When I graduated in 2011 in the middle of the global financial crisis, jobs were ridiculously hard to come by for a fresh-faced fella like myself, but thankfully as I write this a decade later as a freelance copywriter in Belfast, I’m in the job I was destined to be in.
When I couldn’t get a job in the recession, I decided to create my own employment.
In November 2011, I launched Newry Times, one of the country’s first hyperlocal, fully online newspapers.
With Newry Times and Tall Paul Marketing, I’ve learnt a helluva lot.
Probably way more than I could have learnt in a business degree or MBA.
So, here’s what I’ve learned after ten years in business.
Over the last ten years, people have said things to me like, “Would you ever think about going and getting a real job?”.
And even, “When do you think you’ll go back to full-time work?”
You see, those people have the best of intentions.
But they don’t understand what it’s like to run your own business.
Or create money from thin air and enjoy the overwhelming pride you feel when you’ve won a contract or welcomed a new client.
Instead of laughing off those questions, now I’m proud to say, “Oh, I’m a small business owner, and I’m very lucky to wake up every day and do something I absolutely love.”
And as you can see below, all my family are entrepreneurs, so running a business has always been my goal.
Back in 2011, you were guaranteed a good reach for anything you posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Nowadays, though, the goalposts have moved towards a pay to play model.
And that means marketing yourself or your business online is much more difficult.
But it’s by no means impossible.
You just have to be a little more creative to stand out amongst all the noise.
Ironically as a fella involved in marketing for ten years, I’ve never really enjoyed marketing myself.
I’m pretty introverted by nature, so the thought of singing my own praises and patting myself on the back wasn’t appealing.
Then I discovered that like-minded people felt the same, and we could help each other out.
I created connections with similar people in non-competing but broadly the same industry, and we helped each other out with introductions.
For example, when someone comes to me for website content and mentions they also need a new logo or social media help, I’ve already got friends I can recommend them to.
Or if a local graphic designer is working with a client asking for recommendations for a Belfast copywriter, they’ll point them in my direction.
When I first started Newry Times, I wanted to take the best things from local competitors.
But soon, I realised, “I don’t want my business to be a carbon copy of theirs”.
Since then, while I’ve kept an eye on what my competitors are doing, I try not to copy them.
So what do I do instead?
What they’re all not doing.
For example, I didn’t do the same when I saw lots of paid Google PPC ads and Facebook ads promoting local freelance copywriters.
Instead, I did something I knew they wouldn’t be doing: I started a massive direct mail marketing campaign.
And it did incredibly well.
While everyone else was competing for online adverts, I was landing straight into the hands of the people I wanted to work with.
When I first launched Newry Times, I wasn’t sure whether being myself was ok or whether I should act and look a certain way.
As a result, I wore a suit, had an office and tried to portray a level of sophistication.
But that’s not me at all.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t feel comfortable in suits.
As a 6ft6 man, it’s hard to find clothes that fit at the best of times.
So wearing a suit every day did nothing but cut off the blood circulation to my head.
Then I decided just to be myself, dodgy shirts and all.
After all, the wee man on the right (below) with the cigar and the shorts pulled up so far they could have passed for a turtle-neck just wore what made him comfortable.
And I’ve never been happier.
When I launched Tall Paul Marketing in 2017, I had all those cheesy stock images on my website.
Ironically, I’d no pictures of the human behind the business: me!
Soon though, I learned that people wanted to know who I was, what I looked like, what made me tick, my personality, etc.
And since then, I’ve tried to show the real me at every opportunity.
My website now has pictures of me, and my writing probably reflects my personality a lot; self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek.
Like you, I find it very difficult at times to create content to share on social media and my blog and even for my newsletter.
And, like you, I prioritise all my client work before worrying about my own marketing.
But what I’ve learned is that consistency with content offers you the best possibility of being on the radar of the people you want to do business with.
To give you an example, recently, I spent an entire day and scheduled social media content to go out every few days right up until January 2022.
Some of it was repurposed content; some were tips and tricks; others included a bit of humour.
Whatever it is you’re sharing, be consistent.
The more often you post great content, the more often you’re seen by the people who matter.
Anyone that knows me knows that I never rest on my laurels.
I’m always trying to improve myself and my business.
The Tall Paul Marketing website has already undergone a few big revamps, and another one is due soon.
That’s because the digital world never stands still.
What works for you today can be destroyed by one algorithm update from Google.
As a result, I’ve realised the value of keeping things fresh and changing things that are looking stale or aren’t working as they should.
Your business is never ‘ready’ or ‘finished’ – it’s a constantly evolving thing just like you.
Most Northern Ireland business owners play down their achievements.
Some even say luck had more to do with it than skill and perseverance.
Over the last ten years, I’ve learnt to embrace failures.
After all, I left school with just three GCSEs, and, of course, I failed my 11+.
But eventually, I found my path and got a degree.
I’ve probably failed more than I’ve succeeded.
But I’ve learnt just to accept it and try again.
A couple of years ago, I was desperate to come up with a new business idea.
And I read every business and entrepreneurial book out there, scouring them for ideas.
But I could never come up with an idea.
I think, though, that ideas arrive when you’re not forcing them.
During Lockdown 1.0, I remember walking my dog.
I was reassessing what I wanted to do with my life.
And suddenly, my subconscious mind just said, “You love writing. So just write!”.
It was like an epiphany that was as obvious as it was ridiculous.
And it seemed so straightforward, yet I’d never actually realised that’s where my future lay.
I learned that the best ideas don’t always arrive from books or studying.
Sometimes, they hit you during a global pandemic while you’re out walking your dog in the teeming rain.
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