Interview with a career change mum - Melanie Ellison

Today I interview Melanie Ellison. Mel is a mum of two and runs Gem Agency Ltd, a small branding and marketing agency, along with two partners.

Working her way up through communications agencies for over 16 years, Mel took on roles such as copywriter, account director, consultant and business manager before starting her own agency.

As a qualified nutritional therapist, Mel is also working on a new idea to help busy mums to cook for their families. Watch this space.

1.     What gave you the idea to start up your business?

I started my business because my full-time job running a comms agency just didn’t appeal after I became a mum. I knew the hours would be long and my priorities had shifted – I just didn’t want to miss out on so much time with my little girl.

I spoke with two colleagues who were also unhappy and we agreed that we were all very good at our jobs and could make a go of it on our own.

The idea was that we would utilise the network of talented freelancers we had come to know and trust over the years, for everything from design to web development.

We would find and manage the clients, oversee all projects, develop the thinking, create the strategies and write all the copy.

This meant we keep our overheads low with no permanent staff (besides ourselves) and avoid hiring office space by working from home. It also allowed us to work flexibly (with clients we liked) and regain the work/life balance we all wanted so much.

2.     What did you do to prepare to start up your business?

Once we had established that we were all serious about the business, we sat down together to understand what our proposition was, who our main target markets were and how we would go about attracting new business.

We didn’t need to plough money into the business, so there was no need for bank loans or investors. We did have to get on with all of the practical things like setting up a bank account, creating our brand, developing a website etc., pretty quickly because we had our first client within weeks.

3.     Which aspects of your business did you need help with? Where did you get that help?

The main issue for us was attracting new business. We needed to get clients on board to start earning money, as the pipeline can be well over six months before even starting the work, let alone billing it.

We used our contacts but as we were locked into a non-compete agreement by our previous employer, we couldn’t approach recent clients.

We found we just had to get out there and network as much as we could. We also joined a tender directory site called B2B Quote, which outlined up-to-date tenders for an annual fee.

The only real help we got was paid help from our accountant and solicitor. They helped us with the complicated business of setting up the company structure. It was important that we had the flexibility to pay ourselves according to the work each of us had done for the business.

4.     Describe what your business does and who you target it at / your ideal client

Gem Agency Ltd is a creative services agency that offers design, copywriting, brand consultancy and marketing strategy, including web design/development and video production.

Much of the work we have done to date has been branding. The key is getting the fundamentals right, so we help our clients define a genuine proposition, establish their target markets and refine key messages before starting on names, logos and marketing materials.

Our target market is as broad as all SMEs that have a need to communicate, whether that’s a Start Up just creating a brand, an established business ready to rebrand or a small company needing an updated website.

We love helping people who believe in their business and are genuinely enthusiastic about investing in their branding and marketing – even if it is on a shoestring!

5.     What is the most rewarding thing about having your own business?

The most rewarding thing about having my own business is having the flexibility to spend time with my kids, whilst still doing interesting and challenging work.

6.     What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge of having my own business is keeping the business development pipeline healthy.

When I’m focused on delivering work for a client, I have to take my eye off new business and that affects my income. It can be a bit of a rollercoaster.

7.     If you could go back and give yourself some advice what would it be?

The advice I would give myself if I could go back in time, would be to think through my proposition, target audience and the competition in the market more thoroughly before launching.

London is a crowded market when it comes to creative agencies, you have to be sure you’re ready to hunt for business, know where to look and how to turn enough profit to support everyone in the company.

I’m going to take that learning on to my new business idea and start this journey right!