Happy Birthday Blue51 Communications! My business baby just turned double digits! In business years that has to be equivalent to a centenary, surely? 

This time a decade ago, I made the call to resurrect the freelance communications and writing business I’d launched a decade earlier – yes, that’s right, I’ve been the proud holder of an ABN for twenty years. I joined the world of business as Holly Cardamone Communications, and for the following ten years I freelanced, I had a couple of comms director roles and I had two cherubs. At my 40th birthday I had one cherub in Year One at Primary School and another in three year old kindergarten when I decided that the best career path for me at that season of my life was solopreneurship. Put simply, I wanted to do what I love (comms and writing) and call my own shots. Hello, Blue51 Communications. 

I started with one retainer client, and soon moved to project work, finding my sweet spot with helping people clarify their message and then connect that message to their ideal client with beautiful comms, specifically content. I’ve published two books (Tell Your Story and Writing with Moxi), one content planner (Write Your Year) and a deck of Storytelling Prompt Cards. The word count from my writing workshops has passed the quarter of a million mark, and finding my personal word count after writing for a decade’s worth of clients (many repeat, perhaps one of my proudest achievements) makes my maths-phobic brain shiver in terror. I’ve had six photoshoots (equally as terrifying as maths) and countless snort-laughs. I’ve worked with inspiring clients who have become confidants and friends. Ten years calls for a celebration, no doubt about that, but it also calls for a ton of reflection which I’ve condensed down into five lessons from ten years that I would have found terribly helpful at the start of my Blue51 adventures:

Stay healthy: 

Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, there are times where it feels less like a marathon and more like a death march. This means that time and energy are the most important ‘business’ assets – use them wisely. I’m referring to physical health, of course. Get out of the chair, away from the keyboard and shake thy booty. It also goes for mental health. Don’t believe the #bossbabe pics on IG – running a business is f*cking hard work and often lonely. You need a fair dose of grit! Be aware of what serves you and what drains you and where you spend your mental energy. Do I get worked up about shitty things that happen (repeatedly) like people copying my work? Of course, but I’ve learned not to give other people real estate in my head. That said, you’ll never hear me say imitation is a form of flattery. Plagiarism is plagiarism, pure and simple. 

Freedom is a slippery concept to define:

I started my business to call the shots, to live a life by design. But what does that mean in practice and in the day to day? I discovered early on in my Blue51 adventures that I needed to clarify and confirm my definition of freedom when a client wanted me to be available for media liaison at 8am, Monday to Saturday. This was a problem for two reasons. Number 1 – 8am for a working mum with young kids was when my exceptional talent was directed towards reminding said kids to brush their teeth. I wasn’t my most spectacular comms professional self at 8am. Number 2 reason? I hate media liaison with the fire of a thousand suns. Yeah, I could do it, but I didn’t want to. That’s just one example that helped me define my working life. As the cherubs grew, so did my definition. When they were younger, it was not working (no phone calls, no emails) outside of school hours because I found that I just buggered things up on both fronts. When perimenopausal insomnia entered my life, I could no longer go to the gym at 5.30am and so I shifted my working hours to accommodate running and strength training because of lesson 1 – stay healthy. There’s a meme about self-employment meaning working 100 hours a week for yourself so you don’t have to work 40 hours a week for someone else. Like a lot of memes, it has a core truth that’s really not funny and one that whenever I’ve succumbed makes my business feel less like freedom and more like a straightjacket. Hello, boundaries! 

Alignment to you and your values: 

Pop ‘I want to run my own business’ into Google and a whole ton of productivity results will arise. Business is all about the KPIs and the OKRs and the WTAFs. Goal setting, working hard and chasing your dreams can be euphoric but when you’re chasing goals for the sake of the chase, when they’re not aligned to your values or how you define success they’ll become drainers and that endorphin hit won’t light you up like you thought it might. Goals should be a little butt-clenchingly uncomfy, but they need to be authentic. I know that if I haven’t done something it’s because I simply don’t want to. It might be the shiny thing that everyone else is doing and I feel like I probably *should* do it (gotta dance on reels or you won’t be visible!), when I look at the thing analytically from a communications and business perspective I know that my resistance is not based on a fear of the new but rather my hard won knowledge about my brand, my audience and my values. 

Who you are as a business and as a business owner dictates your brand, your work and your clients. Be true to you, and your voice. Find your UVP and apply it on every touchpoint. Be remarkable to the point where your marketing is primarily word of mouth, and your reputation underpins your communications, not the other way around. We’re going for substance, not superficial. Don’t compare – social media can be a vacuous popularity contest that’s based on smoke and mirrors. That person sliding into your DMs, building a beautiful online connection with you that is all sparkling wit and personality and hashtag women supporting women? There’s a good chance that person has a social media manager bringing the sparkle. That said – I have no problem with people engaging social media managers, none at all. I have a problem with people engaging social media managers to impersonate them in private messages. Here’s a comms tip: have your social media manager manage your inbox with transparency. I’m talking ‘Hi Holly, this is Holly from Holly’s team.’ Don’t sucker people into thinking they have a relationship with you when you don’t know them from a hole in the ground. Rant aside, my overall message here is about staying in your own lane and keeping your eyes and efforts on your audience, not your competitors. 

Be open to new connections: 

Being in business means you’re going to meet incredible humans doing amazing work. The best part about my work, communications, is I get to help them shine a spotlight on their wonderful selves. I’ve met people through my business who’ve become my soul sisters, no word of a lie, women who get me, accept me and see me, and I do the same for them. It’s important to build a network of people who support you, believe in you and inspire you. There are formal and informal networks to be part of but the core message is to curate a circle. The other side of this? Trust your gut with who you let into your business. Play nice, but don’t be a sucker. Be careful about who you listen to. Trust, but verify. This is especially important when it comes to selecting mentors – get the real deal by doing your due diligence beyond their social media feeds. Just like in the real world, in the world of small business there’s some real pieces of work who are purely transactional and ruthlessly out for their financial bottom line, no matter what their tagline says. 

Say no and say yes with joyful, wilful abandonment:

Have a vision for your business but be flexible in the implementation. I’ve had wins and flops. Expect the unexpected as they say in the classics. Business life over the long term is all about revolution and evolution. Kill things, tweak others, create new stuff, keep it fresh and exciting for you and for your clients, but always, always aligned to what they actually need from your expertise. On that – create, then consume. Every minute you spend creating reel after reel (remember, you don’t work for Instagram) is time you could be spending on writing your own killer content or coming up with the perfect service. When it comes to saying yes and no a concept I have to include is tricky conversations. Don’t procrastinate on these or other icky things. Rip off the bandaid. Learn to identify your red flags and cut off future problems before they exist. Of course, red flags often are defined from experience, so take note of your learnings – the good, the bad and the vomit-inducing.  

That’s it! Five big lessons from ten big years as Blue51 Communications. This ‘lil business of mine has brought me joy that I can’t even begin to describe, not least of which are the beautiful, incredible people who have trusted me with their story. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 


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