When people ask me how I got started, I’m never really sure whether to tell the truth. And I usually don’t. I really don’t feel like it’s something that they want to hear. If I was just starting out – I wouldn’t want to hear it!
I started out through graft, graft, eating shit and luck.
I made a decision early on, that I’d rather get experience working at places that would look good on my CV and teach me things, rather than getting money.
I graduated in the recession, where everyone was getting fired. Sat at the job centre, trying to look for work, when there are people with impressive C.Vs and years looking for work, is really disheartening. Most of the people I graduated with couldn’t find work either, and everyone seemed to go down two routes; either they gave up and stayed working in their retail or customer service jobs, or they trained to become teachers.
I tried to give up too, I tried looking for work anywhere that would take me. I tried looking for a job in admin but was told I need 3 years of experience for the 15k a year jobs they were advertising. I tried looking for jobs in bars and cafes. I got fired from the retail job I managed to get, which was only on Sundays. I had a trial working as a waitress but they never called me back after the trail.
I couldn’t train as a teacher because I had a design degree.
I had interned in Amsterdam, living in a squat while I commuted all over Holland working for various advertisers and designers. It all felt a complete waste.
I just gave up and decided that I would probably be unemployed all my life, and tried to fake to my jobcentre assessor that I was looking for work when really I was sat on my arse playing x-box.
Then one day at my jobcentre appointment, my assessor told me that there were some new government-funded jobs in charities. It was a competitive situation, but there were a few available in marketing, and she thought that the skills I had matched the job description.
I was in doubt that I’d get the job. There were plenty of people with marketing degrees who also couldn’t find a job, so what hope would I have?
But I decided that I’d give it a try. I went to the interview and somehow managed to get it. It was only part-time minimum wage, but I was truly over the moon that I had an actual job. The downside was that it was only 6 months. The upside was that I had a budget for training. I decided to use the training budget to get a CIM certificate in marketing.
The actual job sucked, the charity had only taken people on because we were free. There were about 6 of us, stuffed into a tiny room with no direction about what we were supposed to be doing or supervision. So on quiet days I studied marketing, on busy days, well we screwed around a lot and I had the most laughs I think I’ve ever had in my life. Our jobs existed purely so that the government could fiddle with job statistics, but it was an opportunity so I took it gladly.
As the 6 months are coming to a close, I was panicking. I’d been applying for every single marketing job I could find. But even the entry-level jobs demanded 3 years of work experience. With my interning and my 6 months, I had 2. Recruiters wouldn’t even talk to me without that three years.
I ended up signing on, again, I’d not even managed to find ONE interview.
Only a few weeks after my work placement finished, I got a call from a recruiter. He had found my c.v online, and told me about a silicon valley start-up company who were looking for someone with no experience but a lot of passion, who they could mould to their work environment and train up.
I managed to get an interview there, and a second interview with the VP, who to this day is still one of the scariest guys I’ve ever met. I was up against one other guy, and I guess I just wanted it a whole lot more than he did because even though they admitted that he was more qualified for the job, they gave it to me.
The pay was really shitty, and the nature of the startup meant that everyone was working really long hours, from 8.30 until 6, but many people stayed late. I made a decision to always be the first person to arrive and the last to leave, even if it meant working until 9 pm, I would be the last person out the door. The work was very monotonous, I had to admin the Salesforce database. I spent 6 months, just using Salesforce for 10 hours a day.
The company was doing very well, even in the recession, it was about to go public and all our clients were fortune 500. But things were not going well for me, my job as a sales force admin was about to be replaced by an algorithm that the I.t team had set up.
But even though the marketing and sales VP never spoke to me and probably thought I was an idiot, the team had all seen how hard I worked and wasn’t about to let a good worker go.
So they asked me if I could write content, I said yes yes I can write I love to write please let me write the blogs, but then they hired my friend Jess, who is an exceptional technical copywriter instead. What was left for me to do? Social media? People were putting their toes in the water with social media and this was a software company with investors sniffing around, so they stuck me on that.
