Chris Gillies is a highly skilled Copy Writer and Founder of Jam Tin Copy
Jam Tin Copy provides businesses with Communications support and Copywriting services.
Since it was established in 2013 it has grown to serve clients from across Australia and the United States
The guiding business philosophy is to be easy to deal with, deliver on quality and to give back to the community
To visit Chris’ website go to Jam Tin Copy: http://www.jamtincopy.com.au
Click here to listen in Stitcher
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Click here to listen right here on the Healthy Numbers website
Or you might like to read the So You Want to Start a Business transcript …
My guess is that you are here because you are curious about what it might be like to start a business?
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Happy reading! Now here is the full transcript of the podcast.
Ingrid: Hi, and here we are with Chris Gillies. Here in the co-working space in the center of Sydney, so we might hear some of our coworkers in the background. Chris, thanks so much for coming in.
Chris Gillies: Oh, that’s okay. Thanks for having me.
Ingrid: Thanks, Chris. So, let’s just start with, what is your business?
Chris Gillies: Essentially, I started as a copywriter, but I think now it’s probably more of communications consultancy.
Ingrid: Right. And when did you start this business?
Chris: July 2013, it kind of officially started. It’s the registration of the business.
Ingrid: Okay, so that’s two years?
Ingrid: Wow. And why did you decide to start your own business?
Chris: Oh, it’s probably like a series of events. I was working for a large grain company. I’ve been there for three years and I was really enjoying it, but at the same time I was kind of still in the same role, it was getting a bit boring so just wondering — Just over Christmas, I was thinking it was time for a change. And about that time too, I met the guys at Young Henrys. And I used to walk past Oscar every morning on his way to work, and he’d always have a big smile on his face. And he was excited about going to work and I’d be just trudging off to work. But anyways, fate would have it, I’ve got a redundancy in January of 2013.
So, I booked a trip to LA, went to San Francisco, and that was kicking around San Francisco, which sounds very hip style but it was just really just to get away. And there was a real sort of creative energy there that got me thinking about, “What do I want to do? Do I want to go back into the corporate world or do I want to do something a bit more creative?” And when I got back, I went back to a corporate job, hated it pretty much from the start. That inspired me to start my own business, so I got talking to a few people and then joined the Newtown Precinct and away I went.
Ingrid: Away you went, indeed. And what did you want that business to give you from the beginning?
Chris: I suppose, it sounds bad, but a lot of it has been about cash flow. So, I could be out to kind of have the money to pick and choose the projects and the people I wanted to work with, and not have to do that sort of mundane 9 to 5 or — it’s probably more like 8 until 6 for some people, trudging into the city or where ever to go and sit in front of a desk all day. So, really, my business is more about me being out to just work with people. I mean, being in Newtown, you meet a lot of creatives and — you know, there’s Chris at Black Star, you know I knocked on his door one day to do some media stuff, so I was inspired by that.
Ingrid: Great. And when did it actually feel like you were in business? So you had July 13 kind of officially started, but what point, and what was it that made you feel like you were in business?
Chris: I guess it started with — I joined the Newtown Precinct Business Association, and just dealing with other people in businesses, and they spoke to me as a businessperson and a few other networking… But at the same time, I was still working for someone else so it’s probably not until this year that I really felt like I have a business. I mean, particularly now, because it’s paying for me at the moment. Like, it’s paying me a salary which is exciting.
Chris: So yes, it feels quite real now, yes.
Ingrid: That’s great. So, that’s come two years down the track and a little bit of ebb and flow along the way. Chris, how did you know that customers wanted what you were offering? Because you have a particular niche, you do do other work as well. How did you know that customers were looking for your service?
Chris: Last year, I’d just pretty much do anything. I mean, I even did a website copy for a French male escort and he was lovely, but I guess there were just these bits and pieces jobs and they didn’t want to pay very much because they might’ve been a startup or small business. I mean, small business is great because they’re passionate but they don’t have the resources. But I guess this year I kind of started missing my agricultural work that I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of comms and community engagement. I was even in grain trader; I loaded grain trucks when I was fresh out of uni.
