Don’t undervalue what you do. I did this at first, which resulted in me vastly undercharging which in turn led to me becoming fully booked with no clear strategy for growth. It may seem hard at first, but do your competitor research and price accordingly — others will only value your services if you do.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kayleigh Johnstone. Kayleigh Johnstone is the founder and director of COZ PR. Following her years of business administration and public relations experience, she combined the two to launch an agency offering specialist virtual public relations assistance to those in the PR industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Born in England, I was fortunate enough to spend my youth living abroad and travelling. My family moved to Hong Kong, and then Singapore, where I attended incredible schools and had some amazing experiences. I was well and truly bitten by the travel bug, and visited amazing countries such as New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and America, as well as returning to the UK every summer and exploring Europe from there.
Other than travel, I would say my childhood was categorized with one thing — reading. I loved, and still love to read. From light fiction to the classics, a crime novel or a biography, I can be found with my nose in a book more often than not. I took this love of books with me throughout my educational life, taking English at A-Level, and my M.A. is in English Literature. This expanded into journalism at university, which sparked off a love for reportage style writing and paved the way for my career in PR.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it” — George Bernard Shaw.
I love this quote. It has been a difficult lesson for me to learn, and once I had (though not yet mastered!) I found I had far more clarity and happiness in my work life. I remind myself of this quote on an weekly basis, and it offers some levity to sometimes challenging situations. By avoiding ‘wrestling with pigs’, I am able to focus on my career, maintain balance, work with clients who I really like, and reduce the stress of a demanding job.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I suppose in a very lighthearted way, I would have to choose the Harry Potter books, as they are the only works which have ever crept out of the pages and into other parts of my life. I visit the studio tour annually (COVID permitting), I read fanfic, and it is the only character merchandise I will allow myself to buy! I was 11 when the first book was released and so grew up with them. They are the books I would choose to read for the rest of my life, so I suppose that qualifies as a significant impact!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Once I had completed my MA, I entered a graduate scheme, which gave me an overview of all aspects of running a business, including the PR and marketing side. I went on to spend 7 years in the retail industry, opening new stores, dealing with the press and events for the opening launches. I loved the role but found it was quite generic, and I wanted to spend more time focusing on the PR.
In 2015 I went to work for a PR agency, initially as PR Executive but quickly progressing to Account Manager. The agency specialized in Travel & Tourism, which was a perfect use of my passions and skills! I spent almost 5 years there, upskilling and refining my public relations skills. Within my role, I also found myself supporting the MD in a business administration role, undertaking tasks such as recruitment, training, contracting, book-keeping, and managing suppliers. However, when COVID-19 hit, the travel industry was decimated, and my position at the agency was no longer required.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I did something I thought I would never do and established my own agency, offering VA services to PR agencies and professionals. Within 48 hours of receiving my letter of termination, I had launched a website, planned my social media strategy, signed up for several training courses, and begun refining my offering. Looking back, I do wish I had given it a little more time, as there are things I got wrong to begin with — however it has been a fantastic learning curve for me.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
My ‘Aha’ moment came several months earlier when I had an extremely negative work experience with a client — though I didn’t realize it at the time. I remember seriously considering leaving my position at that point, and thinking that if I did, I was going to focus on a combination of the PR and administrative services that I had found myself naturally responsible for. However, the idea of launching an agency rather than freelancing came later when I lost my position. I spent the first 24 hours almost in a state of hyperactivity, trying to work out if I should be returning to traditional employment, if PR was still the right industry for me, or if this was a brilliant opportunity.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Incredibly well. I’m fully booked with amazing clients and am refining my offering all the time. I have begun outsourcing work and am building my pool of freelancers so that I can continue to scale the business. We also have a very exciting development launching later this year.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m grateful that I was essentially forced in to making this decision when I lost my job. Otherwise I would have stagnated, never realizing my potential or worth. In terms of a particular person, it has to be my husband. Whether it was bolstering me when I had a crisis of confidence, or giving me his laptop to use before I had earned enough to invest in one, or just listening endlessly to my ideas and excitement, he was there for me and I know I wouldn’t have done this without his support.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Doing this has given me the chance to widen my network of like-minded professionals, which is an extremely dry way of saying that I now have the privilege of working with a community of super-talented, friendly and smart women. Given that for a large part of the last year we have been in lockdown, having that network has been a godsend.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t undervalue what you do. I did this at first, which resulted in me vastly undercharging which in turn led to me becoming fully booked with no clear strategy for growth. It may seem hard at first, but do your competitor research and price accordingly — others will only value your services if you do.
- It’s ok to say no. Whether that is to a potential client you don’t think will be a good fit, or an existing client who wants you to undertake something you don’t feel capable of, or to a request for price reduction, it is ok to say no.
- Not all clients are the right ones. The right ones will want to work with you at the price you are quoting. It took a negative experience for me to realize this. I was heavily bartered down on price, the parameters of the work kept changing, and the client was not happy throughout. Since then I have learned to trust my instincts and only work with those who I know are an ideal fit.
- Niche, niche, niche. By really targeting your offering, you will be attracting exactly your perfect client and delivering your best work. To misquote John Lennon, if you try to please everyone you will end up pleasing no-one.
- Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your business. I found it really challenging to see business income as separate to family income at first. It was only when my husband pointed out to me that the agency had it’s own costs to bear and they included things like a decent computer or further training that I started to change my mindset.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Several. I diarize time away from work which is sacrosanct. It can be extremely easy — especially when working from home during a lockdown — to be constantly ‘on’. I ensure that for the most part, my nights, weekends, and holidays are free of work, which includes phone notifications.
I make sure I get dressed every day just as I would have before the pandemic, as it helps my brain to switch on, and conversely switch off on non-workdays.
I’ve also got an excellent business and mindset coach who boosts my confidence and helps me to break down my doubts when impostor syndrome creeps in.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
One day I would love to be able to inspire other women to realize that if they have an idea, they have probably had it for a reason, and to give them the confidence they need to be able to take that idea and grow it into a successful business. To realize that they do not have to settle for a job that isn’t quite right just because they are constrained by income or working hours or anything else.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
*Harry Potter geek alert* Joanne Rowling, so I can try to persuade her that 1) we need a series of stories about the Marauders when they were at school and fighting the first Wizarding War, and 2) because I think the HP books need to be made into a TV series. Far too many details from the books were omitted from the films.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can connect with me on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/kayleighjohnstone
And if you are a VA who wants to upskill and add PR services to your repertoire, just send me a message through my website www.cozpr.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!