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JFG Comms, transport industry specialists, 3rd birthday cakes

As we’re celebrating our 3rd birthday today, our Founder & Managing Director, Jo Field, takes the opportunity to reflect on the past three years.

Accidental entrepreneur

The last three years have been a bit of whirlwind. I started JFG Comms after taking voluntary redundancy from Transport for London. I’m a solo-founder and didn’t come from a consultancy background, so had no clients to ‘bring with me’. Everything has been built from the ground up through sheer dedication and hard work, while also being the mother to two young children.

Starting JFG Comms enabled me to combine my expertise as a transport public affairs professional with my passion for improving gender diversity in the sector’s workforce. I set up the business as a public affairs consultancy with a campaigning purpose, to improve gender balance in the industry. Our goal is to engage, inspire and influence in everything we do.

A plethora of firsts

So much has changed since setting up an office in our spare bedroom three years ago….

Starting the business enabled me to do things differently: My mission to attract more women to the transport industry has informed our company culture. Research shows flexible working is key to attracting and retaining women and, let’s face it, most people value the opportunity to work flexibly. That's why I put flexible and agile working at the heart of our business model.

I didn’t see the need for a formal office and decided to scale the business by taking on a team of trusted freelancers and associates, who are experts in their field. This enables us to pull together the right mix of skills and expertise, tailored to our clients’ needs. The team work remotely and agilely at times to suit them, from locations as far a field as Scotland and Canada.

Virtual agencies are definitely on the rise. This year a group of us founded the PRCA’s virtual agency sector group, which is disrupting the traditional PR agency model and enabling the public relations industry to keep the expertise of senior professionals, often women, who reject traditional agency culture. We are the only public affairs agency among the PRCA group, making us the first ever virtual public affairs agency.

Another milestone was in the summer opening our first office at We Work in Waterloo, London. The core team are based here (but can also work remotely) and the freelancers continue to work wherever and whenever they prefer.

Growing the client base and team

Bringing brilliant new team members on board has helped us make great strides in our development this year. Nick Sanderson joined as a Policy and Communications Consultant in January. Then, another first, we took on Becky Franklin as an intern in March. This was the first ever virtual public affairs consultancy internship! Becky has now joined the team permanently as Public Affairs Executive.

I’m very grateful for the continued support of Social Research Consultant, Hebba Haddad; our wonderful creative lead, Anna Spurling; and my sister Sarah McSharry, our Head of Marketing, who has been there from the start. There are a few other colleagues, family and friends who have helped us along the way. You know who you are and thanks very much for all your help. I’m also hugely excited about Helen Deakin joining us as Account Director later this month.

We’ve gained some fantastic new customers this year in sectors such as electric vehicle infrastructure, mobile infrastructure, rail, and sustainable transport. Thanks to our clients for their continued trust and we’re enjoying delivering great work together.

Overcoming challenges

People often ask me what my biggest challenge is as a business owner. I think all small business founders find there are not enough hours in the day. In the early days as a solo-founder, with no team in place and having to juggle building the business with raising a young family, this challenge was definitely magnified.

At first I had to take a step back and look at what I could realistically deliver in the time available. To overcome this I had to maintain focus on:

  • Clients and activities that help us achieve our purpose
  • Allocating enough time to enable top quality delivery of each project
  • Keeping the business’ purpose and goal at the centre of everything we do

But the biggest challenge when we started up was getting prospective clients to take me seriously as a business owner. With the virtual agency model not being widely understood, many people saw me simply as a freelancer. The first question people asked was: ‘where is your office?’ or ‘how big is your team?’

Thankfully, the PRCA’s virtual agency group is helping with that by building the reputation of virtual agencies. As a group we are working on identifying the opportunities and challenges faced by virtual agencies, and developing initiatives to help drive them forward.

The future for JFG Comms

The success of our first three years gives us a solid platform to continue to build and grow the business.

It is an incredibly exciting time for the industries we work with. Delivering net zero is one of the biggest challenges for the transport sector, as it is one of the biggest emitters of carbon. This means interesting times ahead helping our customers to shape and inform the continuing policy debate, as well as ensuring their innovative solutions gain traction politically and with their customers.

There is massive commitment to transport and infrastructure from all sides of the political spectrum, although there is sometimes disagreement on how to do it and which schemes to favour. But this means there is lots of work to do in continued case-making for transport infrastructure, communicating the benefits and ensuring the public are successfully engaged.

We’re continuing the campaign for improved gender balance in the transport workforce and excited to be helping Women in Transport put together a policy paper on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Transport. The paper will highlight best practice examples of initiatives that are making in difference in attracting and retaining women in the sector and will be launching early next year.

Over the next 12 months, I’m looking forward to continuing to deliver top quality work on behalf of our clients, as well as growing the team and generating new business.

I’m most excited about expanding our gender work beyond the transport sector and helping more male-dominated industries improve their gender balance.

But, most importantly, we’ll continue to engage, inspire and influence while working differently.