Last year, Sharon Flaherty founded BrandContent, a financial services marketing and communications agency based in Cardiff.
In less than a year, the 35-year old took her business from living room table to an office in Llandaff where three full-time staff now work.
Serving clients in the UK and overseas, the company develops editorial, multi-platform and multi-media content for brands. Among competitors, it stands unique as a full service content marketing specialist, and is the only creative agency in Wales to have a focus on the financial services industry.
Sharon was recently announced as one of the finalists at the first ever Entrepreneur Wales Awards, sponsored by Business Wales, Welsh Government. We spoke with her to find out how BrandContent is winning the London-based clients ahead of the UK capital’s biggest marketing agencies.
What does the business do?
BrandContent is a content marketing consultancy based in Llandaff, Cardiff. It serves the whole of the UK and overseas offering creative communications services to the financial services and tech industries. We specialise in content marketing which sees us develop content for brands - anything from a video, and data visualisation to social media and content strategies, white papers, creative marketing campaigns, PR outreach and media relations. In less than a year, we’ve grown from nothing to staff of four and a roster of freelancers in the creative industry.
When and how did you start the company?
I started the company in August 2014. I started my own content marketing agency after a career as a journalist at the Financial Times. But most recently I had held roles at Confused.com and the MoneySuperMarket Group where I headed up Content, PR and Social Media teams.
One evening, in 2011, when I was thinking about my goals for the year, I impulsively had the idea to start a business – it just kind of flew into my head and on the spot I bought my first domain - ‘Brand Content’.
By 2014, I still owned the URL but had done nothing with it. I was scared of leaving a good job, and most honestly, a salary. So when I was head-hunted into a salary I’d always aimed for, the idea of the business faded. That was until I had a big realisation; money doesn’t make you happy. It’s a phrase you often hear but don’t believe. With the role based in a split location, I spent every week commuting between Cardiff, north Wales and London and
having no real life at all. While it had always been my choice to commute, I realised no amount of money was worth such a poor work/life balance so I took the jump and BrandContent was officially born.
BrandContent had its first anniversary in September this year and I love it. I’m getting to build something from scratch, we work with really lovely clients and believe in what they do. And they’ve been really supportive of us and I’m genuinely really grateful for that.
The one thing you learn fast in business is that you can’t take anything for granted, and there’s certainly no room for complacency. There are obviously challenges but you never know what any day is going to bring and that’s so exciting. You can get an email out of the blue from a UK famous client, you can secure an amazing opportunity with TV, and have a campaign that takes off more than anticipated. It’s exciting!
Had you always wanted to run your own business?
Actually, I had never had any desire to run my own business. I was brought up in a family business (hotel/B&B) and knew how tiring and tough it could be. I also studied a business degree which made me even more certain I didn’t want to go into business. Ironically, here I am! In 2011, something changed that got my mind to thinking how I worked really really hard for other people so maybe I should just do this for myself instead.
What (or who) inspired you to start the business? And what (or who) inspires you to keep going?
I inspired myself to start the business so I could build the career I wanted. I didn’t want to be restricted in where I lived or forced to default to London to get the big salaries and work for the biggest brand names. I am also attracted to the idea that when you work for yourself, the only thing that can limit your opportunities is yourself and that is a great feeling. Keeping going is down to determination and not wanting to fail. Of course, there are days that are tough – but so far luckily they have been few and far between. Being tired is probably the hardest thing right now but then you can foresee that in a year or two the hardest thing will be something else. It’s an ever-changing landscape of challenges but that keeps it interesting!
What are your best and worst qualities as a business person?
I think I can be a bit too passionate about some things and care a bit too much. It’s my greatest strength but also my greatest weakness.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in Wales?
Just start. You can plan in your head starting a business but most people don’t get off that block. If you get off the starting block you’re in the small percentage that get that far and then you’re on your journey. I’d also say it’s normal to be a little scared, it’s a big unknown and you have no idea what will happen. But life is for living and if you’re comfortable with the risks then go for it.
Why did you enter the Entrepreneur Wales Awards?
A little bit because I am proud of what I have achieved in my first year. I have got further than I thought I would in year 1 and a little bit because recognition is motivating and always a good thing if you can get it.
Why is Wales a great place to do business?
Location, for one: It’s a two-hour train ride to London, so meetings and having a client base there is completely feasible. Likewise, Bristol and Birmingham aren’t far, neither is Manchester in the North.
Secondly, people in Wales are friendly so it’s a nice place to work. Plus some fantastic brands are based here and been hugely successful.