This month, Hugh Taylor is launching a new business, Comms Factory, which offers public relations services for small businesses and entrepreneurs. It is not Taylor’s first business venture. A lifelong entrepreneur, he has switched back and forth between full-time and self-employment. He started his first business, Benjamin Graphics, a printing and graphic design firm in New York city, when he was just 17 years old—exactly 39 years ago. His path to success has been uneven, with plenty of hard lessons learned along the way.
What is Comms Factory?
Comms Factory provides basic PR services for small businesses, creatives, startups and non-profits. It’s a press release writing service, among other things. They also do press release distribution and media pitching. “Writing press releases for small businesses and entrepreneurs is fascinating and gratifying,” Taylor explained. “You are getting involved in helping people’s dreams come true.” The company’s clients comprise authors, musicians, beauty and wellness ventures and dentists, as well as financial entrepreneurs who need cryptocurrency press releases written.
Where did idea come from to start a press release writing business?
Taylor had the idea for Comms Factory after performing public relations functions at both large and small companies. As a marketing communications executive at Silicon Valley startups, he was a “one man band” of public relations. “I did it all, writing press releases, pitching the media and more.” Then, as Public Relations Manager for Microsoft’s SharePoint Technologies, he had a $1 million budget and a dedicated agency team of five working full time on his account.
“That was kind of head spinning,” Taylor explained. “I went from typing up my own press releases to having five highly professional PR people do media outreach to top media outlets.” Working with this team, Taylor was able to land a thousand news stories a year for SharePoint, a $2 billion component of the Microsoft Office product portfolio. “It was also a big educational opportunity to go from being one of three people on a marketing team at a venture-backed startup to serving as one of 800 people in the marketing organization of Microsoft Office, the world’s best-selling software product. It really upped my PR and marcom game a lot.”
Taylor’s path to Comms Factory has not been straight or smooth, however. His tenure at Microsoft came on the heels of a career roller coaster. After completing his MBA at Harvard in 1992, Taylor originally went to work in the television industry. He did script development and earned several credits as an Executive in Charge of Production on TV movies of the week. He enjoyed the creative aspects of the work, but grew tired of the abusive personalities he had to deal with in the entertainment business.
After leaving his job in TV, Taylor started Digital Image Lab, an early entrant in the digital photography space. It was a complete disaster. “I was overconfident and a bit grandiose,” he now admits. “I figured I have an MBA from Harvard. I had been successful in the graphics field in the eighties, so I was convinced I could do it all over again. It didn’t work out that way.” The company, which eventually morphed into a web design firm, tanked in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the dot.com bust.
“I learned some very painful lessons, but I think the experience has given me some good personal ‘ground rules’ for starting a new venture today. Like, don’t be a risk-taking visionary. Just focus on real, profitable work in real time. If you can do that, you’ll get where you want to be.” After the failure of his business, Taylor was fortunate to find work in sales and marketing at a venture-backed software company. This led him to his career in technology marketing and his PR role at Microsoft.
Starting in 2012, after being laid off from his job as Social Software Evangelist at IBM, Taylor switched back to being self-employed. He embarked on a successful career as a freelance content writer, working for major tech clients like Microsoft, SAP, Intel and many others. “The truth is I don’t think I really had a choice at that point,” Taylor said. “As you get older, it gets harder to find secure jobs. People don’t like to talk about it, but age discrimination is very real. Looking for work at age 47 in the tech world is no fun. Doing it at my current age of 56 would be an exercise in insanity. I realized I had to work for myself if I wanted any security.”
In 2013, Taylor became a seller on the Fiverr platform. There, he wrote short press releases for the site’s then much ballyhooed $5 price tag. He joined Fiverr because he was curious about the gig economy, but he was somewhat baffled by his interest at the time. “I kept asking myself, why am I doing this? I used to write speeches for Bill Gates. Now, I’m writing press release for five bucks, which is really $3.96 after fees are deducted. What am I doing?” His has since raised his rates.
The bet on Fiverr paid off, however. Now, after having written over 2,000 press releases on the site and earning a thousand 5-star reviews, he is a top-rated seller. “I realized that there could be a business in this,” Taylor said. “Small businesses need public relations services they can afford.”
The big lesson for Taylor from this experience is that one should be afraid to try new things. “You have to try things, and see how they go,” he shared. “Not everything is going to work out, but you won’t know if you don’t try.”
Why do you think public relations for small business is a good idea?
Comms Factory offers small businesses a scaled-down version of high-end PR services. “We’re offering professional quality public relations, but at prices an entrepreneur can afford,” Taylor said. The goal is publicity. The firm can get startups media exposure, such as through press release distribution. Comms Factory is also offering a media outreach service, where they will present their clients to reporters.
Publicity is important for small businesses for several reasons. At a minimum, publishing press releases on a company’s website makes it look as if the business is active and dynamic. Press coverage also validates a small business, making it appear legitimate in the eyes of the public. Then, there is search engine optimization (SEO). Press releases can be an effective means of garnering backlinks and searchable content on the web.
Press release writing is part of Comms Factory’s broader portfolio of corporate communications services. The company also offers blog writing and other content marketing services. “The Web is a word-based environment,” Taylor noted. “Written content is still the number one way to get discovered and share your message online. That’s what we do.”
What advice do you have for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Taylor’s main advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs is not to fear failure. “I know it’s a cliché to say that you learn from failure,” Taylor remarked. “But it’s wise advice… if you can indeed learn from failure. Repeating the same mistakes and failing all over again is not learning from failure. That’s not learning at all. It takes some time and introspection to figure out what your mistakes were, so you can avoid them. It also takes some personal work to learn how to avoid the instincts you have to make the same mistakes. I catch myself on the edge of committing the same errors that torpedoed my last venture all the time. I have to stop myself and rethink what I’m doing.”
To learn more about Comms Factory, visit www.commsfactory.net