Featured Entrepreneur: Juliet Simmons, Founder of Piece of Cake

12 JUN 2012

Juliet Simmons, Founder of Piece of CakeWhat’s the name of your business and what promise does it make to customers?

Piece of Cake is a creative marketing consultancy. We create and curate arts based events and develop marketing campaigns to help not for profits and those in the creative industries develop audiences and reach new customers cost effectively.

You can find us on www.pieceofcake.tv, on Twitter: @julietsimmons and on Facebook.

What made you decide to start your business?

I started my own business as I believed that I was good at what I do and that I could make a success of working for myself. I wanted to have the freedom to choose the clients that I wanted to work with and the projects that I wanted to create and develop — and choose my own path. Life is about creating a balance and I believed that starting my own business would give me more control over the kind of life that I want to live.

Black Market Tale TradersWhat’s your background? Did you have a business before you started working with us? Or did you just have an idea of an enterprise you’d like to start…

When I started the School for Creative Startups programme I was just beginning my journey as an entrepreneur. I had started my business, Piece of Cake, in May 2011 and the course began in September 2011.

I came to my business after spending just over six years as the Creative Director at the JCC for London. Whilst at the JCC I was responsible for the creation, curation and production of over 500 events over a six year period — working with artists and partners across the world. I built the brand from scratch and today over 10,000 people attend one of the JCC’s 100+ events a year. I also pioneered creative partnerships for the organisation including it producing the Sounds Jewish podcast for The Guardian which now attracts over 5,000 listeners each month.

My background is in advertising and marketing — I have been an Account Director at top London advertising agency, DLKW, working with blue chip clients. Prior to working in advertising I worked with Financial Times Conferences, as a Marketing Manager for a top High Tech firm creating events in Israel, Germany and the USA and for Michelin Tyres.

I am a member of the Book Council for London’s Jewish Book Week, a trained volunteer for Nick Hornby’s Ministry of Stories (encouraging creative writing for young people), and help at a drop in Centre for refugees and asylum seekers from time to time. I am also setting up a network of professional freelance entrepreneurial women in London called The Table.

What kind of customers do you think your product is perfect for? Why?

I primarily work with clients in two sectors.

  • Not for Profits
  • Creative Industries

I focus in this area as it is where I have personal experience and where I have proven my success in the past. When I was at the JCC I developed events using arts-based content and created innovative marketing strategies that reached out to new, previously untapped audiences.

I work with clients where I can see that the work that I do makes a difference and helps to reach and retain new audiences in creative ways. I also work with clients who are open to exploring new and creative avenues so that they can achieve their goals.

What made you decide to enrol in School for Startups a year ago? What challenges were you facing and what did you hope to learn?

I have to admit that initially I was unsure about enrolling in the course. I was not sure that I would have time to be able to attend lectures or that the content would be relevant to me.

A few key factors changed my mind. I was supported and advised by the programme’s wonderful Director, Medeia, who talked me through the structure of the course and the benefits that were less tangible and obvious.

As I began to work on my own one of the key challenges I faced was a sense of being alone. Starting my business and making it work was down to me and me alone. I quickly realised that a support network would be hugely valuable to me. I wanted to find a place to go where I could meet other people who were starting their own businesses and who might feel like I felt. I was looking for people who I could share the ups and downs of entrepreneurship with.

I also faced the challenge of having lots of questions but nobody to answer them. There were lots of things I wanted to ask, needed to know — how much should I charge? What was a good negotiating strategy? and more. I wondered if the course might be able to help to provide some answers.

A year ago I knew how to support clients and do a good job for them but had no experience of running a business — or knowing how to. School for Creative Startups gave me the tools to be a confident business owner and helped me be able to clearly articulate what I do and the benefits it offers to potential clients.

What meaningful answers did you discover in working with Doug Richard and the experts he’s brought in to advise and mentor you?

I learned how to clearly articulate what my business does, why it does it and why people should work with me.

I learned to do this in three sentences, to be confident and clear in the offering and in my ability to deliver great work.

What meaningful and useful skills have you acquired over the last year through School for Creative Startups? How have you put them to use in working to build your enterprise?

I have polished up skills that I already have.

I have been made to think about me and my business — how to market it, how to set pricing, how to find customers and how if I think of myself as a success then that is a huge part of being a success.

Many of the skills that Doug has covered (everything from creating a clear marketing message, figuring out how to identify your target market and reach them through mass media and social media to how to make a website that you can easily maintain that search engines like, without spending thousands of pounds) will translate into the services that I will sell on to my customers.

What were the most important topics we covered at the bootcamps and seminars? Why were they important to you?

For me the most important topics were:

  • Finance & Pricing: Taking the fear and myth out of balance sheets and budgets. Realising that everyone, even Doug, sometimes has to ask questions to get to a good pricing strategy. And realising that it’s not all that complicated.
  • Resourcing: understanding that it’s OK not to do everything and that a business needs to bring in different people and skills to be a success.
  • Marketing: focussing on my message, my audience and clearly articulating what I do and why people should work with me.

These were important to me as they built my confidence. They helped me move from uncertainty to certainty and made me realise that the things that I was nervous and afraid of were not as scary as they initially appeared to be.

How has your business changed based on what you’ve learned?

I’m sure that my business is in a more confident, more professional state than it would have been had I not done the course. I’m more confident as a creative and as an entrepreneur.

To that end I have rethought my marketing strategy, re-worded my website and thought clearly about who I want to target as customers and what it is I can offer potential clients.

