The Female Focus: The Doers
Introducing The Doers
Meet Jess and Laura, the brains behind The Doers, a collective of hand-picked freelancers working across the marketing mix. We had the pleasure of talking to them about their views on how to get influencer marketing right, why the agency model is broken and why community over competition is so important when operating in the freelance world.
Welcome! Tell us a bit about The Doers and why you started up
We both started out in PR agencies before moving in house, Jess at interiors brand west elm, and Laura at cancer charity Maggie’s. We learnt a hell of a lot during our agency time and perhaps even more when we went client-side and managed agencies ourselves. Ultimately we began to see that the traditional agency model was no longer relevant for a lot of businesses today. We experienced a lot of agencies overcharging, under delivering and constantly in the upheaval of staff turnover.
We could also see that the working hours and the need to be based in an office was getting quickly outdated and wasn’t keeping up with developments in technology and social media. As a result we saw a lot of amazing staff unable to work to the best of their abilities and that the burnout phenomenon was starting to take over. Whilst there are a few agencies who have got it right, we were sick and tired of hearing so many stories of people not being allowed to work from home, flexible working being used as a token gesture, and one often only awarded to a few not the many, creating a point of resentment for those who had it.
Jess on why she started The Doers…
“When I left west elm to go freelance I came across so many talented people who were doing the exact same around the same time. I knew from the people I was meeting and talking to that businesses were becoming more open to employing freelancers but more often than not, didn’t have the time to find the right ones for them or to project manage them all. An idea started to form to bring freelancers together with a focus on community over competition, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. Similarly, many brands I talked to were wanting to steer away from agencies and build in-house teams - much like I had done during my tenure at west elm - and freelance support is a great way to bridge the gap between the two. I saw the demand and knew how to supply it, I just didn’t want to do it on my own!”
Laura: I was on maternity leave with my second little boy, and was having a hard time navigating colic and postnatal depression. I felt really lost. Jess, who was by my side supporting me through it all, kept me sane by telling me what she was up to and used me as a soundboard for her big ideas on how to grow the business. She had planted the seed that I should join her but not feeling myself, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do post-baby! Slowly, and after many coffees, cakes and chats, I realised that I could bring some real value to the idea Jess had. We both knew neither of us could do it without the other so, with Jess’ support and powers of persuasion, I decided to believe in my abilities and take the big step to join forces with Jess and make The Doers happen!
The way The Doers works is two fold:
We are building a collective of PR and marketing freelancers that are GREAT at what they do. Together we offer clients all that an agency would and more, without the overheads and with the flexibility to work with a businesses ebbs and flows.
We also want to become major players in supporting the freelance industry within the marketing world. We believe there is no room for loneliness in business; whether you’re a freelancer or a business owner, you don’t have to do it alone and being part of collective can offer support, professionally and personally, whenever you need it.
You met whilst working at a PR agency - what made you two click and eventually want to start a business together?
Sometimes there’s just an indescribable click with two people and honestly, we’ve always had that. Our talents complement each other and we instantly enjoyed working together and saw our clients benefit from the dynamic between us.
Jess: When we both left the agency, our friendship really blossomed, so much so that I’m an unofficial aunty to both her boys (and will inevitably be the same to bump once she arrives!) I had set up the bones of the business on my own but I knew that there was nobody better suited, nor nobody I would rather work with to help turn it into a fully fledged business than Laura, and thankfully my powers of persuasion worked! I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we realise how lucky we are to have found that bond - so many people advise not working with a friend - we just knew it would work!
Laura: What I love most about the relationship Jess and I have is that our friendship is completely unaffected by working together - in fact, if anything it’s been strengthened. Jess has been there for me when I’ve needed her personally and similarly, I’ve been there for her. We know what’s going on in each others personal lives and are very comfortable around each other and that works for us - she even has her own set of keys to my house! I’m sure a lot of people would be sceptical about a personal and professional relationship and keeping the balance, but sometimes I think people hide the personal when they’re at work which in the long-run can be detrimental. Everything is out on the table with us which means we can be open, honest and support each other when we need to.
What does it take to become a "Doer" what particular qualities are you looking for in a freelancer?
