Three things for three years
Posted by Amy Bell on 17 August 2020

This week, we celebrated three years of Hey Me.

Three years, wow when did that happen?!

Hey Me birthday image, with logo, bunting, cake and balloons

When I worked as an employee, I would always get to about the 18 months stage, sometimes earlier and start reviewing the role. What had I achieved, what else was there to do, how was I making an impact and what impact was the role having on me? It always led me to the next question, what’s next? So, I would look at my capabilities and plan for the next challenge, but now I am three years into working for myself and I feel like I have only just begun.

I have been fortunate to find and to be part of some amazingly talented teams and fantastic organisations, from small boutique agencies to multinational corporations. Each taught me something different about business, communications and my role.

When I eventually ran out of excuses to set up on my own in 2017, I did it primarily to better manage my health. Having a chronic illness changes the way you work and how you perceive time. You don’t always have the same amount of usable time available to you as other ‘well’ people and you have to use what you have wisely. In an employed role I would find myself feeling extremely guilty about taking time for appointments or try to work through a reaction which was taking place internally and that I had no control over. I got to the point where I continuously felt drained and completely burnt out. It still took a whole host of people and a fair few months, to convince me I had run out of excuses.

Desk with stationary, flowers, a heart-shaped box and various Hey Me leaflets

Setting up on my own

My first priority when I set up was to be a freelancer, work by myself and only pick up enough work to support my lifestyle. To be able to pick and choose my hours and my projects and not let anything get too heavy.

I used to meet with business owners who had been going about three years and more often than not they would talk about being so busy they hadn’t been able to take time off for years and they seemed to wear it like a badge of honour. I was completely repelled by the idea. To me, what was the point of working for yourself if you didn’t have the control over time. It’s definitely not something I wanted.

Working to your own schedule may sound extremely attractive to all the nine-to-fivers out there, but when you first set off it’s extremely hard to put into action. You find yourself dealing with what I call 9-5 guilt. It’s the idea that you need to be sat at your computer all the hours you used to, to be ‘working’. You forget that all the work you do speaking to people, travelling and going to events or meetings or even coffee, is also work. And, it is extremely important.

  • So, that’s the first lesson I learnt. Being true to what your idea of working and time looks like. How to manage the time you have and learn what working time is and when it’s ok not to be working…for me, first thing on a morning and sometimes in the middle of the day ?.

Choosing the right rollercoaster

As I got to grips with my own timetable and juggling the different tasks involved in running my own business, I came across what would be the next learning point – freelancing or business in general doesn’t work the way you think it will.

I did a business-related degree, so studied aspects of business development and theory. Being involved in so many different types of business and having a father who was a partner in a company also taught me a lot about how businesses can run. But that doesn’t really prepare you for living the journey. When you set out you are the business and the business is you. This is particularly true when you are a sole-trader and a freelancer. The hours you work is the pay you get etc. so you are constantly looking for the next piece of business and there doesn’t really seem to be a beginning and end between the two.

When I started, I made a four-year plan (of sorts). I planned for a project style workload and was quite happy with my thinking. I met with business support and a coach from Selby Council and the AD:venture Programme (it took me more than 6 months to find out there was support available) and was repeatedly amazed by all the people who asked whether I wanted to grow into a bigger business than just me. Why would I? I thought. I started to build clients and work on a variety of projects. The gig economy suited me. I was able to work and be a ‘lady that lunched’, I also managed to regain a lot of the health I had lost and I have to admit, I slept a lot.

That all makes the rollercoaster sound quite placid. It’s not, believe me. You go from no business to lots of business in a blink of an eye. You have to learn that quiet days are to be cherished because you may go months without a day off and that is all part of the natural journey.

My busiest time every year so far are the 2 months when I am meant to be resting the most! June and July. How does that figure?

So, you have to learn to roll with the punches and to just keep going. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been on the verge of saying this isn’t working, I have no idea where work is going to come from, just to land a massive project the next day. You just have to hold your nerve.

  • That is just it, lesson two: hold your nerve and keep going.

