Starting a business in the last recession has helped content marketing agency Padua Communications cope with the challenges of the past year. Nick Martindale spoke to founder Nicky Rudd about her experiences and what she would do differently.
Q Can you tell me a bit about your business and how you came to set it up?
We’re 12 years old this year, and we’re a content marketing and PR agency. I had worked for different agencies and got a bit frustrated – we were still at the point where companies would have a website done by a web agency, social media by a digital agency and PR by a PR agency, and I wanted to be able to offer a service that does all those things, because for me they’re just channels to get a story out. We were talking about content marketing before it became a buzzword.
Q How has it grown along the way?
When we set up it was just me, and we now have 15 people working remotely. I set the business up 50:50 with my business partner Jason, who is also my husband, and we grew it so he could leave his journalist job and work with me, so we could share childcare. About five years in, that became a key driver for how we were set up.
Q How did you finance the business?
I had some money to start it off and Jason was still working, so I just worked really hard. Six months in I got my first retained client, and we’re still working for them. But we set ourselves up to be very agile and lean right from the start. We set up in 2009 when there was a recession on, and how contracts would work and how we would bill was always based around having flexibility. We’ve realised that’s important for a lot of our customers.
Q Whereabouts are you based geographically?
Jason and I are in the New Forest and we have given up our office since the pandemic, as we’ve been home schooling. But our team have always worked remotely so we didn’t have that steep learning curve during the pandemic.
Q Is there anything you would have done differently?
You need to understand what skills you have and what you can delegate. I haven’t done invoicing for a long time because I’m not the right person to be doing that. So maybe having a greater understanding of that and more confidence to let things go earlier on.
Q What do you know now that you wish you had when you started?
That everything would work out, and to have the courage of my convictions. There’s also an element of trying something and seeing if it will work, because it’s only by doing it that you can see if it will have an impact on your business. I don’t think they’re mistakes because you learn from them, but you need to be quick at understanding how you can work smarter and what you’re going to spend your time and money on, and put in place measurements. You need to hold yourself accountable.
Q What advice would you have for anyone starting out now?
Do it, but spend time building your brand and thinking about what you want your business to be over the next three to five years, because once you’re up and running you don’t get as much thinking time. Don’t worry if there are lots of competitors because that means there is a demand for that service, but don’t try to be like everyone else. Find your own voice, story and customer set.
One thing I realised early on is to build in some fail-safe time. Soon after setting the business up I had flu and couldn’t work for two weeks, and that was a good lesson for me. It’s influenced the way we do content planning with clients.
Q How do you manage the pressure of running a business?
I do pilates a couple of times a week, and I try and get up and do a 15-minute workout every day. Sometimes that can be in my bedroom, or it might be a 30-minute walk out in the New Forest.
Q What do you most enjoy about running your own business?
I love working with clients and seeing the results, and I love joining the dots between how one market might impact another. I also love working with my husband and a good team of people.
I would highly recommend running your own business, and wish I’d had the confidence to do it earlier.
Q What’s the hardest part?
Switching off sometimes, and also knowing you have to make a decision and not knowing which way that’s going to go. I could probably be a bit stronger at the analytics and spreadsheets, but I tend to get others who like that to look after that.
Q How has Covid-19 impacted you?
We have had some ups and downs with clients due to the way their industries have been affected, but we’ve always been cloud-based and virtual so that wasn’t a big learning curve for us. But a lot of the conversations we’d been having with clients about doing more on LinkedIn or online suddenly had an impact when they couldn’t go to events.
But the biggest challenge for us was that we were home schooling while running the business. We eventually got to the stage where one of us was working and one was home schooling. It’s been exhausting!
Q How do you split out the responsibilities between you?
We’re both very hands-on. Jason tends to do a lot of the online usability elements such as SEO, and I’m good at listening and match-making, so thinking about what a client wants to achieve and developing a creative strategy. We’re quite lucky because we have skills that are disparate but which blend in nicely together.
Q What are your hopes for the future of the business?
I’m actually having some sessions with a business coach at the moment because we’re deciding what kind of direction we want to go in next. You might have to ask me that in a few months! We’re thinking about how we can be smarter with our offering, and slicker with our reporting and feedback. But it will essentially be the same as the past 12 years because that’s what we like and what we think we’re good at.
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