Interview: Helen Roe of The Orange Lantern

helen-roe Meet CWC Member Helen Roe: a marketing master, business strategist, mentor and mum. She helps creative people capture and plan their business so they can make a living from what they love to do. She's coming to Melbourne soon to run one of her much-loved creative business planning workshops (details of which can be found at the end of the post), but before she lands we thought we'd get some insight into how she came to do what she loves for a living.

You describe yourself a 'corporate refugee'. What is your background and what is the focus of your business now? My career has included management roles in marketing, sales and business development with global brands like Coca Cola, Colgate Palmolive and Nivea, in Europe. Whilst I enjoyed the journey and amazing experiences my corporate life offered, I felt the need for change in latter years, especially after having my second daughter.

I wanted my work to be an extension of me and the values I held important in my personal life. I wanted to change from mass market marketing to community, connection and customer care. I love being creative in my spare time. I’m a qualified interior designer, I’ve had my own home baking business and have experimented with various other creative endeavours! I also really enjoy connecting with the customer and creating something of value for others.

It wasn’t until I moved to Australia a couple of years ago from Ireland, that it came to me. I found a way to incorporate my skillset and love of all things creative, into a service that helped other creatives with their marketing and business planning. The Orange Lantern was born.

What does a typical day at work involve? A typical work day can vary greatly, which is why I love it! I work mornings and finish early afternoon for school pick-ups. I like to squeeze a morning run in there a couple of times a week, otherwise the day slips by. I’ll do a few hours on the laptop, check in with emails and social media, work on planning, creating or implementing my online programs or business planning workshops. I’ll also schedule some client sessions during the week, either in person or on Skype. Then it’s taxi service for the afternoon, out and about with my daughters for various after school activities. I try and get some work done in the evenings too, when little people are sleeping.

What are some of the challenges you encounter or have encountered in your own business, and how did you work through them? Certainly, when you’re starting out in business it can so exciting but also very overwhelming. There is so much to do and so much to learn that there never seems to be enough time. It took me a while to realize that running your own business will always be a work in progress.

The to do list is never really done. I work on long-term and short-term goals now, so I can see my progress, even the small wins, which helps me stay motivated.

I see perfectionism a lot amongst creatives in business too. Unfortunately, I know it only too well! It leads to procrastination and the ‘it’s not ready yet’ syndrome, where products or programs are never launched or marketed. This ultimately leads to little or no progress in your business. Yes, it’s important to maintain standards but it’s also important to be realistic about what you can achieve on a regular basis.

What's the one mistake you consistently see creative's making in their businesses? It has to be pricing. Getting your pricing right in the beginning can save you so much heartache down the road. I’ve had clients in my business planning workshops unable to plan for growth, expansion into wholesale or third party selling because their pricing strategy is missing key elements. Implementing an effective pricing strategy and understanding how it fits with your overall brand strategy is intrinsic to the success of your business. Yes, your pricing, like your product or designs, can evolve over time but only when it’s based on solid foundations.

In your opinion, what are some of the first steps creatives can take toward making a decent, full-time living from their work? Be fully committed to your work as a business and not just a hobby or something you enjoy doing. Ask yourself what value you have to offer and who is willing to pay for it? What solution do you solve for your customer? It can be a tangible thing or an intangible emotion or feeling. Know what makes you and your offerings unique in the marketplace. One of my favourite quotes from Maya Angelou captures this importance: "People will not remember what you said to them but they will remember how you made them feel."

Have a vision and a plan.Your plan can take any format. It doesn’t have to be a manuscript but it’s important to have something that connects you to your business vision. It may be a vision board, a yearly planner with key events, a visual of your perfect customers, your sales target in big numbers posted on your wall, whatever works for you. I demonstrate lots of tools and strategies in my planning workshops and generally, no two people plan the same way.

Be prepared to market your product and tell your story. Sales & marketing may not be your favourite activities but without them you will not have a business. Pick one or two platforms that work for you and do them consistently. Get help here if you need to. Outsource where you can. This is hard in the beginning when budgets are tight but try and spend your time doing the things you are good at and get help in the areas you’re not so good at.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received? It would have to be this quote from Chris Brogan: “Your year is made up of days, and those days must be treated like your only hopes and chances exist within them".

I was just back to work after the holidays and in the process of pondering and planning the year ahead in my biz when my eyes fell upon these words. I love this, life is just too short for regrets. Live each day to the fullest and step outside your comfort zone, that’s where the magic happens!


Helen is running her Right-Brain Business Planning Workshop on 1 March here in Melbourne. Early bird tickets finish on January 31! If you book via this link, Helen will generously donate a portion of the ticket price to CWC to help us continue to do the things we do here. Thanks, Helen!