Reflections on a Rollercoaster Year
Posted on 31st December 2021 at 18:26
As we round off 2021, our founder and company director, Zach shares some reflections on the last year.
I'm not usually one to look back and reflect too much, but it seemed pertinent to do so after the remarkable year we have had as a business. It's been one of huge challenges, but even greater rewards. Since our incorporation last November, we have grown into limited-company-sized shoes and feel to have earned further stripes of credibility. We look forward to 2022 with confidence and excitement. Here's my take on the incredible journey we've had in 2021.
Back to Earth
Having grown our retainer client base towards the end of 2020, January 2021 reaped the rewards of this. Despite the lockdown introduced on January 4th, we continued to buck the UK business trend, and felt very fortunate to be in a relatively strong position. With one permanent member of staff, Rachel (brought on in November), and a freelance writer, Harriet on our books, we brought on a second towards the end of the month.
However, everything changed during a two week period in February, when Covid fatigue seemed to set in amongst continuing uncertainty. At Artus, we found ourselves losing regular clients quickly. We found that some of our clients were so busy they were unable to sustain their current level of work, whilst other clients' industries had more or less shut down due to the pandemic, and our services were therefore deemed redundant. Others still found their businesses continuing but relatively quiet, and that therefore freed up members of staff to conduct their marketing. All these decisions are completely understandable, such was the zeitgeist at the time.
It was the rate at which we lost business (almost a third of our retainer clients), and lack of new work coming in (for three months) which was particularly alarming. We had rode the Covid wave strongly until this point, and came back to earth with a thud. It meant that freelance hours had to be reduced and we were in an uncomfortable position as a business.
Naturally during times like these, you envisage the worst case scenario (namely business closure). There was also lots of naval gazing, as I began to question myself as a business owner. As an employer I felt anxious about my staff; the next weeks were to be focussed around 'steadying the ship' and continuing to deliver for our existing clients.
It is difficult to continue doing something when your efforts are so seldom rewarded, but I realised that I would have to persist in new business development - even when new opportunities seemed so scarce.
It was only in mid May when significant new opportunities started to come through. The seeds that had been sown were finally beginning to flourish. Freelance staff hours returned to January levels to manage the incoming work getting new clients set up. Over the next two months, we'd return to the position we had found ourselves at the beginning of the year.
It seemed like a risk, then, to take on a new office space in June. Up until this point, the business had been managed from home, with staff working remotely. However, I realised I was outgrowing my home office space and the business would benefit from having its own home. We found a fabulous office on the seventh floor of Windsor House in Harrogate - a light, airy space with enough room to accomodate three desks. The stunning view stretches all the way to Sutton Bank near Helmsley. I knew immediately that this was the right space to take the business forward.
I sensed at the time that this was a defining moment for the business; having overcome the difficulties of the first quarter of the year, we were entering a new and exciting chapter.
A New Chapter
The beginning of June also saw Rachel (our first employee) and I meet in person for the very first time, having only ever communicated by Zoom, phone calls and emails until then! There finally seemed to be a sense of cautious optimism in the UK, with restrictions lifting, and we were determined to make the next months count.
Earlier in the year, we had taken part in a 'Make it in Marketing' programme at Leeds Beckett University, where Rachel and myself spoke (on Zoom) to students studying creative / marketing courses. This led to a Mentor programme where we were paired with students to give feedback on their writing and offer advice. Noticing the talents of our respective students, we were keen to involve both Olivia and Frankie in the business, as we continued to grow at a rapidly increasing rate. By the beginning of September, both students and Gideon Fireman - a copywriter and PR expert with over 30 years' experience - had been hired on a freelance basis!
When beginning the programme in March we had not anticipated being in a position to offer any further work any time soon. Fast forward to December 2021, and with Olivia on board full time (since October), and Frankie working freelance alongside her Masters' Degree, I am so glad we got involved! Thanks to Chris at Shoo Social Media for introducing us to Mike Hall at LBU, and Mike's tremendous support. We are all very grateful to both of you!
The business' personnel had doubled in a matter of weeks, and a team photoshoot beckoned! Thank you to Damian Bramley of DJB Photography for his great shots (all of which are throughout our website) taken in September and December 2021.
Ending the Year on a High
Buoyed by our strongest ever quarter in business, we went into the last months of the year with energy and optimism. Regular team Zoom meetings have promoted creativity and collaboration; we are excited to introduce some new ideas in 2022!
Highlights from the last quarter of 2021 included:
Sponsoring uniforms for a new school in Ethiopia through Building Futures Ethiopia.
Donating our services to promote Harrogate Round Table's Stray Bonfire in aid of the Friends of Harrogate Hospital - the most successful Bonfire in the event's history.
Sponsoring a hoarding board at our local football club, Harrogate Town AFC. We are delighted with this association, with Harrogate holding their own very strongly in the football league.
The team rounded an incredible year with our Christmas party at The Orchid - a fabulous Thai restaurant just down the road from our offices.
A BIG Thank You
Following the difficulties of the first quarter of the year, none of us would have envisaged the level of success we would come to have in 2021.
Indeed, it feels like we have kicked on 4-5 years as a business rather than just 1!
We are incredibly grateful to those who have supported us over the last year. To all of our clients - past and present, referrers, collaborators and associates a huge thank you! We are particularly thankful to those who supported us through our difficult first quarter; you helped us to bounce back - bigger and better!
And a huge thank you to my incredible staff for their commitment, creativity and support over the last year; we are a fantastic team, and I am looking forward to continuing the journey with you next year.
As a business, we are excited to continue working with our existing clients, as well as developing new business relationships. We have amazing plans for 2022 - watch this space!
On a personal note, if I have learned anything from this year, it is to hold your head up high when things are going against you. That's not always the easiest thing to do, but you've got to keep going. Keep planting seeds for future success - no matter how futile it might seem at the time. Hard work and persistence rarely go unrewarded.
Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2022!
Zach Greaves, 31st December 2021
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