Shifting my job role due to a Pandemic.

Shifting my job role due to a Pandemic.

After completing a placement year in my third year of University in which I worked with a Boutique Wedding Fair company, Quirky Weddings as their lead Social Media Marketer, I secured a job as a Personal Stylist for Topshop. I decided to apply to differ from the last year of my degree as this role was multifaceted and encompassed many elements of my ideal career. The role was a sales-driven role that involved fashion promotion, events management and an opportunity to work with a leading UK fashion brand in their marketing. Unfortunately, after a somewhat successful first 8 months within in this position, the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak happened. Due to this, my new job role was unable to be fulfilled as all retail had to close for the nationwide lockdown, leaving me on furlough from March 2020 until the present.

While furlough meant that I had financial security, I didn’t want the pandemic to interrupt the progress I  had made in my career nor, did I want to waste my time off from work. So I sat down and mapped out what I could do to put the time to best use, how I could transfer my skills from both my work experience and university studies into something fruitful. I decided to take my digital and social media marketing knowledge and reach out to work with small businesses on promotion and sales while restricted by the lockdown. Primarily, I reached out to several businesses that had to pivot their whole business model due to the restrictions. I worked with hospitality and e-commerce businesses to utilise the likes of Instagram stories, newsletters and visual branding to define their brand message and increase sales. For example, restaurants that had to close but were now doing deliveries, new e-commerce brands that had recently launched online and many businesses in general that had realised that they wanted to expand into the marketing world of social media. 

Working with a variety of local and small businesses was a chance to expand my knowledge of marketing different content subjects and help these businesses flourish in the face of adversity. Digital and social media marketing can be such an intimidating whirlpool of information and requires an ever-shifting well of knowledge that some business owners do not have initially and often don’t have the time to learn once launched. Especially when it comes to influencer marketing, I had seen so many new and established businesses investing in influencers with no return. With the lockdown restrictions, this was a great time to explore this form of marketing with businesses as it was an excellent online tool to spread the word of new products and services. 

One example was when I worked with a well-known cafe based in Ards that are famous for their ice-cream and due to the restrictions were now offering deliveries of the ice-cream to your front door. As it was excellent weather for this product this was an ample time to get creative with the offer of this service. I helped the cafe select the most relevant influencer’s suited to their products and services, organising with them a PR package to send that incorporated the cafe’s value’s, key message’s and what they wanted to promote. This package was received and promoted on the influencer’s Instagram page resulting in an influx of sales and follower’s for the café. It prompted many customers in the local area to order similar package’s as they were not aware that the café was offering such services. This was an instance that really highlighted the fact that word of mouth and traditional marketing had not necessarily been enough in that circumstance. Which was an amazing result to achieve a through a simple shift in marketing strategy. 

Similarly, I had this experience with a few other of the small businesses that I worked with to enhance their digital presence. Simply looking at how brands could improve their visibility through engaging social media posts, engaging with their customers on a more personal level and building stronger relationships with these customers. As the lockdown restrictions were so hard on so many local businesses, it was great to use my skill set to help them in such unprecedented times. I found this experience encouraging and that the pandemic may have been a time for me to reevaluate what it was that I wanted to do within the PR and Marketing industry. 

Maria Macfarlane is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter.

Boredom to Business

Boredom to Business

Sleeping, eating, scrolling on TikTok, doing the odd Chloe Ting workout and eating some more.

I’m sure I’m not the only one whose life consisted of an endless cycle of these 5 activities during lockdown. The highlight of my day was seeing whether or not Flo fitted into her jeans. To cope with that overwhelming feeling of boredom, a lot of people started taking up new stay-at-home hobbies or going back to old forgotten ones. For me this was picking up painting again, something I hadn’t done in over a year, from my A-Level art days.

I decided to start a 50-day painting challenge to keep my mind from going mad, just sitting at home all day. I even set up an Instagram account to keep me accountable. At first, I was only getting around 30 likes on each picture, but I was happy as Larry, spending a couple of hours every day with a paintbrush in hand and a true crime podcast playing in the background.

Around a month later, when lockdown was still in full swing and seemed as if it would never end, I began getting more invested in my Instagram. I followed my favourite artists and started using stories, hashtags and IGTV. Before I knew it, I had grown to 2000 followers and was even getting enquires for commissioned paintings. Initially, the thought of other people paying for my art seemed crazy – I was far from a professional artist!

However, I made the decision to start accepting commissions in June and I was overwhelmed with the response I got! I ordered some hardback envelopes, some packaging materials and a lot more paint on eBay and got started. These are some of the very first commissions I did:

In those first few weeks of starting up I was lost in finding an appropriate amount to charge. So, I talked to a few other small art accounts and finally stumbled across this perfect formula:

(HOURLY RATE x COST PER PAINTING SIZE) + SUPPLIES & DELIVERY COST = PRICE

I’ve now had my business for 6 months and I’ve condensed everything I’ve learnt into 4 key points that anyone else looking to start their own business should know.

  1. Get yourself a logo and name straight away

Not only will this make your business seem more professional, but it will allow customers to spread word of mouth about it a lot more easily. Don’t let the thought of creating a logo being difficult, deter you! For a long time, I didn’t realise how easy it was. The app Canva is so user friendly and has hundreds of free templates you can use to create a unique logo.

