Get a handle on the GFC: How two entrepreneurs did

Handle Your Own PR founders

Your Friday Entrepreneur Fix this week features Handle Your Own PR founders Jules Brooke and Simone Heydon, who took the loss of clients during the GFC and turned the bad luck into a thriving new business.

Jules Brooke and Simone Heydon had been running a full-service communications agency for six years when the GFC hit in 2008, and their client-base of SMB owners and entrepreneurs pulled the reigns on their marketing spend – hard.

In dire need of a new revenue stream, Brooke had what she calls her “lightbulb moment” and the pair launched a new lower-cost product, teaching their clients DIY public relations and marketing, and Handle Your Own PR was born.

The pair created a website and began selling media lists of 300 contacts for $1,500 a pop. Clients said they loved the concept but none would buy the lists, sending Brooke and Heydon back to the drawing board. A website and media list re-work later, in which they built a less text-heavy site and better targeted media lists at lower prices, and the two entrepreneurs had a viable business on their hands.

Revenue has been growing 100 percent year-on-year, and Brooke and Heydon have global expansion in the works. Handle Your Own PR in now running through partners in the US and UK, and countries including India and South Africa are next on the list.

And the response from customers? It’s been along the lines of: “Oh my god, this is exactly what we’ve always needed.”

Here, Brooke discusses the benefits to entrepreneurs of having a solid business partner and offers three tips for how SMBs can best promote themselves.

What was the hardest thing about getting the concept off the ground? How did you overcome this?

At the beginning, it was really hard to get our heads around the website aspect of the business. The difference between print and online media is such that you don’t have to have everything absolutely perfect online when you launch, which was a real learning curve for us. So, when the response to our site wasn’t strong initially we really had to step back and figure out what we were doing wrong. We tweaked it by making it less text-heavy, added more tips and videos and it really started working.

Also, social media really took off when we first launched, which left us wondering whether PR was even going to exist anymore. But it’s worked in our favour, because the combination of traditional and new media has become a very powerful way for SMBs and start-ups to market themselves.

What do you like most about owning your own business?

Where do I start! I love everything about being an entrepreneur. Starting with the flexibility it gives me as a single mum with three young children. All our files are up on the cloud, so this means I can work anywhere and during the hours that suit me best.

I also love that the money I make goes into my pocket, and not someone else’s and that I’m continually learning new skills about running a business – I feel like such a grown up.

On the flip-side, you do need to have nerves of steel to be an entrepreneur, especially when it comes to your finances, because they’re always going to be up and down. There have been moments when my mortgage has been due, and the money only hit my account the day before, so it can be incredibly stressful. But this lack of regular pay cheque is made better by the fact that it’s so stimulating and rewarding. I can’t imagine working for anyone else ever again.

What gets you through the hard times?

It’s the passion for what you do, and having nerves of steel. You also need to believe 100 percent in what you do; I completely believe that Handle Your Own PR has the promise of becoming a global success – no one else in the world is doing this.

Do you think a business owner can learn to be an entrepreneur, or are these skills someone is born with?

I don’t think you’re born with these skills, because I didn’t have them when I was in my 20’s. They seemed to appear when I had children, which is something I can’t really explain.

So no, I don’t think you’re born with them, I think they can be learned. The more entrepreneurs I meet, the more I realise we come from all different facets of society – from different socio-economic backgrounds and with very different personalities. Some a very numbers-driven and some are very marketing-driven, like I am.

Do you have any advice for choosing a great business partner?

I firmly believe having a business partner helps, as this allows you to have someone to pick you up when you’re feeling down. I couldn’t have done this without Simone – she’s always really positive when I feel like throwing in the towel, and vice-versa.

A business partnership should work like a marriage in my opinion, you should be opposites in many ways and that person should fill gaps in your abilities. If you’re going to do it with family or close friends, you need to put something in place at the beginning about how to deal with things should you fall out. Partnership agreements are vital, you absolutely have to have that piece of paper in place before you go into business with anyone. 

What’s the hardest business lesson you’ve learnt as an entrepreneur? 

One of the hardest lessons for me has been that not everyone is going to “get it” the same way you do. So you need to explain the benefits to your market of what it is you’re doing.

When we launched and everyone said they loved what we were doing, but no one actually purchased our products, it was a real shock to the system. Simone and I realised we had to get out there and explain who we were. It isn’t as blindingly obvious to everyone else what the niche is your product or service exploits, so you need to make this very clear, market aggressively and constantly and keep your name out there all the time. 

What are your best three tips for how small businesses should promote themselves?

Firstly – you need to identify your target market and know the media they consume.

Second, you need to find a really strong angle relating to your product or service, and write a media release. We tell our clients they need to find an angle that would be worthy of a newspaper headline, not what you’d see in an ad. Find the problem you’re solving, and write about that.

Finally, personalise your emails. Find a story, and choose one journalist to send it to exclusively. Don’t send a blanket email to a whole bunch of people, because journalists want exclusives. If you send it to 50 people, you’ll more than likely find none of them will touch it. 

What’s next for Handle Your Own PR?

A website redesign, hopefully an investment of some sort, and then world domination!

Handle Your Own PR would like to offer Dynamic Business readers 25 percent off the price media lists until next Friday 13 July, using the ‘DYNA25’ promo code. You can also sign up for the Handle Your Own PR newsletter, and have their DIY PR tips delivered to your inbox, as well as the eBook ‘Straight from the Horses Mouth’, which contains interviews with media personalities on how they like to be pitched to.