Apologies for the inward-looking nature of this post, but it will be my last on this site. I want to tell you my story of self-employment, my learnings along the way and what is happening next. So grab a cuppa and have a read, one last time at this particular campfire:
Almost 15 years ago I gave birth to my first child. I knew that I couldn't keep up with the demands of a full time job in a busy PR company and look after a baby without any family in the country for support. I went freelance for the first year with a business called Think It Do It PR, working with tech clients, a sector I had plenty of experience in. In this first foray into self-employment, I learnt how to manage my own business - doing accounts, paying national insurance (didn't know I had to!), managing my own IT, getting systems set up, buying a domain name and more. It was incredible to me how much hidden support you get when you work for someone else, in contrast to having to do it all when you work for yourself.
When my second son arrived, I decided to make baby food for a living - as you do when you're pureeing carrots. I quickly realised that it was a seriously tough sector. During my research I discovered a baby food and toddler snacks company who I felt could do a better job reaching mums. I contacted the founder and she invited me in to see her. I took my baby with me - something I could never have done in my old job. She hired me on a freelance basis to help with their marketing, PR and comms.
(An aside - that incredible woman who invited me in to chat - Sally Preston - just won the UK Business Woman of the Year award and she is an example of how to keep on trying even when things get tough. I'm exceptionally proud to have played a tiny part at the early stages of her journey).
Because I was doing this for one company in the parenting sector, I decided to set up a PR company focused exclusively on this market. Over the course of five years, I ran Peekaboo Communications, working with many inspiring business owners, almost all of whom were trying to create a business and look after young kids. I had never done consumer PR, had zero press contacts in the UK in that space and had to create an entirely new network. But the support of incredible women made it possible.
During that time I won a national PR award for the work I did for a business that started as a one person operation and which is now a leading company in the travel sector - Tots to Travel (Wendy Shand is another exceptional role model I was lucky enough to learn from along the way.) I was featured in two books on mumpreneurs, I became a mummy blogger myself and learnt my way around the emerging fields of social media and digital PR. It's amazing to think that when I started up Peekaboo, Facebook had only been conceived two years earlier.
In between looking after my boys and running my business, I also took time out to sail from Hull to Rio because I needed to escape the laundry pile and just rediscover me. Self-employment made this possible.
I sold Peekaboo as a going concern after five years. My Peekaboo years taught me so much about creating a roster of clients, building solid press relationships in a new sector, finding freelancers to outsource to and the incredible ways that women support other women.
Wondering what to do next, I made the mistake of buying a franchise. It was a disaster, described as one thing but actually being something quite different. It planted me firmly in the role of selling, something I don't enjoy doing, and the team behind it weren't able to deliver on what they promised. So I walked away from it losing a substantial sum of cash in the process. My learnings: trust your gut and choose the people you decide to team up with carefully.
I moved to York and took on a bit of freelance work for a time under the name of Melissa Talago - writer & marketer. At the same time, I wrote 70,000 words of a novel and set up a new blog Talk about York. The novel turned out to be more of a cathartic experience than something I wanted to pursue and the blog had to be retired eventually. I felt rudderless at this point. I wanted to create a brand I could feel proud of. But I didn't know what that should be or do. I dabbled with ideas for toiletries for boys to a scone making emporium to a cafe that specialised in food for hangovers. Nothing felt right.
So I went to see a life coach who helped me understand my strengths. I knew I could write but I hadn't realised I had narrator skills. She said I was a good storyteller. Shortly after that, I went camping with a friend and while we were sitting around a campfire talking about what I should do next, I realised that the perfect place to tell stories is around a campfire. That's when I had the idea of helping small businesses tell their stories better.
I set up Campfire Communications in September 2014. I didn't really know what I wanted to offer, but I knew I could help small business owners find their stories. Over the last four years, I have changed my offerings and services, from creating an entire online course teaching people how to do PR, to running workshops and retreats, one off bite size services to full blown marketing plans, website development and ongoing marketing campaigns.
It was been an epic learning experience and oftentimes I felt like a big fat failure. I have always tried to honestly share my own experiences of running a business with my followers and subscribers so that they would know that they're not alone if they too felt like a failure. Or simply to give them some motivation to keep on going.
Some things worked, others didn't. But I have absolutely loved helping business owners have that lightbulb moment, when they suddenly see what their business could become. Crafting their messages and bringing their vision and brands to life has been such a huge privilege.
My learnings from this were almost too many to mention - how to network online with global communities, how to build a passive income stream model, how to do social media marketing, how to create newsletters and opt ins that work, how to build a recognisable brand, how to create and run events, how to stand up in front of rooms of people and talk, sodding GDPR..... The list is endless. Mostly, I learnt how relentless it is for small businesses to keep on keeping on.
At the same time, I decided to set up a second business - Glamoraks - an online global community for women who walk. This has grown into a fabulous, supportive group of women who get outdoors and feel happier as a result. I am so proud of this venture. It's not profit making (yet) but it's my way of giving back.
So why is this Campfire going out?
In Autumn this year, my marriage ended unexpectedly. Not only did I now need the security of a steady income from employment (because as all small business owners know, income is seldom consistent when you work for yourself), I needed the support and energy that you get when you work with a team. I want to learn from others and make my world a little bit bigger.
In my gut it just feels like the right time for me to go back into a corporate environment. And I will be doing just that in January 2019. I can't wait to start at a new company and I'll even be going to the office Christmas party next week - my first Christmas party in 15 years!
And so it is time to let this campfire go out. It is a bittersweet moment for me. I have poured so much love and energy into building this brand and community of supporters that it feels like a real wrench just to turn out the lights. But I know it is the right time for me to do this.
