This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse in November 2020. Now, as the UK finds itself in the midst of yet another national lockdown, Second Mountain Comms' founder Ben Veal reveals his experiences of setting up a new business during a global pandemic.
Going into 2020, I had a feeling that things would be different this year.
I just had no idea how different.
None of us could have predicted the seismic shift in the world, and to our established ways of life, that the pandemic has caused. Not a single person across the globe has been unaffected by Covid-19 and its impact continues to be felt by us all.
At the start of this year, I had a clear idea of the direction in which my life, and my career, seemed to be heading. And it wasn't in a direction that felt right to me, in my heart.
Now, as we approach the onset of a festive season that'll be quite unlike any other in our lifetimes, I'm able to reflect back on how the events of 2020 have impacted my life - and how truly grateful I am to be where I am, right here, right now.
Four months ago, I launched my very own business, Second Mountain Communications. I didn't expect to be closing 2020 running my own company - yet there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is where I'm meant to be.
With the nation finding itself in the throes of a second national lockdown and UK unemployment figures continuing to rise, many experienced professionals are asking: what's next?
If, like me, you find yourself in a situation that's outside of your control, I encourage you to see this as a time to take back the control.
Create the life you want - not the life you're told you should be living. Make a change and start to build your own future. Become the boss.
Here are five discoveries I've made, lessons I've learned, since starting out solo. I'm sure there are many more awaiting me on this journey. I hope these are helpful to you - and if you're also a business owner, please do share your comments and tips at the end.
# 1 . Experience matters
I'd spent 15 years working in PR and marketing before I set up shop for myself. A decade and a half immersed in sectors as diverse as food and drink, technology and healthcare, supporting brands both big and small. That all adds up to a lot of knowledge and wisdom.
And that experience makes a big difference. When you're calling the shots, there aren't always others to bounce ideas off and seek counsel from. Being able to draw upon a deep well of past learnings is a sizeable advantage.
Don't be shy in talking openly about your experience and the difference that it makes: after all, astute and seasoned decision-making has never been more vital or necessary than in today's business landscape.
# 2 . People are kind
I didn't expect to be founding a company this year. It wasn't part of my plan; not just yet, anyway. Yet what 2020's shown us all is that plans are futile. All any of us can count on is the here and now; the future lies unwritten and it's largely outside of our control.
When I found myself in this unexpected situation, I knew that I needed help to get off to the right start and lay the foundations for success. I quickly turned to my professional community and discovered what I'd always suspected: that people can be very kind.
I was overwhelmed by the comments of support and encouragement I received from so many upon launching Second Mountain. I was (and remain) so grateful to Rachel Miller for the invaluable guidance and framework for success provided by All Things IC's comms consultancy online masterclass. And I continue to be grateful to those in my network who have referred work on to me and recommended my skills to others.
We've genuinely all been in it together this year - and that should be 2020's enduring legacy.
# 3 . Trust your instincts - and don't waver
I made my business' intentions very clear from day one: I specialise in only supporting ethical and purpose-driven companies. Helping good businesses and good people do good, by sharing their values and accomplishments: that's the Second Mountain way.
Grounding myself in my values is what I have always endeavoured to do throughout my comms career; now that I'm steering the ship, this has become genuinely possible.
It's all too easy, especially when starting out, to veer off your ideal path: to follow the revenue streams, the low-hanging fruit, the quickest wins. Don't. Once you start down that road, there's no getting off it.
Know what you stand for, what matters to you and what you're personally driven by. Passion is infectious and it always shines through in your work. Have faith in your instincts and the right clients will find you in time.
# 4 . Pause, reflect and be confident
It's far from easy, starting a business under lockdown restrictions and in the face of a recession. It's certainly not ideal. Yet there are positives to arise from this situation - specifically, this year has offered something that's never been possible before: the chance to escape the distractions, eliminate the noise and genuinely reflect on what's important.
I've found many aspects of lockdown life to be cathartic. I've never before spent so much time out in nature, exploring my thoughts while also slowing down the frenetic energy inside my head. I've had time to ponder, consider, and reach my own conclusions, away from the thoughts of others. I've also never before spent so much time with my kids, being an actively-involved and present Dad, and putting their needs above all else.
If you can, use this time - when the world remains largely on pause - to slow down yourself. In the face of what's been a truly testing and awful global situation on many levels, see this year as an opportunity for personal transformation; it can be the chance to begin to build the future that you, and your family, deserve.
For me, I've learnt what matters most this year and how I plan to spend the rest of my working life. For me, the 9-5 daily grind can stay in the rearview mirror, where it belongs.
# 5. Everyone can make a difference
We've all been taught, this year, how our actions can change the lives of others. Simple acts of kindness and goodwill were commonplace throughout the first lockdown, amidst growing recognition that we are all connected in this world.
Being a small business owner gives you the power to make a positive difference; big or small. Whether it's the work that you do, the way that you do it, the clients that you support or the ways that you use your profits, by putting yourself at the heart of your company, you have the ability to be a driver for change.
For me, this is about putting my purpose first: delivering meaningful communications that help and support others. It's about enabling charities and non-profits to reach and engage with their audiences and tell their story in the right way. It's about putting my time, and creative energy, into causes that I genuinely believe the world needs now more than ever.
What difference do you want to make? What change do you wish to see in the world? How can you begin to work towards that, today?
There's never been a better time to start. Know who you are, what you believe in and inject this into your own business - and then look forward towards the future.
I wish you the best of luck on your personal journey. Exciting times lie ahead.
Ben Veal MCIPR is the founder & managing director of Second Mountain Comms, a boutique consultancy that helps purpose-driven and ethical businesses to reach new heights through meaningful communications: compelling content, proactive PR and sound strategy for a brave new world. www.secondmountaincomms.co.uk