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What a PR start up looks like three years in

Starting up a business can be scary. In many ways starting a consultancy business is even scarier than most because you have to keep employing people as a direct consequence of growth.

I recently caught up with Emma-Jo Jones and Holly Ward from communications agency The Forge. Holly and Emma-Jo set up The Forge three years ago. What I really like about this story is that it’s real. It’s two people who set up a PR firm outside of London, without any backers, three years ago. 

Their story is an interesting insight for other potential entrepreneurs out there. Previously, Holly and Emma-Jo had worked together at Biss Lancaster and Fleishman in London. This is their PR start-up story so far.

Ben Smith: What was the catalyst for you setting up The Forge?

Emma -Jo: We’d both been thinking individually about going it alone, but it wasn’t until we had a chat over a glass of wine at Waterloo station (waiting for delayed trains) that we shared our distress at being on the thankless hamster wheel. Several glasses later we agreed that our clients liked us for us, not necessarily the agency we worked for – so why wouldn’t it work? It would be a simple feat…surely. 

In all seriousness, what united us was the desire to do work that would make a difference; to work with clients we genuinely believed in and produce work that would be rewarding.  You need to really love what you do if you’re going to keep on doing it, and we realised that the only way to make that happen was to play by our own rules and take a great giant leap into the unknown.

BS: You're now three years in. How many staff do you have, how many number of clients do you have and do you have any specialist sectors?

E-J J: We’re small but perfectly formed. We have five full-time staff with some great freelancers we call upon when we need more hands on deck, a wonderful finance director who keeps us in check and our designer who’s based in Barcelona.  

We’ve seen positive growth year on year, which excites us and propels us to achieve even greater things. We have five retained clients and always have about three to five projects on the go.  We have naturally evolved into a food and drink specialist agency, which suits us down to the ground – we work with some really iconic and innovative brands – this makes us super proud. 

BS: As a business grows the challenges evolve. Could you give us a flavour of the challenges/things you had to overcome in years one, two and three.

E-J J: Where do we start!  It’s been one massive great big rollercoaster of a learning curve and if there are any metaphors we’ve neglected to mix in that – feel free to add.  

Honestly it’s been the most incredible ride.  Challenges range from the incredibly stupid – printers that don’t connect, permanently running out of tea bags and milk, to the rather more serious like hiring people, negotiating with landlords, spreadsheets (need we say more?) – oh and choosing the day’s playlist.   

One of the biggest issues we’ve had as a start-up is really defining who we are, our proposition.  

It’s all well and good to have a grand plan when you start, but as the business really gets going you tend to evolve.  This evolution has made us more focused. 

We’ve found that keeping true to our original ethos of offering a bespoke proposition from experienced experts has always led us in the right direction.  When we’re thinking about the type of work we want to do, clients we want to work with – we think about it through the filter of what is true to The Forge values. We also keep that front of mind when recruiting, we are 100% committed to finding people who share our beliefs – The Forge has to be a great and rewarding place to work for everyone. 

Hitting the three-year mark was a big milestone for us; knowing that we had navigated successfully and profitably through the early years was immensely rewarding. Winning ‘New Consultancy of the Year’ and other awards to boot makes it feel worth it.  We have great confidence in The Forge’s experience, we’ve done some incredible work for our clients and that stands up on its own now, which was always the ambition. 

BS: What challenges and opportunities do you see for the business in the next three years?

E-J J: We’ve had a really intense year; getting into our stride as a business both in terms of our clients and team. Next year will be a continuation of this alongside more growth.  We’ve got a healthy slate of new business to kick off the year, lots of exciting projects with our existing clients and we plan to hire more staff. The challenge will be to manage growth whilst keeping us all focused on doing the best work possible for the people who pay us – we promise our clients they’ll have our experience on their account and that’s what they will continue to get!

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