Meet: Ali Marsland, Founder of The Effective English Company

Hannah Brice Written by
Hannah Brice
Struggling to get your business going? Ali Marsland says the secret is to tell everyone because you never know who they might know. Some might be customers. Here’s her story.

Meet Ali Marsland

Ali Marsland is the founder of The Effective English Company, an extra pair of hands for busy communications teams, ready to draft whatever content is needed.

1. Why did you start The Effective English Company and what were you doing before?

I’ve always worked in communications. In 2006 I was employed as a communications manager in the NHS on a fixed-term contract and when it ended I decided to give freelancing a go. I’ve always loved to travel and I wanted to be able to travel whenever I liked without being constrained to booking 20 days’ leave around other people’s commitments.

I worked as a freelance communications manager in the traditional way for several years and then decided I wanted to take things a step further and switch the business model to enable me to work remotely so that I could work and travel at the same time. I was also aware that working in the way I had been, I was trading my time for money. I decided to take the next step and start outsourcing.

In 2013 I formed a limited company and now have a team of 10 based around the UK, and the business is entirely remote. Our USP is flexibility, which ties in perfectly with the business model – with a team of people all working remotely and no physical headquarters we are able to be very flexible and responsive to clients’ needs.

2. What were the biggest sources of inspiration and support when you were starting out?

It feels like a long time since I first started now! In the very early days when I was first considering going freelance I tapped into my professional network and met with a few self-employed people in the industry who took pity on me and generously offered some of their time and wisdom in exchange for a cup of coffee.

I clearly remember being given what I think was one of the best pieces of advice at that time – when you decide to start in business you don’t need business cards, you don’t need fancy stationery and you don’t need a professional website – the only thing you really need is work. That really got me past the commonly-held notion that you need to get those things in place before you start approaching anyone for work. I am forever grateful to the person who told me that (and I didn’t have a website at all for three years).

3. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting the business?

No-one else knows what they’re doing either! We’re all at different stages on the business journey and some of us have learned more than others but after 12 years in business I have yet to meet a business owner who genuinely feels like they’ve got it all sorted and know how to do everything. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along.

4. What has been your proudest moment/biggest achievement so far?

I think the single biggest achievement for me was simply making the leap to going freelance in the first place. I had no idea whether it would work out, and the last 12 years haven’t all been plain sailing by any means, but I’m still here, still in business and I love what I do. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t made that move back then, but I’m so glad I did.

5. What piece of advice would you give to anyone starting out?

I’d definitely reiterate the advice I was given about only really needing work. And apart from that I’d say tell everyone what you’re doing – and I mean everyone – friends, family, neighbours, all your professional contacts etc. You never know who people know, and most of the time you just need that one ‘right client’ or connection to really get things moving.

The other thing I would say is don’t get too hung up on trying to get everything right – it’s generally better to just get moving than to take a really long time trying to work out what will be best. Give it a go and find out.

6. What piece of investment did you make in the business that was worth every penny?

My virtual assistant (VA). She was one of the first people to join my team and she looks after all the invoicing and everything to do with finance, taxes etc. Invoicing is critical to business – however well you do the work, if you don’t invoice promptly and chase payments you’re not going to receive any money. Having someone else to take care of that so I could focus on other things has been incredibly worthwhile.

7. Which element of marketing has made the biggest impact on your business?

The vast majority of my work since I started in business has come from word of mouth referrals. So the ‘marketing’ that has had the biggest impact has been simply making sure we consistently do a great job, along with making a point of keeping in touch with people and building new relationships with the right people.

8. What do the next 12 months look like for you?

I’m starting a growth phase in the business at the moment and aiming to expand over the next year. I’m looking to bring in a manager to take over a lot of the day-to-day task management and workflow issues that I deal with at the moment, I’m working with a coach to review all the internal systems and processes and I’m going to be reviewing all of our marketing activity to see where we can make it work harder.

The last few months have been great and I’m very positive about the future right now.

Do you have an interesting story to tell about how your business got started? Tell us about it.