And I figure, I’ve got contacts, so I just started contacting people I used to work with or had involvement with previous jobs, and I just used LinkedIn. And I started realizing people actually want to pay for someone with comms and agricultural experience, and there’s not many of us around. So, I kind of fell into it and figured that was my niche, so that’s what I guess is my bread and butter these days.
Ingrid: Yes, and it’s very lucrative to have a very specific niche, and having comms and a deep understanding of agriculture it’s very specialized as you say.
Ingrid: So, how did you fund the business in those early days? You suggested there that you did a bit of part-time work and sort of took any jobs. How did you fund yourself?
Chris: In the very early days, I had a small redundancy package left over. I took out a little line just to get a few things, but really my business is just a laptop and a phone. But I had to work. I was full-time doing corporate communications. So, during the day I had to be there, and then so I’d get up a bit early and then late at evening and it’s just a lot of… There’s a lot of admin work in starting up the business that I used to do on the tail end of my full-time jobs. But yes, just kept working. And gradually, if I got a few good projects then I could step out of contracting and then focus on those projects. I’ve got a good relationship with the recruiter. So whenever I need to, I can just jump back into a contract again.
Ingrid: Nice. And you suggested earlier that you went back to your contacts and you’ve used LinkedIn. Is there any other ways that you find new customers or people find you?
Chris: I’ve got a website, but probably don’t get that much business that way. Networking, but I’m a little bit introverted so going to those big networking events is not really my strength. But often, it’s just referrals. You’ve got to do a good job and work hard. And then if you do that, then someone will put a good word for you. I mean, from the escort, his flatmate, I’ve got two website copies in a brochure.
Ingrid: Nice. And he’s probably meeting lots of interesting people.
Chris: Yes. I think he’s given it away now, taking a break.
Ingrid: He’s certainly taking a break. So, one of the things that startups aren’t sure what to do and how to do it, is they’re curious about how to do pricing. I mean, you can talk about your pricing, but I’m more interested in how did you get to your pricing model?
Chris: Especially, in sort of comms and copywriters, a lot of them charge by the project. But I had some clients that charge by the hour. So, I’ve spoke to a few other freelancers and they sort of said, “You’ve got to plan in all your costs, and then you also got to factor in, like you’re not working a full year in December, January, February, very little work around. So, I guess I just basically use what base pay I wanted and then just added the cost — add it on the additional factor of not having a full year, and then I either charge that hourly rate. Or if it’s by a project, I estimate how long I think the project will take and then I quote it on that.
Ingrid: Okay. And you were able to charge a premium in your niche for your work you’re doing in the niche?
Chris: I’d say, yes. I can charge higher, because it’s my experience they’re buying.
Ingrid: Because the value you’re giving — we pay premium for lots of things, wine and food and coffee, so it makes sense to charge a premium for your knowledge and expertise.
Ingrid: Great. So, do you have an exit strategy? Where do you see this going?
Chris: I suppose I kind of see my business Jam Tin Copy — I probably would like to see it evolve to be a bit more of a communications agency. And I’d like to be able to step away from the coalface to be on that, and let it kind of fund… Because I guess my ultimate goal is, I’m studying Journalism and I’d quite like to look at different sustainable agriculture projects around and write about those, and focus a bit more on my writing. So, I think my dream at the moment, it’s Jam Tin is doing the grunt work for me and then I’m just floating around the world, visiting people. I love this idea of storytelling, it’s the connection between the farm and the kitchen table, and with population growth and the constraints. I think people are going to be more interested and people care more about their food these days, or where it’s come from and how it’s produced, and is it ethical. So, I think that’s probably going to be a really powerful niche to play into, but it’s going to have to be funded and I want Jam Tin to do that.
Ingrid: To fund that?
Ingrid: So, have you started employing other people, or engaging other people, or outsourcing some of your work, and what’s been your experience with that?