To be a Doer you need to be fundamentally GREAT at what you do and be able to get under the skin of a business. You should have a forward-thinking outlook on the communications industry, the ability to stand by what you say you’ll deliver on and ultimately just be a really lovely person - we don’t want to work with dickheads! All Doers should share the values which we believe are central to the work we deliver and the people we work with:
Community: We believe there is no room for loneliness in business, it’s all about community over competition. Working with other freelancers should be seen as an opportunity to support one another, to be more creative and to work on clients and projects you might not be able to on your own.
Flexibility: We believe that flexibility = happiness! Work should be able to happen around your life to create the best balance possible. We trust our Doers to work when it best suits them to enable them to deliver outstanding work. Laura wants flexibility around family, Jess wants flexibility to travel.
Transparency: We believe that honesty is the best policy. All of our Doers are open and honest about the work they’re doing and make sure it delivers against what we promised our clients. Equally, if we feel something isn’t working for a client, we’d rather flag it and come up with an alternative solution rather than just putting up with it for the sake of the income. This creates a superb trust between us and the clients and Doers we work with and is something we’re very proud of.
What type of clients do you work with and why?
We work with consumer-facing brands or businesses who share a similar set of values to our own. They are typically small to medium in size, friendly, approachable and open to working closely with us and talking about their business in detail. We’re not afraid to say no to those we don’t think will be a good fit for our business.
Because we understand what it’s like working with a small in-house team, we take the time to get to know our clients properly and as a result tend to slot in really well to their teams. We find this is the best way to fully understand their business, what they want to achieve and who their audience is, which allows us to create a strategy that really speaks to the right people.
The key is trust and some of our best client relationships have seen their business hit the busiest sales periods they’ve ever had from our recommendations and they now count us as part of their team, including getting an invite to their Christmas party!
How has the freelance economy changed in your view and where do you see it going over the next few years?
It’s changing at a rapid pace with more people choosing to go freelance than ever before. We think this trend is happening for lots of reasons - more people are realising they’re entitled to a better work/life balance - life is not about working yourself into the ground! The bonus economy is dwindling too, so people are seeking more than just financial rewards from work and the increased focus on mental health, especially in the media, has also played a part.
People want more from their work/life balance than ever before - we’re prime examples of that. But unfortunately most companies aren’t adapting quickly enough and are too often offering ‘flexible working’ as an add-on, an afterthought or setting it up as something with a status of privilege - something employees should be eternally grateful for whilst worried it could be taken away at any time.
We also think that, other than the ridiculous bonuses we hear about from The City and the odd, often long overdue promotion, there generally isn’t a lot of reward to working away within a large agency anymore. The recognitions, both financially and in terms of position, are few and far between. It’s no longer just the case of looking at the money you will earn and the ladder you will climb. Growth means more than just money.
As a result we’re all looking at other ways of adding ‘bonuses’ to our lives. We’ve become more considered in the jobs we take, place a higher importance on the values we want to live by and are focusing more on our personal, as well as professional goals. Similarly there’s a surge in people wanting to have a side hustle - turning a passion into something viable. Flexible working gives them the ability to try it.
Being able to exercise around work, instead of having to add it on to the end of another exhausting day in an office; being able to combine hobbies and passions with work by retraining to do something completely different - that thing we always wanted to do but didn’t have the balls to pursue - whilst working part time; living somewhere nicer (and cheaper) and being able to work from home instead of worrying about your commute; going back to education, writing a book or spending a better balance of time with our families.
We really believe that, if done right, freelancing can give you this balance, without the guilt so often created with the ‘gift’ of flexible working within an office setting.
As more and more people set themselves up as freelancers we can also see more collectives, just like ours, forming. Where freelancers band together to tackle bigger projects and focus on what they love to do - delivering phenomenal work by working together, rather than competing against each other.
We also see people coming together to support each other. Working as a freelancer can be lonely and take some real adjusting to after the buzz of a busy office. But it doesn’t have to be lonely. It’s so easy to communicate as a group today and collectives, like The Doers, are there to support each other personally as well as professionally.
