Career Academy is a resource for candidates working in the creative sector in the UK, or those wishing to enter the creative industries.
But we understand it might be difficult to break into the marketing, PR, creative, design, digital, communications, and social media industries. That’s why we work with experienced career coaches that can help you make that transition. Today, we are introducing Helen Jane Campbell, a professional business coach for creative people. Read her full interview about her professional career, her community work, and her own career transition below.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a life and business coach for creative people. My clients include individuals, groups and inspiring business owners.
I’m also the author of ‘Founders, Freelancers & Rebels: How to Thrive as an Independent Creative’ published by Business Expert Press.
How did you get into that career?
Before becoming a full-time qualified and accredited coach, I worked in PR and comms for 20 years. Friends saw me running my own business, landing big-name clients — like the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) — and leading workshops for exciting brands like Disney. And they’d often ask for my support if they were stuck in their own careers.
For years I’d listen to and help friends and contacts make big decisions, new connections and big plans in my spare time. But it wasn’t something I’d considered as a career. When I landed a contract with a coaching-based charity in 2015, I really started exploring my own coaching skills while heading up their corporate fundraising. They were very supportive, which inspired me to begin studying coaching professionally.
To kick-start my own career change, I took an introductory night school course at Cardiff University and then went on to study for my coaching diploma a few years later. I feel that I was incredibly lucky to do my training face-to-face. The whole transition was around five years, as I gradually wound down my PR work and increased my coaching clients. Swapping the fast-paced PR world of rolling news and launch parties, for a job which focuses on thoughtful listening and reflection was a really big switch for me.
I think making any career change can feel a bit like altering part of your identity and so it can feel quite intense at times, having my own coach to guide me through it felt essential. And now, having made that big career change in my forties, I feel even better equipped to support others because of my own lived experience.
Tell us a bit about your career to date?
When I left uni with a media production degree I applied for 100 different jobs. Everyone wanted to work in media in 1999 but I was determined and eventually got on a graduate training scheme in Manchester with the Co-operative Insurance. I’d feared finance would be dull, but I got this amazing role promoting socially responsible investment. I travelled around the UK meeting journalists and MPs, took exams, and got a huge buzz out of landing coverage in the national press. So, I was in my early twenties and talking about £26bn very confidently — I felt very supported.
I think I fell in love with PR and when I moved to London, my employer there (a big accountancy firm) paid the course fees for me to study and gain my PR diploma. So, I was back at uni on Saturdays and working full-time, but still seemed to find the time to go to gigs and parties constantly.
I went on to lead teams and campaigns, working at fast-paced PR agencies and at a media-focused charity. Around the time of the 2008 financial crash I was made redundant from an Account Director role and set up my own consultancy, which grew into a small team, working out of Huckletree’s first premises when they launched in 2014. Having a co-working space and that community for myself and the team was amazing, as we got to meet loads of other inspiring founders and I’m still in touch with people there.
Where do you live and work?
I live in the famous booktown of Hay-on-Wye in Mid-Wales and I work with clients around the UK and a few overseas too.
Where are most of your clients based?
I have clients throughout the UK, including London, Gloucester, Bath, Kent, Wales, Scotland, and also overseas, including the USA. The majority are in London and I have a very strong client base locally in and around Hay-on-Wye too, which I love because I get to run these incredible workshops here in beautiful restaurants and galleries.
How do you decide on your charges?
My rates take into account my training and experience, my overheads and the coaching industry overall. Clients tend to find that investing in my coaching leads them to land new business, and/or raise their rates, they often tell me they get a huge return on investment.
I offer payment plans to help the founders and freelancers I work with spread the cost and I also run group programmes, which are more affordable.
Who do you get most business advice from?
I talk a lot in my book and in my coaching about building your ‘squad’ and for me that looks like having a coaching supervisor and a network of people I trust and respect, who I can turn to as a sounding board and for inspiration. In addition to my own contacts, I also look for inspiration from Creative Mornings, from Huckletree’s online events and to authors and podcasters such as Brené Brown.
