Anne Miles is a multi-disciplined marketing consultant, anti-stereotype advocate, business coach, and admired keynote speaker. She is also the founder of Suits&Sneakers, an innovative talent marketplace known for facilitating projects with the advertising and marketing’s best pre-approved talent under one roof.
After overcoming abuse and discrimination in both her personal and professional life, Anne is on a mission to remove harmful stereotypes (sexism, ageism, racism, etc.) from the industry she loves. It’s what led her to establish Suits&Sneakers – an organization devoted to helping competent professionals succeed irrespective of who they are, what they look like, and where they come from.
What Inspired You to Start Your Own Business?
Anne Miles: Advertising, unfortunately, is a very ageist and gender-biased industry. Throughout my several years of experience in this sector, I moved out of every single job owing to gender discrimination, violence (including sexual abuse), and prejudice. Being over 40 and unable to find work, I felt unemployable, too. But when I saw other grey-haired people getting retrenched in big advertising agencies globally, my patience shattered. I sat at my desk, outraged, and yelled aloud, “Right! That’s it!.” At that very moment, a blind insight flashed across my mind. I decided to build my own network where the best talent could be found regardless of age, race, gender, or other characteristics and where only skills and expertise would matter. That day, Suits&Sneakers was born!
How Did You Get Your Business Off the Ground?
Anne Miles: Even though I was at the top of my game and more experienced and capable than ever, I felt I didn’t belong or was being pushed out of my career. I’d left an abusive relationship and spent every dollar I had on either defending my ex’s behavior in court and legal proceedings or on counseling myself and my children to recover and learn from it. I was flat broke, having only a week or two of savings left. It was a very diabolical feeling, and I had to make something work ASAP.
One of the things I’d learned in my self-development work was to “listen to the feedback” to identify what the world expected from me. When I reflected, I realized that whenever someone in my industry asked me if I knew anyone for freelance or full-time work, I had access to the people I could refer to. I was doing all this for free, but since the demand was there, I listened to the feedback and decided to expand on it.
Having no money to hire a web developer, I taught myself WordPress and built a website that expressed my intention. I was fortunate to have created a huge database of freelance talent over the last 35 years. However, without funds to transform it into a tech solution, I knew my wits, and my old-fashioned excel master database was enough to get going.
The challenge throughout this journey was that I was a 50 years old entrepreneur who went out alone. I had no client contacts, no past customers to poach, and no lead generation pipeline. It was a start from nothing.
What made things work out fast was my unorthodox approach to LinkedIn. Although I was among the top ten most influential people on LinkedIn, that didn’t help me generate any business since my real customers didn’t like, share or engage with my content at all. Instead, I developed my own strategy that I call “Reputation Marketing” because it focuses on building 1:1 relationships, content marketing (strategic and limited), PR, sales, and account-based marketing. Apart from that, I turned my LinkedIn profile to be more like a micro-website doing a brand conversion job and not a typical CV as others suggest. As a result of this switch, I generated over $3M in sales opportunities within the first six months (albeit I didn’t win it all, this was a huge result). If it weren’t for LinkedIn, I would not be where I am today.
Entrepreneurial Journeys Have Never Been Easy. What Encouraged You to Keep Going?
Anne Miles: I often questioned my decision to start a business, but what kept me going was the network of talent that was relying on me. I knew that if Suits&Sneakers didn’t exist, they would be lost to the industry or otherwise move out of it, which seemed like a significant waste of the best talent. Besides this, what kept me going was my values around conscious capitalism and making the industry a better place.
One of the most challenging moments was when a potential client approached me to create AUD 10,000 worth of social media content every month to improve the results that a big ad agency was producing for him. It was a fairly decent income at the time when I had nothing else. However, my ethics and principles didn’t allow me to do this work because he didn’t have a distribution strategy and was unable to handle the volume of sales. It wasn’t even likely for his customers to purchase his product online. So, it was simply unethical to take his money. This was a huge test for me, but I declined the work and referred him to a retail strategist. The cost to me personally was not having enough money to buy food that week. In order to get by, I bought one loaf of the cheapest white bread I could find and ate it for every meal for the next four days with butter and vegemite I already had in my fridge. It was difficult, but I don’t regret adhering to my values. These values and my purpose kept me going through such tough times.
I was also driven by the belief that I didn’t have any choice but to make this business work. Otherwise, I’d accepted that I was unemployed, as had many of my roster’s more experienced players who relied on me. Nothing motivated us more than getting away from a major problem!
Looking Back, Is There Anything You Would Do Differently?
Anne Miles: I learned some lessons along the way that I would do differently and have onboard as I move ahead. I now share them to help my network avoid mistakes.
The biggest thing I would recommend to anyone thinking of striking out on their own is to transition at the rate that the market demands. To put it another way, keep your day job and go part-time, or work both jobs weekends and nights until your business proves that it can sustain you. Many people advocate jumping out full-time into a new start-up, which is reckless advice. You will likely use up your savings testing the market and validating the business that leaves you running on fear and taking on clients that you shouldn’t or making other decisions that don’t serve you. Moving out in a positive way with a proven market in demand is much more viable.
What are Some of Your Proudest Achievements?
Anne Miles: I’m most proud of my survival, as the first three years were extremely challenging, particularly because I started from scratch and had no support from anyone. I’m also proud of being innovative and thinking out of the box to make things work, especially by going against the grain with LinkedIn.
Each year keeps getting bigger and better, which isn’t always easy as it might seem, but much harder when you’re starting off with no capital and no support. I’m proud that I’ve done the whole thing on my own, including strategy, technology, finance, administration, marketing, production, social content, and client management.
I’m especially proud of retaining my sense of integrity and conscious capitalist values. I’ve had to be hard on some people (clients and freelancers) because of these values. While it was difficult at the time, I am proud that I took a stand for the sake of ethics, standards, and my brand values. There have been a number of awards and finalist accolades as well that encouraged me to keep going along the way.
Also, one thing that is often overlooked when we reflect on what we’ve achieved and are proud of is the internal skills that we’ve had to rely on, such as resilience, determination, creativity, commitment, hard work, and lateral thinking. I’m proud that I spent a lot of time and energy improving myself in business and life; that paid off, too, when I needed it.