STATING A BUSINESS IN A RECESSION: THE LESSONS WE LEARNT

Starting a business in a recession

When we launched Open Communications in 2008, there were lots of people ready and willing to impart their knowledge. Starting a business in a recession was a risk, but it wasn’t without consideration on our part. Although we could see the benefits, it seemed that those most eager to share their thoughts felt otherwise.

What many people didn’t realise is that this wasn’t the first time that Emma and I had worked together. We had in fact been friends for several years and worked for the same agency for around two of those.

Being friends before business partners meant we had shared our achievements and frustrations about work. This gave us a good insight into what each of us expected. With a very similar attitude to clients and a focus on results, it all seemed to slot into place.

Like anyone, we didn’t go into starting a PR agency with our eyes closed. A great deal of time and effort was spent discussing what could go wrong. At the same time, we considered all the benefits of starting a company together, regardless of a recession.

The truth was, for us both, it was now and never. And so, it was now!

Time for a change: a new approach

PR was very much about lunching and ‘shmoozing’ when we launched Open Communications. That wasn’t our way and we decided to do things differently. We set out with a very straight-forward message: what you see is what you get.

We let our clients know that if they wanted air kissing and champagne that we weren’t right. In contrast, if they wanted results, then we were available to sit down and discuss a plan.

This has stood us in good stead over the years. Nothing has changed. We still provide our clients with advice and recommendations that will deliver results. This remains our focus and is what gets us out of bed on a morning.

When we discussed this with our colleagues in the industry all those years ago, they thought we were taking a huge risk. As it happens, it was quite the opposite. Clients seem to really appreciate our honesty and transparency.

Being able to say that we have worked this way since day one gives brands extra confidence. It also sits within our values as an organisation, which is something we feel is very important.

Targeting clients with shared values

The first office we worked in was a ‘plug and play’ rental. It meant we could move in and start straight away. We had two laptops, two phones and a list of businesses that we wanted to target. Nothing more.

We decided we wouldn’t take clients from our previous agencies and set about contacting local brands. Within two weeks we had our first client and within three months we had won our first competitive pitch. The fact it happened to be HARIBO was a further benefit.

It quickly became apparent that as the ‘new kids on the block’ we were doing something right and out approach was resonating with businesses of all sizes.

Being able to research and identify those companies that had similar values and ways of working was refreshing. It meant that we could give our all to every organisation that chose us as their preferred PR partner.

This is still an important factor when we receive briefs through the door today.

Getting excited by results

There is no better feeling than getting excited by the results we achieve for our clients. When we launched, we were very specific about putting campaigns together that would meet with objectives. In our opinion, it’s the best way to showcase how PR can deliver a return on investment.

There were no lunches. No lavish gifts. It was about doing our job and doing it well. The recession meant that budgets were tight. It also gave us an opportunity to show what could be achieved without breaking the bank.

Thankfully, hard work does pay off when you work in our industry. As such, we have delivered some incredible campaigns for our clients. Large or small the brands we work with get the results they deserve.

For us, it isn’t about a stopwatch or how many press releases we send out. It’s about putting together strategies that work. Things change and evolve but fundamentally our attitude to achieving results never has.

Creating a network

I have to admit that when we started Open Comms I wasn’t thinking about our network. We had the support of our friends and family and that was enough for me. Over the years I have realised that extending the number of people you can rely on makes a huge difference.

When the business community hits tough times, it brings out the best and worst in people. Thankfully, it gave us the chance to connect with the individuals and companies that we could trust.

Over the years I would like to think that we have given back just as much as we have taken. Not only do we have suppliers that we recommend to others, we also have friends we can talk to. Equally, there are lots of people who come to us.

It would be unfair to say that everything runs smoothly when you have a business. It doesn’t. This is when these contacts are priceless. Just having the chance to chat openly about your frustrations can make a huge difference.

I am certainly very grateful for those within my network that I can now call friends, as well as business colleagues.

Building a business

Despite the recession, we took on our first employee within two years of opening our doors. It was another risk but one that was considered.

Creating jobs wasn’t something we had in the plan, but nearly twelve years on and we continue to extend our team. As we continue to win clients, we make sure that we have the resource we need. The last thing we would ever want to do is to let anyone down.

We have also given our colleagues the chance to work in an exciting industry where no two days are ever the same. It may not be for everyone, but if people come with the right attitude and ambition, PR can be a great career choice.

Looking back to move forward

Nearly 12 years on and I can’t believe how far we’ve come. I was always confident that Open Comms would be a success, I just didn’t think we would have been on such a rollercoaster ride.

There is no doubt what-so-ever in my mind that the relationship that Emma and I have is integral to what we have achieved. We may be very different in some respects, but when it comes to values, we couldn’t be similar.

Having someone that you can rely on and turn to through thick and thin is so important. Trust is a huge part of having a business and I’m so pleased that I got the chance to take this journey with one of my best friends.

No one knows what the future holds, but as we face another recession, we will do so with a positive attitude. It’s going to be tough; it will take resilience and hard work. That said, we’ve been here before, and we know that we have what it takes.

We will be rolling our sleeves up and making sure we continue to focus on what matters: getting results for the brands we work with.

What we learnt through launching in a recession

Going right back to the beginning of this blog, there are many lessons we have learnt from starting a business in a recession. For those that are thinking of doing the same, here’s a recap of our experiences.

  1. New approach: take this time as an opportunity to do things differently. There is no real value in the thought that ‘if it isn’t broken don’t fix it’. We would all be driving cars with square wheels if that were the case!
  2. Targeting clients: when you launch your own business, you have more autonomy to choose who you work with. Take the opportunity to be picky and to give your professional advice to those that will value it.  
  3. Getting excited by results: remember to celebrate success and to get excited by results. There are times when things will be tough, so make the most of the positives.
  4. Creating a network: having a network of trusted colleagues around you will make life so much easier. Being able to chat and to share the highs and the lows is invaluable when you work in a small business.
  5. Building a business: even if you plan to remain small, consider what would happen if you become more successful than you first thought. It’s a great position to be in but it comes with new choices. These can be hard and need consideration. Building a business isn’t easy. Think about all of the options before you open the doors.
  6. Looking back to move forwards: learning from your mistakes isn’t easy. Recognising you made them in the first place is a start! When you can look back to move forwards, you will be in a better and more resilient position for the future.

For more information about Open Comms and the founding directors, Emma Lupton and Lindsey Davies, please visit.