out, but I will ask him if he could make an exception.
The other thing is, I never properly shut down the Cornwall Camper Company side of things. That’s the other part of selling a company. You’ve got to tie off all those little loose ends. All the stuff that you don’t know in business.
And I had to do that a few months ago. I was like, oh, Companies House are asking me what’s going on with that company. Because the limited company wasn’t sold, it was just the name and the van. So it wasn’t like I sold and handed over this whole thing. And it was just all a bit …
So they’re still asking for things like corporation tax and for you to file all your paperwork?
Yeah, needed to shut it down. But these are the things that you learn. And it makes me stronger every time I come up against something that I … Paperwork, Bex, ugh.
We do some PR and marketing and maverick socials because we love it. And then when you run a business, you realise that you get further and further away from the things you love.
And every so often, I have to give myself a massive (talking to), and go, Ratty, get yourself back in the creative pot and unleash that creativity because that’s what drives me.
And then I go in, and my team go, “Oh my God, Jess has gone crazy.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s cool. Let’s do crazy. And I’ll worry about the boring stuff on Friday or on the weekend or whatever.”
How you come back from losing 40% of your clients overnight
How much time do you spend doing what you love versus how much time do you spend on the admin and the bureaucracy? What’s the split?
There’s two questions there, Bex.
It’s what should the split be, and what is the actual split?
The actual split is probably 30/70 at the moment. But that’s because there’s a load of paperwork building up that I need to sit down and sort out.
And once we go through this grief period, I’ll then sit down and go, right, come on Jess. Get your ass in gear. Let’s do some of the boring stuff.
So I think technically, I’d like it to be 60/40.
The really empowering thing about my company right now is that I have … my team, I adore them. And I will protect them to the ends of the Earth.
But I also want to enable them and empower them to be their best creative selves as well.
And I know that they have such extreme talents that I’m more leaning towards that enablement of unleashing creativity in others to make Halo bigger and better, and stronger and faster.
And that’s where I think I’m growing as a creative myself because I can have as many ideas as you like, but the power to make them happen relies in bringing together brilliant people and making sure that works.
So that’s where I’m going. So I love that more than writing a press release these days. Which every journalist in the world should be really happy about.
So when it comes to actually scaling Halo, what are the lessons that you learned, or maybe the mistakes even that you made with Cornwall Camper Company that you are now using in Halo to save time, to save money that you can apply in this new business?
The biggest lesson I’m learning is that I need sleep. I need to be on my best form. I was dancing before this podcast just to get my blood pumping, and to really tap into my energy. And I haven’t danced around my living room for such a long time.
Covid, it’s like, ugh. But looking after myself is really important.
That is probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from the Camper Company to now. If I’m not on form, then it impacts everything and everyone around me. My personal and my business life. So that.
I learned to be very, very organised. So I had things in place to take because I built a booking system for the Cornwall Camper Company.
But now there’s so much out there. There’s so many apps and things that you can use. I’ve learned to adapt. So we are what our clients need us to be.
So rather than this is what we offer and we don’t move from it, and then we add value, we don’t do discounts. I’ve learned to manipulate and adapt what we do and what we offer as times have changed.
And actually that’s a huge part of what we did in Covid. Everything went to ish, Bex last year.
I was a year and a bit into growing Halo and then we lost 40% of our clients in two days. So that’s the biggest thing.
I think the Jess of the Cornwall Camper Company would’ve laid down with her hand on her brow and had this massive meltdown.
The Jess of Halo stood up, did some kind of anger noises, and said, do you know what? I’m not having this. I’m not letting anything take away what I’ve built. A global pandemic can just go and bugger off. I won’t swear too badly.
So I got really angry, but I’ve learned how to channel the anger rather than just succumb to it.
So yeah, adaptation, looking after myself, and also I’ve learned how to throw my energy through screens. And to express myself in ways that can put that energy out there because that’s what we have now.
That’s what we are. And that’s the world that we live in. So those things I think. And the organisation and having a decent accountant, and having a team around me.
The Camper Company was just me and Ben. Yeah, I asked people for advice, but now I phone people three or four times a week and go, “What did you do when this happened to you?” Or, “Can I ask you a question?” And do you know what these really busy business people say, “Oh, I’m in a call Jess.” Or, “I’ll call you back.”
