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#SelfStarterStories: From being an account manager to becoming the founder of a PR agency

This week's #selfstarterstory features Hayley Smith, Founder of Boxed Out PR.

#PickYourselfUK caught up with Hayley Smith to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey.

What was your last job?: Account Manager at food and drink PR agency Through The Door Promotions and Halfords, cashier and customer services assistant.

When did you choose to PICK YOURSELF instead of waiting to be chosen by someone else?: At the age of 24, I suffered a severe mental health breakdown. I lost my job because of it and I struggled to find a job afterwards due to ongoing issues and the recession. I took a part-time job at Halfords.

It was a time when the PR industry was changing but a lot of the industry wasn't seeing the potential of digital and social media, and I wanted to harness the power of Twitter (at the time).

So I set up my company Boxed Out PR to provide small businesses and start-ups leading promotional and business growth opportunities, which would help them create a great online brand.

What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: Finding people to support me. Everyone thought I was crazy and didn't really understand why I was doing it. None of my friends at the time had ever done it, and I didn't have a huge network at the time so I didn't really have anyone to turn to.

I initially started working with a mentor and spent a lot of time researching and investing in networking groups to help expand my opportunities and raise awareness of the business. I didn't have much money to begin with so I had to be careful what I spent, and everything was out of my own pocket.

This was hard at the time but it taught me how to manage money and invest correctly in exchange for a return.

What is your favourite business book and why?: Originals: How Non-Conformists Can Change the World. I love this book because I can relate to it as a business owner and as a creative. And it taught me how to change my perspective on new ideas and utilise them. I think it gave me accountable for what I was doing and allowed me to develop great ideas.

Do you do everything yourself? What do you outsource?: I did everything for myself for a long time. I took the company limited in 2017 and since then I have brought on a business partner and hired an Account Director. I also outsource my own socials to a social media manager, as well as my accountancy.

What is your favourite marketing tool ?: I love Bitly, as it allows me to track and create measurable PR for clients. Tracked links also allow me to monitor social media growth and find out where the most traffic comes from. It's an incredibly useful, but simple tool.

How do you market your business?: Twitter is a great tool for marketing Boxed Out PR, and I love Facebook groups where I have gained a lot of business and great contacts from. I also go to as many events as possible - usually paid to help promote the business. 

I also do a lot of talks on various topics at events, which are always successful. In 2016, I did a TEDx talk which was amazing.

When you first launched, how did you get your first paying customers?: Through networking. I joined a local networking group where I used to live in Essex and I got two clients through that, then I got another one through the referral of my first client. Networking has always been an integral part of my marketing strategy.

How did you get your first traffic to your website?: Through social media, and sharing my link across the platforms. I asked my closest friends to share my website with their networks and also sent it via email to my connections once it went live. I have rebranded twice since my first website. It's crazy to think how much the company has developed.

Boxed Out PR Website August 2018

Boxed Out PR Website August 2018

Nominate one person/friend who believed in you from the start, and what would you like to say to them today?: Marcus Knight, my now fiancee and business partner. Marcus and I formed a relationship shortly after I set up my business and he was 100% supportive from the beginning.

I have since brought him on as my business partner. There's so much I could say and thank you doesn't seem enough for everything he has done to support me.

I know I'm a massive pain in the neck sometimes and get stressed, and you deal with it well, I'm so appreciative to have you on my business journey with me, and I don't think Boxed Out PR would be anywhere close to the position it would be without you. Thank you and I love you.

What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: Make sure you do your research and understand the need for your business, your audience, where it can be positioned and your competitors. Understanding this is imperative and instantly create a foundation for your business. 

Also, I'm a massive believer in perfect doesn't exist. Don't wait for everything to be perfect before you launch, as this will never happen. Your business and the industry will change so much over time, you need to be adaptable.

So make sure that everything is good enough for you and your needs at the time and change and modify as you go on. The more you wait for the less likely you will launch your idea, and the more likely someone else will. 

Don't be afraid to spend money. You really do have to spend to make money. Don't get in debt, but if you want to spend money on an event or marketing strategy, and you know you can get a return then do it. It will make you grow a lot quicker and more steadily.

And hire a business coach, I couldn't run my business without mine!

If you could have dinner with one entrepreneur, who would it be and why?: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Actress and Founder of Foodstirs. Sarah has always been an idol of mine, since the Buffy days and she has a lot to do with the person I am today.

I recently read her Entrepreneur interview about setting up Foodstirs and the challenges she faced. She was really honest about it and you don't expect someone to face challenges from a celebrity background so it made her even more relatable. 

I would like to have dinner with Sarah because of what she means to me as a person and entrepreneur, and I would love to continue learning from her and find out more about her plans for the company and hear her thoughts and opinions on the future of entrepreneurship.

I would love to tell her my business story and hear her advice and ideas on how I can further grow the company. 

She has also recently been invested in by Randi Zuckerberg, so I would love to discuss how she positioned the business for investment and what she did to appeal to Randi. 

I would, of course also like the opportunity to pitch to her for PR!

To stay up to date with Hayley Smith's entrepreneurial journey, please find her on Facebook below:

Hayley Smith has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2018. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story below.