How Garnet PR rebuilt after battling Coronavirus and burnout

Rachael Hesno's picture
by Rachael Hesno
Rhiannon Bates - Garnet PR

The founder of Leeds-based Garnet PR on how she went from losing clients and ending up in hospital following a severe accident, to turning the business around.

Former PR and celebrity manager Rhiannon Bates has worked with famous figures from David Attenborough to Dermot O’Leary, and launched Garnet PR in 2019.

Early on in 2020, she was carving out a niche in the PR industry with her passion for rural lifestyle and tourism and was beginning to grow her team.

“Then Coronavirus landed and it all went a bit pear-shaped from there,” she told Prolific North.

In the run up to the government imposed lockdown, within days she lost all but one of her clients.

“Clients said ‘I can't pay you’, ‘I can't do this anymore’, ‘we have to stop doing PR’,” she explained.

Understanding the strain on some of her smaller clients, some struggling to pay their mortgages, she let them out of their contracts.

“How am I going to rebuild this business from the ground up, what am I going to do when the industry is on its knees?,” were the thoughts playing out in her mind, she said.

She watched the agency crumble and within weeks buckle as it brought in just £300 a month.

By dipping into her own savings, despite struggles to pay her own bills, she kept her team on throughout the pandemic.

“I was panicking. I was trying to think how are we going to get through this, how am I going to salvage this business when there is no end in sight and my whole niche is basically closed right now,” she said.

“I was sat [at] my laptop for hours, long days, just trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do.”

"Make or break"

With the collective fear that there was “no end in sight” alongside no Government support for the business, she experienced severe burnout.

With a myriad of pressures on her mind, she wasn’t eating or sleeping properly and “it all kind of came crashing down”.

On a Saturday morning, while in her kitchen she passed out, dropping a just boiled kettle of water over herself.

She was rushed to A&E and initially spent 10 days in hospital during the peak of the pandemic after suffering third degree burns across her legs.

Isolated in a hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses, she persisted with a plan to rebuild her business and continued working on rebuilding her website.

“In the back of my mind the whole time there's ‘how am I going to keep my business afloat’, ‘what am I going to do’,” she explained.

Unable to walk and ending up in a wheelchair in the months following the accident, her house sale fell through and her partner was made redundant.

“It was a real make or break time for us,” she explained.

Rhiannon Bates, Founder of Garnet PR
Rhiannon Bates, Founder of Garnet PR.

Rebuilding the agency

Reflecting on what she could do to grow the agency again, she decided to invest in a business coach with the financial help of her mum.

“We mapped out how I could grow the business again, by doing more consultations, by bringing in PR clients, and looking at how I could then build this coaching style.”

Boosting her visibility on social media and offering free training and coaching sessions to other small businesses which were struggling in the rural sector led the business to “naturally grow again”. 

Branching out her business led her to coaching and focusing on one of her passions, empowering fellow female entrepreneurs and female-led businesses.

She found 75% of her current client roster were female-led start-ups launched during the pandemic, and were seeking visibility with PR. 

“[The business] naturally evolved from PR to PR and coaching, and now really they are almost two separate businesses,” she explained.

She attributes a positive mindset coupled with a clear strategy for how she began to rebuild the agency.

“The business has evolved into this new version of itself which I would never have done if I had just been sat contentedly doing what I was doing.” 

“It takes a catalyst, it takes something, to give you that push,” she reflected.

As the agency began to slowly rebuild again with her new strategy, there was another setback with her health.

After attending hospital for skin grafts, she contracted a skin infection leading to another stint in hospital.

“It was horrendous, I thought I was going to die,” she explained.

Although she is now on the path to recovery, she said it will be another year before her injuries settle and she continues to receive hospital treatment.

In spite of her health, the business is now set to “surpass six figures” this year as she continues to grow both the PR and coaching sides of the agency.

“My journey has had a hell of a few bumps in the road, and there have been curve balls thrown at me, but I wouldn't be where I am today without it and I'm grateful for the journey.”

Her goal with the agency is to now help her clients build sustainable, successful businesses in the long-term and to become visible with the use of PR. 

“Instead of seeing this as a setback or a challenge, see it as an opportunity,” is her advice to other businesses going through similar adversity.

Whether this is in the form of investing in a mentor or finding a networking group, she said  maintaining a positive mindset and forging a strategy is key.

“Business doesn't have to be a struggle.”

“Go out and find something that is going to shortcut your success and help you get the clarity and direction you need because otherwise you could sit and struggle for ages,” she said.

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