I have the confidence to hire people and work with teams of freelancers on projects — so my ambition and the solutions that I offer clients are more creative than they might have been.

Who you have met, through School for Creative Startups, that made a real impact on you?

My classmates — seeing and engaging with people going through the same stages and challenges that I’ve gone through has been reassuring. It has also encouraged me to be ambitious in my goals. Seeing people succeed is inspiring and makes me see that we can all achieve our goals. In particular I remember sitting with Hannah Needham and Ugonna Hulston on the first day of bootcamp, all of us wondering what we were doing there. Seeing how far their businesses have come has had an impact on me. I also remember speaking with Tina Crawford about how she might work with Mary Portas (she now is) and with Dickie Wilkinson about how he could grow his business. All these people are creative and have imaginative ideas. We have all taken what we’ve learned from Doug to enable us to get our products and services to people who really want them.

The professional team at S4CS — Nancy, Medeia, Chris — people who are looking out for me, sending ideas and contacts my way and are always there to listen, support and offer encouragement. They have helped me to maintain momentum and keep going when things felt very unclear. They have challenged and supported me and always wanted to see my business succeed. That support network has been hugely valuable to me.

Doug Richard has had a real impact on how I think about running a business. He has helped me to realise that sometimes it’s good to remove the emotion from decisions and think really practically about what has to be done and how to achieve it. That focus is something that I will take with me as my business grows and moves forward.

Gavin O’Brien was one of the teachers on our course. I missed his lecture but he met up with me and has been very supportive as I have faced challenges over the past year. Having access to someone who has built up a successful business and who is prepared to share their knowledge and insights has been really useful. Seeing and benefiting from the kindness of strangers has shown me the importance of being generous with my own time and insights when others ask me for help.

Which speakers and mentors have had the biggest impact on you and your business?

Doug Richard — his ability to get to the heart of the issue and focus on key challenges has helped me think about my business and has also impacted the way I approach challenges that clients present to me.

Gavin O’Brien — his generosity with his time, his empathy as someone who has started his own successful business.

Shane Redding — the experience and knowledge that she brought to the table. The time and care that she invested in preparing for our classes, the investment she made in us was another lesson learned.

Jasmin Pelham and her company JP Pelham PR — for meeting and advising me on PR.

Do you feel more comfortable designing products and services that meet the needs of your customer?

As I said earlier I do feel that many of the skills that Doug covered will translate into services that I sell on to my clients. The course has provided me with insight and a toolkit that I can use when developing creative solutions for my clients.

Which of your products are you proudest of? Why?

It is hard to generalise my offer in this way as I am always delivering bespoke solutions and services for the clients that I work with. I am proud when I develop something that helps them to see the world differently, something that helps my clients to be perceived as being creative and something that helps them to reach new audiences in cost effective ways.

Are you more comfortable pitching your products, services and business to people in a position to help you or buy from you than you were before?

I definitely have more confidence in my abilities as an entrepreneur and, dare I say it, business person than I did a year ago. I think some of that is down to experience, and some of it is learning from the teachers and other participants on the programme. There’s a big difference between working with a medium sized organisation that leverages its size and connections to bring things off and being a startup/consulting project leader who actually had to deliver on the promises they make without the same resources. School for Creative Startups has enabled me to make that journey work.

Is there anyone you’ve pitched to, or sold to, recently that you’d like to tell people about?

One of the projects that I’m most proud of was called Subtext. I was commissioned by the JCC for London to help them reach new younger audiences. I proposed that we create an event which reinterpreted the Jewish holiday of Purim and which took place in a bar rather than in a place that would be conventionally associated with religion. We created a piece of pop up theatre, transforming the bar into a marketplace full of imaginary characters and creating spaces where specially written tales were told. Over 200 people attended the event, many of whom had never been to anything linked to the JCC previously.

I was also excited to be working with a group of the UK’s leading suppliers to the world of Interior Design. We developed the branding and delivered the logistics for a roadshow called Decosource. The show went to three venues outside of London enabling the suppliers to reach and engage with new groups of customers. It is being repeated and extended in 2013.

Are you able to effectively market your business?

What I have learned is that you are always learning how to market your business and how to reach new customers. Whilst I was on School for Creative Startups the analysis, research and classes have taken a chunk of time out of every week. It’s been great and has also meant that I’ve spent time re-imagining/ re-designing and re-building certain parts of my business.

When the course ends I think it means that I’ll have more time to actively work on getting customers. I’m already using social media and other tools to be more proactive in reaching out and finding new work.

As your business grows, do you feel you’ll be able to negotiate with suppliers, sales channels and investors comfortably?

I think School for Creative Startups has given me solid building blocks and the confidence to build on. As my business grows I am sure that I will face more challenges and have more questions. What I’ve learned is that this is normal, that every growing business finds itself in situations that are initially unfamiliar. I have also developed a support network so that if at any point I feel uncertain or unable to do something I can reach out and get a confidence boost so that I am ready to go on and face the unfamiliar with confidence.

Do you feel you’ve developed relationships through this program that will help you in the months and years to come?

I feel that the connections that I’ve made will definitely help me in the months and years to come. The most unexpected but valuable relationships have been with the faculty and with my classmates. I think starting your own business is a stressful and intense period of time. Only people that have done it really understand the ups and downs that you go through. To have done this with a group of intelligent creative people was a privilege and I am sure that I will stay in touch with many of them.