Next year is going to be another huge learning curve as I find my feet back in the workplace but I'm excited by it. It's a chance to learn new things, meet new people and make a difference in a completely different way.
I wanted to take the time to write this and to capture the last fifteen years of my life. Because self-employment is an incredible gift and I wanted to acknowledge the gift it has been.
If you are self-employed, you will be tested and challenged. You will learn so much. You will have the weird mix of freedom and intense pressure to self-motivate. You will discover who you are as a person and the contribution you can make to this world.
I want to thank every single client and contact I have made throughout the last 15 years for being part of my virtual team. Thank you for all your support. It has been a crazy, fun and inspirational adventure.
For anyone out there who is feeling low about their business and wondering if they're making any difference, never underestimate how many people you are silently helping and influencing without even realising it. I've regularly wondered if I am simply yelling in the wind when my marketing efforts feel as though they've gone unnoticed. But take a look at the messages below. These are just a fraction of the messages I have received since letting my mailing list know that I am shutting down. I've left off all the deeply personal messages too, some of which have moved me to tears. I'll bet your clients and community would send the same to you too. So keep on keeping on. You are doing great things.
To the writers of those messages, I have been overwhelmed by your messages of support. They have lifted me up and I now feel ready to take on my role because I will hear your voices cheering me on. Thank you so much.
'I woke up this morning with such a heavy heart, at the idea of not having you there behind me…. Writing this last brief is being more emotional than I thought it would be. Just wanted to say that you arrived at the perfect time in my life – you gave me the strength to become a VERB (start doing) you turned my visions in a reality. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH Melissa! I’ll miss you tremendously.'
'You have added to so many lives and businesses and I am sure you are about to add something very special to the lives of those that you will be working with in the new year.'
'I have quietly followed campfire communications progress and shared with many, your outstanding service delivery. Thank you for what you brought to both mine and John’s businesses'
'I came on your PR in a day course about 4 years ago with the company I was running at the time, Pixie and Jack, and have followed you ever since. Just wanted to say I have found your emails/posts inspiring and useful in equal measure particularly when I was setting up on my own. I have always loved your honest writing style that tells it how it is. Thank you. All the very best in your new ventures – I’m sure you will be brilliant.'
'I wanted to say another big thank you for helping me last year get clarity about how all the elements of my business fitted together and key messages for my marketing - it really made a big difference.'
'I wanted to say how sorry I was to get your email last week and to hear that you are closing your business. We've never actually met but I have followed you with interest. I am also a marketing consultant and I always thought you were exceptional at what you did and that your brand was so inspiring. If someone asked me for an example of a really good marketing consultancy and support service, I would have named you. So please know that you have inspired people who you've never even met or who haven't worked with you and I am sure that you will go on to do great things with your future career.'
'I just wanted to thank you for sharing your wisdom and knowledge. I've only been on your list for a short time, but you have made an impact on me. I wish you well with your new job. As you say, new challenges can be a good thing, even if they seem scary at first. That old cliché springs to mind: The darkest times come just before dawn. Sending you good vibes and everything you wish for yourself in the coming weeks and months, and thank you again for all the value you've shared online.'
'You will be so very much missed by us all. I am ever so sorry to hear you're going back to the corporate world - but equally understand you, as I have often considered the possibility myself. I will be thinking of you Melissa and wish you the very best in your new venture - no doubt you'll be absolutely magnificent in your new job. They're very lucky to have you. :)))'
'Thank you on behalf of me and all the other people that have been inspired by your emails, I don’t normally do emails but wanted to say you have helped me at some times when I needed a kick.'
'You will rise - like the phoenix out of the ashes of your campfire - I have no doubt as you seem such a talented, strong and capable woman.'
'You've done a fantastic job helping small businesses, my expectations were surpassed when you helped me and although I haven't implemented everything yet I do have long lasting blueprint.'
'I haven't been very involved with Campfire Communications, but I found the talk you gave in Harrogate a while back very inspiring. I tend to hear the same advice from lots of different people, but it was from you that I heard about how to look on twitter to find out who wants stories that might give PR for your business.'
'What a shame you're closing Campfire, it seems you've created a lovely brand with a real heart. But new horizons and all that, I'm sure you'll knock it out of the park at the big corporate!'
'Although I've never worked with you directly I've happily passed your details onto people I know having read your content and only ever heard positive things about your training.'
'I'm so, so, sorry to hear your personal news. I'm also devastated that the world of copywriting and York self-employment is losing you. Your presence at Copywriters Coffee was always so energising and empowering. When I first came to York, you were definitely the person I wanted to "grow up to be"!'
'Really sad to hear you will be closing you are fantastic at what you do and have really helped me in my business with my messages when I have been feeling lost.'
'Thank you for all the wisdom and inspiration you have generously shared with folks like me who haven't worked with you 1-1, I really do appreciate it.'
'I’ve never worked with you, but it’s been a pleasure to meet you at a few networking events, and your emails were amongst the very few that I subscribed to as they were genuinely useful.'
'We never actually worked together in the end but I do admire your energy and ideas - but completely understand that you'll not have much in the tanks for self motivation and I think you have made a really good decision. Good for you - it takes guts to do that.'
'Melissa THANK YOU for all you have done. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with you.'
'Thank you for sharing your energy, your wisdom and your expertise. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and I’m sure you’ll be amazing in your new career.'
'It was a privilege to work with you.'
'Loved your first campfire retreat - learnt so much! Good luck ....altho' I am confident you will smash it.'
'Well done on everything you achieved with campfire and thank you for helping us all. You’ll be great at whatever you do, good luck with your next chapter x'
'I’ve always admired you and all you do very much, I’ve no doubt you’ll make a success of things going forward x'