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How a spin-off business got us through the GFC

Friday, 29 June 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

my-best-mistake-20120629-thumbLaunching a spin-off site is one way to boost sales, but if the idea is poorly executed you could suffer setbacks rather than getting ahead. Jules Brooke and Simone Heydon can vouch for it.


Brooke and Heydon are the founders of Handle Your Own PR, a DIY publicity business for small businesses and individuals who need or want publicity, but don’t have the funds to pay an agency.


Handle Your Own PR was born off the back of Brooke and Heydon’s first business, Handle Communications, a publicity agency set up in 2003.


But when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, the business took a turn for the worse.


“When the GFC hit, the business went pretty pear-shaped,” Brooke says.


“Because we work with such small businesses, everyone started freaking out, and PR was high on the list of things they could no longer afford.”


“The problem we had was how do we get these small business customers as clients when they have no money, and how do we promote their businesses cheaply and easily?”


“We thought, why don’t we start a DIY website? … Handle Your Own PR would be the baby step if you were keen to invest in PR but didn’t have a lot of money.”


“The plan was to educate people, motivate them to do it and produce all the tools so they could do it themselves… In 2009, we launched the [HYOP] website.”


While the decision to set up the site was a good one, Brooke admits the idea wasn’t executed in the best possible way, which resulted in a “steep, steep learning curve”.


“We set it up thinking everyone reads lots of stuff on websites… We set it up very, very cheap and there was way too much text,” she says.


“Media contact lists normally sell for around $3,000. We sold media contact lists for $1,500… so we priced abysmally as well.”


It was only after the site was made more user-friendly that opportunities began to pop up.


“I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial and have this urge to look at the bigger picture for everything. Via Twitter, I met a woman in America doing PR as well,” Brooke says.


“I said, why don’t you run Handle Your Own PR in the US? We expanded over there and that has been trundling along… We recently found someone in the UK to run it as well.”


“The UK partner came via a friend of a friend after we received quite a few emails and Facebook posts from UK-based small businesses that wanted to know when they would be able to access a similar service to the Aussie version.”


“The international growth was always part of the plan but we didn’t expect it to happen quite so quickly.”


HYOP has achieved 100% year-on-year growth since it began operating.


“It’s just the two of us. We do have a virtual assistant to help us and we have our partners in other countries, but they run their own websites over there,” Brooke says.


Brooke says the key in business is to remain flexible.


“You have to learn from your mistakes, and you may need to change direction… Keep an eye on what you want to do ultimately, but you might need to take a windy road to get there.”


“Also, if you find an area no one else is in, consumers won’t say, ‘I love this’. They’re more likely to say, ‘How the hell are we supposed to use this?’ You have to explain to people what it is.”