Podcast Episode 22 - Real Work: A business pivot and pricing during lockdown


Lockdown has created both issues and opportunities for many. I’ve recently been speaking to Fleur Emery about how she pivoted her business during lockdown. Fleur is the founder of Real Work, the online co-working space for women - an online coworking community I’ve been a member of for the last 4 months or so. I love how she runs it, and her energy is really impressive, so we’ve been talking on my recent podcast about how she got started and how she decided on her pricing structure for Real Work.

How did Real Work get started?

Lockdown happened, and I was at home with a five-year-old. All my work was suddenly cancelled overnight. The runway of income I had lined up was wiped off the table. I was sat at home with no income runway and a kid. This idea that had been fizzing around in my head become an ‘OK let’s do this’ moment. 

I come from a background in industry and have 15 years of experience in starting food and drinks companies of my own. I came up with this idea to virtually connect other freelancers and founders like me and patch together a concept based loosely on other women’s business networks. 

I posted the idea on Instagram, sharing that I can give you my energy, experience and leadership. I’ll show up and be here for you but don’t know what I’m doing, as I haven’t done this before, so it’s a work in progress. Let’s collaborate and learn on the job. It received a resounding yes. Everyone came in wholeheartedly, and it gained a life and personality of its own. I made a business that I needed and wanted for myself.

How did you decide how much it was going to be?

The pricing came from nothing more sophisticated than me looking around at my life and thinking about the amount of money I’d need to make to keep the lights on in our life. I figured it would take about three months for the government to work out a realistic picture of what was happening globally. I’d need £1,000 a month to get a veggie box and keep the electric, mobile and broadband on, and get Disney Plus to act as some form of child care whilst I was working. 

If I go on Instagram now and announce this with no preparation, how many people do I reckon will sign up? I guessed it would be about ten at £100 a month. I could then work out what those ten people needed, and I felt confident I could deliver massive value to them. 

I got £17,000. I felt incredible, like I was Madonna (when she was in her grinding heyday!).

Did you already have a big audience on social media?

I’m long enough in the game that I know an opportunity when I see one. When that happened, I didn’t just trouser the money and expect it to happen again in three months. I also saw responsibility. All of these people in the pandemic have put their money into my account - what for? What is that value exchange? 

I was on a high for 24 hours, but then I woke up and knew I had a very serious job to do. I needed to deliver, so I invested that money in the software, people and help I needed because I’d not done it before. I’d been very active on IG for the prior 18 months, showing up and giving value of variable content as I worked out what to say. I’d been showing up and giving personality and energy without really selling anything. A lot of people had been engaging with me and were waiting for some way to work together. The reason I came up with the idea was I could feel that. 

Historically, off social media, the people who had hired me as a consultant were scaling up food businesses that have investors. They paid me quite large consultancy fees. On Instagram, I met loads of really interesting women who were at the concept or development stage, all expressing interest in hiring me. I was saying no as it wasn’t a match. I had a captive audience, and people needed to connect during lockdown.  I had a lot of energy, confidence and enthusiasm and people who felt lacking in those things subsequently jumped on board. 

I had space, confidence and an abundance mentality

I had someone who could pay my electricity bill if needed. My dad owns this house, and that gave me space and confidence to be that energetic and confident. Abundance mentality is something I also have. The world had given me stuff like nice holidays, lunches and a safe space. My position had a lot of ‘right time and right space’ involved and involved 15 years of hard graft, guest lectureship opportunities, and the courage and focus I needed to do it.

I’m also a trustworthy salesperson and believe in fair value exchange. I want people to feel like they have a good deal. I sold Real Work based on the fact the program was going to be three months long, and you’ll have time to get to know each other. I asked for a commitment from them for my own reasons - but they also benefited from that commitment. 

You need to revisit and refine

Sometimes you set things up in your business with a view to revisit and refine - that didn’t happen. We did another term and another. We had associated problems, and managing it as a three-month commitment turned out to be a pain. People tolerated it, and things didn’t work. Everyone would arrive in the community at one go, and the current workers would feel trepidatious about that. As Real Work is quite expensive, people have to think about it, but they show up and get to know each other when they join. They create lasting, deep relationships. 

We accidentally created a safe place where people could give the whole story and be their authentic selves. We have a head of Culture and People. Each week we talk about the culture and sustaining it. When people share, we dive into what is it that we do, that made the person able to feel safe enough to share? How can we replicate that? 

Our pricing model needed to change

We got into a three monthly selling cycle I hadn’t chosen but accidentally created. Real Work is collaborative, so with new people arriving, there had to be a certain amount of trust. As I’d spent the money on a team, there was pressure there for me to show up and sell to cover those costs. I’d set up a system that needed me. One where I had to repeat that performance every three months. It was too much pressure. I am relaxed about pressure and trust myself, but it made no sense. Why do we work for ourselves? It’s to get the life we want. I’m choosing not to live like that. 

It only took a look at pricing to relieve that pressure. Making changes around how and when our Real Workers pay took that pressure off, and people are happy with it. We went from 3 monthly payments to monthly. 

People get used to buying things a certain way, and for memberships, that’s a monthly payment. Making it three months just put a barrier there. It’s about taking the barriers away and making the customer journey smoother. There’s also less admin, and people can make their own decisions. 

The future of Real Work

We’re making an app and doing a round of fundraising for it, with a tech business plan. We did a seed round where Real Workers bought shares, so that was incredibly fun. 

In the future, we’re looking to monetise what we have and continuing to solve problems that have been exacerbated by lockdown. We know, for example, that the issues with the gender pay gap and flexible working for women is going the wrong way, and lockdown didn’t help. We’re solving it and looking to measure and contain it so that bigger companies can come to us for answers. And of course, we’re looking to price it accordingly.

Listen more to my podcast with Fleur Emery. 

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The Pricing Queen podcast is produced by Decibelle Creative

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