This Woman Turned a Layoff into a Payoff

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Public relations and communications specialist Julie Lilliston knows how to turn turmoil into triumph. After being laid off from her executive communications role in 2012, she and her husband moved from Chicago to Nashville, looking to start a new chapter. But then she was laid off again in 2014, this time from a tech startup. Taking the bull by the horns, Lilliston decided it was time to reevaluate her options and strike out on her own.

"I got laid off again, so it's like, ‘Okay, put the brakes on, what am I doing at this time?’ ” Lilliston tells CircleAround. “And it was funny because I got a call from someone who was starting a new company — a new venture — and they needed some PR help.”

Once Lilliston took on the consulting position, she realized that setting up her own PR company was the next move. With over 20 years of global agency PR experience, Lilliston was ready to share her expertise more broadly. And that’s when she started Julie Lilliston Communications.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is it, I can do this!’ she says. “I have found my home in PR and in marketing communications, working directly with small businesses and aspiring companies, helping bring those global best practices to a smaller business.”

Girl Scout Roots

Lilliston credits her entrepreneurial spirit to her early years as a Girl Scout Cadette.

“I think that's where it kind of gave me my foundation for leadership and service,” she says, recalling selling cookies with her older sisters in their Ohio hometown.

Lilliston says that a core part of her business success is not only her expertise, but also choosing carefully who her clients are. Key attributes are transparency and integrity.

“That's critical, particularly in PR,” she says. “If you're working in reputation-management mode, you really need to know what's going on and what the risks are, and assess all of that.”

Lilliston says working with responsive clients helps her to offer the best service possible. It enables her to draw out the interesting and marketable elements of each client's business and elevate their profile.

“The best clients are good collaborators,” says Lilliston. “They're also good connectors. They have the same values that I try to have — in both my daily life and in my business. Having that alignment has meant everything."

Earning the Client’s Trust

Lilliston also highlights the importance of mutual trust in ensuring a positive experience and impactful working relationship. In creating messaging opportunities for clients, Lilliston says that her clients are putting their trust in her, which she takes seriously.

“What I love to hear is if a client comes back and they're just like, ‘That was fun!,’” she says. “That's a home run for me, if they really get into it and they're inspired and passionate about what they're doing and that comes through. … That's the best!”

Lilliston’s main focus is on business-to-business, working with clients who are in manufacturing, technology, or healthcare. She works with trade publications to get her clients noticed.

“I've always enjoyed that, because I really just love learning,” says Lilliston, “and being able to figure out what some of the unique angles are that we could promote to position this company and their products and services.”

Lilliston notes that creating strong and meaningful client relationships has been central to the success and growth of her business.

“I've been able to grow my business through referrals. And that's really the No. 1 way,” muses Lilliston. “Your track record really speaks for itself, so that's why we're being really selective on the types of clients I work with.”

Navigating the Pandemic

Lilliston has big plans for 2021, despite the ongoing physical distancing restrictions as a result of the pandemic. She says that there are many opportunities for growth, which lie chiefly in her networking with other women business owners, many of whom she connects with for professional expansion. Lilliston notes that working with her network is a passion point that “has been a wonderful experience.”

“I love the ‘team of experts’ model,” says Lilliston. “I have a community of women entrepreneurs that I can team up with on an account, and then go after bigger clients — together. … I can pull them in as needed and partner with them on different clients.”

In keeping with her focus on entrepreneurship, business growth, and women’s empowerment, Lilliston was part of a project earlier this month to launch a new co-working space in Downtown Nashville, called the WB Collective.

“I'm really proud to be part of this and to help promote this in the city, because it's bringing women business owners together to support one another,” says Lilliston. “It's fulfilling a need as people have scaled back, but they still need a place to gather and work.”

Lilliston says that she never planned to run her own business, but definitely has no regrets.

“It organically grew into opportunities,” says Lilliston. “One of the lessons I learned was to be open to what's next and jumping into the opportunity as it presents itself!”

Tags: Tips from Women Executives, Start Up, Girl Scout

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Written By

Poppie Mphuthing

Poppie Mphuthing is a news and digital media professional. She is well versed in reporti... See Full Bio

CircleAround will make financial distributions to benefit current Girl Scouts: the next generation of trailblazers who will CircleAround after us. So CircleAround for inspiration, and CircleAround the leaders of tomorrow. CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA.

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