With Jess doing the blogging and me doing the social media, the traffic was going through the roof and we’d taken on some more huge clients. I was working directly under the CEO, who most people didn’t even get to speak to.
But the work got higher and higher pressure and my salary stayed the same, in the end, I couldn’t keep up working so hard when I still couldn’t even afford to move out of my parent’s house.
I decided to leave and try working for myself. The CEO was supportive and happy for me, he was an entrepreneur himself and I’d always told him that I wanted to work for myself.
But a few months into going alone, my recruiter Darren called me again with another opportunity. A marketing agency specifically working within IT, was looking for someone with experience in marketing and IT. I decided that being the marketing manager for a whole agency would be a good place to learn. I’d never had agency experience before, and agency work is a good way to add multiple clients to your port. I took the job. I’d managed to go from marketing temp to Salesforce admin, to social media exec to agency marketing manager in 2 years. I decided that maybe I was good at this, and promised myself that by 30 I’d be a marketing director.
Agency life was fun, my director took me on a lot of sales meetings and that’s where I learned my most important skill – doing agency sales. But employee life is not for me. I clashed with my boss on many occasions. My working style was insular, I wasn’t a team player, I preferred to do the work to my own schedule and show him the results at the end. On top of this, he had a serious substance addiction which made his behaviour erratic. After a personal tragedy, I decided that I just couldn’t go back to working in that environment. He wanted to keep me on as a freelancer, which would have been a good move for me, but in the end, I couldn’t even tolerate him as a client. Growing up around addiction, being managed by an addict felt very harmful for me.
So I began as a freelancer, with no client base, burned bridges and no money. At times the only thing that kept me going was that I couldn’t get a new job – my last boss would have never given me a good reference.
I had to work for anyone and everyone, for whatever they were willing to pay me. I didn’t get my first decent client until around a year in. And after working with him for a while, I worked for someone he recommended me to. After 3 months, they upped their budget with me considerably. I had had firm results with both of these clients, so I felt confident enough to start marketing myself properly.
A few more clients came on board and then an agency contacted me, a good one. They helped me get my income to more of a “desirable level”, but the client dropped out, but the agency’s sales team had read my proposal and were interested in selling my services after my approval from the MD.
That was great, except for one hiccup, I was pregnant. I was told by the hive mind of my Facebook that there was NO WAY agencies or clients would want to continue working with me while I was knocked up. I timidly told my agency and clients what the situation was, but that I wanted to carry on regardless, they were on board – phew!
I worked throughout my pregnancy, I worked when I was in labour, I worked when I was right out of the hospital with a newborn. Things were finally taking off and there was NO WAY I’d let a little thing like carrying a child get in my way.
I was tired, stressed and overwhelmed, but the work kept pouring in. It got to the point where I had to keep turning down work because I just couldn’t do any more than I already was. Slowly, I’ve taken on more and more work. New enquiries come in each week, my son grows older and less dependent on me every day, so I can gradually grow my business.
I’m not at my goal income for age 30 yet, I’m 32. But I think I will be able to achieve it in the next two years. That’s not so bad. I’m excited that the more people I work with, the more want to work with me.
Looking back at my work history, I can’t decide whether I’ve been really lucky, really unlucky or both. Maybe good luck comes with a tax.
Working hard and wanting it hard has helped me get where I am, and I think that’s because business owners who hire me recognise that because they’ve been through it themselves. They see that I desperately want opportunities and am willing to do whatever it takes to get them.
A lot of the time, the only opportunities I’ve had are ones that other people don’t want or aren’t prepared to do. They want to go after the more comfortable, better-paid opportunities.
You may not have to go through all the shit I’ve been through in your career, but experiences like this are common. It’s not the easy path. But as they say, nothing worthwhile comes easily.