And then they sit down and they talk.
And there’s a guy called Jamie Hinton from Razor. And he’s given me hours of his time. This is one of the things he said to me.
So every time I get paid, or we get on a new client, I say, “Oh, that’s somebody’s wage paid.” And he’s like, “No, Jess. Don’t think of it like that. You can’t go, ‘Oh, I’ve got enough to pay the wages for the next month.'”
He said, “You need enough to pay the wages for the next two years. It’s not about what one thing does, and how that impacts one person. It’s that holistic approach.”
So definitely something I’m still learning because I still have a habit of going, oh, that’s someone’s wage paid. But it’s not, it’s money coming into the business that enables us to do bigger things.
Can we go back though, because when you said you lost 40% of the clients in two days, I think everyone listening wants to know how did you come back from that?
And what were your first steps?
It was really hard, Bex. I got really angry. I was like, no, no, no, no. To be honest, it wasn’t a surprise. I was looking around watching people lose their jobs. Watching businesses fall over, watching a lot of PR companies really struggling.
And trying to land a press release in what had been the general election, and then Brexit, and then Covid, the news agenda was completely taken over.
So how do we pivot as a company into a company that could provide more value? So I literally sat there and said, what are we really good at?
And what can we do more of?
And I went, I was like, right, well we’ll do podcasts. We’ll do videos. We’ll do social media stuff. And the one thing I remember thinking is, so the world might be in a really terrible place right now, but brands need to talk to their consumers better, more honestly, more transparently than ever.
And what is the one thing that I have? The one skill I have is speaking to everyone in exactly those ways. There’s nothing to hide Bex. How I speak is in a conversation whether it’s in a text you’re asking to see if a press idea’s good or on a tweet.
One tweet out of 200 for a company in a month or whatever. And that was what we did. I went out. And then we’d been working with some design companies on some content. And they were then started to recommend us to other companies. And say, oh, you need a PR people. You need to talk to these guys.
And then we landed a couple of key clients.
The pitches were hard because you could see that they’re like, why would we be spending money on this right now? And I sat in these pitches going, because you need to talk to your customers. You need to be there for them. You need to give them solutions, advice, entertain them.
All the things that they’re missing from being out in the world.
And we just did it. I got 60% back in within two months. And then we were OK, but it still feels wobbly now. I could lose a cry any second.
That’s where I’m still failing on the amount of work we do for each client because it’s like we need these clients so much. It’s an act of desperation.
But I think that keeps us going, it keeps us excited, it keeps us engaged, keeps us on the very edge of trying to be our very best all of the time.
Tiny tech to try: Clubhouse, WhatsApp voice notes, Canva
You are transferring it into something useful. And Jess, I also wanted to go back because you mentioned the kind of power of automation and process. And that you use different apps.
And I’d love to know what those different technologies are. I know that you’re crazy about technology anyway, but what have you found has saved you time or money tech-wise?
Oh God, I just love trying out new ones all the time.
Are you on Clubhouse?
So funny that you say that because I put in the job profile (for the job that Jess is advertising), anyone on Clubhouse, tell me if you think it’s a platform that’s going to last the distance? Because obviously I need people that have an opinion on this stuff. That can use it and know.
I am on Clubhouse. It’s not found its niche yet, and I’ve actually seen some really terrible things that are happening over there.
I think it’s a type of marketing where you gather people and you manipulate the system by lots of people coming together to get their algorithm rise of content. But I think that Clubhouse, which I will be using, is actually a really good place to host events.
So we’re going to trial having some people go and using their immediate network and say, hey guys, we’re going to do this thing on Clubhouse. We’re going to go and have a great conversation.
We’re going to bring some people into it. Come and join. But then jump back out of the platform and not spend time.
I find it really hard to listen to stuff in the background if I’m not actively listening to it. So I’m quite a head down, very focused. I like the radio, but I can ignore that.
Whereas, Clubhouse I can’t.
So I don’t know how that platform’s going to go, but we have been using it. And I intend to try it out a bit more.
I use … Do you know what’s really simple, voice notes on WhatsApp with my team.
