Apologies for the dramatic title but it got you here. 2019 was my worst year of trading since I started Profoundry in January 2014. Worse than my very first year when I was still working things out and worse than years where I glided along putting very little effort into marketing or advertising my services. To give some context, I brought in half the previous worst year’s revenue.
What’s strange is I have no definitive reason why. Yes I can make guesses what I may have done differently, what may have changed or what I assume may have lead to the downturn. So this post is much more of a reflective diary log for myself, than a ‘How Not to Run a Business’ type post. But hope you find it interesting none the less.
Firstly. let’s get the ‘B’ word out of the way. There is no ignoring the fact that Brexit and the dragged out process and political rollercoaster has lead to a massive lack of confidence amongst businesses big and small. This has to have had an impact on the marketing and advertising efforts of these businesses who don’t want to make large investments until they know what the future looks like. I have talked to countless agency owners, freelancer and contractors who have practically all reported that they are seeing a downturn in business compared to previous years. Despite being a firm Remainer, even I just want to see the whole process completed. If only to give the country and the businesses within it some certainty of where their business and its customers are going leading them to confidently market their wares. One positive takeaway from the above is that if Brexit is a contributor to my business downturn, it is at least one factor that lies completely out of my control.
Location, Vocation, Location
The biggest difference between previous years and 2019 was my location. In October 2018 I made the big move from 11 years living in Manchester city centre to a rural part of West Lancashire 7 miles from Southport. This was predominate to give myself and my partner a break from hectic city life and after the realisation that, now both self-employed, we were not tied down to any location, so why not live in the country. You can read more about the move HERE. I have absolutely loved rural living so far but can’t ignore the fact it also comes with some downsides for my business. These include:
- Not having any businesses on your doorstep.
- Not having the city network around you.
- Not having large brands around you.
- Less tech infrastructure and tech-savvy brands nearby
- Not having the network of freelancers around you.
- Not being known as Manchester-based option.
- Not being as ‘in the know’ about new ventures and business gossip.
So with the new house move came the move from a 70+ person co-working space to a rural location where no such facility exists. This meant I had the choice of a home office or renting an office in a nearby town. I decided to start with a mix of both. I rented an office on Lord Street in Southport. This was the main high street and gave me a central location for my Google Maps listing and a way of attracting more local businesses. It quickly became clear that Southport and Ormskirk do not have the digital minded businesses that Manchester has come to the house in recent years. This is something that I was always aware of but the belief that every brand needs to be advertising online in some format kept me motivated to seek out new local clients. Sadly this didn’t seem to have the impact that I wanted it to and in the end, I decided to move my office from Southport to Liverpool city centre. Learnings from my time in Manchester suggested that the more people I have in my office locale, the more chance of new business. So I now have an office in Studio N within the Baltic Triangle, the creative Northern Quarter-esque part of Liverpool.
Network – No Work
Whilst working in Manchester I made a real concerted effort to meet as many people as I could on a weekly basis. I would have meetings with people that had little to no link to what I do or who I do it for and with no real agenda. This openness to meet people meant my Manchester network quickly grew over the first few years of business. Leaving Manchester behind was easy but maybe leaving this network behind has left me with less people to refer business? I must admit I like to think that the network still exists and I hope that if asked, a lot of those people would still recommend me despite my geographic cord-cutting. Maybe I am wrong? I have reignited those early day efforts and visited all three local BNI networking events as well as several others including Plan B, Shout and Gee’s Networking. These have been great ways to meet new people and make new friends but haven’t lead to much if any actual work.
Not So Solo
Maybe it’s the fact I’m spending more time on LinkedIn these days or maybe it’s just a sign of how the employment market is adapting, but I seem to be seeing every man and his dog are now going freelance, solo, self-employed, consultant or whatever you want to call it. As a massive advocate for work-life balance and taking control of your career, this doesn’t ‘remotely’ surprise me. But with the increase in consultants and freelancers comes the increase in options for my potential clients. Yes, I always hope that my experience and specialism will set me apart but who knows how many potential leads I am losing out on to others. All I can do is carry on marketing myself, ensuring I choose clients carefully and ultimately get the results that keep them referring me more work.
Not Through A Lack of Trying
I don’t want anyone reading this to assume I’ve just moved from a city and decent lead source to a rural location then just sat complaining /waiting for the leads to roll in. This post may be about reflecting on what caused a downturn in business /turnover, but I want to highlight the efforts I have made to ensure that 2019 did not go that way. These include:
– Running LinkedIn ad campaigns
– Running Google Search ad campaigns
– Unused Linkedin Premium to InMail marketing managers informing them of my services.
– Contacted those recruiting for digital folks to suggest me as a viable alternative to full-stack marketing employees.
– Individually emailed local businesses.
– Purchased a contact list of businesses and set up Mailchimp campaign to over 400 businesses with turnover over £500k per year.
– Emailed any business taking out large amounts of print ads in local papers.
– Connected with a ton of freelancers offering other services to build up a referral network.
– Sourced external article/journo opportunities.
– Reluctantly created packages specifically for small local businesses.
– Written targetted blog posts at least twice a month on my site and promoted on social.
– Scoured LinkedIn + Twitter post content for keywords like “freelance”, “ppc”, “recommend” etc.
– Contacted and met with any local business or expert that may refer me work.
– Scoured sites like UpWork for opportunities and applied to those that don’t sound like time wasters willing to pay peanuts.
– Visited all 3 local BNI chapters, Shout networking groups and more.
– Even put a bloody sign up outside my house!
2020: The Road Ahead
This isn’t all doom and gloom. 2020 has started off on the right foot and my efforts in 2019 appear to be slowly paying off. With Brexit’s completion on the horizon, we should see more confidence to commit from businesses large and small whilst digital marketing as a revenue stream will ‘Remain’ for years to come. >>Watch this space<<
Have you noticed a downturn in business during the last year? What do you think that’s down to? Comment below with any feedback, thoughts or advice.