Unlike many of the women that I’ve interviewed so far, Corrie Jones didn’t grow up longing to have her own business. In fact, she had no idea what being your own boss meant in reality before she started and admits to “winging it” when she launched her social media consultancy in 2016…
Suffice to say this interview provided a whole new perspective…
It’s Friday 8th December and after a whole lot of walking around in circles wishing I knew where I was going, I find myself outside London’s Devonshire Club; a new private members area tucked behind Liverpool Street Station.
Having recently celebrated her business’s first birthday – a gratifying milestone for any founder I’m sure – I sat down with the now 24 year old to find out what the past year has entailed in truth and the (impressive) experience she had beforehand that prepared her for this new venture.
Jumping in at the deep end unafraid to take a chance, this is the story of a young woman who’s crammed a lot into her post-student years; and as I quickly learn, when there’s no set plan keeping her in check, the possibilities are endless, random opportunities can arise and Corrie’s (admirably) not intimidated in the slightest…
Corrie Jones. So I run a social media consultancy which means that I help people to manage and develop their social media channels effectively and strategically and I do that through content creation, planning their social media strategy, doing audits, seeing what their competitors are doing and paid social advertising… I also run one-on-one group training sessions…
She can. She did. So the whole hog then?!
CJ. Yes, it’s definitely the full-spectrum of social media!
SC.SD. Talk to me about where the idea stemmed from…
Corrie’s love of social media started during her time as an English student at Southampton University. In her final year, she joined the ‘Raising and Giving’ society (RAG) as their publicity and recruitment officer; a voluntary role which had marketing and social media at its core…
SC.SD. I went to Leeds and was on the RAG team there – that’s a big role we’re talking about….
CJ. Yes definitely! It was everything from designing the logos and graphics to recruiting volunteers which is obviously crucial for raising money! It was so much fun though so when it came to graduating and applying for jobs in 2014, I started applying for more marketing based roles. It was so lucky because the first role I got after uni was as a marketing assistant at the university itself!
I knew so much about the uni, I had been their target market for three plus years so it was a nice transition and was so fun being on campus but seeing it from a different perspective… then within a few weeks of being there, the main social media person left and I think they just looked round the office and thought, ‘right, who’s young and who knows social’ so they handed it over to me!
After a year and a half in the role however, Corrie decided to leave, returning home to London and joining the Kingston University social media team in 2016…
SC.SD. What prompted you to realise that you can do this on your own?
CJ. I don’t think there was any one thing that made me think let’s do this! It was more the evolution of a couple of different reasons…
When I was in my 9-5 at Southampton, I took on some extra client work in the evenings although I didn’t really see it as client work then… It was more someone in the office’s sister had just launched a business and wanted some social media help so they referred me! This was way before I’d set up as a limited company so it was more a case of “yeh sure, I need the extra money!”
SC.SD. And by evenings, are we talking an hour an evening?
CJ. Yes, not long at all. Then when I was at Kingston, I had another start-up who was introduced to me by a friend. I think we agreed on four hours a week for them and so it was a combination of having that experience, doing it alongside my 9-5 and then juggling social media for different businesses at the same time.
It was so fun and interesting to be able to learn on one project and then take that expertise to someone else and so I think it gave me the confidence to do it alone. I don’t think I really knew what working for myself would be like though; I didn’t think about it in much detail at all..!
SC.SD. Had you ever thought about having your own business before?
CJ. No, never!
SC.SD. That’s interesting as so many people say they do!
CJ. I know! I’ve met so many people that have always wanted to work for themselves – they’re huge on entrepreneurship – but I’ve never been big on it in any way! I’m totally all about going in and learning as you go!
SC.SD. Do you remember the actual moment when you just though, ‘right, this is happening’?!
