Business startup

15 minutes with Rachel Smith

- November 27, 2018 5 MIN READ

Describe your “aha” moment; when did your business idea first come to you?

Actually, Rachel’s List started as a bit of a free networking list between freelancers before it ever became an online jobs board. It was only when it grew so damn large – and Outlook stopped wanting to send the emails out – that I started to consider it as a proper jobs board. I was also spending a lot of time doing it – letting the ‘Listers’ know about jobs, liaising with job-posters etc – and combined with my work as a freelance journo/copywriter, it was no longer viable. I either needed to bid it farewell, or monetise it somehow, and I surveyed the members on the List to see what they thought and the overwhelming response was to keep it going.

That little survey was really the a-ha moment. I thought, ‘Yes, this could be something.’ I joined forces with another journo, Leo Wiles, and we poured a heap of money into building the first website, launching in 2013. We’re now on our second site (Rachel’s List 2.0!) and as I hoped, have branched out beyond media jobs into digital, PR and comms. We launched online with 800 members and now have over 7000 so it’s been a pretty incredible journey so far!

Describe for me the “why” of your business

The ‘why’ is simple: it’s a way to post jobs and find jobs without all the hassle and the wannabes and the often huge recruitment costs. We’re trying to offer a more bespoke service and more targeted applicants. That’s how a lot of people want to hire, because they’re so time-poor. And with every great testimonial we get, I feel like we’re doing something right!

List your three biggest business goals; which of them scare you the most?

Our biggest for sure is to become the number one jobs board for creatives. We know we have a great service and work tirelessly to get the word out, but being up against huge established jobs boards can be tough at times. There’s a lot of competition – but you just have to trust that what you do gets results and keep on trucking!

My other business goal is to do more public speaking. I like doing it and I love meeting new people, but it also terrifies me! I’m much more used to being behind the scenes doing my thing. So I’d like to get to the point where I’m better at that.

Similarly, I’d love to do more video as I know that can have great impacts on business growth. It’s not so scary as talking at a conference, but even a Facebook Live gives me the willies!  I really need to sort that, stop worrying about how I sound and start doing it on a regular basis!

Has anything surprised you about working for yourself?

Only how much I love it. When I first started freelancing it was because I’d been hit with two redundancies in quick succession and there were no jobs in media. A lot of people were out of work. I was determined to work for myself and getting started was so hard. I had zero contacts. I really started from scratch. It was partly why Rachel’s List started (as an email newsletter), around the same time, too. I was lonely and building that created a freelancer network for me.

Once you became a soloist, what about your life changed almost immediately. And what changes have been slower to come?

The immediate change was that I became healthier. I found going to an office every day quite draining in the sense that there’s so much planning – a suitable outfit, whether you can fit in a workout or desperately need another hour’s sleep. And what you’re going to take for lunch, have you got money on your Opal card, did you forget to meditate? All small things, but they take time around the pressing need to be somewhere by 9am and the result for me, in being a 9-5 bum on a seat, was making bad decisions like hitting up food courts every day and never exercising or looking after myself. When you’re a soloist, the ability to plan your time and fit in what’s important is just – well, I don’t have words for how great it is. I am so much happier and healthier as a result.

Changes that have been slower to come but no less valuable are that I have become a lot more confident in my work and in the decisions I make for my business. When you’re a soloist you’re having to make a LOT of decisions all the time about how to drive your business forward, who to work with, what to charge, how to negotiate, how to deal with a querulous client and so on. It feels like a massive learning curve all the time. But, you can’t help but get better at it, which is a nice feeling – especially if it results in more work and the growth of your business!

Your Instagram page is a hub of delight! Tell us a bit about your strategy.

Oh, thank you! Instagram is a relatively new arm to our social strategy, actually – we started with everything and decided that was insane! We’ve scaled back to three platforms. I am quite strategic on IG. I plan ahead a fair bit and have a mixture of humorous posts (to do with freelancing or working for yourself), posts about our Toolkit resources, personal posts (which are showing behind-the-scenes peeks at the business and the people behind it) and of course new jobs posted on the board.

I am slightly obsessed about the ‘look’ of the feed and have a few rules. The main one is that there must be an even number of posts (usually 4) between job postings. Then it creates a pattern throughout the feed rather than this ad-hoc jumble. IG does take a lot of time but because it’s a visual platform and people can get a quick snapshot of what it is you do, and we get a lot of leads this way (both people wanting to post jobs and job-seekers). I have so many favourite IG peeps but two that never fail to make me laugh are both illustrators: Gemma Correll and Instachaaz.

What’s the best part of the life you’re living now you’re a soloist?

Definitely the freedom to do your own thing. I work part-time, mainly because we have a 4-year-old, and I pack a LOT into 2.5 days (sometimes it feels like a week’s worth). My husband is a contractor and when he’s between contracts I can ‘scale up’ my work, which I love, while he juggles our kid. It’s just nice to be able to make decisions about what I want to do, who I want to work with and how much I want to work. I never take it for granted! It’s also great to work from anywhere. I’m currently listening to sea breezes while writing this as we’re on a working holiday on the beaches… it’s great to be able to go for a dip in between the writing!

Got a tip you’d like to share with our community about soloism?

I think building a good support network is everything when you’re a soloist. I don’t just mean having a developer you trust on speed dial or a good accountant, or someone who can fix your computer, but PEOPLE as well. The isolation can get to you if you don’t have other soloists around you, and one of the first lessons I learned was to have a trusted posse in your corner. That’s why portals like Flying Solo are SO critical – for both the social aspect and the ability to bounce ideas off other people and perhaps get perspectives or advice you might not have considered. When you work for yourself, feeling supported is everything.