Helen is one of the increasing number of people that now contacts me via the Masters of Many site, telling me their story and asking me (always with a huge amount of trepidation) if they might be relevant for me to write about. It's lovely that so many people now do this, and Helens' interview didn't disappoint. Her main business is a global freelance copywriting agency called copyfox, which aligns well with the current trends of location independent working. If this wasn't enough, she also started an ethical fashion business on the side, as you do! Read on to find out how she did it...
Tell us about what you’re doing now and your journey to this point...
I sometimes look back and wonder myself how I got here because so much has happened that I couldn't have predicted. Six years ago I was a suit, working in advertising. I had moved to Australia from London, working as a senior account manager on a big account. I found that I was a bit of a punching bag between the client and the creative team. There was a lot of work at the time that the creative team didn't really want to do, like email marketing, and I was struggling to get them to do it. In the end I started to do it myself, and it turned out wasn't bad at it.
I started to put my hand up for more work in the creative department while still being a suit. I became the main email writer in the agency and asked the creative director if I could join the creative team, which was how I got my foot through the door. The agency was small and family like and they allowed people to dip into what they wanted.
After writing for a year, I began to realise I could use those copy writing skills in my spare time. I don't have many hobbies, so I thought I could do something useful with those free hours in the evening and weekends. I built my own website from watching YouTube videos and reading forums. I got graphic design friends to build me a logo. Looking back, my site was absolutely dreadful, but it was something to show what I did, and that was how copyfox started.
A big opportunity came about (via a friend of a friend) with a large pharmaceutical company. They needed their entire website rewritten. I explained I was a start up, but I could offer them reasonable rates and a fast turnaround, and they continued working with me after that project. It was a lot of working at 2am, which was a huge challenge, but it paid off in the end. From securing that client I was able to get other new clients. I was running copyfox at the same time as being a creative in the day (for visa reasons), working in the evenings and at weekends. It was a struggle but I really enjoyed it.
Eventually there was so much work that I started to outsource. My sister worked at the Sunday Times, and had just become a mum, so she had some hours to work and help me with the content. She's come on board full time now.
copyfox is now a remote content agency that offers fast turnarounds on anything related to copy or content, performed remotely by writers in specialist areas. We have writers in South Africa, UK, and Australia - a mix of those who have day jobs, and freelancers, with different expertise - comedy, science, and more serious editorial.
We don't have an office and I don't care where they write from, as long as they do a good job. One of the writers is travelling around the world, but they've never missed a deadline and their work is excellent.
I'm much more productive on the go, rather than at home. I find the traditional office set up out dated, unnecessary, and a huge waste of budget and overheads.
Most of our clients are in Australia currently, which means that they can get things done over night - and then writers in Australia can do the same for UK clients.
And you also started a fashion brand, Oscar and Ethel - tell us how that came about..
Once I'd created copyfox, I no longer had a passion project, as that became my job. I dove head first, with no experience, into launching a fashion brand. We create brightly printed trousers, made in Australia, with all natural materials. I'm an animal lover, so I wanted to tie it in with an animal related cause. I sell matching scarves with the trousers, so you match your pet. 10% of every sale goes to World Animal Protection.
The business was launched in September 2015, but it was two years work in product development. I go through highs and lows of feeling passionate about it. It's a lot of hard work and I hadn't realised how much effort it would take to keep it going on social media. It can be a challenge to do it at the same time as copyfox, but you just have to try and balance it all. I'm not passionate about fashion necessarily, but I do love animals and I wanted to do something completely different.
What made you take the leap to do things differently and work for yourself?
I wanted a job where I could control my hours and work anywhere in the world, because I was living in Australia and therefore far away from family. copyfox meant that I could fly back to the UK for 2 months when I chose to.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture?
I was lucky with the opportunity I had with the pharmaceutical company, so it was quick. I started the business in January 2012 and by March I'd also got a couple of new clients and employing other writers due to the workload.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
When I moved back to London, I was really doubtful it would work, as it's a much bigger, more competitive market. I have faced a few hurdles, but have managed to get a few London based clients in the last six months. I thought companies here would be more open to flexible working, but there is still a stigma attached to working from home, which I find quite strange and I hope will change in the future.
What do you find difficult about managing multiple jobs?
I come from a creative, rather than a business background and sometimes it's a struggle to know how to structure and grow the business moving forward. I still have a hands-on role in editing the content. I know my clients better than my writers and I like to do things thoroughly, but the time to do that can be a struggle as can the time difference.
Marketing is also a bit tricky. I'm not a brash, loud person, so I can be too modest in pushing myself.
Do you get the fear, and what do you do to spur yourself on when you do?
I definitely get the fear. You can't guarantee your month-to-month income when you have your own business. We don't have retainers at the moment, and although we have a pipeline, you never know when there will be a month with nothing. I deal with it by doing a flurry of marketing activity and being enthused by it, rather than defeatist. My sister is much more positive and enthusiastic. She always believes in us and says we can do it.
What or who do you find intimidating?
When I first set up copyfox, I had my first meeting with the digital director of the pharmaceutical company we worked for. It was intimidating, but it was also a case of, 'fake it until you make it'. That was probably the scariest meeting I've ever had. It was amazing that he gave us a shot and trusted us.
What makes you feel good / powerful?
It sounds childish, but it's receiving positive feedback on a content series or anything we've created. It's a negative force when people don't start with positive feedback and it can be really deflating. Positive feedback drives me to do an even better job.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
Ultimately legacy, and seeing the fruits of my labour. For example, having created my website and looking back on what I've done. It's a sense of satisfaction that you've created something, you can see people using it and see the impact that your hard work has had.
How do you define success now?
Success is seeing all of the projects in the pipeline and knowing that we're busy, as I hate downtime.
Where would you like the business to get to?
I don't want to have a big agency, and I still want my writers to have freedom. I don't want to have an office, but I would like to have more clients, on retainers, with positive long-standing relationships.
How do you start your day?
I go through my Australia emails on my laptop in bed. I have to do that at 5 or 6am to catch them before they leave the office. After that I have a to do list that I update every week, divided into copyfox and my personal passion projects (Oscar and Ethel for example). I update it daily. I then check in with my sister and my other writers, look at the project pipeline and see what availability people have. I then arrange briefs and schedule the writer's time.
What's the biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
It has given me freedom and confidence. I'm completely free to do all of the important things in my personal life and integrate them with my professional life. It's given me massive confidence. I talk to people I wouldn't normally have access to in an agency through being out there, getting new business and speaking to clients.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A news anchor! I went to a school where you became a banker, lawyer, or teacher. I studied law and hated it, because it was very dry. I sought a profession that would mix creativity with business and advertising suited that. I thought a news anchor was totally inaccessible and the school I went to didn't really encourage that kind of thing.
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
If you want to do something in life, don't think about it too much, or talk about it at length - just go and do it, and work it out afterwards. Too much time is spent thinking about ideas and talking about ideas rather than doing - particularly in advertising!
How do you treat yourself?
Holidays and travel, but the problem is that once you have your own business (we push Copyfox as a 24/7 7 days a week operation), it's hard to take holidays. I always have to be on and connected to emails. I do treat myself to experiencing other countries, even though I may have to do other work there. I once treated myself to a first class upgrade, but I regretted it instantly. I'm 5 foot 2 and I don't need the full size bed, not for that price!
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I'd work in film documentaries. I want to meet interesting people and see different places and tell important stories. I'd like to go down that path, but it's a matter of figuring out how to get there first.
To find out more about copyfox, go to www.copy-fox.com