Monday Motivation: Rachel Bell, PR Founder & AuthorBy Jodie Duddy
This week’s Monday Motivation is Rachel Bell, a serial entrepreneur who has founded 6 award-winning PR agencies and the founder of Brand Spanking Consulting. She is a visitor in entrepreneurship at the London Business School and has a new book out called Start-Ups, Pivots and Pop-Ups: How to Succeed By Creating Your Own Business, with business partner Richard Hall. We sat down with Rachel talk all things entrepreneurship:
What is your your new book Start-Ups, Pivots and Pop-Ups about and why do you think it’s necessary now?
Start-Ups, Pivots and Pop-Ups explores the current ‘Start-Up Revolution’, a world where innovation and entrepreneurialism have never been more important. We are living through a pivotal point in our history where there’s a radical change in the way people are thinking and working. We wanted this book to explore the ‘thinking and philosophy’ behind a start-up, not just how to go about doing it.
Business in the UK is moving faster than ever. Research shows that 70% of millennials want to start their own business, and around 14 million people look to seek self-employment over the next 10 years. The changing economy, thirst for enterprise and a new rebelliousness amongst the workforce are just a few factors responsible for the start-up revolution that is currently reshaping the corporate landscape. The key disrupters in this revolution are women looking to rise up and above the glass ceiling and change workplace culture, millennial militants with a burning desire to do things their way and experienced professionals who have either been made redundant or become disenchanted with corporate life.
My co-author Richard and I spoke to over 100 entrepreneurs who have started their own business across the UK and discussed what had and hadn’t worked for them after they took the plunge. This book is about starting a business and about dipping your toe in the entrepreneurial water.
How do you think being a woman has impacted your career and its course?
I’m fortunate that I’ve not had any bad experiences in my career that are due to me being a woman however, when I started in the PR industry I definitely had the feeling that, without a degree and my propensity to ask so many questions, I didn’t see myself being invited to the board.
My dad ran his own company and the idea of running my own business really appealed to me, especially the idea of making up my own rules and building a culture where everyone felt valued. This triggered a burning desire to start my first business, Shine, in 1999. As a woman, having children can often leave you feeling a bit isolated in the workspace, giving you a new-found identity and perhaps a bit lost. I definitely wanted something that I could define with a strong sense of purpose, which is what I also found with many of the women that we interviewed for the book. Women are writing their own narrative now and have increasingly become a driving force in the start-up world.
What is it you like about PR?
The pace, the creativity and working in a team. I’ve always managed to work with super-smart people who are passionate, agile and fun-loving. I’ve also always managed to have lots and lots of laughs which I don’t think is necessarily exclusive to PR. I have a personal mantra of never hiring anyone I wouldn’t have over for dinner and it’s served me well. I think it’s vital to bring the same person to work as you take home. I’ve always hired people who turn up to work as themselves. It’s amazing how rare that is. PR definitely has more than its fair share of crazy stunts and events, parties, people, but it also has the intensity of deadlines, news agenda, corporate crises and consultancy.
What qualities do you believe are necessary for an entrepreneur?
Some key buzz words for me in business are creativity and innovation, courage, passion and being hardworking.
Entrepreneurs are rarely motivated by money – it’s a happy and healthy by-product of running a great business, instead their motivation is usually something much closer to a point of passion or shared purpose. To succeed, you need to accept that you may no longer be recognised as the ‘corporate superman’ you’ve been used to, but will have to reinvent yourself to a new energetic, enthusiastic and liberated persona. This shift has to be embraced and thought of as a new sense of freedom otherwise you will not be able to look forward.
Chapter five in the book offers a toolkit on how to succeed in starting a business. Preparation and planning are key, you have to be in the right place mentally before you start pulling together all the physical aspects of a business. Of course, money plays a big role at the beginning, including sourcing, managing and allocating things in the right place. Then you have to think about people; what advisers you need, how to hire and coach, how to plan marketing and serve customers. Finally, you’ve got to think beyond the start-up and looking at wider-scale growth.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career?
My father died the week I started my business, and I took my first new business call from the bedroom of my family home on the morning of the funeral. I remember thinking if only this potential client could see me, they’d be mortified.
I had a business in New York for a good number of years but one tricky moment was when the then managing director and partner handed in his notice and left the company that same day, leaving the team to land a major event in the coming days for General Motors – involving half the Hamptons and Naomi Campbell – I jumped onto a flight the same day with my UK managing director and, thankfully, it all worked out well.
There was also the time that we arrived to take a brief for a major UK retailer and were asked to participate in a creative shoot-out, involving other agencies right there and then. We had 30 mins to write up our ideas and present but as we were about to start, we realised our computer disk was corrupted and we had to do it straight from memory no prompts. Happily, we clinched it.
What are your top pieces of advice for starting your own business?
Choose to work at something that you’re passionate about and do it better than anyone else.
Focus on doing every task in front of you brilliantly – constantly improving, always evolving, becoming more efficient and more effective each time, but also recognise early what you might need help with. I’ve never sent an invoice out in my life for instance – it’s definitely not my forte.
Hire for attitude, train for skills – it’s so important to hire brilliant people at the start of your journey.
Choose where you spend your time wisely. It’s a finite commodity that we all get the same amount of, so it’s all about how you use it.
Team, team, team – make sure your team feels both listened to and heard, ask them for their ideas and advice and ensure they know how you’ve used it. It’s the key to people knowing they are valued – make time for them.
Enable your team to be empowered and to take ownership of their work. If your team feels empowered, they will inevitably work more efficiently and make better decisions
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
There’s been so many! Being the first female leader to win the Sunday Times Best Leader Award and achieving the number one spot in Best Small Company To Work For in the same year.
Starting Brand Spanking Consulting, a company designed to support entrepreneurs and owner-managed businesses to transition, scale, restructure and excel. Also, joining London Business School as one of their Entrepreneurs in Residence and inspiring MBA students in Entrepreneurship.
You can order Rachel and Richard’s book here