28 May Silver platters, side hustles & sociopaths
A quick trip down the RM memory lane (with 13 awkward confessions)
Growing up, I never had big dreams of running my own show. But my dad – a former business owner himself – says he always saw it in me.
Yes, I was a stubborn and tenacious toddler who loved donning the bossy shopkeeper apron.
But more to the point, I never felt fulfilled working for others. I didn’t like or respect many of my former bosses. And I sucked at playing politics.
So, it seems that being my own boss was inevitable. But as for being the boss of other people? That’s always been a lot more out of my comfort zone.
Yet, somehow, here I am. Leading a team of seven – through all the ups, downs and deadlines of agency life.
And what a ride it’s been… especially these last 12 months. The business has experienced explosive financial growth, expanded into New Zealand – and doubled its headcount. We’ve also just finalised an ambitious rebrand and website relaunch. (All on the back of a global pandemic, no less.)
That’s why there really is no better time to take a step back and reflect on all the bumps, roundabouts and detours along the way.
So come with me as I take a seat in that proverbial confession booth to share some of the lesser-known realities and stories of my 17 years in business…
Confession 1: I was never brave
My friends and family often tell me how brave I was to start my own business.
But, for me, it was much more about circumstance than bravery.
I quit a toxic job (on a whim). I took on a handful of freelance projects to ‘kill time’ while job hunting. I discovered that the freelancing lifestyle agreed with me. So I decided to stick with it. The end.
Confession 2: My first few big-name client projects were handed to me on a silver platter
Lend Lease, Crown Casino, Carpet Choice and Australia Post were among my very first clients.
Don’t be. They never ‘chose’ me. And I never even met them.
That’s because, in those early days, I worked as a white-label copywriter for one of Melbourne’s largest digital agencies. And so I was handed these clients on a sparkling silver platter.
It was an invaluable (but kind of sneaky) head start to building my portfolio. And I will be forever grateful for it.
Confession 3: In the beginning, my writing was good at best – but definitely NOT great
When I look back at my copywriting work from those early years, I cringe. It was predictable. And cliche-ridden.
And although I had plenty of happy clients, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.
Confession 4: My first website was a Vistaprint site
Yep. I called myself a website specialist, but didn’t appreciate the irony of having a big fat Vistaprint logo at the bottom of every webpage.
And, embarrassingly, I stuck with it. For way too long.
Confession 5: RM was a side hustle for many years
Life as a freelancer in those early days didn’t pay the bills, nor did it fill my working day.
And, with two little ones at home, it was also very isolating. I needed adult interaction and a reason to get out of the house.
That’s why I also worked in paid employment several hours a week (as a sessional tutor and lecturer at Monash University) while building up the business on the side.
Confession 6: My husband used to proofread all client work each night after dinner
As a former lawyer, my husband has always been a stickler for details. So I took advantage of it – by throwing him proofing jobs most nights of the working week.
Better that, than sending clients work that hadn’t been seen by a second pair of eyes.
Thankfully though, I haven’t had to rely on his eagle eyes for many years. (And just between you and me, I’m pretty sure he misses it!)
Confession 7: I suspect one of my first hires was a sociopath
And I don’t use that word flippantly.
I assure you, there were lots of tell-tale signs. The most obvious being his shameless lying.
As I later discovered, he lied about everything – from his name and age to his professional background and place of birth.
(But a charade as grand as his was never going to last. And it all came crashing down in under three weeks.)
This disconcerting experience had me questioning everything. Especially my own judgement.
Confession 8: I have always questioned my brand name
Vikki Maver Copywriting. Refresh Communications. Refreshing Words.
These are just some of the alternative business names I toyed with over the years – while I was working out what I wanted the business to be.
Spoiler alert: I never changed it. And given our recent rebrand, it looks like I never will.
Confession 9: I was never sure I wanted growth
Scale up, scale down, scale up, scale down, scale up, scale down.
Welcome to my ambivalent mind (c 2017-2021).
But today, as we launch our new website, it seems I have finally made the call.
Why? Because I have a world-class GM who treats this business like it’s her own – along with the most talented copywriters and design partners who I love spending my days with.
On top of that, we are now in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose our clients. What more could I want?
Confession 10: I didn’t want to rebrand
It was Tori’s idea. And to be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with it at first.
But I humoured her anyway. And thank god I did.
She helped me finally see how tired our brand and website had become.
Not a great look for a content agency that tells its own clients the same thing about their brands and websites every day of the week.
Confession 11: I paid good money for a logo we ended up binning
When we decided to update our logo at the end of 2020, I wanted an evolution. A strong nod to the brand’s legacy.
Several weeks and many dollars later, we settled on – what was going to be – the new Refresh Marketing logo. I loved it. And so did the team.
But then? We entered the website design concept stage. And suddenly, I knew we had to go back to the drawing board.
Not because it was a bad logo. But because it just wasn’t right.
A crisis meeting ensued. And within a day, we realised we had to break from the old brand completely to achieve what we wanted.
Confession 12: Launching this website has almost killed me
It was a bloody hard slog. Launch dates came and went, and I began to think this day would never come.
But it has. And I couldn’t be prouder. (Sorry, not sorry about the humble brag.)
Then again, it would never have happened if it weren’t for three incredible ladies and their insane commitment to the project.
Maddy, Sari and Donna. You are all the dog’s bollocks.
Confession 13: I am shit scared
Now a team of seven with hefty fixed monthly outgoings that give a new meaning to insomnia, I am as scared as I am excited.
But when that fear overwhelms me, I channel my inner Coach Taylor and repeat his wise, inspiring words…