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Claire Ayles

Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Claire Ayles

Claire Ayles is the co-founder of technology PR agency, Eleven Hundred Agency, based in London. Alongside her business partner, she set up the company in 2018 and it has now grown to represent some of the most exciting B2B tech brands in the world. She’s also a wife and Mum to two teenage girls.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

Eleven Hundred helps tech brands of all shapes and sizes raise their profile via the media, at events and on social. We also help our clients with content creation. Along with my business partner, Mike, I set up the company from scratch in early 2018. Before that, Mike and I had worked together for 17 or so years, at a couple of other tech PR agencies.

I made the switch to PR relatively late in my career, as most people join the industry as graduates. I spent my twenties in various communications and admin roles figuring out what I wanted to do before making the switch to agency life just before turning 30. I have pretty much loved every minute of it ever since. So much so that, in my mid-forties, I decided to take the plunge and set up my own firm.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

Tech PR has been our focus for years; we had loads of contacts and experience so we decided to stick to what we were good at. That said, it’s a hugely competitive market, so we recognised we needed a point of difference. That’s why we decided to offer content development services as well as PR. We are strong and experienced writers, so it made sense to offer clients a broader range of services than other agencies.

How did you achieve awareness?

An advantage of working in PR is you know a lot of journalists and can find your way around social media! However, we also worked our networks to help with word-of-mouth marketing. Or contacts were unbelievably supportive and were recommending us to stacks of companies that were looking for – or even thinking about – raising their awareness in the UK market. It was hard work to get off the ground, but a hugely rewarding process because so many people were happy to help us.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

We bootstrapped the business which was tough in the first six or so months when we were living off our savings. Fortunately, we were able to win some retained business quite quickly that gave us a regular income stream, which meant we could pay ourselves a modest salary. It was a risky decision – and it wasn’t easy – but I’m glad we went through that initial pain as it means we’ve kept 100 percent control of the company, without outside influence or stakeholders.

What are the key successes?

I’m most proud of the work we’ve done for clients – getting them quality broadcast PR coverage and in the national media, as well as in a broad range of specialist media titles. Doing a good job for clients is what it’s all about. It means your revenues and pipeline grow, and your employees have something to be proud of.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

The biggest challenge has always been recruitment. In the early days, it was attracting people who would want to work for such a small, young company – I think several candidates thought it was too risky a career move. Now, it’s tricky because competition for top talent is fierce.

What are your plans now/for the future?

More of the same! We’ve grown pretty much every quarter that we’ve been operating, and have a plan in place that should keep us on a trajectory of managed growth for the short- to mid-term. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

There’s a misconception that being an entrepreneur is a solo pursuit, where you have to make all the decisions and take all the risks. While the buck will ultimately stop with you, that doesn’t mean you’re in it on your own. There are plenty of advisors, organisations and forums out there that can help you along the way. Outside perspective is invaluable.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you’re running a business, you have to keep lots of plates spinning but, as you grow, it’s completely unrealistic to think you can stay in close control of everything. You’ve just got to trust in the processes you’ve set up and the people you hire. If something minor goes wrong because you took your eye off the ball for a moment, so be it. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, you’re all good.  

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

For very different reasons:

  • My school friend Petra Wolde-Smith. She’s a single mum with a full-time job who knows exactly what she wants and deserves. She gets stuff done!
  • Alex Ferguson, who has created more joy in my life than anyone else, apart from my friends and family.
  • The solo round-the-world sailor, Pip Hare. We’re lucky enough to have worked with Pip as our client, Medallia, is her sponsor. This woman’s bravery and drive is off the scale.
  • Margaret Atwood. If I had a wish (not to mention the talent!), I’d love to be a novelist. Atwood is the very best; at least in my opinion.
  • I have to put Vlodymyr Zelensky on the list, someone who I knew little about just a few weeks ago. He’s the hero of our time. His inspirational qualities are too long to list.

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/claireayles

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/claire-ayles-b075a1/