Interview with freelance digital marketing consultant Nicola Renshaw

When marketing expert Nicola Renshaw became a mum she wanted more flexibility than her job offered – so she decided to go freelance. Find out how she overcame the fear and shaped a business that suits her life.

What’s your career background?

I have over 18 years’ experience in B2B marketing for corporates in the IT and technology space. It was a brilliant grounding, with great budgets and access to working with some of the best creative marketing agencies out there on technologies and campaigns that really challenged the market.

In 2005, I also started a small retail business designing shoes and we opened our first shop in 2008.

When did you first think about going freelance, and how long did it take you to make the leap?

After I had children and life in general became busier I was very lucky to go back to a part time role. But while working three days a week was great, I was still beholden to the company’s hours and holiday allowance and essentially I wanted more flexibility around family life.

I also started to really struggle with the lack of passion I had for the industry that I worked in (excitement over LAN router integration just didn’t do it for me anymore) and the repetitive scenario of ‘too many chiefs and not enough Indians’ made me think about going it alone.

It took about six months of talking to other freelancers, defining a business strategy, networking with old and new contacts, when the desire to go for it just wouldn’t go away. With a big birthday looming I had that now or never moment.

What were your biggest worries about going freelance, and how did you overcome them?

Finding clients was an obvious one, but I approached it head-on with excitement. I found my first client within two weeks of going freelance (through Twitter!). I also was worried about missing the buzz of going into London (even my commute from Surrey had become sacred ‘me time’), office camaraderie, and, as silly as this sounds,did it mean I’d be wearing jeans all the time? What about all my lovely trouser suits?!

I’ve adapted quite quickly to working in my study at home. I had a bit of a repaint and furniture re-shuffle and of course the view over some green fields definitely has its upsides. I make sure that I go on-site to clients where possible and attend regular networking meetings, both locally and in London.

In the wardrobe department, yes I’ve somewhat ditched the suits and seem to live in jeans, but throw on heels and a jacket for a client meeting and you’re good to go. With Wi-Fi everywhere now I often go to coffee shops to keep things fresh and have recently worked a couple of days at co-working hub London Fields, which is a great way to get the creative juices going!

What is Renshaw Communications?

Renshaw Communications is a consultancy that specialises in helping younger lifestyle brands with all things digital. Our focus areas are content marketing, social media and copywriting (although have recently been doing lots of PR too).

I love to work with the actual business owners ideally themselves as I feel that’s where the passion is driven from and as it’s just me I feel we can develop a good relationship and really get under the skin of their brand to deliver results.

To date work has been in the retail, fashion and homeware sectors. Most of the clients I work with are also women (usually mums juggling it all) and call me a feminist, but I love that.

What have been the biggest struggles you have faced in going freelance?

Changing my mindset, and realising that it’s now all on me to make it happen – which is empowering but initially terrifying.

When you work in a corporate environment you have the cushion and the finances to change direction, work through with colleagues etc and if you’re involved on a project the buck doesn’t necessarily stop with you. Clearly when it’s your own business, it’s a service that a client is buying from you and it’s then up to you to deliver it. It’s your reputation!

Also I have had to learn to be a lot more patient than when I was when working in the corporate world. You quickly realise that work doesn’t come in overnight and plan accordingly. For projects worth waiting for these are often a slower burn.

How do you find new clients?

I’ve realised that all clients are so very unique in their ways of working, not to mention their brands, and so I do believe you have to be open to meeting clients anywhere. Some like traditional face-to-face networking in an environment that they feel is more structured and perhaps formal… while others love the power of social media.

So I think it’s important to be aware of all possibilities and put yourself out there where you know potential clients are. However, one of my best clients started after a few glasses of wine in the pub!

What’s your USP?

I passionately believe that a strong relationship with the client is paramount and at Renshaw Communications we work as an extension of a team rather than a traditional client/agency relationship.

I also have co-owned a shoe business called Zapita for the last six years. As a result, I can totally empathise with the challenges faced by small business owners who are pulled in so many different directions.

I can combine my experience in fashion, retail and technology to bring a unique perspective to the clients I work with.

What are your top three marketing tips for small businesses?

  1. Don’t be on too many social media platforms unless you are prepared to be consistent on all of them. Pick those that are most relevant and you know your target audience engage with.
  2. Blogging is a great way to not only improve your SEO rankings, but to offer free valuable content, insights and advice to your audience. Don’t always just post blogs on your site. Look to third party publishers such as Pulse where there is a different audience for your brand, and offer to be a guest blogger on sites that again have a strong association to your business. These are great ways of expanding your reach of potential customers.
  3. Use a content calendar to plan your marketing activity. It’s doesn’t have to be complicated but on a quarterly basis factor in new product launches, seasonal activity, industry news etc and build campaigns each month around these areas. This will help you to focus and choose the marketing tactic that works most effectively.

You can find out more about Renshaw Communications on their website