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Starting a Content Agency – Jo shares some wisdom

Next up as part of our “sharing the wisdom” series: Jo Duncan, Founder of content agency Lean Content. We caught up with her to talk about the wisdom she gathered throughout the process of starting a content agency.

Jo was a teacher for a decade, and eventually moved into copywriting in her mid-twenties. She’s worked for smaller agencies and client-side, and set up a small content agency earlier in 2018. A late bloomer into the creative industries, she’s spoken at Bath Digital Festival and at Bath University on how to avoid procrastination, follow your dreams and be fearless online. Starting your own business can be incredibly tough, so we wanted to find out what lessons she’s learned on her own career journey.

Now, Jo, in an attempt to capture some of the wisdom you’ve gained as a professional so far, what are “5 stand-out things” you’ve learned within the past 6 years, while working within digital marketing and during the process of making the jump from Content Manager to founding Content Marketing Agency Lean Content.

Don’t put things off

An important lesson I’ve learned is to never put off going after what you really want.

A lot of people carry on even if they’re unhappy in what they do, because we’re all reluctant to make the leap. I waited until I was sick of teaching before I left, and thought about starting a content agency for 18 months before I took the plunge. Because of this, my advice is: honestly just to go for it! Taking a risk on yourself and putting yourself out there is very scary, but once you’re going the momentum will carry you. You will surprise yourself, and before you know it you’ll be doing what you love.

This rule also applies once you’re up and running. A lot of the best opportunities I found were because I contacted someone, rang up a company, or approached someone in person and said what I needed to say. This attitude of, ‘put yourself out there, don’t overthink it and tell people what you need,’ can really help in the long term.

Set whopping targets

I didn’t realise how important goals were until I was self-employed. Without a line manager or a traditional hierarchy in place, it’s so easy to drift. Setting yourself weekly, monthly and yearly career targets is what keeps me going. I learned recently to be more ambitious with my targets. I think coming from a teaching background, I always had this idea of what’s fair, what’s achievable and what’s realistic. But actually, when you’re setting up your own business, it’s useful to think big.

It means that you’re focused on what you want to achieve, you’re more likely to achieve it and won’t have those awful, ‘what am I doing again?’ moments. Well, they’re less frequent.

Get a cracking mentor

If you set up your own business, or change career, or decide to make your side hustle into a full-time gig, you will need a mentor. Not just any mentor, but someone who can inject some rocket fuel.

A bit like setting targets, a mentor keeps you on track, keeps you moving and can spot trouble ahead before you can. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the mentors I’ve had over the past couple of years, and would recommend to anyone working in an independent way, to get a mentor immediately.

Don’t listen to naysayers

Sadly, there are plenty of people out there who might tell you ‘it can’t be done,’ or ‘it’s been done before’ or ‘it won’t work.’ As you develop your own career, whatever you’re doing, it’s 100% worth taking advice from people you respect. However, you are also entitled to ignore advice that isn’t helpful to you, and here’s why. If someone is unsatisfied in their own job, and they see someone else taking a risk, they’re not going to encourage that person.

Don’t allow other people’s foibles to hold you back. If someone tells you it can’t be done, in my experience that is probably an indication that you should go ahead anyway!

Never stop learning

One of the unexpected joys of coming into the creative industries in my late twenties, after I’d already had a career in education, was that I was playing catch up. As a teacher, I felt reasonably confident in my craft. As a writer, in the beginning, I felt woefully inadequate. This spurred me to read interesting books, take online courses, network with other writers and attend events, and generally just be a bit of a sponge soaking up as much information as I could.

Although I feel more confident now, I’d still say that you never stop learning in our industry. I’ve taken a lot of wisdom from traditional marketing texts, as well as the latest online bloggers. I got into the psychology behind marketing, behavioural economics and some 19th century texts on how to write well. This balance of constantly experimenting, and constantly learning I think is the most important lesson of all.