I founded my content marketing studio when I was 22. I’d already been a full-time social media freelancer for about three years, and I thought I’d been through it all - highs and lows with clients big and small, stints at advertising agencies, meetings and tedious admin.
In early 2018 projects just kept coming, and I decided it’s time to expand. I thought it wouldn’t be any different, really (big misconception), and I can handle it no matter what (debatable).
As I’m writing this, I’m 24 and my agency is nearing its second birthday. We’re now a team of five residing in a small office in East London - not the biggest enterprise the world has seen, but I wouldn’t have thought it possible two years ago.
I’d always preferred to stay quiet about my age. I believe we should be judged by the quality of our work, and I suspect many people would equate my age with a lack of experience. Or, worse, take it as a sign I could be taken advantage of, offered unpaid - or underpaid - gigs.
Ageism in the marketing industry is alive and well. It tends to hit those on the other side of the spectrum than me the most, though. It is an industry where fresh ideas are valued above all, and fresh ideas are often unfairly associated with youth. I don’t want to participate in spreading that mindset.
So, I kept my age to myself, considering it nothing but a liability. But we all grow up in different times and circumstances, and as a result, end up with different worldviews. They are all equally valuable.
One day, as I was talking to a friend, I noticed how surprised he was to find out I supplemented my income in the early days of my career by building websites, designing flyers and creating illustrations.
Indeed, I spent so much time on my laptop in my teens that by the time I was 19, I was a junior social media manager, junior copywriter, junior web developer, junior graphic designer and a junior illustrator rolled into one. That’s because I grew up in precarious times, in a bad economy, with pretty bleak prospects. I knew I had to diversify my skillset from a very young age.
Turns out, growing up in the 2000s and early 2010s brought a lot of valuable lessons.
Seeing the potential in others
I was still a teen when I landed my first freelance gig.
I wouldn’t be where I am now without the clients who took a chance on me (just like Abba). My first client, who had a 19-year-old Eastern European me running all his socials, and who recommended me to other clients. A PR consultant who taught me to stop using emojis in emails (yes, I needed to be told). An agency that kept giving me more responsibilities because they believed I could handle it. Another agency which had me sit in on all the big scary meetings, so I had an opportunity to learn. A client who thought I had potential and allowed me to spread my wings — the same client who believed in me even if I messed up.
I like to extend all of the kindness I received to marketing juniors. When I need help on a project, I’m not overlooking people with little to no relevant experience, no matter their age — I’m looking for someone I could believe in.
The marketing industry is no stranger to flexible working. I don’t believe the future of creative work relies on a rigid eight hour working day.
Therefore, if a 9 to 5 isn’t your thing, I trust you’re able to deliver what’s asked of you within a reasonable timeline. I work with adults, I’m not running a daycare — I don’t need to know where you are as long as the work is done.
Be prepared for everything
Would you like to know how to set Gen Z and millennials apart? Since no one agrees what the exact cut-off year between the two is, follow this handy guide instead:
Have they grown up in the era of economic prosperity, and entered the workforce just before, or during the financial collapse of the late 2000s? Have they been surprised to realise they will most likely be financially worse off than their parents? They’re a millennial.
Has the 2008 crisis marked their childhood or teenage years? Have they grown up in a precarious economy and entered the workforce fully aware that they may never buy a house or expect a traditional career path? They’re Gen Z.
I was 12/13 when the market collapsed. Even though it didn’t affect me directly back then, I was aware something has changed for good. I was a teen when the political upheaval in Europe started, and I was in my late teens when environmental issues became a mainstream issue. Any illusions of a safe world I had as a kid were quickly dispersed. It became apparent that if I follow my mum’s (literature teacher) or my dad’s (radio journalist turned writer) paths, I will never buy a house. Hell, I will probably never buy a house anyway. And I may not be able to retire for a very, very, very long time.
If I live long enough for retirement, that is - given that most climate emergency projections paint a catastrophic view of the 2050s. My earliest retirement year is 2063.
So, my constant need for self-improvement is pretty much fueled by existential anxiety. Can’t think of a better motivation!
Everyone's time is valuable
I coded websites for a living, so when the time came to let someone else code mine, I wasn’t cutting costs. I know how much of your time and heart goes into building a website.
I used to create illustrations for clients, so I wouldn’t offer the illustrators I commission an unfair deal. I remember how soul-crushing it was to receive negative feedback on your art.
My early freelance experiences in various roles helped me empathise with how valuable everyone’s time is. I’ve met freelancers-turned-agency-owners who charged the clients double the day rate they paid the freelancer. I’ve met people who never freelanced and charged the client triple the day rate while cutting the costs as much as they could.
If I believe a freelancer’s work is worth £500 a day and the client agrees, I’m not going to pay them £250 and pocket the rest. They get the whole thing.
The power of belief
Which brings me to my next point - I have opinions I feel strongly about. I don’t just talk about ethics because I heard that’s what the kids like now: I am the kids in question. If I don’t run my business ethically, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror. I genuinely believe that we can all do our part in making the world a better place.
This translates itself to the work I do as well. I want it to be meaningful. I want it to be inclusive.
MJ Widomska, founder and creative director, YRS TRULY