Ria Blagburn of GrowBeyond
Ria Blagburn tells us what her first year as owner of marketing start-up GrowBeyond has been like and what lessons she has learned so far...
What is it the company does?
GrowBeyond is a marketing consultancy and content studio that works with startups and SMEs to create bespoke growth strategies. Our services range from market research and brand messaging to campaign implementation and analysis.
We have a really strong focus on sustainability and evidence-based marketing, and put a lot of emphasis on making sure we thoroughly understand the companies we work with and their markets in order to make sure our work is as effective as possible.
What does your role involve?
As the founder of GrowBeyond, I manage all of the clients and projects we work on, as well as taking care of the day-to-day running of the business.
The company is still young (just over a year old), so I have to be very hands-on when it comes to managing the administrative side of things – fortunately I’m naturally very organised, and I’ve enjoyed learning these new business skills.
I find that being a business owner has also helped me to empathise with the challenges many of my clients face themselves.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I hadn’t planned a career in marketing, and sort of fell into it after one of my jobs after university involved me managing an online shop.
This introduced me to the world of digital marketing, and I taught myself the skills I needed to learn to get a job doing in-house SEO for a small company.
From here, I became head of marketing for a web design agency, before I decided I wanted to put everything I’d learned to good use by forming my own company.
I founded GrowBeyond in early 2016, and have loved being a business owner so far. It’s great to see the impact of my work and I’ve forged some great relationships with clients – one even nominated me for the Birmingham Young Professional of the Year award; I was selected as a finalist, and will find out in May if I’ve won.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think good leadership comes down to being able to empathise with your team and understand what motivates each and every one of them. Everyone has their own individual goals and reasons for getting out of bed in the morning; by understanding what people are driven by, you’ll be better equipped to support them.
It’s also vital to understand how each team member prefers to work and facilitate this wherever possible – for example, someone may thrive in a busy open office, whereas their colleague may prefer to work in a quiet environment. Being able to support all preferences will increase productivity and make your employees much happier.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Without a doubt, it’s been the endless exercise in ball juggling that is running a business. As a first-time business owner, the vast majority of things I’ve had to learn about dividends, tax, and procedures have been completely new to me.
It’s also been a bit of a culture shock – I’ve gone from the relatively safe position of full-time employment to the uncertainty of owning a business, and it took a good few months to get used to the fact I was responsible for all aspects of business development and cash flow.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I’ve never been great at compartmentalising or putting off problems that need to be solved and I’m quite prone to stress – not a great combination! I’ve had to learn to give myself a break and not beat myself up too much if there are unforeseen interruptions.
I work from home a lot and I can definitely recommend having a dedicated work environment so you can physically leave it behind to keep a semblance of work-life balance.
I’ve also recently taken up pottery classes, which I absolutely love as it’s two hours a week that I get to myself where I don’t have to think about work – I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and it’s very relaxing!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Interestingly, not a marketer! I’ve always been quite interested in science, and during my youth I alternated between wanting to be an astronaut and a marine biologist.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
My biggest pet hate is when people consistently miss deadlines due to unrealistic expectations of how quickly they’ll be able to get work done.
I’d much rather someone said they were going to take longer to complete something but actually delivered it on time, as missed deadlines often have knock-on effects in terms of subsequent tasks and time management.
If I’m handing out work that has quite an inflexible deadline, I’ll often request delivery a few days in advance of this to make sure that if it does overrun, the impact isn’t quite so bad.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I think it’s a really exciting time to be involved in content marketing as it’s a relatively young area – this means a lot of clients need to be educated on what it is and how it differentiates from traditional interruptive marketing techniques.
I’d like GrowBeyond to become a leading advocate of content marketing, with a strong network of extremely high quality content creators who can help businesses of any size or industry develop sustainable strategies that really resonate with their target audiences.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Don’t be afraid to jump in. If you want to start your own company, go for it! Don’t be put off by the fact you’ll probably need to learn new skills; just embrace them and try and surround yourself with people who have done it themselves so you have a good network of mentors. You’ll definitely make mistakes along the way, but learn from them, and you’ll do well!
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I wish I’d talked to more people about their own experiences of running a new business, as mistakes I’d made that I was beating myself up for had also been made by several of my peers without me knowing. Starting a company is quite overwhelming, so I could have done with someone sitting me down and telling me not to be so hard on myself.
I’m lucky to have several great business friends who I now know I can go to, but I think I’d have really benefitted from a mentor in the earliest days – someone who’d done what I was doing, but was further into the journey.
If you’re thinking of starting a business (or making any kind of substantial career change), it’s definitely a good idea to find a few people you trust to act as a sounding board.