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What I’ve Learnt: Carolyn Hughes, Freelance PR Consultant, Breathe PR

Carolyn Hughes

Carolyn Hughes has served as a freelance PR consultant for 12 years, and runs Breathe PR.

Based in Stockport, Greater Manchester, Hughes supports business across digital and tech, arts and not-for-profits, as well as environmental and landscape clients.

Prior to setting herself up as a freelance consultant, Carolyn worked as an editor and local news journalist. We found out the kind of lessons she’s learnt in her career.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Some form of movement. Whether that’s 10 minutes of yoga, a run, or swinging a few kettlebells, I try to tick off ‘move at some point’ on my to-do list. As well as that, I can’t start the day without a pot of black tea.

What’s been your luckiest break?

That’s a tough question. I would say probably being made redundant from my job as an editor during the financial crisis. I knew it was highly likely, so I’d already started to make connections and thinking about going freelance.

The redundancy payment wasn’t huge but it was enough to keep me afloat for a few months while I kick-started my freelance PR career. Going through redundancy can be really stressful but is also the perfect opportunity for a new start. That was in 2009, and I’ve not looked back!

What’s your best failure?

I’m going to say not doing very well on my A-levels. I definitely prioritised going out with friends around that time and not studying as much as I could have.

It came as a bit of a shock to me so I vowed to get a 2:1 at university and really knuckled down to do just that. It’s important to realise when you cannot cruise and just do OK, and actually have to do the work – a lesson that remains with me today.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

Investment-wise, it would probably be setting up a pension, even before I knew what I was doing. I figured it was better to set one up and move it to another provider later on if I needed to, than to keep putting it off.

It’s difficult to get your head around pensions when you’re self-employed and there’s no company pension to rely on, so it’s become the drum that I bang to other freelancers.

In terms of time investment, I’d say it’s always good to make the time to meet interesting people for a cuppa. Most of my freelance work comes from people I know, who have passed my details across to someone they know, so having a large network is key when you’re self-employed.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

As a business read, it would be Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’. I read it some years ago now and it’s really stuck with me.

It’s sitting right on my bookshelves next to my desk, and is definitely a keeper. Outside of work, the book I frequently gift for people is ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree, which is about an unprofitable farm in Sussex. The landowners let the land re-wild itself, and didn’t expect the huge ecological benefits it would bring. It’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Two pieces! Don’t stress about the small things. If it won’t matter in a few weeks time, then don’t waste any time worrying about it now.

And take more risks because things do just work themselves out.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

Probably my husband. He’s helped me grow my confidence and find my voice over the years.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’m also a qualified horticulturalist. I studied for two Level 2 RHS qualifications a few years back and loved it. I could take a third certificate and get a diploma but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved for now.

I love working with environmental, horticulture and landscape clients, so having these qualifications really opened a few doors for me. I now have an allotment just a few minutes’ walk from my house, so I will often take a long lunch break and head down to the plot for some digging, harvesting or even just having a brew in the sunshine.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

As someone who’s been based at home for the past 12 years, it’s actually a real leveller since more people started working from home. I would never hide that my desk was in my kitchen-diner, but I didn’t want people to hear the washing machine or two kids tearing around the house.

Now we can all be a little more relaxed about having the doorbell ring while you’re in an online meeting or little faces appearing on camera – we all have lives outside work.

So leading on from this, I hope that there will be more flexible job opportunities for everyone in the future. People can work from home very effectively and it gives them the flexibility to collect their children from school, help an elderly parent, or any one of the multiple reasons that people can benefit from flexibility in the workplace.

What does success look like to you?

Essentially, it’s simply having a good work-life balance. My workload varies from year to year and I have learned not to fight it – just go with the flow! I make sure I enjoy the quieter times but I also love the buzz of being quite busy.

It would also be to keep growing and learning – you really never stop learning in PR and marketing. There is always a new social media platform to explore, a new Google algorithm update to read about, or a whole new industry to absorb when you start working with a new client.

Achieving success is to keep working with clients who are doing amazing things in this world and helping them tell their stories. And ultimately success for me is simply having the luxury of time to scooter down to my allotment and spend a few hours there, just enjoying being outside.

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