CJ. I remember toying with the idea at Kingston. I had a second client – although again, I still didn’t see them that way – so I was doing a 9-5 in the day and by that point I was coming home and doing 8 hours of extra work for other people which I couldn’t fully put my all into. It was starting to eat into my evenings and weekends and so I started to toy with the idea of ‘what if this was all I did and I stopped the 9-5?’
I was finding it so difficult going up to my manager to quit though because there’s no set date when you start your own business, it’s just when you decide to go for it or not! So to get round that, I booked a trip to Web Summit in that took place in Lisbon in November 2016 and I just didn’t request annual leave for it! I just knew I needed to give my months’ notice before that because otherwise I’ll need to ask for permission!
SC.SD. I love that! When did you book the trip?
CJ. A couple of months before I went and it kept getting closer and closer so I finally just went in and quit! Even at that stage though, I remember speaking to one of my colleagues and just said, “oh you know, I’ll just try it for a year and if it doesn’t work out then I’ll only be 24! I’ll just get another job”.
I think because I didn’t know what it meant to run a business I wasn’t taking it as seriously- I think I just saw it as a stop gap between potentially getting another job that I enjoyed.
SC.SD. And now?
CJ. And now I’m totally the opposite! I can’t imagine going back to work for someone else now that I’ve had a taste of what working for yourself is like!
SC.SD. I feel like you’re speaking about me right now! I was treating this as a project because I didn’t really have a set plan at the start but I can’t imagine going back to working for someone else now.
CJ. It’s such good motivation when you get to that stage though. My housemate will say “oh I’d love to come to that! Let me just check with my boss to see if I can get the time off!” Little moments like that motivate you. It’s amazing that you don’t need to turn to anyone and ask for permission.
In October last year, aged 23, Corrie went full-time with her consultancy…
SC.SD. Crumbs, you were so young!
CJ. I know! Everyone was so motivating when I said I was going to work for myself though- I got so many cards and presents! I think people thought it was a much bigger deal than I perceived it to be, again because I hadn’t thought about things like supporting yourself totally, doing tax returns etc… I was just thinking “oh it will be something fun to do!” I did have a few people comment on how young I was though, a few, “oh that’s rather brave…” with that sub tone of “well that’s stupid!”
SC.SD. Haha! The classic “you’re going to fail!” undertone! What were the initial steps you took to make the business concrete? Did you have the website up and running by then for instance?
CJ. I had a website that I was using as a blog… a very infrequently posted to blog (!) that was hosted on WordPress. I moved that across to Square Space so there was a more professional looking homepage and just expanded it out so I had more information about myself, a client page which back then wasn’t populated but now is and of course added to the blog more.
SC.SD. And your logo?
CJ. Because I was just freelancing, I didn’t really focus on stuff like that. The only logo I use is on the invoices that I send out. On the website I’ve got images that my younger sister took of me as she’s really great at photography but I’ve revised my website about twice since then… everything changed as I decided on the direction I was going to go in.
Whilst Corrie’s first clients came via word of mouth, I was intrigued to find out how she built up her client base going forward…
SC.SD. What were those first few months like? You’re on your own, you have those few clients ticking over but you don’t have the 9-5 taking up your time too… was it a case of ‘oh crumbs, I need to get myself out there’?!
CJ. The first few months are so funny to look back on! I remember my first day so vividly! I didn’t have my job to go to and I was sat there like, ‘right… ok… so I work for myself now..!’ No one is there to say “now you need to do this…. this is a good idea to try.” It’s totally on you to learn. It’s for sure the most testing time because you’re trying to see what works and you’re trying to see what gets clients in. I’ve never worked in a sales role before so I’ve never had that experience pitching to someone and building that relationship to get them to agree to what you’re proposing. Then there’s sending over things like contracts and briefing forms… it was all a huge learning curve!
SC.SD. How did you prepare for that then?