Chris: I’ve had an accountant from day one. She set up the company. She set up my accounts. She’s given me advice, so she’s been wonderful and we probably talk to each other once or twice a year, and sometimes it’s by Skype. She’s really great. I couldn’t ask for a better accountant.
Ingrid: Because that’s not one of your strengths, is it?
Chris: No, bookkeeping. I did a bit of accounting at uni and I couldn’t balance books.
Ingrid: It’s better to have someone do that.
Chris: Yes, and I like her. She’s great. So, I’ve got an accountant, and sometimes through my networking with the Newtown Precinct, I’ve connected with other copywriters. So, sometimes a project comes in my way and I don’t think it’s quite right for me, I might refer it to them or — or like with Ginny, I’m going to start sending her some of my work just to prove, to speak. Because when you’re staring at something and what you think you say isn’t necessarily what you’ve actually typed, it’s very hard to pick that up. So, I want to be able to ensure that all the work that I send to my clients doesn’t have silly errors. I mean, I’m usually pretty good but there’s always something that gets through.
Ingrid: Because having a team of people to help you is part of how you’re going to be able to distance yourself from the work, isn’t it?
Ingrid: And I think I remember you telling me in the past, using people in other countries to do some of your writing and do things. Have you tried that path?
Chris: Yes. I mean, last year I used a writer in America, Danny, and he was really great because we had a similar style and it would be if I just — especially if I was in a contract, I was working full-time and I had some deadline, maybe I’d do some research. I’d brief Danny, he’d draft me up a document and then I would just revise it just to make sure it was perfectly the way I wanted it, and then I’d send it out. And that would work quite well. I haven’t done that as much this year, because I’ve stepped back and I’ve been doing part-time so I’ve had the time and resources to be able to manage it myself.
Ingrid: Nice, great.
Chris: But sometimes, I should say, I would work with different graphic designers on projects. So, I’ve put in a proposal for a client of mine — he’s based in Manly, but he’s a grain trader which I find funny — but to do some projects. So, I’ve got a contact that’s a designer, she’s going to do a brochure, I’ll do the copy.
Ingrid: Oh, nice. Very good. So, starting your business, what’s one thing that you wish you’d done differently from the beginning?
Chris: It’s quite a steep learning curve, and I guess you learn by making mistakes. I just probably wish I’d realized how hard it would be. I thought I just put a website out, put the name out there a little bit, and then work would flow, but it just doesn’t work like that. Knowing now, I think I would’ve focused more on the agriculture from the start. One of the things Chris from Black Star Pastry told me, he’s like, “You’ve got to find that thing.” Like, I think it’s the strawberry watermelon cake. He sells a lot of that cake, and that allows him… He’s got two shops now plus a pop-up coming, and he gets to do all these things. But I think it’s because he has that coming in, selling continuously. It gives him the resources to do things he likes. And he said to me, he’s like, “You’ve got to find that thing where you’ve got that foundation of cash flow coming in, your bread and butter, and then you can work on the fun, little creative projects that may not pay as much but you get a lot out of them.”
Ingrid: So, watch your basics.
Chris: So, I think knowing that now, I think I’d go back and I’d probably focus on the agriculture upfront and have that as my foundation.
Ingrid: Because the reality is, will that help get you through those couple of months of the year that may traditionally not have a lot of work? Are they likely to have work at that time?
Chris: It’s probably going to pitter off a bit. I also think, a little bit, like on holidays. So, my Melbourne PR client, they’re a consultant on a major client of theirs that I’m doing a project with at the moment. She’s going to leave in November, so I’m going to probably cover some of that time. So, I think over Christmas, people are going to leave, so you can probably — but it is a little… I mean, January in agriculture’s generally the quietest month.
Ingrid: Is the quietest month. Because that is an issue for businesses: the ebb and flow of cash. You know, you have a couple of months in a year, there are other businesses that are very busy over that time and that their — winter is their quieter time, that sort of thing. Okay, so who apart from yourself, have you had mentors, coaches, family members, friends, who — You’ve mentioned Chris from Black Star Pastry, who has been of assistance to you in your business?
