In less than a year, Halima Khatun has built HK Communications from a fledgling PR agency into a fast-growing consultancy with an expanding list of retained clients.
Khatun spoke to Business Advice about the vital role networking played in getting started, and having the confidence to know what your capable of.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Halima Khatun, and I run a PR and communications consultancy called HK Communications. We provide media relations, copywriting and online PR for clients in a broad range of sectors and sizes, from SMEs to corporates, as well as PR training for startup owners who don’t have the budget to hire a consultant, or would rather learn how to do their own PR.
(2) How long have you been around for?
I started trading in October 2015, so under a year. But I’ve been working in the industry, as a journalist first, then in PR, for nearly a decade.
(3) How do you make money?
Clients tend to pay by retainer, unless it’s a one-off project. The PR training has a fixed fee. Whatever the output, clients are essentially buying into reputation building and brand awareness, which would in turn lead to growth and sales.
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
There are a few reasons! My business is the perfect halfway between a PR agency and a freelancer. So like a PR agency, you get the breadth of expertise and a full-time service, and like a freelancer you get a senior point of contact who does the work as well as the pitches. So there aren’t any junior members of staff running the show in the background.
Also, as director, I am uniquely placed in that I’ve worked in the public, private and third sector, on both B2B and consumer PR. Most people specialise in one area.
Unlike other agencies, I don’t sell my services based on journalist contacts, as I believe that getting good PR is about having a strong story, without it your contacts are useless.
My clients find this very refreshing as they often meet PRs who boast a great contacts book, but they can’t get them coverage. For example, just knowing John Snow won’t get your business a slot on the Channel 4 news.
Finally, not many agencies offer dedicated PR training as well as consultancy, most do one or the other. I feel that by offering both, I get to “keep my skin in the game”, so the training I offer is genuinely of value.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
Networking. Since launching my consultancy, I’ve never networked so much. By putting the work in, attending good networking events regularly, and reaching out to all my old contacts, paid dividends. Networking and word of mouth is key, and I’ve not let up on this, even when it’s been crazy busy.
(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Good question. Most people say that the first year is the hardest and it’s really feast or famine as you never know when the work will come.
So I guess to have secured five retained clients in under nine months, without the benefit of a big brand name behind me, is one of my key achievements. And it’s a huge bonus that they’re clients I love to work with and the work is so varied.
(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?
Nothing major, but I did learn very early on that some prospects can at times be fickle with promises of work which didn’t come through, so I’ve learnt the importance of T’s and C’s and contracts.
(8) In five years’ time, I will be…
Still running HK Communications and using the services of the most senior-level associates. I will also have a fully-fledged PR training arm to ensure that the startups don’t miss out on PR. Oh, and I’d still be doing a lot of the work myself, I love it too much to give it up.
(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
In all honesty, we can sometimes be our own worst enemies, as our inhibitions hold us back. So I would say, let go, have confidence and be prepared to be surprised at what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.
(10) Who are your business heroes and why?
Nobody famous, but real people I have worked with.
After leaving journalism, I went into a full service marketing agency in my hometown of Wrexham, Wales. Because we were a small team, my boss had the time to really explain to me the things you don’t get taught, such as how to deal with clients, manage expectations, etc. It’s sound advice that really helped me along the way.
Also, my old boss at Bell Pottinger North, where I held my first “real” PR agency role. She was ambitious, and really brought out the best in me. I was thrown in at the deep end, which was daunting at the time, but really empowering in the long run. We’re still in touch to this day and she often offers advice.
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