CJ. Winging it! Turns out Google is really helpful! It would be a mixture of researching things, trying things out and meeting people at events and trying to build some kind of network in the business world. I had lots of contacts in marketing from my two previous jobs but I didn’t know many people running their own businesses…
SC.SD. And I guess you already had the skills that the marketers had so branching out and meeting people with other expertise must have helped…
CJ. Exactly! I’d find free events and meet people there who had businesses or knew of potential clients…
SC.SD. Does that come naturally to you- to just turn up to an event on your own?
CJ. Not really. I’m big on being home on the sofa under a blanket (!) but I really enjoy meeting people and hearing about their businesses and hearing how passionate they are! Sometimes that’s not the case when you speak to people that are working in a 9-5. If they’re not passionate about it, things can be a chore, there can be a lot of complaining because they’re not working on their own dream so what made going to events more fun is meeting people that are working on making their dream happen and when you speak to them they just light up…
SC.SD. I always walk away from each of these interviews feeling so inspired because it reminds me every time that it is possible…
CJ. Exactly! I feel that as soon as you work for yourself it opens your eyes to a totally different world because when you are on your own the possibilities are exponential…
SC.SD. That’s a great word!
CJ. Why thank you! In terms of the opportunities you get, the people you meet, the money you can earn… whereas when you work for someone else, it’s all staggered. It’s a case of ‘in two years, if my manager thinks I’ve done enough, I can get here’ and you work so hard and bust your gut but whether you progress or not is down to someone else.
In every role I’ve had, I was always acting up, taking on extra responsibility but it’s another person that gets to make the decision whether you earn, I don’t know, £1000 more a year and you’re so grateful when they’re the ones who are sitting pretty earning more money from your hard work.
Anyway, it’s why I just love going to events – especially about marketing and social media – and then I realised speaking at events is a good way to get clients through so this year I’ve started doing different talks at co-working spaces on social media. The first time I did it I was petrified because I’m definitely not a natural speaker but now when I do it, I enjoy it much more.
SC.SD. That’s amazing! We’ll come on to your public speaking in a minute. Let’s talk more about pitching… do you remember how you felt preparing your first?
CJ. It felt so alien to me! A marketing background meant I’d always been focused on brand awareness- maybe they’ll buy, maybe they won’t. It came down to things like good copy and lovely images, whereas sales and pitching yourself is so different because you have to go out there and say “this is what I can do for you, this is where I’m great and this is why you should pick me over other people.” I found talking about money and putting value on my time so tricky because you have to question how much it’s actually worth. It mainly just came down to confidence.
I was listening to a really good podcast actually by Steve Bartlett (the Founder of Social Chain) and he was saying how no one is scared of tying their shoe laces together every morning because we’ve done it 1000 times – although saying that I can’t remember the last time I tied my shoe laces up…
SC.SD. I tied mine up this morning so keep going..!
CJ. Ok! Well you weren’t scared to do it where you? Whereas people are scared to do things like client pitches or speaking on stage because they haven’t done it 1000 times. It’s not intuitive and so the only way to get better at that and the only way I’ve got more comfortable doing those things is by doing them over and over again. When I heard that it really did resonate. It’s not going to be perfect the first time but you have to just do it again and again. It can be a stress but failing every now and then helps.
SC.SD. And did you?
CJ. What, fail? Yes! There have been potential clients that were thinking about getting a freelancer to do their social media but then made an in-house role for it or there’s been people you send proposals to where they’ve said, “can you just put some ideas down on paper?” but it doesn’t amount to anything and you’re left thinking, ‘are you trying to just scam ideas off me?!’ I used to get nervous about doing something as simple as a Skype call, I’d spend ages thinking about it, whereas now I just don’t mind…
SC.SD. I was like that when I started this too! And in terms of putting a value on your time, did you go in too high, too low, just right…?
CJ. I’d say that generally people go in too low when they first start out unless they’re really egotistical and think the world of themselves! If you go in too low though it definitely impacts how people see you- they don’t take you as seriously and they don’t respond to your emails. If you go in at the right price however, it shows that you do know what you’re talking about; they’ll end up paying more attention to what you’re saying; they’ll respond to your calls; but again, it’s hard to know that at the start because you have to do it a few times before you feel confident giving that higher price.
