I had the pleasure of meeting Beth towards the end of last year when she spoke at the Southampton Solent University PR Conference. At the conference, Beth, a former PR & Comms student at Solent, shared all about her work as a freelancer and founder of Lemon Squeezy Marketing. Read on to find out about how Beth nearly became a Dance Choreographer, the biggest challenges she’s had to face as a freelancer and her advice for anyone wanting to become a freelance PR…
How did you decide studying PR at Solent was the route you wanted to take?
“The truth is I had no idea what I was going to do as a career during sixth form. I wanted to do lots of things and it was really hard to choose one subject to pursue. My neighbour at the time was a career counsellor and she encouraged me to think about what I enjoyed most and research various options.
My best subject at school by far was English, followed closely by Dance, Performing Arts and Media Studies. However I knew I didn’t want to become a traditional newspaper journalist or professional performer. I very nearly went for a degree in Contemporary Dance Choreography (I auditioned and got in!) but I changed my mind when I discovered PR.
After a lot of research into the subject I concluded that PR would allow me to use my analytical strengths and still be highly creative. The lifestyle also influenced my decision because I wanted to be able to build a successful career with longevity, earn a reasonable wage and stay close to my home in Dorset.
I chose Southampton Solent University without even visiting first. I spent a lot of time researching it on the internet, and I was drawn to its creativity and uniqueness. The fact that the course was accredited by the CIPR sealed the deal.”
Can you talk a bit about the jobs you had before going freelance?
“When I graduated my first job was in the corporate department of Ketchum London, part of an American communications company with 43 offices worldwide. This was probably the best thing I could have done, because I gained world-class training and knowledge which I still use today. I also got a chance to work with some of the most talented PRs I have ever met and I learned a lot from them.
I left Ketchum to return to Dorset because I missed my friends, family and country air! Bournemouth English Book Centre (BEBC) became my home for a while and I enjoyed starting up their social media presence from scratch and applying what I had learned at Ketchum in the marketing department. I also started doing freelance work for other people during evenings and weekends because I found lots of small business owners in Dorset in need of social media support.
After outgrowing my role at BEBC I took a job as Group Marketing Manager for Ocean Automotive and became responsible for overseeing all marketing activities in three companies owned by the group. This was a huge leap and proved challenging at first, particularly as there was no handover, but I soon found my feet creating and implementing comprehensive marketing plans and systems.”
Why did you decide to become a freelancer?
“Going freelance wasn’t a conscious decision at first – it just sort of ‘happened.’ Long before I started Lemon Squeezy Marketing, I was working on other projects in my spare time and holidays for contacts I had met through friends and networking. It didn’t seem like work to me because I enjoyed it. Giving others a helping hand in a subject I was good at just seemed like a natural thing to do.
It was only when the company I was working for made my role part-time, that I considered freelancing as something I could be doing instead. After a lot of soul searching I decided to accept the cut in hours and use the rest of the week working for myself, rather than find a new full-time job. Thankfully it went so well that after seven months I was able to hand in my notice.
Working for myself is something I always wanted to do eventually, though I didn’t expect to be doing it so soon. I was glad for the chance to take control of my own future and gain creative freedom. I have always believed that if you work hard and you help people, success will follow you and so far this has proved to be true.”
What challenges have you faced with Lemon Squeezy Marketing? And what have been your main successes?
“I expected starting Lemon Squeezy Marketing to be more of a challenge than it was, but I think that’s because I did a lot of research in advance to be as prepared as I could be. I read books for entrepreneurs and e-books for freelancers, researched similar businesses online and checked out the competition in my local area. Once I knew what I wanted to do and why, getting started was easy.
However the biggest challenge was getting clients, and it was slow at first. It took time to spread the word about what I was doing and gain the trust of business owners. However I networked regularly and spent a lot of time doing my own social media and PR. Before too long, I had new enquiries coming in regularly and the work snowballed.
My main successes have come from adapting and evolving my services based on what is needed, what is current and what I am good at. Straying out of my comfort zone to learn new skills has also contributed. When you continually self-educate, all the inspiration and knowledge you receive directly benefits the clients you serve.”
Who has been your favourite and most interesting client so far? Why?
“I wouldn’t say I have a favourite client, but the most interesting by far is the Great Dorset Steam Fair (GDSF). It’s one of Europe’s largest events, alongside Glastonbury Festival, and it is unique in almost every way. GDSF started as a small village gathering in the 1960s and although it now receives over 200,000 visitors each year, it remains loyal to its original values. Many of the visitors have been going every year for as long as they can remember and each year many more arrive for the first time.
Working on any event is a mixed bag because however much you plan, anything can happen on the day. There is a huge variety of attractions at GDSF and the event has its own culture, so there is never a shortage of interesting stories to tell. I have worked as a freelancer managing PR and social media since 2009 and each year has been different.”
What advice would you give to aspiring PRs who are interested in freelance work?
“Start now! Even when you’re at university you can still be offering to lend a hand to businesses for experience. There is very little stopping you from trying it out and you don’t know where it might lead until you start doing it. If you’re currently employed then some contracts allow you to take on freelance work in your own time, but it’s best to clear it with your manager first if you’re not sure.
Some of the benefits of freelancing are creative freedom and the ability to choose your own hours, work and clients. However it does take a lot of hard work to succeed and everything rests on your shoulders. It’s not for everyone, so it’s a good idea to start small and figure out whether it’s something you would like to do more of.”
Thank you, Beth, for giving me such a big insight into the freelancing world! If you’re at Solent and interesting in doing freelance work, I suggest checking out Solent Creatives – they have loads of jobs for all types of industries; Film, PR, Adverstising and Photography to name a few!