Last week, exactly 5 years ago, I finally took the leap and started my own business as marketeer and consultant, through my PR & Marketing agency: Authentic Chic Travel and Lifestyle, focusing on freelance off- and online marketing activities in the travel and lifestyle industry, as the name suggests😊
Since then I’ve worked as a social media manager, consultant, coach, PR-, influencer manager and content creator for over 250 companies and entrepreneurs. As well as a photographer, copywriter, travel blogger & hotel tester through this website for almost 200 destinations and brands!
Needless to say I’ve learned a lot, made mistakes, grew and gained a lot of best practices, in a wide range of sectors from hospitality, to the service industry, tourism, fashion and food the past years.
So far I have also given about 17 different interviews about my business and personal development process, in both English and Dutch, and loads of workshops and private coaching sessions.
Celebrating by sharing my lessons learnt in the past 5 years
And as an anniversary befits, I’m happy to share a summary of the knowledge gained in these past 5 years with you as well. That’s why I assembled the answers on 15 of the most frequently asked questions from these interviews and coaching sessions in this blog.
I hope they can be useful to you if you’re thinking about starting your own business or just want to learn more about me:
1. Which jobs did you have before you started your own business?
My 1st real job after graduating from my higher professional fashion management education in 2002, was sales support at the fashion retailer Bestseller, owner of the brands Vero Moda, Only, and Jack & Jones, among others.
After this I had roles as a sales representative, area manager, buyer and eventually marketing and sales coordinator at several large fashion chains, as well as smaller fashion brands.
This has given me a broad education and also a fascination for online marketing, because I’ve been involved in the setup of fashion web shops for my employers from the start in 2014.
2. When did you feel that starting your own company was your calling?
It actually felt more like an intrinsic need to be free and do what makes me happy. Of course it’s nice to be able to help others as a freelancer and consultant, which is probably somewhat of a calling, but basically it was also a strong craving for independence, flexibility, variety and being able to create!
I had this desire for a long time, while I worked in fashion and marketing the previous 18 years. And because I was very independent and driven I was often able to create new departments, brands or even new positions for my employers.
This turned out to be a very good learning experience, which I can now use to my advantage, while creating things for others on my own terms.
Why & how to start your own business
3. What was the motivation for this?
At first I wanted to start either my own brand, agency or web shop and made several business plans, which ultimately seemed too risky, due to the high investments, keeping stocks and lack of flexibility.
7 years ago I decided to do an online marketing course, after which I wanted to put that to practice for myself, and switched to working part-time for a small brand.
On the side I set up this website with matching social media accounts @AuthenticChica, sharing pictures, tips and inspiration based on my own experiences, focused on travel and lifestyle, my passions, besides fashion.
I started working with different partners for this website and since then been able to work with about 200 hotels and brands, such as Hilton and Bilderberg Hotels, Nikon, Glamira, and various destinations for promotion.
Because my website and social media accounts were doing quite well and some partners asked me for help with their social media strategy, after 1 year I decided to quit my part-time job and register at the Chamber of Commerce as a PR & Marketing consultant, which seemed much less risky than my previous business plans😊
4. How did you come up with the company name?
Since I had named my travel website and personal travel / lifestyle brand on social media Authentic Chica, I linked the name of my company to that as well.
For me, the word 'Authentic' stands for: being true to yourself, sincere, honest and having character and history. 'Chic' to me stands for: tasteful, class and style. And 'Chica' means girl in Spanish, which I thought was a nice twist.
For my company, I combined the first 2 words, which represent who I am as a person and what I also want to convey in my work, with my 2 industry focus groups: Travel & Lifestyle.
On my website and social media accounts I combine this by only sharing inspiration from my own experiences. I am very picky in my selection, only promote brands and products that I really like myself. And I prefer to explore destinations and accommodations with a special story, tasteful and unique, combined with a touch of luxury and history.
Unique selling points & strengths
5. What makes your business unique?
Of course I have my own style, which actually makes everyone unique. I try to integrate this into everything I do, hence the word authentic in my account- and company name😊 I love style, class and authenticity in images and text and find building a community and real connections essential for my own brand and those of my clients. I carry this through in all projects I manage, giving it my personal signature.
I’m also a strong conceptual thinker and quite commercial. I like to think along, come up with campaign proposals and anticipate to the needs of the client. That's why I offer all my services tailor-made and I still prefer to do everything myself, which is more personal than how many other marketing and PR agencies work.
In addition to consultancy and 'influencer' selection from the brand/destination’s point of view, I am also able to think along from the 'influencer's point of view, as I’m very active on social media myself as well.
That’s why I usually have a dual role, as I can use my website and social media accounts to promote the campaign, create content, as well as supervise everything as the creative director and PR agency simultaneously.
6. What were the challenges in starting your business? And how did you deal with them?
Fortunately, my business started quite smoothly, because I had chosen to start my business without an office, stock, other investments or fixed expenses, apart from my laptop and desk at home.
I started when I already had 2 project requests, so that was pretty safe! However, after a few months, when those projects ended, it became a bit more scary. Will the assignments keep coming and 'what if' were certainly on my mind at that time....
But luckily my old network turned out to be very strong and my experiences and knowledge gained in previous jobs and companies all came together in my own company and services.
Old employers and colleagues came back to me, now for social media help!
And by thinking creatively, moving along with the market, innovating and making effective use of social media, I continued to broaden my range of services and fortunately the projects followed up fairly naturally.