The thing I found helpful when I was trying to price myself was thinking about what the benefits are going to be to this business or start up if I work for them? It’s always going to be more than your pricing, you will always be getting them new clients and building awareness of what they’re doing… it’s adding financial value to them. If your cost is lower than that, they’re benefitting. There’s also so much power in saying “these are my costs” and if that’s not ok with them, so be it. If the client is going to nit-pick at the start, they’ll be difficult to work with and I’ve had that proven…
SC.SD. I can already tell I’ll be transcribing this and making notes at the same time! Let’s talk about the workshops that you run – where did that idea come from?
CJ. Well I’ve always enjoyed training people; I initiated a few training sessions with my old teams at my 9-5. Anyway it came about because I went along to a free event in the first week I was freelancing. Obviously in those early weeks, your days are quite empty so I just went to an all-day event and thought, ‘right, let’s just see who I meet!’
It was at this event that Corrie met a gentleman who invited her along to an event that he was organising. It was here that she was introduced to a man that worked for NatWest who at the time was in the process of organising ‘growth enabling workshops’ for his team…
CJ. We exchanged business cards, followed each other on Twitter and he emailed me saying “I’ve read your blog, would you like to come along and do a talk?” That’s what encouraged me to do more of them because once you’ve got the slides and you know the content, it’s less intimidating….
The main lesson I learnt from that was don’t underestimate the connections you make. It’s so easy to just say “no I’m not going to go to that, I’m going to stay in and watch ‘I’m a Celebrity’” or something but if you do go along, you never know who you’ll meet and what it will lead to. I used to feel upset if I went to an event and didn’t get anything from it straight away but now I know that it takes time. I’ve had people email me saying, “we met five months ago, can we chat?” Just because someone isn’t looking for your services right now doesn’t mean you won’t be the person they go to in a couple of months’ time…
SC.SD. And it works both ways doesn’t it?
CJ. Exactly! It’s never not helpful to know lots of people!
Given that Corrie admits to making so much of her business up as she goes, I’m intrigued to find out if she’s faced any big hurdles along the way…
CJ. I think the hardest part has been to just keeping going. When you’re freelance, you don’t have a co-founder and you don’t have a team. It’s just you and no one knows the business as well as you and it’s no one else’s baby. I had so many days at the start where I thought, ‘why have I done this? If I stop now, I could get a job and I could say I was travelling or something to explain the gap on my CV’ but I’ve come to my senses!
SC.SD. How bad are those days when you’re in them?
CJ. Really bad! You just think it’s hideous and question why you started! But you do need to come back to why you started it and remind yourself that it will get better and it will get easier. I also think about what’s important to me. Being my own boss and having complete direction over where I could go and what I can do is important to me.
You just need to train yourself to not focus on the nitty gritty stuff. If you focus on the days where you didn’t get enough done, or the client that said “no” or the phone call that fell through then you can get really bogged down; but actually when you look back after a year, good things have happened! It wasn’t the travesty that those bad days led you to believe!
SC.SD. Absolutely! Who do you turn to in those low moments?
CJ. I’m really lucky that my boyfriend is really keen on entrepreneurship. He was President of ‘The Entrepreneur Society’ at uni, he’s launched and run 4 or 5 different businesses since he was 16 and so I turn to him in those moments; 1) because he’s my boyfriend and needs to be there for me – it’s his job! but 2) because he’s so invaluable with advice and what to do! He’s forever saying, “it seems bad now but it will get better, trust me!”
I also think making friends with people that have their own business or want their own business has helped because those are the people you can have more of an accurate discussion with about business matters. It’s amazing to have supportive friends – I wouldn’t swap that for the world – but when people give advice, it comes from their own experience so it’s crucial getting advice from someone who’s either been through it or can really picture themselves in the same situation.
