This week our interview is with a founder who started her entrepreneurial journey at University and has since grown her business, Incredibly. They help businesses to understand social marketing. You'll hear how she took the move from freelancer to full time entrepreneur, and the challenges faced along the way.
Incredibly - The Journey
What did you do before you started your business?
I picked up some freelance social media work while I studied a London Studies MA. I had some friends who were doing Graphic Design with Illustration and I saw quite early on how close writing and visuals are in social media marketing; I hooked up with some of them on projects I was working on and effectively ended up running an agency with them. At the start, I would focus on the writing for social media as it’s what came naturally to me.
How did those initial contracts progress?
In that first year, I had five freelance clients. At the same time, I was doing research into best practices and the marketing world more generally. I asked everyone I could find what their strategy for this stuff was and realised the gap was there. No two answers were the same and those who were giving it a go were as experimental as me. I wanted to get some understanding of the industry side too so I found a big corporate who was doing very little social media. It also allowed me to get some work experience in an agency so I knew how my offering could differ.
How did you become business partners with Liya?
Liya was one of the five freelance clients. Her story is far more impressive! She had her own startup in property marketing. To be perfectly honest, she was a bit of a nightmare client. I remember seeing her name coming up on my phone and thinking “No! What have I done wrong?”. In hindsight it was amazing, as it means that she knows exactly what it’s like to be the client. Lots of our processes and client experience stuff came out of what we learnt when we worked together back then.
Incredibly was born when Liya came across an opportunity with a big brand who asked whether she knew anyone who did social media. She’s really startup minded so she called me and asked whether I’d be interested in going in on the project with her. The pitch was the next day so we put a really rubbish website up that night. We didn’t win it but we realised that we loved working together and were a really good team. Liya’s data focused, very practical, whereas I’m quite often up in the clouds. I’m always looking at vision and the fluffy stuff and Liya’s working out the details to make it happen.
Achievements & Challenges
What has been your biggest achievement whilst running Incredibly?
The biggest moment for me so far was having a client tell me that they had to hire more staff to cope with the extra work we’d generated for them. I always want to make sure business objectives are at the centre of what we do and I think marketing and comms in general can get a bad rep for being outside of real business achievements. To have an impact that actually relates to the business is our goal.
What has been your biggest challenge in growing Incredibly?
At one point we were growing at a crazy, crazy rate as lots of our early clients came through referrals - it felt like we had a brand new client every week. We always get to know the businesses we work with really well and with a small team, it was a bit mad to get our heads around. What that meant though is we had to become really responsive and agile, to learn to trust each other really quickly and I genuinely think it’s those early challenges that have made us the team we are today. We don’t really talk about it enough but when we do, the founding team are clearly proud of our early challenge-breaking and it’s become a kind of legend for new team members to wonder at - they quickly learn what we’re about!
Advice & Final Thoughts
What would your advice be to someone who was interested in starting a business?
Hire people that are better than you and try not to have an ego. Accept when other people are right even when you don’t automatically agree.
I think delegating is also really tough - it’s hard not to say “this would take me less time to do myself than explain to someone else” but you won’t grow without it.
Growing your team is one of the hardest things I think. If the business can exist outside of you then that’s a big milestone. When I started to realise that there were projects going on that I didn’t know inside out, i.e. when a client would ring up to speak to an account manager that wasn’t me, it felt awesome (after it felt scary).
What do you see in the future for Incredibly?
More of the same, but bigger and better. We have a bit of work to do in terms of scaling and making sure we maintain the culture, which I’m really proud of. Ensuring we’re just as attentive to each new recruit and new client. We’ve recently taken on an MD with a speciality in helping businesses scale, which is really exciting. We can’t wait to grow and be able to take on different types of projects, in new areas. Getting stuck into new stuff has kinda become our every day so as long as the future holds more of that!