Let’s start with the one-liner – what is your company? What do you sell?
Rhea Freeman: Rhea Freeman
I help small businesses and brands promote themselves and their businesses better, on a shoestring.
Tell us your origin story.
Rhea Freeman: I came to this line of work via a rather unconventional path. I started off working with horses and became a qualified riding instructor. This led me to write for magazines and websites on equestrian topics, and that led to me offering my services as a copywriter to small businesses. And that led to me offering PR and marketing services within my niche. Over the last few years, the focus has shifted from more traditional PR and marketing to social media; the focus from doing to teaching. If you look at it from a few steps back, it’s kind of gone full circle because I’m teaching/coaching/mentoring a lot at the moment, and that’s kind of where I started!
Did you need a lot of capital to start your business? How did you finance your business in the beginning?
Rhea Freeman: Not at all. I needed a computer, a phone, and the internet – three things I already had. So I just used those. Of course, I have upgraded them all a number of times, but I didn’t need a lot to start at all.
Was this an area for which you had passion before you started the business, or did you see a need and move to serve it?
Rhea Freeman: Teaching has always been a bit of a thing for me. I love teaching people things they don’t know in ways that actually make sense and allow them to go off and used their new-found knowledge to grow, develop, and expand however they like. So whilst, initially, I was teaching people how to ride horses and now I teach them how to use social media well, market themselves well and grow their businesses; it’s still teaching!
How has the business evolved over time?
Rhea Freeman: Massively. It’s evolved in line with my situation, but also the changing climate in marketing. So the PR and marketing side of my business started around 15 years ago and probably started to evolve more towards social media over the last 6 or 7 years. It became very evident that this was the way that things were going in the business world and the way that brands could reach, engage with, and nurture their target market… and do it well. I used to manage a number of accounts for other people, but as the platforms have evolved, and the kinds of content that can be posted on each, I am now doing a lot more with teaching people how to use these platforms because I honestly believe that most small businesses are more than capable of doing it themselves- and doing it well- if they know what to do. Because overwhelm is so real when it comes to social!
How did you grow? Tell us about a moment, or moments, in the early days that were “big moments” for the business. What moved the needle substantially?
Rhea Freeman: I don’t think it’s the big moment that changes the game all the time; for me, it’s been more about showing up, over and over again, that has caused the result. So the things that mean the most are when I get a DM from someone who says ‘I love your podcast, I’ve listened to every episode and it’s really helped me to get the confidence to push on’. I guess though, in the early days, having that first client say ‘yes, we would like you to help us with our business’. Having someone trust you and believe in you when you feel a little less than 100% confidence yourself can really change the game.
Every successful small business owner has to navigate the world of expansion. And choosing how to expand is just as important as choosing how NOT to expand. Tell us about forks in the road on your journey.
Rhea Freeman: There have been so many. I guess the biggest one for me was how to scale what I was doing when I was doing a lot more PR, marketing, and social media management vs teaching and mentoring. Did I want to scale, work with other people, become an employer… was that really my calling? And it wasn’t. For me, scaling looked different. I do work with freelancers who help me with things like website design, graphic design, editing, etc. But these aren’t people I employ. I didn’t want the responsibility of that. I didn’t want the additional stress of it. I didn’t want to be a manager of people – I wanted to empower others to take the control back.
As you’ve grown, you’ve undoubtedly had to delegate. How did you tackle that challenge?
Rhea Freeman: I’m not a good delegator! The way I think about now though is that I delegate jobs that I either don’t enjoy, will take me a long time and frustrate me, or I know people who are much better at them than I would be. So website design is one. I’m not bad on WordPress – I understand a lot of it and I can make new pages, redesign layouts, etc etc. But am I fast? Nope. Do I enjoy it? I enjoy the creative side but, not the application. Am I the best at it? Definitely not. So that’s a job I delegate. Time is a big one for me – I have two small children and I need to use my time well. There are lots of things that only I can really do, so the stuff that I don’t have to needs to be considered.
You know the axiom – no risk, no reward. Tell us about a time you took a big risk. Did it pay off? Did it fail? Or you had a completely different outcome than expected?
Rhea Freeman: Going from self-employed, to employed, to back again. Each step felt risky; particularly the last one. But it seriously paid off in so many ways. It took me a LONG time to make the decision because the potential downside felt too much- and I had given up so much to be in that position – but it was unsustainable for many reasons.
Do you/did you have a co-founder or did you go at it alone? Tell us about that decision, and how that affected you as a leader.
Rhea Freeman: Go at it alone. I enjoy working with people in specific ways and I have the most incredible network of people who will kick me up the backside if needed. But I’m highly motivated and a high achiever – so I knew I could go it alone and I knew I could make it work. I’m also a bit of a control freak. Of course, I’m not good at everything. But I’m lucky that my husband is also self-employed and he has a very different skill set to me, so he helps me too with things I’m not so strong on and also will talk through issues with me, and I’ll do the same for him.
Have you ever considered taking on additional partners, venture funding, or bank money to grow the company, or have you always bootstrapped?
Rhea Freeman: Nope. Always bootstrapped. I don’t like the idea of giving someone something that years of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into. And I always believe there’s another way to do something. So if I needed cash injection for something, I would spin it around and think ‘right, how can I earn this quickly’ and then I would crack on. I enjoy the challenge.
Tell us about some of your sacrifices along your small business journey.
Rhea Freeman: A lot. But who hasn’t? I think the time is the biggest thing. There’s no end of the day. There’s not ‘home time’. There’s always a challenge to think about.
What is the most gratifying thing about what you do?
Rhea Freeman: Seeing what I teach changes people’s lives. And I know that sounds cliche but I will never tire of the buzz I get when a client aces something or I receive a lovely message saying something I’ve written or recorded has given someone a push to do something that they have always wanted (and how well it worked too!)
Who is a leader or someone that you admire? Why?
Rhea Freeman: Gary Vaynerchuk. I love that everything he preaches, he does. He says he’s a practitioner, and he is. I also love his insight and his openness to share that not everything he invests in or believes in ends well!
What is a secret weapon that you have that would surprise people?
Rhea Freeman: I’m pretty open on social, so I am not sure I could do that much that would surprise my followers, to be honest. The thing I can do that takes people by surprise is how I can blow up an idea in my head really quickly. So I can take a ‘what do you think of this?’ to the finer detail, marketing strategy, creative, tag lines – a lot – in moments,
If not for this business, what would you be doing as a career right now?
Rhea Freeman: I’d probably be doing something with horses – likely coaching riders and getting into the performance side of things. I did actually become qualified in this when I was a lot younger.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Rhea Freeman: Hopefully carrying along my current trajectory and continuing to learn, grow, and adapt. I’d also like to be the best selling author.
Finish this sentence: “I would not be standing here today if not for ____”
Rhea Freeman: My husband. I know, I know, but it’s true. He’s good at things I’m not, and we really do work as a team when it comes to the children and their care which means that although I’m juggling and trying to balance everything, there are clear, set times in the week when I can just focus.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give your 18-year-old self?
Rhea Freeman: It’s all going to be fine.
How often do we overthink and worry about things when, actually, the thing that matters the most is making a decision? Whether it’s right or wrong is often secondary!