Chris: A lot of friends. I should say my friend Alee. Alee van der Linden. She’s like my cheerleader. She’s always so positive and she’s like, “Oh yeah, this is going great.” Even if it’s not. And I think those little pep talks are really good, because sometimes no one wants to talk to you and that can be quite — like it just can demotivate you.
Ingrid: Do you mean potential clients?
Chris: Yes, like people you approach because you think that that business that I could probably offer some services to and then they just don’t respond. And I just think, like, you get a lot of rejection and that…
Ingrid: How do you deal with that rejection, Chris? Apart from Alee, your cheerleader?
Chris: I think you just got to get a bit of a tough skin and just realize it’s not you personally. A lot of it can be just down to timing. I mean, the clients I just mentioned in Manly, I approached them probably back in May or June, and it wasn’t until August that they actually replied and they just called me out of the blue saying, “I’m doing this new website. Can you do the copy?” So, you get this really big lag between when you might make the initial contact
Ingrid: I think people underestimate those, from how long that takes, how long that negotiation process takes, or the decision making process.
Chris: Yes. Definitely. It’s never instantaneous. I’ve got proposals that have been in the pipeline nearly a month and one guy keeps saying next week, because he’s just got this stuff on. But you just go and keep hoping, like you put in a strong proposal and hopefully it happens.
Ingrid: Yes, and keep following up and keep following up without being pesky.
Chris: Yes. But yes, I think you just got to realize it. It’s not personal. A lot of it is just down to timing, and to be realistic that they may already have a relationship with someone and they’re happy. So, it’s all just timing.
Ingrid: It’s huge. So, if someone in your circle, one of your friends or someone else you know in a business was wanting to start their own business, what would you say to them?
Chris: I’d probably say like ‘Go for it!’ And I do have friends that now, like they see what I’m doing and they do go they want to do something and I’m like, “Oh, what do you want to do?” And they don’t really know. So, I think I’d say go for it. But either work out what it is that you’ve got to offer and why you’re different. And it’s cliché doing marketing but you’ll find that unique selling point to kind of… And you got to find the product people want. Sometimes the harsh reality is you might think you’ve got the best thing ever, but if no one else thinks it’s great then you’re dead in the water
Ingrid: That sounds so true. So, what three key characteristics do you think you have that make you successful in business?
Chris: I guess it’s… I think you just got to — resilient, just to keep going. And I suppose motivated and probably connected, connected with different groups of people and just… I mean, a few months ago, I think it was a Friday, I was hanging at Young Henry’s having a few beers, and they…
Ingrid: So, could you just explain to people? Because there’s people around the world listening to this. Explain what Young Henry’s is.
Chris: Sorry, I forget not everyone’s from Newtown. Young Henrys is this craft brewery. It started in 2012. They do a lot of craft beers, cider, and now gin. I’ve got to know the owners. And Richard, one of the owners, is on the Newtown Precinct with me. So yes, Friday afternoon, you can go and have a few beers and sit by the bar. And there’s a group of people that are regulars and they’ll just have a catch-up. But yes, a lot of them are creative people too.
So, I find that just helps; to deal with other people. Because I mean, you catch up with friends and they all work so they don’t fully understand what it’s like to have a business. But if you’ve got that sort of network of other freelancers or people in business and they understand the vagaries of cash flow and clients, and maybe being a little bit frustrated because you’re not doing entirely what you want to do, but you’re just doing it. You’ve got to pay the bills, so I find that quite energizing.
Ingrid: That’s nice. So your three were resilience, staying motivated, and this whole idea of finding your network? Because you did mention earlier, you don’t like networking in that kind of crazy passing business cards.