There will always be something you don’t like doing

You get to a point, or I did, where things start to feel a bit easier and the flow of work begins to feel a bit more normal. When you get to this point you begin to be able to be more natural with it. There’s still elements you don’t like doing or never seem to find the time for. For me it was new business development, the whole sales bit and putting myself out there on social media, promoting my own business – which may seem slightly off for a communications professional. I just didn’t have the drive to promote myself after looking after client comms all day.

It led to finding my first freelancer. I asked a proof-reader and business manager to join the team which really helped me organise myself and gave me space to think about what I wanted for the business.

Next, as business grew and new opportunities came in, I began to plan more into the future, at this point I was still planning on working on my own, just with maybe a few freelance hours added to the mix. When I was introduced to the University of York internship programme I thought it would be a great way to test the water and see whether I could work with someone else and whether there was enough work to go round.

The alternative COVID affect

Then Covid hit. My world was extremely busy for a while dealing with internal comms for clients. The lockdown also presented the perfect time for a partnership idea I had with a colleague to come to fruition. This idea also meant I would need more support to deliver and as luck would have it, a colleague from a previous life was made redundant just when I needed her skillset. So, entered my first regular communications freelancer. Someone who has expertise to add to the Hey Me offering.

In the space of 3 months I had a partnership project, an intern and a freelance associate. Then, Covid struck again – another contact was made redundant with a skillset I could use. So, entered another expert. The intern from University of York proved himself so much that I offered him an ongoing role in Hey Me and he became our first proper employee.

Business power comes from trusting others

Like I said, business never works the way you think it is going to. Three years ago, I thought I was only going to work alone, I thought that I would never have enough work to be able to afford a team. Three years later, I have found that I love working with others again. I love idea generation and trusting their experience and expertise. I love that I’ve found people with a similar energy to me, who are willing to put the effort in to make Hey Me bigger and better.

A hub of freelancers is the perfect solution for Hey Me as we grow. We can use specific expertise when it is needed but not have the commitment of employees when we’re not ready to support them. We still work completely flexibly and that’s the way I like it. We let each other know the hours we’re planning to work and what we’re working and share the workflow as required by clients. I think I will always use a hub approach, but I also have my sights on growing the core team and hope to offer those associates I have, at the moment, roles in Hey Me as we continue to build.

What a long way to come from a single freelancer with a passion for writing and wanting to help businesses figure out what they are trying to say, to aspirations of a full agency and a working team of specialists.

  • Lesson three: we work better with others. Collaboration is key to success.

For more on collaboration, check out our article on why working with others can have a huge impact on your business.

“Since day one, Amy herself has fit seamlessly into our team, understanding the message we want to convey and the audiences we want to reach. Her upfront audit was invaluable in helping us internally hone our common voice, which has demonstrated itself in the consistency of the content we put out as a brand and as individuals within the company. Behind the scenes, Amy has instinctively adopted our internal communication methods (Slack, SharePoint) and works closely with our in-house graphic design team to ensure our graphics and copy are in sync.” Lucy Prior MBE - previously from 3Squared 2021
“I saved so much time after implementing a more structured approach which has given me the opportunity to focus on creating more content and work more closely with my clients. Amy and her team are easy to deal with and are quick to provide valuable solutions. I would not hesitate to work with Hey Me again in the future.” Karen Duncan - Lanehead Coniston
“I met Amy a few years ago at a Young Rail Professionals event and was able to provide her with an opportunity to manage the comms on a major alliance which she flourished at. Soon after she started, Marie came along to provide HR support across the multiple businesses. It seems only natural that being as dynamic and knowledge as they are, they are looking to work together on this new venture, which I am sure will be a huge success.” Karen Duncan - Lanehead Coniston
“I saved so much time after implementing a more structured approach which has given me the opportunity to focus on creating more content and work more closely with my clients. Amy and her team are easy to deal with and are quick to provide valuable solutions. I would not hesitate to work with Hey Me again in the future.” Karen Duncan - Lanehead Coniston

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