What we’ve learnt since starting Good Beans

Since starting Good Beans we have learnt A LOT, not just about business but ourselves too. Thinking about starting a business? Read our top tips from a busy couple of years.

First, some history

The first Beans were sown two years ago when we both found ourselves freelancing and feeling lonely without the ready made group of colleagues that comes with a regular 9 to 5.

Claire had spent 10 years working in editorial and digital marketing roles in the science, education and charity sectors, writing for websites and digesting complex information into engaging content.

Ella’s background was in small but growing design agencies, social enterprises and charities, managing creative and digital projects and getting generally stuck into all things that make a business work.

Through both of our careers we had worked with many organisations that had great ideas. However, we saw a gap in the market, as they were often made of small teams or talented individuals without a dedicated marketing department.

Having been friends for a while, we had the fateful idea to pool our complimentary experience, and try to do something together. We came up with a name and set about building a website from scratch.

Soon after, we landed ourselves a client. And an office. And then another client. And now, when we look back to when we first started out a short two years ago, we barely recognise our business or ourselves.

This is what we’ve learnt.

Tip one: Figure out why

Before we embarked on this work together, we spoke a lot about what our personal motivations were. We got a big piece of paper and some sharpies and wrote up the following:

And it turns out that this list of desires is one of the most valuable things we could have done. We frequently come back to it, especially when times feel hard, to remind ourselves why we did this in the first place.

Tip two: Align your values

As two people with 10 years of friendship behind us, we knew a lot about each other and our values. But we needed to cement that in order to figure out the direction of our business and who our audience was going to be.

We firmly believe that organisations have the power to change the world. The last ten years or so have seen an enormous increase in Social Enterprises, which are generally not-for-profit businesses that have both business goals and social goals. So, when a social enterprise profits, society profits.

Today, there are almost half a million social enterprises in the UK and the sector is growing very fast. We saw a gap in the market. We planned to offer affordable marketing to those organisations, to give them a better chance of succeeding.

Using our network of graphic designers, filmmakers and developers, we can offer the full service for a fraction of the price of a regular agency. Something that we hope appeals to charities and small, disruptive organisations too.

Tip three: Communicate with each other

We share A LOT (some might say too much), however we feel we need to know what’s going on in each other’s personal lives in order to understand what pressures the business might be adding.

Since going into business together, we’ve also met a surprising number of people who have fallen foul of ‘Founder’s Syndrome’. Also known as ‘Founderitis’, the condition affects lifelong friends who have fallen out irreparably due to the stresses and strains of starting a business together. This is NOT something that we want to risk and the only way we think it can be avoided is by talking openly and honestly, as much as possible.

Tip four: Know your roles

We don’t have job descriptions. Working out what each of us does has been an organic process of trial and error. In the beginning we often felt guilty for not working the same amount on each project, and were trying to do things that were actually the area of expertise of the other. We realised pretty quickly that this was a really inefficient way of working. Now we know where each others strengths lie, roles are divided naturally, and work is delegated without any awkwardness.

Tip five: Only one person can cry at a time

Sounds weird, but this one is important. Starting a business comes with lots of pressure, and when we were starting out, stressful days were plentiful. The brilliant thing about being two people is that there’s always someone there to pick the other one up if things get challenging.

We were also acutely aware of our responsibility to one another. If one person quits, carrying on will be very hard for the other, affecting both of our livelihoods. That’s a scary thought. So our favourite rule, and one that we are not embarrassed to share is: YOU CAN’T BOTH BREAK DOWN AT THE SAME TIME.

Tip six: Know your audience

Knowing what your mission is and making that very clear is vital for any organisation. When you know your business inside out, it’s tempting to try to appeal to all. We have seen so many organisations’ websites, that even after reading every page we still don’t understand what they do. Decide who you are speaking to and then craft your message, just for them, in as simple terms as possible.

It’s something we’ve worked on a lot for on ourselves over the last two years, and something that we LOVE doing for other organisations 🙂

Tip seven: Get your systems in place

Ella has run the inner workings of organisations before and loves a good spreadsheet. She set us up with systems that felt a bit heavy handed when we were in our infancy. However, as soon as work got busy (which didn’t take long), there was no time and certainly no interest in doing this administrative work. Getting your processes in place early is boring, but you’ll thank yourself later.

Tip eight: Stick to what you’re good at

It’s all too tempting to do everything yourself, particularly when budgets are tight. We’ve learnt that this approach leads to lots of stress! It is ALWAYS worth finding someone who can do that thing you hate (or are just not trained to do) as they will do it in half the time and without inducing grey hairs.

Once you’ve found a good freelancer, they are worth their weight in gold, and can help to develop your offer and confidence as a service provider.

Tip nine: Don’t take it personally

Writing proposals is a big part of agency work. They are hard, take time and don’t always go any further. When you’ve poured your heart and soul into something, it’s difficult to hear that you didn’t get the job.

As time has gone on, not only have we got better at winning the work in the first place, we’ve also got better at dealing with our emotions when a job doesn’t come off. This resilience is what is going to keep you in business, so take all feedback, good and bad, as an opportunity.

Tip ten: Go for it

There’s always a reason not to do something. We had thought about starting out ourselves for a long time, citing financial difficulties or future failure as reasons not to try. Once you have taken the plunge though, guess what? It’s really not that bad. We’ve had highs and lows, but have never regretted starting Good Beans and are so proud of where our little idea has taken us.

If you’re in the same position, DO IT! And of course, when you need marketing and communications support, you know who to call 😉


Good Beans is an ethical marketing and communications agency working with social enterprises, charities and organisations that want to be better. Want to reach more people? Contact us