• Lou Devine

The one where I relocated and launched a business at the same time...

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Today may not be a significant date for most, but it’s the anniversary of when I officially moved to Bournemouth, three years ago.

On 11 August 2017, our family of five (husband, two sons and chocolate Labrador) said goodbye to a very long sojourn of 10 years, and all our friends in Cobham - a small town of around 12,000 - in Surrey and drove down the M3 with removal van in hot pursuit.

Those first few weeks were so exhilarating. Discovering walks, realising there was a beach that took only 8 minutes to drive to instead of 10 minutes (if you know Bournemouth traffic, you know that this is a win), local cafes, a variety of activities for my sons - all with an air of anonymity that was incredibly freeing. And not having the time to worry about missed friendships or – gulp – the prospect of work.

Yes, having made the decision to relocate, I also gave up employment of nearly 15 years in a variety of communication roles to go it alone under the guise of The PR Suite. I was extremely fortunate to bring two clients from Surrey, who I still have now, and I had visited a monthly networking group a couple of times before moving. However, in reality, I had no contacts and no friends to advocate for me!

Autumn came, the boys started at their new school (my prayers were answered and they both got into the same fantastic primary school), visitors started to wane as everyone returned to their routines and suddenly life got real. I realised I had to put myself out there and having realised later in life that I’m actually an introverted extrovert, some days this was a huge challenge.

Below are some of the things that I have learnt (and am still learning) if you’re ready, like I was, for a whole new adventure!

Network: and expect the unexpected!

There are an abundance of networking opportunities out there (obviously some are more restricted/held virtually at the moment) from formal paid-for events to community events that showcase local business and it really is a case of attending a variety of things to find what works for you and what makes you run for the hills. Something I learnt quickly was to have a one-sentence summary of my business to hand; there are often lots of businesses in one setting and you need to be memorable.

For me, a strong networking group can and should be far more than just getting referrals. It may be that you find a business mentor, or at the very least someone who can hold you accountable for your business objectives, which is incredibly important especially in the early days, or literally a group of people “who have your back”.

And when I say expect the unexpected - some of my loveliest friendships (outside of the school setting) have been borne out of a variety of situations. I met Rebecca from The Pilate Shed at a Christmas Health Fair; Katie from LittleBirdCommunication attended my primary and secondary school in Bath, however we'd never crossed paths until a PR group brought us together; and I happened to sit by Anne Cornish VA at a networking event and our London history soon got us chatting!

And most importantly DON’T network if you don’t feel it. If you get up and the thought of negotiating new conversations next to a coffee machine makes your stomach churn, don’t do it – at least not today.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Since moving to Bournemouth, I have found that while on paper it has nearly half a million inhabitants, there is a pretty small business world that continually “shows up”, and that’s to your advantage. It means it generally feels a supportive community within and across sectors. During this uncertain time of Covid-19, this is not the time to adopt a British stiff upper lip, particularly if you are seeking new clients or a new job. Be active on social media sites, and certainly use LinkedIn to connect (with a personal message, obvs!). Engage with other posts and expand your network. Train yourself to do this daily and become known to others.

Look after yourself

I know this may sound pretty obvious, but really DO. I got very ill with a virus four months after moving here. I was ill for two months yet was still trying to network, meet prospective clients and pretending I was the ‘most engaging person ever’ (stalker alert) to anyone who showed an interest. Yes, I needed friends!

With hindsight, I had clearly internalised all the stress that came with ensuring my children were happy and making this move work. Try to tune into your body as much as possible and at the very least go for a daily walk – with so much beauty on our doorstep, why would you not.

Be prepared to fail or at the very least pivot

I launched my business primarily to manage the social media accounts for small businesses, while still using my PR skills. On occasion this was successful – for example, I photographed and created content for a luxury garden nursery and I still create the content for a mental health charity - however, I quickly realised that often I cannot and shouldn’t be the voice of a business.

Instead, I began to concentrate far more on providing training to small businesses and independents, guiding them through the right platforms for their business and offering content ideas and tips to get them up and running. Most recently, I have provided website content audits for businesses to ensure they are actually communicating their business correctly.

Give something back

If you have a skill use it voluntarily – it will make you feel good, fact. And who knows where it may lead. I have carried out unpaid PR work for Cancer Research UK since moving here.

And lastly…

It may be a good idea if you have a solid answer for “why did you make this move” or “why did you set up this business”. I’ve still not quite nailed the “why Bournemouth?” answer (and I have been asked it a gazillion times). I think I should just bore the next person with all the beach photos on my phone!

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