One of the aims of The Doers was to team up with other freelancers, duo’s and collectives to form a support unit to bounce ideas off, spread work loads across in times of personal crisis and to get together to celebrate at key times of the year.
Influencers are seeing an increase in demand for their services. What do clients need to be aware of when looking to create an influencer marketing campaign?
Our favourite subject. Spend time deciding who you’re going to work with by listening closely to what they put out in the online space. Ask yourself if they are truly aligned with your brand? Don’t ever look at numbers! There are far too many influencers who are still cheating the system by buying followers. Look at their engagement levels. Are people commenting and interacting with their content? Are these people aligned with your demographic? Is the influencer responding back to them properly? Yes, this is a manual process but it’s worth it!
Similarly, think about what kind of value you want your audience to gain from who you work with. There are lots of influencers out there who have simply gained their audience from creating pretty content. Try and work with people who have a little more substance to them. Mother of Daughters is our favourite example of this. She’s a working midwife and deeply passionate about her work. She openly talks about parenting but her profession gives what she has to say real gravitas.
Any top freelance hacks you'd like to share with us and our community?
Surround yourself with other like minded freelancers. They can work in a similar line to you, or do something completely different, but never underestimate the importance of community. Having someone to work alongside, someone on the end of the phone and someone to inspire you on a day when you’re not feeling your best is priceless.
Jess: The thing I love most about working for myself is the fluidity I have on how I structure my day. I don’t miss the routine of a “normal” job. That being said, routine aids productivity so it’s important to schedule certain things into your day that ensure you do actually get up properly. I put exercise into my calendar as though it’s a meeting for example. I also make sure I get up and dressed by a certain time but similarly I don’t beat myself up if I do have a PJ day - they can be WONDERFUL! My biggest thing is to eat properly. Don’t buy lots of snacks or you’ll find yourself endlessly grazing when working from home. Plan proper lunches (or go out for lunch) and ALWAYS have breakfast. The freelancer diet is important to get right!
Laura on her #freelancehacks…
I’m still really new to working for myself and working from home and I’ve quickly learnt that routine is key! We’re built to love and thrive under a routine and I definitely took it for granted how ‘having to catch a train’ or be in the office for 9am gave my days some much needed structure. I think to really make the most of the work/life balance opportunities freelancing can create you need to map out your routine. It’ll take a little while to perfect it, but if you can plan in exercise, fresh air, hobbies, family life and even household chores - the things that matter to you - throughout your week and identify when you’re at your most productive and leave those slots for work then you’ll be well on your way to smashing those work/life balance goals. I’m still learning what works best for me and carving out a good routine around my most productive work times and family life - I’m getting there and starting to really see the benefits!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Jess: Inspiration for how we run the business fundamentally comes from what we’ve learnt from our own careers. I think it’s really important to read business-inspired books, especially those written by CEOs of businesses you admire. I learn a huge amount from these. Podcasts are also a must - we are so spoilt with what’s accessible to us. It goes without saying that we’re avid users of social media, but I would say we’re quite cynical about what we digest on there as there are a few too many who use it as a way to jump on a bandwagon.
What's been the most important learning so far since setting up on your own?
It’s OK to not do absolutely everything at once - taking your time is key. It’s so easy to try to do a million things at once or to tick off lots of little things that, although effective in the short run, don’t provide strong long term gains. As we continue to develop our business, this is something we’re giving more and more thought to. We’re ok with slowing down the pace a bit, taking our time to figure things out and ultimately build foundations of a business that’ll last beyond the foreseeable future.
To have confidence in ourselves as business owners. It’s hard sometimes as we’re so new to what we’re doing now, and have spent years doing things for other people or playing by other people's rules. In order to focus on our business we’ve had to take a step out of our comfort zones to focus on us - who we are? Who do we want to be? What do we want to create and why? We’re still getting there but we’re starting to realise it’s OK to make mistakes if we can learn from them and it’s also OK to walk away from people and businesses who aren’t on the same page as us.
Quote you live / work by?
Jess: “Seek respect not attention. It lasts longer” - Ziad Abdelnour, in his book Economic Warfare.
Laura: “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say” - F. Scott Fitzgerald.