Katrina Cliffe founded KC Communications in August 2014. With over 12 years’ experience in marketing, Katrina has worked across a variety of sectors, from technology to recruitment, public sector, finance, and retail.
“…As a former apprentice myself and now as a business owner, it’s about providing a voice for potential apprentices whose parents might not think that apprenticeships are the right route to go down…”
From apprentice to entrepreneur
I started my career as a business administration apprentice when I was 15. I was straight out of school, I’d just finished my GCSEs and I had no idea of what grades that I’d got. I just wanted to get out there and start earning. I did my first placement with a car dealership, which I found absolutely mind-numbing, to the point where three months into that role I set out to find myself a new position.
That led me to work for a marketing recruitment agency called Moves. That was what ultimately set me on the path of working in this industry. From then I went to work for a well-established marketing and design agency called ATTIK.
Throughout my career post-apprenticeship I took numerous CPD [continuing professional development] courses. I did a Certificate in Business with the Open University, and a CAM (Communications, Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation] Diploma in Marketing Communications.
I’m also currently part way through doing a further CAM Diploma in Digital Marketing, which is focused on metrics and analysis. (In between that time I’ve had two children as well – I’ve got a ten year old and a four year old..!)
I then worked in a number of other marketing based roles before working for a Dublin-based tech company called i-conX Solutions as their Marketing Services Manager, starting off part time before moving up to full time. I worked from home, travelled to Dublin once or twice a month and I managed all their events, marketing and PR on a global scale.
After five a half years in that industry I just felt I needed to do something different, I wanted my own thing, so that’s why I decided to set up my own business. I set up with no contacts whatsoever in the local area – the previous company I’d worked for was Dublin based and all their work had been international. They didn’t do any work whatsoever in the UK.
Getting a client on board at my first networking event – it snowballed from there
So from setting out with no contacts whatsoever I was very lucky to get a client on board at my first networking event, and then it pretty much snowballed from there.
KC Communications is a marketing, PR and social media agency, based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire and we work with businesses across a variety of different industries that don’t typically have an in house marketing resource. We act as that company’s marketing director, marketing manager, or even marketing team, to carry out all the activities that would typically be undertaken if they employed somebody in house.
We develop their marketing strategies that are all bespoke to their business and then we take care of delivering our recommendations. This includes online and offline marketing, public relations, event planning, social media and pretty much everything in between. It’s all about ensuring that our clients receive return on investment, raise their awareness of their business to help them become more profitable to meet their business objectives and grow.
Taking on an apprentice myself – rewards all round
When I first started, within three or four months of getting up and running, I needed an extra pair of hands, but from a financial perspective there isn’t the support to get grants and take more staff on unless your turning over quite a bit of money, so the most realistic option was getting an apprentice to help me with the things that were taking up too much of my time and which didn’t require my level of expertise.
Getting an apprentice certainly meant I could free up a lot of my time and grow my business, but as importantly, it allowed me to train somebody else to become more experienced and give them a career path.
Just a few months after the apprentice joined us, we took on our third person. Unfortunately, the apprentice we took on at the very start is no longer with us, but she identified a different career path that she wanted to follow as a result of being employed by us, and we are now in the process of recruiting another apprentice, who we’ve identified already.
This time we’ve chosen to work with a higher level apprentice – somebody who’s already spent a year as an apprentice. They know this is the industry they want to be in and now we can really help develop them further, refine their skills and carve out a fantastic career path for them.
Whilst it is a lower cost recruitment option, I’ve always made sure I’ve paid my apprentices more than the minimum apprenticeship rate. They’re doing some great work and I want to feel valued. For start-up businesses, if you find the right person, it can have a fantastic effect on the business and this means rewards all round for everybody.
Advice for small and medium sized businesses on finding their ideal apprentice
If you’re looking for an apprentice, I’d recommend you to take some time out to go into colleges and schools to meet with young people to talk about the industry that you’re in, and the routes into in – it’s a really great way of potentially meeting an ideal employee.
I went and did a talk at one of the local colleges the other day and a girl turned round at the end and said: “Have you got any work experience?” Off the back of that she’s coming in and doing some bits and pieces for us now. That’s a brilliant recruitment tactic rather than having to wait for having CVs sent. You can really see, there and then, what these young people are like.
Reach out to the local apprenticeship hub, put requests out on your social media to say that you’re looking, get a job description on your website. Make it known that you’re looking for an apprentice. Don’t just rely on people reaching out to you. And do your research on that individual.
Coming from a marketing environment, one of the first things I look at is their social media and how they present themselves on these platforms, because we use it so much for our work that if they can’t get past that goalpost I know they’re not going to be right for my organisation.
Finding the right training provider
If you’ve got general business contacts that have dealt with local colleges or training providers, ask for their insight and get a feel for their experiences that way. Additionally, start engaging with the local colleges and see what the level of response is from them. Do you get a quick response? Do they have the answers to your questions? From there you can start to gauge an opinion as to whether or not they’re right.
As I’m in the marketing industry, I follow the education providers on their social media platforms to see what they’re doing about promoting career, employment and training opportunities, and seeing how driven they are about it. If you see that they are promoting these experiences, they are likely to be quite good.
So for example, the college I’d gone into last week has already been tweeting about the fact that I’ve been in and that one of their students has now secured work experience in this sector. That demonstrates that they do have a genuine care about providing a highly enriched learning experience for their students.
Former apprentices standing up and being counted as business leaders
Having individuals who have been down the apprenticeship route and done well out of it being more vocal will change people’s perceptions about apprenticeships. I won’t ever put on any of my job descriptions for my senior level roles that I’m looking for someone with a degree. For me it’s about experience and drive – about what they’ve done in a role, not what they’ve gained qualification wise. I’d much rather see someone has continued down the CPD path and strives to better themselves throughout their career as opposed to relying on what they’ve learnt in the past.
As a former apprentice myself and now as a business owner, it’s about providing a voice for potential apprentices whose parents might not think that apprenticeships are the right route to go down. It can, for some, be perceived as a second class route into employment and that really isn’t the case. I finished my apprenticeship with no debt, bought my first house at 18 and have a fantastic career.
For me, to help change perceptions it’s about being able to demonstrate: “This is what I did, this is what I’ve achieved and this what I do now. And this is what I’m giving back to the local community and society in general by having taken this route.”
I don’t feel that if I’d gone down the university route that I would be doing this now. I’d never say never, and I’m not knocking the university route at all, but former apprentices need to stand up and be counted as business leaders to encourage others into their industries via this route.
Future growth plans
It’s busy and there’s a lot of opportunities out there. I’m looking for us to become a small to medium sized agency within the next five years. There will hopefully be eight to ten of us working in the business, and I’ll be able to take a bit more of step back from developing client marketing strategies to overseeing the running of the business and dealing with the new business development whilst doing more with educational establishments.
The outsourced marketing model seems to be working well and we’re seeing that now with much bigger companies – companies that are turning over between £3-£11 million – that don’t have an in house marketing resource, but they know that they need to undertake some level of marketing if they want to continue to grow and develop, so that’s why they’re approaching us.
Last week we won a new contract to start working with another organisation. We’ve also recently had some brilliant results for one of our manufacturing clients – they’ve recently won a fantastic award and they’re being featured in a lot of up and coming PR. We’ve got a healthy sales pipeline and we have our own new apprentice starting at the end of the month along with recruiting for a senior level account manager, so there’s a lot going on, but we wouldn’t have it any other way..!