And GIFs, communicating in GIFs.
And we have with each client, we have a group WhatsApp chat, which keeps things very human, very real, very personable, but also is the place where we go if we see a pitch from a journalist and they’re looking for somebody to talk, I immediately have about 18 groups. I could go, “Who wants to talk on this?” Or, “Does anyone have an opinion on this?”
And that means I’m going back to our journalists with really relevant, great content at the speed of light.
You know Bex, you’ve had it before where you’ve said, oh, is there somebody I could talk to? And I’ll go, yeah, I’ll find you. Give me five minutes. And I do it very quickly. And that’s really good for us, that creativity.
And I’m also finding a resurgence in Twitter. I don’t know why. I think maybe Covid, there’s a lot of people hanging out on Twitter all day long.
So we use that quite a lot, and there’s a lot of opportunity on Twitter that I don’t think people realise. They just see it as a place to vent, but you cut through that and there’s a lot of stuff.
In terms of actual physical apps, I use Google Docs all the time. I love them. I love joint-working, co-working. My team sends stuff to see what I think on things. And I can very easily respond.
Maybe give them a poke of creativity in a different way, or ask them questions that frequently they’ve already asked.
They’ve already asked it and I haven’t read it properly. So Google Docs is brilliant. And spreadsheets on Google Docs.
Oh, Canva as well for designing assets. Now, we have an element of content creation in our company, but I know that we’re nowhere near as good as a design company.
When we get to work with design companies when there’s budget for that. Or we team up with design companies, that’s where there’s absolute …
There’s a company called The Lion and Lion. They’re twins, they’re amazing. They’re this tiny but very fast-growing … In fact, I don’t think they’re as small as they were now.
But they’re doing this amazing stuff. And we work with them. And I know that their work is far surpassing what we can do on Canva.
But when it comes to doing hub content … And every business will have hub content, which is just general stuff that they’re putting out on social media that takes time, planning, thinking creation, Canva’s brilliant for it. Bit of logo, bit of colour, brand pallet, off you go.
So those would be the ones we use the most.
Those are great tips. I don’t think I’ve used Canva, but I will definitely look up because yeah, this is the age of social because that’s how everyone communicates now we’re all stuck indoors.
And that’s the only way to reach out to large groups of people.
Yeah. And I can add to that, Bex. There’s this thing about I am my brand. Everything I do is my brand. And I’m forever trying to think of fun, creative ways to put my face on something and put it out on the socials. Something I’ve thought of or something that I did or done.
And there’s a part of that, one of the things I overcame from the Camper Company to now, was this reticence of putting my face on everything. It just feels so pushy and so ego to be like, hey, I’m Jess Ratty. Listen to me. And now I’m just like, do you know what, if people like it, they’ll want it.
If they don’t like it, then that’s fine too. I’m just going to do it anyway, so I’ve got a lot bolder. So you can use Canva for a lot of personal branding, which is pretty cool.
Invest in your personal brand: ‘My currency is my energy’
And how important have you found investing in that personal brand? Because is that basically what clients who come to you are buying? They’re buying a slice of Jess? And is that your kind of currency out there in the world?
I love that word, currency. My currency is my energy. Yeah, I guess. You just never know where people are going to see you. Or not so much for new business, but if people are investigating you because you’ve been recommended or someone’s talking about you, and they go and check out your Insta or your LinkedIn or your Twitter, and if you stand out, then you’re saying something.
That very act of being bold and forward with your brand, means that you’re giving something to people that is different. And I like standing out. I like being different.
My tagline on LinkedIn is, “I make the boat go faster.”
And we do, that is what we do. That’s PR, it’s marketing. We drive all those underlying KPIs (key performing indicators) in a business. More business, more exposure, more profile, more awareness.
So yeah, I think it’s really, really important. And if it’s not you, let someone in your team do that. People misunderstand socials these days. It’s like, oh, let’s get some viral content going. I hate that term.
But what you really want is a bunch of ambassadors. Who are your ambassadors? Who are the people that love, live and breathe your company? What can they do to share your brand and do stuff? So yeah.
No, that’s great advice for a social strategy. And maybe not always thinking, oh yeah, I’m with you on hating that term, viral.
