Name of Business: Talk to the Press
Your Name and Age: Natasha Courtenay-Smith, 32
Tell us about your family: I live in West London with partner Ally and 16 month old son Finn.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition? I was a freelance journalist before I set up Talk to the Press, a press and publicity agency which helps ordinary people share their stories with the press and gives advice to those wanting to sell a story.
When did you launch? January 2008
How did you get started? I’ve written human interest stories for most of my journalist career, so I’ve known for a long time that people often have incredible stories to tell, whether about their love lives, their health or their families. But when I realised thousands of people are typing “sell my story” and its variations in Google every month, I realised by setting a website I could find a platform whereby they could find me I could help them see their stories in print.
What research did you do before launching? I was already very familiar with the media industry, and the market for real life stories in magazines and newspapers, having been a journalist since I left university. But running a business and employing people was something completely new to me. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the word cashflow meant when I got started and I was horrified when I discover employers have to pay ‘employers national insurance’ (which is worked out based on what their employees earn) on top of staff salaries. Anyone more business minded would have known this prior to starting out!
How have you funded the business? I invested £1,600 of my own money to set up the Talk to the Press website. The business took off right away and I’ve been in profit since month one so I haven’t had to borrow any money.
How do you promote your business? What has worked best? I have a PR woman who helps distribute press releases occasionally, and I was lucky enough to win the Women in Business Award at the 2009 Startups awards, which resulted in coverage both on the Startups Website and the trade bible of the journalism business, Press Gazette. Half the traffic to my website also comes through Google adwords.
What has worked well about your business? Our website has worked really well. It generates the majority of our story leads and attracts thousands of visitors every month.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it? The biggest challenge so far has been cashflow issues, which meant I was unable to pay myself any money at all from the business for the first year. I managed this by keeping up freelancing on the side as a sole trader and earning enough to cover the mortgage and other essentials.
How do you fit in work with the family? I found out I was pregnant with my son shortly after I launched the business and took six weeks off when he was born. I started going into the office once a week and now, I work four days out of five. Like all working mums, its not easy and I often work in the evenings when he’s in bed, and on Friday mornings too despite the fact its meant to be my day off with him. Finding the balance between work and childcare can be tough and sometimes I worry that I’m not doing it very well. I wish there was an easy answer but I don’t think there is! Finn seems really happy though and he loves his nursery which makes it simpler, I don’t know what I’d do if he was unhappy there.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area? You have to be persistent and creative. I’m always looking at ways I can grow and diversify my business – journalist training courses would be one way of doing this. If you are not interested in other people, then journalism probably isn’t the career for you.
Your website link: www.talktothepress.co.uk