I set up my business, Zest Communications, on 1st December 2011. It was a big thing for me. I had walked away from a really great management role in the public sector – good salary, 35 days’ leave plus bank hols – to start something of my own. Something that might sink or swim. But I wanted to give it a go.
And so I did.
I was a bit surprised that I started making money from day one. I never found it too challenging to get clients. Initially, Zest provided short training courses for small businesses (my background was in education so this was my natural starting point), and we quickly increased our services to offer outsourced management of clients’ social media accounts. I found myself building an agency, which wasn’t necessarily what I had set out to do, but was successful beyond my wildest dreams.
Almost from day one Zest became a business with a six figure turnover, but it was bloody hard work. I worked about 14 hours a day and was incredibly stressed. Not really what I had intended to be after giving up a career job that had me in the office by 7.15 every day and so stressed I lost over a stone and a half (every cloud…). But I was growing my business, and that’s what mattered to me.
To accommodate the growing portfolio of clients, I moved out of home and into an office. I got staff. Several of them. Things were great. We had built a brilliant reputation, our clients were happy, and we could sell out our courses. We even ran our own Social Media Awards and got celebrity speakers along. It was great.
But I wasn’t happy. Not really. I hadn’t ever wanted to build an agency. I had lost sight of why I set up my business in the first place.
And so I made changes. Gradually, I started to shape the business to what I wanted it to be, not what I thought people expected it to be.
So I started saying no to things. This was probably the biggest decision I have made in the first four years. It was hard, but it felt liberating.
I stopped taking on new social media management clients (funny how you get loads of enquiries for a service the minute you decide not to offer it anymore!), because I knew the companies would get better results from me training them to manage their social media themselves. Sure, it meant an initial dip in our turnover, but it was the first step in shaping our new successful future.
I focussed the business on offering support to small business through online training. I set up the Zest Social Media Club, which is a cool self-study online portal. It allows small business owners to access a ton of training and support that turns their social media around. It is a really cool platform and I was very proud of what we had created.
That was fab, but I also realised that I was becoming a manager again. I hadn’t really enjoyed managing staff in my proper job, so why was I doing it in my own business? My staff were amazing, but the changes I was making to the business meant it would be more efficient and therefore there was less need to employ so many people. So I made the necessary changes. It was tough, especially as the team was so good, but it had to happen. It was another weight off my mind.
And then I had a bit of an epiphany. I had always been the person people had contact about training, but I was hiding behind Zest and the agency persona. I took a deep breath and put myself into the public eye. I set up www.libbylangley.com and created my own Facebook page. I did a rebrand.
And that’s where I am today. I work from home again, ably assisted by Harriet, who started with me as an apprentice and is now at uni and based in Lancaster. Harriet and I still run the Zest Social Media Club and support all the small businesses who are members. The majority of my time now though is spent working on a 1:1 and small group basis with business owners who really want to make a difference to their businesses. I use my years of experience in online marketing to teach people how to stop wasting time and money, and actually make social media bring them in leads and customers. It is incredibly rewarding and I love it.
The main thing I have learnt from my journey in business so far is that you can be successful and have a six figure business by working at home in your slippers. You don’t need shiny offices or loads of staff. You need to be bloody good at what you do, and most of all…. You need to be happy.