How can you just make something go viral? No, you just have to just say something clever and useful that lots of people like. It’s not that you could be like, pow.
But it shouldn’t be a metric either, Bex. Because you go viral, what value is in it? As in, I know that, there’s some stuff that obviously has intrinsic value to companies.
But the real value is in consistent engagement, regular engagement, having a plan, being cool as a cucumber. Knowing what you’re doing, that’ll give you just as much viral load as one viral thing a year.
Do you know what I mean? Just do it for yourself. Don’t rely on the masses.
That sounds good. And Jess, so you’ve built two businesses now.
What would you say have been the biggest barriers to overcome in your life in order to be an entrepreneur, to have the confidence to build a business? Have there been any challenges that you’ve had to get past?
The biggest challenge, I had to … When I started, I thought how audacious I was to launch a company. How very dare I think that I could possibly do this.
And actually now, I’m like, why not?
But back then I was almost embarrassed that I was doing it. What is that all about? Where did that come from? So yeah, so the biggest challenge was having the confidence in myself. A
And that is something that I think everybody battles with. Imposter syndrome, why me?
And as Simon said on a Virgin Start Up hangout the other day, he was like, said it to someone who’d asked a question, “How do you deal with imposter syndrome?”
And he was like, “If not you, someone else is going to do it anyway.” So I was like, right. And that has sustained me. That very one line.
If I’m not doing what I’m doing, someone else will be doing it. So why not me? I’m going to just go and do it.
So now I have no qualms about that. So that was one of the biggest barriers, this embarrassment that anyone would ever listen to what I had to say, or buy in to my brain power and that of my team, or a team that I hadn’t yet built.
And then the other thing was the nuts and bolts of business. You don’t need to know that stuff to launch a company. You need to be willing to learn, and up for being on that journey. And up for making mistakes.
The mistakes thing, I make mistakes all the time.
Be unapologetically unafraid to call out gender bias in business
I say the wrong thing, I get my words muddled up. I got this CEO/co-founder thing messed up the other day. And I nearly made it really difficult for someone because other people will see it. And then they get annoyed. And then it was my fault.
You just have to be really honest.
And so that sort of owning up to my mistakes, learning how to deal with them, eat the frogs, deal with the stuff that you don’t want to deal with, get that done because then life gets better.
And then I guess the other barrier is, I hate to say it but being a woman in business is not easy. It’s just doesn’t seem to be getting that much easier.
There’s so much support out there for women in business, but still the battle rages on where you are in a room full of men.
I called out a company the other day.
I’ve got friends in Leeds that have taken on the women in business thing. It’s like wildfire. They’re doing brilliantly. And they’re unapologetically unafraid to call it out.
And down in the South West, we’re not yet as unapologetic. And we’re definitely still scared to do it.
And I saw this thing the other day about a tourism conference. And it was three boring blokes. I know we can do better than that. And I called it out.
And they came back and they were like, oh, well, the brilliant Becky’s going to be there moderating to level the balance. And I said, “Well, Becky deserves a place on the line up, and certainly should be mentioned in the newsletter.”
What hope do we have for our kids, our young women if we don’t fight more and more and more for it. So this is a huge part of what I’m banging on about going forward because I think we’ve got a very, very long way to go.
But explain to me then what has been your experience as a woman in business? Why has it been hard or harder so far?
I once stayed in a room full of men and talked about finance. I know I’m not very good at accounting, but I can talk about money.
I can talk about investment. I can talk about what it takes to grow a business, what you need spend-wise versus what you don’t need.
And felt maybe this was me Bex, but they all hit me with all these questions as if I couldn’t answer them. And they were very patronising in their questions.
And I was like, if I feel like this, then there’s something happening to make me feel like it. It’s not just me. I’m not imagining it.
A couple of weeks ago we did our International Women’s Day podcast, and brought together three amazing women to debate just this subject.
So I’d love to know how you feel the system could be improved. And what you think needs to happen in order to make it a bit fairer.
I think we’re doing it right. We’re definitely going in the right direction when it comes to women in business.
But there is still … I saw a stat the other day. I can’t remember it, but there’s still a real hellish lack of women in business. And that’s got to change.
