Welcome to the first article in the series of The Business of Adapting. This series will be set around small and medium businesses who had to change their way of working to cope with the effects of COVID 19. Some have had to shut their doors and redesign their premises, others had to change their whole business model overnight to fit in with online sales of services and products. These personal journeys are intended to help other businesses feel inspired by peers who have struggled through this crisis and managed to find a new way of working and keeping their business alive. I implore all readers to shop local and use local services to keep these struggling businesses and livelihoods afloat.
Today, we speak to April McManus who owns the small business, The Social Strategist, previously Loco Media. April resides in Donegal with her partner and a nine-year-old girl. She has been working as a sole trader for three years and loves her job. She’s passionate about teaching people how to use social media in the most positive way and keep people connected. When COVID hit, April did panic and wonder where her business could go as the social media and marketing budget is notoriously first to go when things get tough, but she never let it stop her and she found a new route which led her to what she had always dreamed of doing:
Hi April, thank you so much for speaking to me today. Can you tell me a bit about your business please?
When I started out my aim was to help businesses understand social media and encourage them to use it more. Businesses I was watching weren’t using it well and getting the full benefit of it. I wanted to give them that benefit and show them how to use it.
I’m a make-up artist and had posted myself using lipstick, I then had customers arriving and asking for the lipstick I had used. I loved that social media had the power to show good products to customers and it sparked a light in me. The challenges I set myself all worked great. I became really interested but never planned to go into business. That was until a local nightclub owner approached me and asked could I do for them what I’d done for myself and from that, another client came, and then another, and another so it all really fell into place for me.
You didn’t sit and plan on going into business as a social media specialist?
No, I never did, I loved it but never planned on going into it. When my first client approached me I explained I wasn’t sure but I’d give it a go. In the meantime, I studied the business side of it and my client base began to grow. While I managed some accounts, I also started giving 1-to-1 lessons helping businesses use social media themselves. The local resource centre then invited me to give lessons to the general public and show them how to use their smartphone and get online.
We did one workshop in October ’19, another in January ’20 and we were due to do another in April but it needed to be cancelled due to COVID lockdown. The fact that 30 people now knew how to keep connected with family during lockdown was comforting to me at such a tough time and I’m grateful we got to do that.
Why did you change your name to The Social Strategist from Loco Media?
As clients came to me without me planning a business, I felt pressure to come up with one on the fly. This was a new area for me and I didn’t feel fully confident. I chose to hide under a business name and kept saying I wanted something catchy and flashy like ‘Loco Media’. I used Loco Media as an example multiple times and it just stuck. But it never felt right to me. I felt it could be anything, it wasn’t specific to what I do.
During lockdown my vision for what I wanted to be started getting stronger. I wanted to launch my website and I wanted a name to stick. I took Steph My Life’s course and we were brainstorming names. Previously, I had done a course on social media strategy and that name was resonating with me. It made sense because I wanted it to say exactly what I do and what I can teach others. I wanted something very strong and personal, ‘The something’ has such a strong connotation and so ‘The Social Strategist’ was born. It has totally changed how I post. It now me, rather than hiding behind a company name.
What is the most rewarding thing about working for yourself?
Seeing the development and growth in the last 6-8 months. It’s finally all coming together and that didn’t happen overnight. It took three years of hard work to all come together and to see how it was all was worth it is so heartwarming and exciting.
What is the most challenging thing about working for yourself?
Never switching off. With social media, it’s hard to switch off, its a 24-hour job. The first year was particularly difficult. Because it’s on my phone, I can’t log into my accounts without business pages coming up with notifications. And once I see it I can’t just leave it. I’m getting better at it now but it’s hard.
How do find social media itself, do you find it difficult or negative in any way?
I find I don’t use social media much for myself. Work overrides it and I prefer to keep it mostly to work. There’s a lot of negativity around social media but I’m a big believer in focusing on the positives of it. It’s important to unfollow any negative accounts and keep your space and feed positive. I go straight onto Instagram in the morning so I can’t have negative things coming at me first thing so I’m very careful about how I structure my feed and what I see and I think everyone should do that for themselves.
The only time I’ve dealt with negativity with work accounts is with a client who did some work with a controversial public figure and there were negative comments coming their way. That was difficult. We replied to somewhere it was concerning the product itself but any about the public figure, we made a decision to remove them as they are not useful to anyone on the page. Thankfully I’ve not come across much negativity in three years.
You mentioned your business actually did well and progressed in lockdown, can you explain how?
At first, it didn’t – I had five accounts, and on Friday when we went into lockdown, all of them closed their doors and everyone was let go temporarily. At that point, we thought it was for two weeks but I lost my whole business overnight. It forced me to step back and reassess. I wrote a letter to each of my accounts offering my help for free. Some didn’t want to be on social media but I explained it’s great for engagement and keeping your brand in people’s minds for when the doors open up again but they decided they didn’t want to post. Some were afraid they would no longer have a business but a couple of clients took up my offer.
For the first time in three years, I wasn’t too busy so I used that time to reflect and decide where I wanted to go with the business. When the Business Continuity vouchers were launched I put myself forward as a mentor. I was approved and some people who knew me through my business asked for me specifically so I worked with them and they kept me on afterwards. I also got offered a three-month position with Hubspot Academy as a Community Manager. It opened up a whole new area for me. All my clients have been local to date and Hubspot are based in Boston. It’s made me realise there’s a bigger world full of opportunity out there.
How did you end up working for Hubspot Academy?
I know a girl who works in the Dublin office and she mentioned they were looking for someone and I was interested so she put me forward for it and they took me on for a Facebook group and I looked after that. They were happy with my work so they rolled me out as Community Manager. I love Hubspot Academy, their courses are amazing and their ethos is fantastic. It feels really positive for my business to be working with such a big client.
What measures have you put in to protect yourself and your mental health during this pandemic?
The first thing that happened to me for the lockdown was the possibility of losing my job. So to stop worrying about that, I did what I could and wrote to each client and kept the door open by offering to work for free. I then took the free time to do self-care, I baked, cooked, did runs with challenges set, set goals and made business plans. I used my time well and made sure I controlled what I could and then relaxed as much as I could. Like many others, I felt the pressure to do ‘something’ so I used that time to put stepping stones into future growth.
What is a positive experience you can pull from this pandemic?
Having the time to sit down and evaluate my business and how I use my time. I loved having the time with my partner and child. My partner travels a lot as he’s a professional boxer. The lack of guilt when we rested or when I looked after myself, was priceless! I took photos of everything we did and created an album of that time we had together through the lockdown.
What advice can you share for other start-ups?
If you want it, go for it. Don’t wait for the right time. If you know you can do it, just go for it. Forget about everything stopping you, if you want it enough you’ll learn along the way.
Set healthy habits from the outset, with yourself and with your clients. Know your boundaries with working times and what you can and can’t do. Only answer texts, calls and emails during work times. People appreciate and respect that but if you go outside of it you will set a precedence.
How do you see your business evolving?
I see it as including strategising, planning and online learning. I will be creating guides and taking part in events helping businesses create their social media accounts and show them how to market their business. During the lockdown, I began doing zoom calls helping to talk people through social media and how to use it. My first lesson online was with a lady in Doha who wanted to learn how to use social media. It was a five-hour intensive course I had created and it worked out great with the tools available. I’m becoming so much more comfortable with this new norm and found it so easy to teach online. I can’t wait to see how much I can grow Social Strategist.