Sian Conway | Empowering people to live and work more ethically every day
This week’s #selfstarterstory features Sian Conway, Founder of Ethical Hour.
Pick Yourself UK caught up with Sian to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey…
What was your last job?: Before I took the leap into full time self employment I was running the marketing department at a cyber security software company.
I worked in corporate marketing for several years, designing digital strategies to help brands stand out, attract their customers and make more sales.
When I started connecting with independent, ethical business owners online through my blog, I realised they needed marketing help, and all the strategies I had designed for big brands in the corporate world could be translated for them too.
So that's what I started doing. The corporate world gave me a lot of skills and experience, but I'm much happier now I get to work with brands that have a bigger impact and purpose behind them!
What motivated you to start your own business?: Like many purpose-driven entrepreneurs, I was experiencing burn out in the corporate world. I started my blog (which later evolved into my business) as a creative outlet, and a way of learning more about ethical and sustainable living, and as my online network grew I began connecting to small business owners who needed my help.
In all honesty I was more inspired by the impact they were making than I was with the work I was doing in my day job, and I felt like I wanted to make more of a difference.
It wasn't until the death of a childhood friend that I realised something needed to change. I'd started to experience anxiety and I knew life was too short not to be doing work that I loved. My blog had started to take off, I'd established an online audience, and I was named Green and Eco Influencer of the Year at the UK Blog Awards, so I decided it was time to monetize what I'd built and find a way to turn it into a full time business.
Making the leap was scarier, but thinking back, it's more scary to think what would have happened if I'd never taken the risk. Staying in a job I didn't love was having a negative impact on my physical and mental health, which just goes to show what can happen when we're not in alignment.
What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: Having the courage to establish myself as an expert and be visible. I'm naturally an introvert so stepping into the spotlight doesn't always come easy, but it's important to build a brand and establish connections with potential customers, so building my resilience and confidence has been an essential part of this journey.
What is your favourite business book and why?: Tribes: We need you to lead us, by Seth Godin. Seth is an incredible marketer and his ethos of community building has been essential in the way I've grown my business. His approach is understandable, impactful and inspiring!
How do you market your business?: My core brand values include collaboration and community first - and that's the approach I take to marketing my business. I look to align with partners that share my values and create great work together, so that we can elevate each other's messages.
I put community first in everything I do with my business - it's all about building authentic connection and serving my audience, rather than selling to them. I design services that meet their needs, guided by them and driven by my skills, so there's no pushy hard sell or sleazy tactics.
As an ethical business, doing my marketing ethically is essential! I'm not chasing the numbers either. Yes I want a global audience, of course (because that's how I'll be able to have the most impact) but for me it's about building that audience one connection at a time. It's the authenticity that's got me to an audience of over 55,000 and growing!
How did you get your first paying customers?: Fortunately when I decided to leave my job I already had a well established audience on Twitter, Instagram and inside my Facebook group - so I started by putting a post out explaining my decision, outlining the services I was going to offer, and inviting people to join me for a 'virtual coffee'.
The discovery call process is still integral to my marketing and customer attraction today - it helps us decide if we're a good fit for each other and scope out the project so everyone is on the same page going in - which means we get better results. Once I'd done a couple of projects, I collected testimonials and reviews, and word of mouth started doing the marketing for me.
How did you get your first traffic to your website?: In the early days I was blogging about ethical and sustainable living - before I had any intention of turning it into a blog! Twitter was an essential part of getting traffic to my site - it still is.
I set up #EthicalHour as a weekly Twitter chat to bring like-minded people together, and I gave each week a topic, which I then blogged about and shared while people were engaging with me online.
There wasn't anything like it at the time, and not many people were blogging in the ethical and sustainable space, so my articles were getting shared and started to attract media attention. Things really took off after a BBC Radio Four journalist found me on Twitter and invited me onto the Today Programme to debate ethical living - on Google Analytics you can still see a huge spike in traffic on that day and I got a lot of new followers from it!
What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: Honestly, there's going to be times when it's really scary. Choose something you're really passionate about - you hear this a lot from business advisors, but that's because it's true.
If you pursue an idea just because you think it's going to make you money, but you're not passionate about it, you're going to burn out. On the other hand, if you follow your true purpose and do the work you love, you will find a way to make money from it and turn it into a thriving business!
Doing the mindset work first to build up your resilience and tune into your values will save you a lot of time, stress and heartache later down the line.
Why would you like to win Pick Yourself UK's Small Business Entrepreneur of the year 2019?: To show other people in my situation what's possible. Three years ago I was feeling uninspired by work, going through the motions and struggling with anxiety. If you'd told me then that just three years later I'd be building a business that changes people's lives, allows me to do work that I love with inspiring people from all around the world and gives opportunities to members of my team, I would never have believed it.
I've gone from the lowest place possible to never dreading Monday morning again! So many people are struggling with their mental health - and starting a business won't be the answer for all of them - but I want to show that it's possible to change your situation, and for anyone who is thinking about starting a business - to go for it with confidence!