I don’t know if you find this but people that are in 9-5’s find it amazing that you have your own business regardless of whether it’s going well or badly! They just say, “oh you’re on your own, that’s great” because what people see on social media is such a warped idea of what actually goes on…
SC.SD. Which is one of the reasons why I set She can. She did. up…
CJ. Exactly! It’s my job to make social media look good. It would be odd if you looked on Instagram and you saw a photo that made you think “why is she crying about her business?!”
SC.SD. Do your parents work for themselves?
CJ. No they don’t! No one in my family other than my boyfriend that has their own business… That’s not to be offensive to the friends that don’t though because equally I think I’d go crazy if I was just surrounded by people that did work for themselves…
Those friends are amazing because they give you credit – you still need to keep your feet on the ground – but they give you credit for the things you perhaps wouldn’t give yourself credit for.
SC.SD. That’s very true! Let’s talk highs..!
CJ. The highs have definitely been from working with amazing businesses – doing the NatWest talk was so fun and I worked with an amazing charity this year called Institute of Imagination too and they’re such a lovely team. I think my main high though has been my business turning one and knowing I’ve stuck at it for a year because now I feel like I’ve got over that hurdle of having an existential crisis every day where I’m like ‘what am I doing right now?!’
Sc.SD. That’s me right now…!
CJ. Haha! It’s so tough at the start though! A year in, obviously I’m still learning heaps every day – I don’t think you’ll ever reach a stage where you’ve learnt everything – but I do think I’ve done a few things over now so I feel more confident handling them. Be it talks, pitching, speaking… Even at the start I’d write an email and think ‘have I worded this right?’ You’re just so conscious of what you’re doing.
I also think at the start, you feel like you’re just acting as if you’ve put on a hat and you’re playing the role of the consultant that’s working for herself. Now I feel that because I’ve got more case studies to talk about, more clients I’ve worked with etc… it’s valid for me to say “I’m a social media consultant” whereas at the start you’re like, *whispers* “I’m a… social… erm… media consultant…”
SC.SD. I’ve heard that a lot and I’m the same. A new neighbour came over the other night to introduce herself and asked what I did and I sometimes have this habit of saying, “well I used to be a Conference Producer for a Publishing House in the City but now I’m kind of doing erm… this project erm…I’m kind of a freelance journalist…” The minute she left, my boyfriend just looked at me and said, “what was that?!”
CJ. Exactly! It’s all about how you frame yourself to other people because if you meet someone at an event and you say, “I’m a social media consultant” they’re not going to doubt you on that but when you say “I’m just this…” or “I do this on the side” people instantly think “…. ok!”
I suppose another high is knowing that if I wake up and I’m ill I have the privilege of not having to answer to anyone. I work when I want to work and rest when I want to rest. There’ll be days when you look at your laptop and it’s 10pm but then if you’re tired the next morning you take it easier… Having said that, people always ask how much leave I take and it boils down to less than I used to be given in my 9-5; and I can’t remember the last time my boyfriend and I didn’t take our laptops and phones on holiday with us… but we both really love work so it’s not stressful if we’re doing bits out there.
SC.SD. It’s a point that needs to be highlighted though because yes the hours are flexible but they’re definitely longer aren’t they! How did you celebrate your first year in business?
CJ. I didn’t plan on celebrating it loads but I woke up on the day and my housemate had got balloons and put a ‘Happy 1st Birthday’ sign on my door!
SC.SD. That’s so cute!
CJ. I know! I’ve coined “business birthdays” as a term now which by the way I feel like more people should celebrate!
SC.SD. We can make it a thing!
CJ. Yes! I am genuinely so proud of the fact that I haven’t given up on it though but mainly I’m just thinking about where I go next…
SC.SD. Which is where?
CJ. I really want to start building a team because one of the things I’ve learnt this year is once you hit capacity with your time, you can’t add more hours into the day. A couple of months ago, I was at full capacity with clients and it was getting to the stage where I was saying “yes” to more work but it would be in my evenings and at the weekend.
