This week’s Small Business Star is Linda Aitchison, founder and operational director of The Marketing Room. Established for twelve years, The Marketing Room is an award-winning creative agency, specialising in marketing, social media, design, PR and copywriting.
Linda has over twenty years’ worth of experience working as journalist, and has earned herself a reputation as a trusted national media contributor, PR professional and author. After building herself a successful career working with local and national newspapers, she decided that she had both the ability and motivation to work for herself. Twelve years on and The Marketing Room is an established and successful business in the creative industry, providing thought leadership, and delivering real, visible results for its clients.
1. From regional papers to PR, the beginnings of my business
After working as a news editor on regional papers, and having my twin daughters, I was approached to work in PR in Birmingham – in media relations and event management. To my surprise, I loved it and people seemed to very much appreciate my work. It was a great deal more flexible than a career with a local newspaper and I was also able to freelance as a feature writer for the nationals – I loved that, working for myself was the next logical step. I had so much potential work that I had to build a team around me to help so that I could spend as much time as I could with my daughters in the early days.
2. Two different characters can make for a great business partnership
I founded The Marketing Room twelve years ago, although at the time it was called Passionate Media, which I find a little cringe-worthy now. Very soon after I started I was joined by my friend Carol Owen whom I’d met at ante-natal classes. In the early days you could say that I was the creative one and the ‘killer’ saleswoman as we drove the business forward. Carol was cool, calm and collected, and very organised, which I really needed for my business to survive. These days we are equal partners.
3. Utilise business networking groups
I started the business in a haze of activity with people recommending me for various work projects. Despite being the mum of twins I was still a workaholic. We didn’t want to kill ourselves by working flat out, and at first we had more work than we could cope with. However, we found that business networking groups worked really well for us. I also worked with our local Chamber of Commerce who put plenty of work our way.
4. Don’t just talk about it, do it
People who work with us tell us they like our straight-talking approach and how comfortable we are working in social media. I interviewed one of the founders of Twitter back in 2007 for the Guardian and was subsequently a so-called ‘early adopter’. These days there are a lot of people talking a lot about social media and how it “should” work, we cut through the spiel to get on with it and do a good job. It sounds simple but it works. In media relations our level of experience, working with international, national and regional media has stood us in good stead. At my weekly networking meeting I have the tag line “PR without the BS”, and I hope that’s a good reflection of how we work.
5. “No” doesn’t always mean “never”
We pride ourselves on keeping things fresh and making sure that our current clients are getting best value for money through additional services. We’re a small and tight-knit team and we know our strengths and weaknesses. We have focused our sales efforts into specific sectors. It’s been an eye-opener as to how long it can take for things to start moving after initial contact, but we’re good at hanging on in there and realising that “no” often means “not yet.”
6. Wider industry knowledge is vital
We have a fantastic team member, Terri-Anne, who joined us as a social media apprentice and part of her job is to keep up-to-date with industry developments and share her knowledge with the rest of the team. Day-to-day we are aware of what’s happening, and are always mindful that we need to stay ahead of our competition.
7. Be proud and motivated by your successes
I always felt that my own greatest success within the business was to get it to a stage where we could employ my husband Neil, who was a former BBC journalist. I loved having him with us, and knowing we’d created enough work for him to have a sound future with us gave me a real sense of achievement. Since Neil died in 2012, I have to say that my biggest achievement is simply being here and still going, still winning business and getting things done day to day. I won an award some years ago as an inspirational businesswoman and my business partner Carol was named the UK’s most Exceptional Working Mum back in 2006. She was told as a child that she would never walk and never have children, so as a mum of two gorgeous boys and a director of a growing company, she has proved that miles off target.
8. Be brave in business
There’s nothing I can face in business that will ever come close to the challenges I’ve had to face in my personal life; losing Neil and bringing up twin daughters, now aged 16. It may be a cliché, but I feel this will make me braver in business, as I’m doing it for the two of us now. This was also a challenge for us as a company as we battled to make sense of what was happening and deal with the fallout on a practical level. Essentially two members of staff were lost in one fell swoop, as I had to take months out. It was a while before I could return, but I’m so glad now that I have as we continue to make progress. I feel proud and have grown stronger.
9. Being honest pays off
You’re bound to make mistakes along the way, but sometimes you have to be judged on how you put them right – so do that and move on. Your clients will thank you for it. Be transparent, however tempting it is to maintain a smokescreen about what goes on behind the scenes. Customers respond well to honesty, remember that at all times.
Find out more about The Marketing Room by visiting: http://www.themarketingroom.co.uk/.
For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.