Sharon Richey is the founder and CEO of BEcause – a global, integrated brand experience agency.
Sharon grew up in South Africa, where she started her own small business aged nine. Throughout her teenage years she embarked on various different business ventures before starting up her own modelling agency aged 16. From this she won small business person of the year two years later – only to go on to recently win female entrepreneur of the Year. Sharon did attend university to study business studies before dropping out to continue growing her business. The business was then sold at 21 which enabled Sharon to move to Monte Carlo for 3 months and spend all the profits; something I feel many of us can be more than a little jealous of. Sharon explains that she realised she had the rest of her life to be successful again, and came to England with £500 in her back pocket. I spoke with Sharon to find out her secrets to success and how she manages to run such a large and successful business with a family.
You founded BEcause Brand Experience which has gone on to win a string of awards for marketing effectiveness, creativity, and people management. Why do you think Because has become so successful?
Our success comes down to our consistency, we are consistently successful, and the reason we consistently achieve is because we’ve always put creativity at the heart of our company. Especially in branding; you’re only as good as your ideas. In order to produce those fantastic ideas you need a great team. We’ve always had an immense focus on talent in the agency, always focussed on attracting talented and driven people to the business. We try to attract the right people and retain the right people as much as possible. People who do well in marketing are those who are naturally curious, inquisitive, aware of trends, and it has to become your life.
What failures have you experienced on your journey to success?
When running agencies you have good years and you have bad years. I find what is often your biggest success is also your biggest failure, and in order to achieve the success you have to go through the failings. Running a business is a constant learning cycle, you never get to the point where you say ‘right I’ve learnt it all’. We live in a forever changing world and working in media, things are changing all the time. By the time a trend is set and we use it, its gone and we’re on to the next thing. Sometimes you get it wrong. You just have to make sure the successes overcome the failures.
Having two young children at home whilst you and your husband both work must be challenging. How do you create the balance between work and family time? Are you happy with your current balance?
We don’t live in a switch-on/switch off society anymore which means you have to enjoy what you do
There isn’t really a line between work and play. The idea that I go to work and clock on, I go home and I clock off is just not right. We don’t live in a switch-on/switch off society anymore which means you have to enjoy what you do because your work follows you wherever you are. When it comes to the family balance, if you strive for perfection you’ll never be happy because I think it can never be perfect. One party is always having to compromise. My children have never known me to do anything other than work, I went back to work when my children were just a few weeks old. They’re very much part of my work life in the sense that they come to the office, and play in the meeting rooms – work isn’t a strange place or concept to them. But to answer your question it is hard, it is hard to strike a balance but as long as you accept there will have to be compromise, its much easier. The best advice I can give is not to try and be in 2 places at the same time, work is work and home is home. In order to get things done at work you need to be there mentally, and likewise with being a mum at home.
With the increasing number of universities and degree courses, do you feel to become a successful business person or entrepreneur you need a degree?
I’m in two minds, as it flies in the face of what I believe in. Personally, I believe attitude is more important than aptitude. We’ve had people pass through the agency with a string of degrees and the best people are always the most driven and hard working. But in todays competitive business environment, having a degree does definitely hold you in better stead. I also see the world as far more entrepreneurial than it ever has been, when I grew my business in my 20s it was quite unique. But now its quite in vogue, it’s actually quite fashionable nowadays. I do think university is important between finishing school and getting a job, its good to have some fun for 3 years and you make great connections you carry on through your working lives.
Have you encountered any difficulties in achieving your success because of your gender?
No, none. I feel the lack of women in senior business is because its harder for women to return to business unless you have sufficient childcare at home. In order to afford sufficient childcare at home you would have had to previously had a career where you earned enough to warrant that. Women who have their children a little later on in their career are generally those who can return to work and have a degree of balance in their lives. Women who leave to have kids earlier on haven’t often earned enough to warrant a large expense on care at home or nursery fees in order to return to work. I feel its more of an age thing. I don’t think its society, I am a woman running a business and when you are a senior person in business I think you have a responsibility, you can’t choose when to turn that responsibility on and off. I think females need to be considerate of the fact that employers have a business to run and you have to have some compromise.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to start a business, whats your biggest business secret?
There is always going to be hard slog ahead of you, it is a long road ahead but its also fun.
My advice would be to be patient. Success takes time. We live in a world much more focussed on immediate success, driven by reality TV shows like X-Factor which creates this generational focus on overnight success. Richard Branson has a famous quote, ‘it takes years to become an overnight success’. The reality is when you run a business it takes time, but there are some amazing success stories such as Facebook, and other digital platforms which get publicised and fuel this. There is always going to be hard slog ahead of you, it is a long road ahead but its also fun.
Who is the most interesting client and celebrity you’ve worked with?
Recently we worked with Louis Tomlinson from One Direction for a Yorkshire Tea promotion, he was really nice and really fun; a great celebrity to have on board. In terms of most interesting client, I’d have to say Pampers. The work that we did with Pampers I think was very instrumental at that time and we were really pioneering what a brand could do using brand experience. It won well over a dozen gold awards, and a global award as well. It was all about bringing to life what its like to be a baby. The best way to tell a brand story is experiential. We created these giant caterpillars, about the size of 8 car parking spaces, and we took them to shopping centres and grocery stores. Every pod of the caterpillar depicts a different stage of the baby’s development. In each pod there were educational pointers and snippets as to what the baby was experiencing at that point in their life. The reason why that one stands out is that it was so incredibly experiential, and we were able to draw parallels between baby development and the product. It had an incredibly positive impact of sales as well.