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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Sarah Stratford

Sarah Stratford is founder of South West based Marketing Agency, Favour the Brave.   She is a
Strategist with a keen and pragmatic understanding of human behaviour and a talent for
making the complicated, simple.

Whilst the foundation of her experience lies in customer strategy, she’s a marketing all-rounder.
In her 24 year career she’s worked with brands such as O2, EDF Energy, Waitrose and National Express helping them tackle a wide range of marketing and business challenges.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I have always been a problem solver at heart, which I suspect is why I ended up in strategy. 

Having worked in and run London agencies for close to twenty years, in 2017 I set up my own with long-time colleague and creative collaborator, Geoff Gower.  And in 2019 I made the move back to the West Country. We now work largely, but not exclusively with service businesses – big and small, local and international – helping them grow.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

We love a challenge.  And when we ran a big agency, it was always the thorniest of briefs and the most challenged of brands, that we were most excited to work with.  So, when it came to setting up an agency of our own, we wanted to be able to pitch ourselves to those businesses, many of whom are start up/scale up businesses or for whatever reason, have limited resources.   It meant establishing a business model which was lean and agile, that could scale up and down depending on the brief and requirement.

How did you achieve awareness?

Apart from a bit of PR, all of our awareness and new business growth has been through our network and word of mouth.  After 20 years in the business, we had some great contacts and so far, that’s seen us through.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We’ve not needed funding because we’ve kept ourselves lean and avoided costly overheads. Fortunately for us, we don’t really need much more than a Mac, a phone and a reliable Wi-Fi connection.  We’ve grown through doing a great job for people and being recommended.
It’s as simple as that.

What are the key successes?

The biggest success is still being here 7 years on having made it through a pandemic and the inevitable ebb and flow of agency work.   During that time, we’ve had to adapt and reposition ourselves to stay in business.  But we’ve not just hung in there,  we’ve grown with virtually no prospecting or pitching, and we have our network to thank for that.  Further evidence that building and maintaining good relationships is key to professional, as well as personal success.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

The natural ebb and flow of work that all agencies face at some point.  One of the hardest lessons you learn about agency life is that no matter how good you are, you can’t control
whether the work will come or what you have will stay.  There are always factors that are out
of your control.  So, you need to plan for the worst and hope for the best. 

You need to be able to pivot and adapt, particularly in the early years. Agencies obsess about how they position themselves – hardly surprising given that’s what we all preach to our clients.  But, in my experience, it’s rare that clients buy agencies for their tagline.  They buy people; the experience and perspectives they bring and the way that they work. 

And that’s always been what we’ve offered; access to seasoned, smart and pragmatic marketeers.  But who we offer that to and how, has flexed over the years to respond to where the opportunities are. 

7 years in, we have an agency proposition that we feel really comfortable with. But if we need to shift again, we will.

What are your plans now/for the future?

We’ve recently picked up a number of new clients, so for now we’re focused on the work we’re doing for them.  As said, clients buy people.  And one of the things that frustrates clients most is when senior people bring the business in and then hand it over to other people to run.  We don’t do that.  Geoff and I work across everything.  But that does mean we need to be careful not to take too much on.  

That doesn’t mean we don’t have plans to scale.  But we need to do it at a pace that allows us to maintain the service level and experience our clients have come to expect from us. 

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

There are definitely times when it’s a bad idea to start a new business.  But then there is also never a perfect time to start one.  So, if you have a good idea, don’t hang around waiting for the right moment to do something about it.  Write yourself a business plan and go for it.  You’re more likely to regret not doing it than doing it.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Speak to other people, take advice, be open to change and don’t be afraid to be wrong, cause sometimes you will be.  But when you are, learn from it and get better.  Failure is where the best lessons lie.  And above all, try to enjoy the journey.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

We all face adversity in our lives.  We all bear the scars of our experiences.  But I believe it’s how you respond to these experiences that defines you.

In my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work with a number of people who have faced trauma, loss and even their own mortality, and used these experiences to do good.  To drive change for the benefit of others.   Not only do their stories move me, they make me want to be better.   This is the kind of inspiration we all need.   It’s the very best of humanity.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

I’m not really one for motivational quotes.  But Einstein’s point that ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’ – has always stuck with me.

Great strategy is not about being the smartest person in the room.  It’s about simplicity; articulating both the problem and its solution in a way that anyone can understand and follow. 

To do that, you really need to know your shit.

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?