As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rhea Freeman.
Rhea Freeman is a social media expert and small business coach based in the UK. In addition to running a membership group, Rhea is also the founder of the Small & Supercharged Podcast and a Facebook group of the same name designed to help small businesses and influencers in the equestrian and rural space. She’s an award winning PR adviser, #SheMeansBusiness accredited trainer and Facebook Certified Lead Trainer.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I didn’t take the most direct route to get to this point, let me tell you, but equally I think that all the experiences that happen to us are there for a reason! I started off working outside, with horses, and became a riding instructor. This led me to write for magazines around my specialist subjects, which allowed me to write for brands, which led to traditional PR (obviously these transitions took a long time!). Over the years, social media started to provide brands with other ways to reach their target market- and that really interested me as I have always prided myself on being able to help brands promote themselves on a budget. As social media continued to grow, there was a real shift in spending and circulation on traditional media, and so I started to improve my skills and learn all I could about social media too. Now, I coach a handful of business owners one to one to help them develop their businesses and grow with help from social media, and I also work with a greater number of small business owners through my groups.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Simply that there were SO many opportunities available for small businesses that weren’t being taken in my niche! We know how hard it can be to launch a business and get it in front of the right people, but I spotted a big gaping hole when it came to magazines and, latterly, online platforms. By researching this and really understanding this opportunity, I was able to provide a service that brands really needed, which cost them a lot less than magazine ads (and, if they did place ads, they got more for their money with an awareness of what else was possible), and added more value too.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I really try hard to reframe each mistake and look for the lesson. I guess that with each mistake you make, you develop additional procedures and processes to help prevent future ones. I did have a moment years ago when I managed to invert two digits in a phone number. It had been signed off by the client and thoroughly checked, and it was easily fixed, but it really did annoy me!
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
It was to help small businesses in my niche reach their target audience whatever their budget. To be honest, my business’s vision is exactly the same nowadays too, but I’ve just adjusted and evolved the methods I use to achieve these outcomes. Now, I tend to do a lot more with digital and social media vs. traditional media, but the methods still work at their core, whatever the application.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
I think it’s in everything I do- or, at least, I hope it is! I think when you create a business around something you believe really deeply, it is in every piece of content you create, every exchange you have, and any other communication you have. And the longer you do it, the more this comes across.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
You either win or you learn. This is a version of the famous Nelson Mandela quote, and I think it’s so useful. When I’ve had a tricky day, I think it’s important to reframe a ‘well, that was a disaster’ to, ‘OK, what did I learn that I didn’t know before that will help me try again?’. Even if this is what not to do, it’s still hugely valuable. It also means I’m less hesitant about taking a less ‘certain step’, because I’ll either win or learn. And as I’d argue that learning is also winning, I can’t really lose…
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Gosh- there are so many ups and downs, aren’t there?! I think the hardest times for me come when I’ve been disappointed by how others have behaved. When I’ve gone over and above and then they’ve acted in a way that’s just not particularly kind or considered, it’s hard. Because when you’re self employed and you’re providing a service, it is very hard not to take it personally. Unlike a product that gets shipped out, when someone behaves badly to you, it feels personal. This type of ‘issue’ can make you really recalibrate, and that can be positive. Whether you’re spending your time well, how you can guard against something similar happening again, and so on. For more, rather than ‘giving up’ (because a) I’ve put too much blood, sweat and tears in to get here and b) I’m pretty sure I’m unemployable now!), it makes me consider a slight pivot, which can be useful.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Really well. And I don’t mean that to sound like I’m full of myself at all, but I’m really pleased. I think when you work for yourself it takes a LONG time to get going at the level you want, and every time you evolve/pivot/adapt, you almost take a step back to step forward. My desire to help small businesses achieve great things on a budget pushed me very firmly towards social media a good few years ago, and I’ve really put the work in to develop my knowledge on a deep level in that area. Becoming at #SheMeansBusiness accredited trainer was a really big deal for me (and I’m delighted that I work with Enterprise Nation on this and other campaigns now) and allowed me access to a whole new level of training and, also, training I could share with people in my industry. Becoming a Facebook Lead Trainer was another accolade I’m really proud of as not that many people have this and, again, it allows me to deliver more training to members of my community at the same time as growing myself and broadening my knowledge. I also work with THE BEST people now, and seeing them grow and thrive is an absolute privilege.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
It’s hard. Didn’t expect that, did you?! It’s hard to grow a successful business in any niche, and service based is no different. That doesn’t mean it’s not hugely rewarding, but it’s not easy, especially at the start. It took me years and years to get somewhere near where I wanted to be.
Become dedicated to becoming an expert… and know this will take time. There are a growing number of overnight experts who have just started on a career path and are now coaching others- and I simply don’t buy it. It is important to get some ‘scars’ from the journey, because these make you incredibly valuable to your customers. It’s said you need to study something for 10,000 hours to become an expert, and I believe this to be true. And when you’ve done this level of study, keep going. This is what I have done. I’ve been offering business support for over 15 years, and only in the last few years did I move into coaching, because I have a whole lot of scars now!
Prepare to be copied. I could write a whole article on this. When you’re successful (or even perceived as successful), people will copy you because they want what they think you have. Now, some might take inspiration from you, some might want to work with you so you can help them… and others will rip you off and in some cases even steal you exact wording. It has happened to me more than I would like to admit, and I have to say it’s very very annoying when it happens. But it does get easier. Simply because I realised that anyone who’s copying me on a surface level doesn’t have the experience, so they can’t be me. There’s enough space for us all if we’re all promoting our USPs and making it very clear who we want to work with.
You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked… and most of the time, you won’t even mind! An example of this is that I’m writing this at 10.36pm. It’s a time when most people aren’t working, but I was excited to have this opportunity and, to me, it’s a nice thing to do. I don’t mind it. Actually, I enjoy it. This is just one example as, also since 6pm, I’ve been Whatsapping two clients with different queries, booked a call for tomorrow, and replied to a long email that I wanted to ponder before I responded. And I don’t mind a bit. This doesn’t mean you should expect to work until late every day, but when you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work.
Know what you’re good at… and move the rest away. This is something I am doing more and more of, but being a control freak, it’s hard! I have moved my accounts away because I hate accounts, and I don’t do any of my own editing (podcast or video) because I’m not as good or as fast as the person I use. If you want do this, you can spend more time in your ‘zone of genius’ where you can make a difference, serve your customers, and drive your business forward.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It’s got to be my husband. The ‘person’ I referred to above who does my editing? That’s him. But more than that, he’s in the background if I ever doubt myself, and he’s useful to chat to about things because he always has a different perspective.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would very much like to see more kindness and more authenticity on social media. I have little time for those who use the #bekind hashtag and are far from it in their actions. And I also would love to see people doing less editing on their images- I would like to see more pictures that really reflect how people are in real life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m in all the places https://www.instagram.com/rheafreemanpr