7. What is the most special project you've done so far, and why?
The diversity of my projects is what I enjoy most and I’m happy that I can do this for 5 years already for so many different companies and beautiful brands, such as Goldbergh, Peugeot, Bjorn Borg, LaDress, Garcia and Nikon.
However, content creation and (travel) campaigns are 2 of my biggest passions. That’s why I am extra proud that I have been hired several times as a PR agency and content creator for travel / lifestyle campaigns for different destinations.
This included setting up campaign trips to 4 different destinations, including various brand collaborations, influencer selection, guidance and photo and video direction.
With my latest campaign for the Aruba Tourism Authority this September, we managed to generate more than 3.7 million reach online, overall as a team.
8. What is the unique selling point of your company?
Authenticity, versatility and personalized service.
9. What impact did Covid-19 have on your business? E.g., what do you do differently now compared to the time before corona?
It cost me more than half of my projects in 2020. At that time I was largely working as a social media manager in the travel industry, very internationally oriented and was also organizing a lot of travel related campaigns, where all the budget suddenly vanished.
Also the case with hotels and many smaller clients, therefore I had to quickly adjust the course of my company and start focusing on other services and industries.
This year I set up a separate Dutch website specifically for my consultancy services, I started using Linkedin more actively again, focusing mainly on SMEs and entrepreneurs in various sectors, who can really use my help right now, but still have a budget.
I'm also giving more online workshops and masterclasses again, and I've started offering brainstorm sessions and tailored 1-on-1 social media coaching programs for an accessible fee, with which I've been able to help more than 40 entrepreneurs this year already.
10. What are you most proud of?
That I have been able to work with over 100 destinations, brands and companies through my company so far on a range of exciting campaigns and projects.
But also been able to host workshops, masterclasses and coaching programs for about 180 freelancers and start-ups. The trust that all these people had in me makes me very proud!
11. What would you like to become better at?
Working strategically, efficiently and purposefully while maintaining authenticity. Unfortunately, not all networking calls are relevant and PR remains important for my business, but I also have to be selective about this in order to monitor my time.
Driven as I am, the hours add up quickly and then my work-life balance is threatened.
This remains a constant challenge for me, especially now that I am my own boss, which can feel very contradictory.
12. What inspires you to keep going?
The satisfaction it gives me to create and to be able to help others with what comes naturally to me, and what I enjoy doing. I'm a real do-er and love working, as long as it's something that suits me, while working with fun and positive people.
In addition, I have a number of clients with whom I've been working for a long time or hire me more often for different campaigns, which is one of the biggest compliments to me!
13. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
If you don't take care of yourself you can't help others.
And be generous, act from abundance, but also clearly, yet kindly, set boundaries!
14. What will your life look like in 10 years?
I really try to live day by day and more in the now. After all, the past 2 years have clearly shown us that nothing is as volatile as life, the market is constantly evolving and the future is increasingly difficult to predict.
I love setting goals, but also like to remain realistic and commercial, for which flexibility and adapting to the market is key.
Therefore I try not to look too far ahead and my dream is mainly to be able to keep doing what makes me happy, keep evolving personally, work with nice people in hopes to stay healthy, free and independent in 10 years from now as well.
Tips, tricks & attention points for future entrepreneurs
15. Do you have more tips for people wanting to start a business too?
Several, as I strongly feel that it is the combination of many different factors that really makes the difference and you will have to stay focused on all of them. But if I have to pick the most important ones, it would be these 5:
1. I would recommend to first think hard if running your own business even suits you! Many people dream of being their 'own boss', idealize this and think too lightly about it.
It however, doesn't suit every character and can turn out to be very disappointing.
Besides the fact that you can manage your own time, you often also have to be very service-oriented towards clients, temporary projects create uncertainty and it can be quite risky, as this Covid-19 crisis has clearly shown us.
2. In general, discipline and focus is essential but also constant networking, both on- and offline, will really help you get new projects and clients.
You will have to work hard for what you want, take initiative and do a lot on your own (or at least be able to coordinate and delegate tasks well).
3. That's why I would never say: just do it and start, especially if it's something that requires a financial investment. I would always first calculate how long it will take you to earn this back, and analyse if this is feasible and realistic.
4. In addition, I would certainly go for something that suits you, to ensure that your business remains fun, goes more naturally and networking becomes easier.
5. But also make sure you have a good network and some savings to fall back on! In order to build this up you can start working part-time first, for example, to start your business with less risk on the side, and save up in the meantime.
I always enjoy advising or coaching others, that's why I've written several blogs on these topics already and listed another 15 useful business tips in this blog: 3-year-girl-boss-15-lessons-learnt
Of course you have to find your own way, but it can be smart to learn from experienced people in your field, by e.g. hiring a coach, to get there faster and avoid making expensive mistakes.
I'm happy to help and you can always request a private consult to pick my brain, analyse your concept and set up a strategy together, if you think we're the right match!
Currently I don’t do group workshops, but you can always contact me by mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for a private session or check my English consultancy website: Authentic Social Media Academy for more info about my services.
I also wrote many free blogs, with several helpful tips and experiences, you can find all of them on this page!
And for my most recent interviews in Dutch you can check this website: RBMMedia-NaomiLouwerens or this Youtube video:
Love to hear what you think and let's connect on social media, via the buttons at the bottom of this page!