You’re thinking about your business enough anyway in the evenings and weekends because it’s so hard to switch off so if you’re also working in that time, you’ll burn out. So the plan is to work with more people and built it up to a consultancy rather than me on my own, as a freelance consultant.
SC.SD. Have you given yourself a time frame?
CJ. I think next year would be feasible. I’d also like to do more talks in 2018 and just generally keep learning and refining processes… What works? What more can I be doing? And working with more big brands…
SC.SD. Do you see yourself as successful?
CJ. I think success is a weird one… I don’t look at myself as successful, no, but it goes back to framing again… it’s perspectives isn’t it? I went to an event last weekend run by Rob Moore – the property entrepreneur – and during the Q+A, someone asked, “I see you as a successful man so what does success mean to you?” and he said, “whoah… I’m not a celebrity! I don’t view myself as successful. Elon Musk is successful, Richard Branson is successful…” and listed off these massive entrepreneurs. I guess as soon as you get to that stage where you’re a little bit higher, it’s competing to be in the big leagues with the big names isn’t it?
SC.SD. What does success look like to you then?
CJ. Success to me would be a combination of being content and satisfied with the work I’m putting out for clients, working with brands that I’m passionate about working for and see an alliance with and ultimately still being able to work for myself, control my own time, and still plan and make time for my big dreams and ideas… where I’m in a position that allows me to make those into a reality.
SC.SD. Do you have a favourite quote?
CJ. I have so many favourite quotes! I love the Chinese proverb ‘the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ It’s so empowering. People always think, ‘oh I’ve missed the boat, I should’ve done it sooner’ but just do it now! In a year, think about where you could be! I also really like, ‘If you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs.’ If you’re passionate about something then work on making it happen.
SC.SD. Preach to that! How would you describe yourself as a business woman?
CJ. I think I’m really big on learning by experience. I’ve learnt that if I want to get something done and I’m passionate about it, I go for it and I do it. If you’re dragging your feet on something, it’s a clear indication it’s not right for you. I’m tougher than I thought I was at first too so now if something comes up that I’m nervous about, I know I can handle it!
I’d like to think I’m personable to work with too. I don’t profess to being a social media guru and get you 100,000 followers in a week with all this click bait stuff – that just portrays such a negative image of social media…
SC.SD. And it’s so transparent isn’t it?
CJ. Definitely! I think just take the opportunities when you see them and stick to your guns on what you do and don’t want to do!
SC.SD. Yes! Last question then, are there any women out there that inspire you?
CJ. Emily Weiss, the Founder of Glossier, for sure!
SC.SD. Glossier seem to be everywhere at the moment!
CJ. Oh, they do so much paid advertising! But she’s so good at thanking her team and not taking credit for everything. The articles I read about her are so inspiring! I take inspiration from women I meet on a day to day basis too though; I think everyone is inspiring in their own way. My ultimate inspiration is Beyoncé though! Put on some Beyoncé and everything is instantly better!
CJ. I’m not kidding, my Instagram explore tab is just 95% Beyoncé videos… the algorithm clearly knows what I want to see so if I’m having an off day, a few videos of her dancing sorts me out in no time!
The fact that Corrie had no idea she wanted her own business growing up continues to take me by surprise.
From the natural confidence in the way she speaks to her willingness to step out of her comfort zone since day one of launching, she possesses the wisdom and actions of a business owner that’s been around for longer than a year, to the extent that I was genuinely caught off guard by her age when I found out.
From Beyoncé pick-me-ups to business birthdays (not to mention her obsession with motivational quotes that her Insta story revealed the other day!); her company reflects the kind of woman that she is.
Fun, fresh-faced and fearless with big dreams to match – which, by the way, I’ve no doubt she’ll fulfil – I will be taking inspiration from her story for a long time to come.