I also have a financial advisor who I trust and she’s been a huge support for me when I’ve made big changes in my life.
What networking groups are you involved in, both online and in person?
I’ve been a guest speaker and a delegate at Creative Mornings Cardiff and I find it’s worth making the long (and beautiful) drive through the Brecon Beacons for. Also, I’ve attended globally-run Creative Mornings events online.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to be part of a founders’ mastermind group with Huckletree which ran during lockdown. And I’m still enjoying the quarterly online events they run with inspiring speakers and delegates. What I love is that you’re not a passive delegate, there is the opportunity to find out who else is there and connect with them and for me that’s key, not to just sit there like I’m in the cinema, but instead to engage.
Also, I’m part of my local Chamber of Commerce in Hay-on-Wye. I co-founded and co-ran Hay’s first Pride last year and my local community here is very important to me.
And what is the best thing about your job?
There are the obvious highs, like the client who — in just six sessions — landed her dream job in the House of Lords (from a totally different career in classical music which she was keen to move forward from) and another who not only got a publishing deal with a big-name publisher, but had three publishers competing for her first book.
So there are those obvious wins and proud moments. But it’s also the more subtle stuff. I recently went into a bookshop and the owner, who literally has access to any book she wants, told me she was reading my book, and this was the first time I’d been into the shop and I really felt so proud and a bit shy too. It was a lovely moment.
And then there’s the lifestyle my job brings me, because I live in such a beautiful place and I can walk or swim or run between client meetings. If I want to go to yoga and meet a friend at the bakery during the morning then I can, and it doesn’t stop me from also being able to work with some of the most inspiring people and businesses too. I get to have both.
What advice would you give your younger self or to someone starting out?
I think when I was just starting out I was so worried about getting ‘into trouble’ and I feel like I toed the line too much at times. I was wearing suits because I was told to, and fitting in by looking studious, but underneath there was someone a bit more brave and bold trying to emerge. Also I remember going to Manchester Pride but feeling outside of that community and very shy. And now in my forties, having co-founded the first Pride where I live, I have a queer community and I think that was missing from my life a lot before.
So, I think the biggest advice I’d give (whatever age you are) is to find people you can be your true self with. And if you can’t find them then think about whether you might be able to start something to attract those people into your life, because they will be there somewhere. One of my values in life and work is community and finding that is a game-changer. And very freeing for me.
And what’s your favourite type of client/work?
I love working with PR agencies. I have several clients where I work with the owners and the teams, both individually and together. And because I was in that industry for so long, I ‘get’ a lot of the pressures, and know the lingo.
We can work really powerfully and also have so much fun too. I do a lot of transformational coaching with PR people.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently focussing on really building a community around my business. So for creative people who want to network and meet one another, there are lots of opportunities to do that through my online and in-person events and online networks, and I am really putting a lot of energy into making that something very special.
So, what would be your alternative career?
I wish I’d been born with musical talent and could be a singer. I’ve tried everything from choir to flute to violin and have never been able to master music, but I’m obsessive about going to gigs and with what I listen to. When I ran Hay Pride last year we got a drumming teacher to help us learn some basic samba. And so on the day I was leading this parade through the town, with a drum, and although it was super basic it still sounded so great and I felt incredible. That was an exciting moment.
Do you have a side hustle? Tell us about that.
I’m entering a lot of writing competitions at the moment. I run a writers’ group and I love the discipline of the deadlines and word counts that competitions offer. I’m a published author but in the business section, I want to get my name in the fiction section next.
What’s the one message you’d like anyone reading this article to receive from you?
Don’t ‘fake it til you make it’ instead be your authentic self. Faking it is, in my experience, exhausting and stressful. When you lean fully into your authentic self, doing what you truly love and getting into your flow then that’s where the magic happens. And that’s what I’m here for, to help people find that in their work and lives.
If you are interested in working with Helen Jane Campbell visit her website to learn more and how she can help. Check her website here: https://www.coachingbyhelen.com/book-now
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