Chris: Yes, I think its own little industry is this kind of professional networking network, where you go and you might have a breakfast. And that works really well for some people, and they’ll get up and they talk for half an hour and have sort of 30 seconds and do their elevator pitch, and they’ll hand cards around the table… But for me, I don’t think that really works for me because I’m probably more… I mean, I don’t even know what to say and I’m quite nervous in that sort of situation. So then, I probably just don’t just come across. Because it’s confidence at the end of the day is what sells, and I don’t come off as confident in those sort of environments
Ingrid: Whereas you feel confident in your group every Friday afternoon.
Chris: Yes. Of if it’s one-on-one, I’m fine. Yeah.
Ingrid: That’s great. Okay, so we’re just going to bring that to an end. So they’re your three characteristics for you. But if there’s a person who might want to start a business and you’re saying that you’ve got friends who are already sort of saying, “Wow, you’ve got a great life. I want that as well.” So, what would you tell them they need to have? Would it be the same as you, or do you…? Because that’s what you’ve got now that keeps your business going. But right back at the beginning, what would you say to somebody that need to develop, to be able to start their own business?
Chris: I think it’s that confidence. And I guess you need to be quite sharp in your thinking. You need to be able to look at the market, be objective and analyze it, and go, “Okay, so where could I potentially fit into this market?” And then you just got to be determined. You just got to make a decision and do it, and you just got to do it. And even though you’re bound to get knocked back many times — but eventually, just when you think the door is slammed shut —
I mean, there’s so many times where I thought, “Oh, I’m just over. Just go back to working.” But then a client will call me or someone will call me out of the blue and they’ll say, “I just want to… Thinking about copywriting, I just need a hand with this little part.” And suddenly things are ticking along again, but yes. It can be months sometimes. Especially in the start I think, because it’s about building those relationships, so building your client base. You just can’t have one or two clients. You probably need at least 10~15 to get substantial cash flow.
Ingrid: To get the cash flow, yes.
Chris: And I’m talking about cash flow because… I mean, I love writing and I love agriculture, and I love working with people and I love the sort of creativity and learning new things, but the cash flow, it’s kind of what pays the rent
Ingrid: Pays the rent?
Chris: Yes. And then I find it kills off… If you’re stressed about money, it kills your creativity. Especially your creative space, especially for me. It just kills it.
Ingrid: That’s great, because you wouldn’t change a thing now, Chris, would you?
Chris: No. Two years in and I feel like I’m getting places. I mean, sometimes — and I suppose that’s the other thing I have really mentioned. It can be easy to focus on the negatives: things you haven’t got. But I try and also focus on what I have achieved, and for me that was a really big deal for me. It was, “Hey, I’ve flown to Canberra to be a consultant in a meeting.” So, because of my business, I’ve traveled a bit this year. So, I’ve gone to Canberra and then I was sent to Melbourne by a US company to attend a conference to write two articles. One’s being published in the September mag.
Ingrid: That’s a US magazine, isn’t it?
Chris: Yes, but distributed globally.
Ingrid: Globally, yeah. And they flew you from Sydney to Melbourne?
Ingrid: That’s fantastic.
Chris: Yes, and I’ve heard about this conference for years. I never actually went. And this year, I finally got to go.
Ingrid: And they sent you.
Chris: Yes, and it was such a… Some people may not find it interesting, but I found it interesting. The thing I love about grain, if I can quickly talk about that, is that you can have some wheat growing in the Central West in New South Wales, sort of where I lived and worked, say Gilgrandra and Hillston, that’s a bit south, but that grain can end up a bowl of udon noodles in Japan, in Tokyo. And it’s such a global industry, but it’s so humbled beginnings.
Ingrid: It’s just a grain of wheat.
Chris: Yes, and that’s what the conference is about: is the markets and those connections between moving it out, getting it from that paddy, to export, to its destination.
Ingrid: Well, Chris, we could go into a whole new section about agriculture. Look, thanks so much for coming in today. I think some of what you said has been fantastic, so thanks for your time.
Chris: Thanks for having me Ingrid. It’s great.