Businesses, it’s a known fact that businesses do well when you’ve got more women in charge. And so I think more women in the media talking about business.
I know that the BBC has diversity targets, but why should it just be the BBC?
Every newspaper needs to be putting females into their column entries. And it can’t just be under the theme of women in business because the more we highlight women in business, the less normal it is. And it shouldn’t have to be highlighted.
There should be an even spread.
And it’s really …. I look at my own life Bex. All of my mentors bar one are men. That’s obviously great. I love having these guys to call on, and I feel really lucky.
But why are they all guys? What has happened in my life that means all the people I turn to for advice are guys? Where’s the women?
There’s an incredible woman called Brice who when I was 16, I did some work experience for her at the Eden Project. And she pretty much phoned my mom and dad up. She had a conversation with my mom and dad, and she said, “You have got no idea what Jess is capable of.”
Because they’ve been indoctrinated into the fact that I was just going to be a good gal, get married and have kids.
So she called your parents to say, “Hey, aim higher for your kid. I can see something special in this girl.”
I think she found them to say, congratulations on something I had done. And I think I had said to her in a conversation where I was like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to have kids and live in a house down a rotted track.”
I remember that line. I’ve been ripped for that line most of my life because that was an ambition, so she felt like she had to say, Jess is capable of a lot of stuff. And it had come up in that conversation.
And I remember we went to Bri’s club in London, me and my mum. I took my mum on a trip to London. And bearing in mind, Bex, I didn’t go to London until I was 18 years old.
And I felt so lonely and scared and freaked out by all the big, tall buildings and the noise and the sheer. It’s like Willy Wonka’s land of opportunity, London was for me. And I never wanted to move there, but she just did.
She said to my mom several times, “Jess is capable of a lot of stuff.” She’s the first women that ever believed in me.
And she’s a powerhouse and still is. And that I think I was really lucky because if I hadn’t had Brice, who knows? If she hadn’t done that or instilled that sense of opportunity in me. And there’s another woman called who was the right-hand woman of the build of the Eden Project.
And she was … I’m still scared of that woman. But I respect her so much, and the way she just tackles everything head-on. And I just think we need more of that.
But we need to applaud it. And I don’t think it’s applauded.
I don’t think that the level ground is anywhere near there. We’re pretty lucky here in the UK that we talk about it quite openly, but not openly enough that there’s women in tech.
There’s women in engineering courses in Eastern countries that are just very like, I actually don’t know how to behave in a room full of guys doing engineering.
There’s nobody there to help me through that side of things. And that’s got to change. We’ve just got to get more women in there. And I think it impacts everything. And it’s hard, I get so passionate Bex. It’s hard to put it into words.
No, I understand. I understand.
And when it feels so relevant to your experience. And you’ve got a little girl. You kind of … It makes it all so much more important, I totally get that.
Thank you so much for coming and sharing all of your amazing stories and advice with us today. Your very sound advice. Thank you. It’s been an absolute joy.
You’re amazing. I think you’re amazing. And I think that this podcast series is unbelievably brilliant.
There’s 18 people that I’m having to dole out advice to every week. At least I could just go, “Listen to Sage.”
And thanks also to the Sage guys for having me because it’s a massive privilege that again, anyone might want to listen to me. So thank you.
Thank you for listening. You can find Jess with all her energy on Twitter @_jessification_. So do go say hi to her.
And while you’re there, let us know what you think of Sound Advice by tweeting @sageuk and using the hashtag #soundadvicepodcast.
As always, the show notes and lots of other useful content are now available at sage.com/podcast. And to get even more pragmatic advice and resources sent direct to your inbox, subscribe to our Sage Advice newsletter. Thank you for tuning in. We’ll be back before you know it with more Sound Advice.
Small business pocket guide: Going it alone but never on your own
Starting a business is one of the most rewarding journeys you can make in your life. Ready to take the leap? This free guide will help you along the way.
Never miss an episode
Subscribe by email and get Sound Advice delivered to your inbox every two weeks with the Sage Advice newsletter with a ton of related articles, templates and problem solving guides for small businesses so you can put our sound advice into practice.