  • Be consistent on social media

I’ve found Instagram and TikTok to be the best way of getting new customers, but you need to be consistent. Posting four or five times a week is a great way of gaining new followers and keeping your existing followers interested. If you’re stuck for content ideas, try posting about what you did that day, your packaging process or get inspiration from similar businesses. It’s so easy to be seen on TikTok and one of my videos got 970,000 views which gave me a huge increase in following! This is the video that got me started.

  • Don’t be shy to charge what you’re worth

At the end of the day, your business needs to be making you money. When you’re first starting out, I’d recommend keeping your prices low (still making sure you’re covering production costs) and then you can increase your price as you begin to get more customers. This pricing strategy is known as market penetration, and can help you get a foot in door when starting you’re business.

  • Keep track of EVERYTHING

Once you start taking orders and buying supplies it’s very easy to get lost in a sea of numbers, so I recommend setting up an excel spreadsheet for yourself. It’s such a handy software tool for making sure you’re not going over budget and it makes it very easy to see how much you’re earning. It also helps me to keep on track of orders and deadlines. If you’ve never used excel before, don’t be put off! Spend 10 minutes exploring the software and I’ll guarantee you’ll get the hang of all the basics. You can also take advantage of the hundreds of free YouTube videos explaining how to use it. I found this one particularly helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwbho0CgEAE

I hope you found this blog useful if you’re considering setting up your own business. It’s such a fun and exciting process and you’ll gain invaluable skills and experiences, so I highly recommend going for it!

Thanks for reading,

Ciara

Ciara McCabe is a second year BSc Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Linkedin.

Is Freelancing the Answer? This is My Journey.

Is Freelancing the Answer? This is My Journey.

On the 27th Of August, I finished my placement year at Invest Northern Ireland. I was a Communications Assistant in the Communications Team and did various work for the team’s different divisions. During the first six months, my work mostly consisted of building, writing stories, and publishing for the internal newsletter, Newsweekly. I also did some work for the PR team writing press releases and Twitter posts. In the final six months of my placement, I was given control over the Innovation Accreditation Twitter account and learned how to manage a corporate social media platform fully. I was delighted for this project to land on my desk because I knew it was a precious experience that could put me in good stead for the future.

My placement was filled with both exciting and challenging times. Covid-19 hit during the seven-month mark of my placement, and I was lucky enough that Invest NI had a plan set in place to allow employees to continue their work from home. This worked out perfectly for me as I was able to visit my boyfriend in Manchester and stay for much more extended periods. I was in Manchester when the travel ban hit, so suddenly, I lived permanently with him and his family during a pandemic. It was a scary time because I didn’t know how long I would be over for and integrate well into the household. Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about as everything went super smoothly!

The end of my placement was fast approaching, and I was worried about what I would do to earn an income to cover my bills. My friends and I signed for a house in Belfast, and the rent was coming out every month, eating away at my overdraft – so I needed to find something quick!

I looked at what my friends were doing, and many of them were working in bars or doing home care. I couldn’t drive, so home care was out. And the thought of drunk people shouting at me was a scary thought, so I had a sit down to look at some options. I thought, why not have a go at freelancing and put the skills I learned at placement to fair use? I spent about twenty minutes looking through freelancing websites and tried one called Upwork, which promised to be the best out there. I joined and applied to every job I seen that I was qualified for. After one week of consistently applying to jobs on Upwork, I won zero. I then took a step back and looked at my second option, a website called Peopleperhour. I set up an account and applied to my first job, which required one 800 word article to be written for £10. Within about half an hour, I heard back from the client that they had accepted my proposal. The excitement this brought me was crazy; although I wasn’t making much money for the time I would spend on the article, the fact I had gained work on my own gave me such a buzz.

Since then, the relationship with the client continued and turned into more orders. They even helped me out with my pricing and gave me some great business advice! I applied to a few more jobs on Peopleperhour, I won some and I lost some. I loved the freedom this website gave me and the opportunities to connect with people all over the country.

The most significant turning point in my journey was when I made a LinkedIn post recommending the website to anyone who was in the same position as me and I did a little shameless self-promo. The response was something I could never have expected. I had people messaging me about my freelancing!!! I couldn’t believe it; I managed to schedule calls with four business owners. This has to be the most daunting thing I have ever done, but I got through it, and each business owner converted into a paying client!

I was now fully working for myself, doing what I love, and helping SME businesses in the process. If there is one thing I have learned during the process, it would be to slip in what you do everywhere you can to everyone you can. A quick example of this is when I was recently chatting during a new instructor’s driving lesson. I dropped in that I was Managing a few social media accounts for SMEs alongside my final year at University. The driving instructor immediately explained how he had needed someone to get his social media off the ground as his school is rapidly growing. I suggested we have a chat about what I could do for him, and we have agreed to schedule a call.

I hope to continue freelancing alongside my degree and sign more clients when I graduate. If you’re thinking of putting the skills you’ve learned during placement or your course into practise and want to dive into working for yourself, then I couldn’t recommend it more – why not go for it? If I can do it, I promise, you can too.

Lauren Simmons is a final year BSc in Communication, Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: LinkedIn