Episode 40 – Sadie Sherran – Co-founder Falkon Digital

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Audio Transcript:

VO Guy::

Hello, and thanks for coming along to And We Have an Office Dog, the Digital Agency Podcast where we talk to agency, owner, directors and learn more about what makes them tick, from the things that make them similar to the things they’d rather have known sooner, where they’ve had success and where they’ve learned some hard lessons. All will be revealed with your host, Chris Simmance, the Agency Coach, and he’ll be talking to a different awesome agency person in each episode asking them four questions and seeing where the conversation takes us over the next 25 minutes. Okay. So let us begin. Over to you, Chris.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Thanks voiceover guy. And on this podcast today we’ve got Sadie sherran, the co-founder of Falkon. How are you doing?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

I’m very good. Thank you for having me. It’s good to see you and hear you.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yes. Everyone who’s listening to this can only hear us, but I can tell you everyone who’s listening that Sadie has won the lottery in terms of headphones, because she’s got cat ears on her headphones, they’re incredible. So Sadie, tell me all about Falkon. What is Falkon? What do you do best? What’s your thing?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Well, Falkon started… Actually think about it, it’s our birthday next week in May. It started 14 years ago in May. So we’ve been going a long, long time, and it started off very much as a lifestyle business. I was working for a big agency in Liverpool and my husband, Luke was working for a large agency in Manchester. We were leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning, getting back at 8:30 at night and barely seeing each other. Our aim was to have children at some point, and we realized that life, if we wanted to have a career, we couldn’t work for these big corporate agencies. As much as we loved working with big brands that wouldn’t never be sustainable if we decided to have children, one of our careers would have to suffer.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Either one of our careers would have to suffer or it wouldn’t be worth having children because we’d never see them. Yes, 2008, 2009, we set up a business. Luke started it first, although it was a joint effort. Well, what happened was we went for cocktails, complaining about our commute. And we wrote a business plan down on a napkin, buy one, get one free cocktails was the start of our business. And we had a bit of a business plan three months, then six months and then a year, and then hopefully we’d still be going after a year, but that’s how it all started. And it was hard at first, very hard as you know, starting your own business, but it really was the best thing we ever did.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I know that you do a lot of video now, you do a lot of live action videos, you do a lot of animations, explainers and all sorts of interviews and product stuff. That wasn’t where you started there, was it? What was on the napkin?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Well, I have a technical SEO background and my husband, Luke, who will be doing a podcast probably a couple of weeks-

Chris Simmance (Host):

He will. I’m looking forward to the opposite perspectives.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Yeah. Well, we decided not to do one together because as a married couple, we probably just talk over each other. But he comes from an e-learning background, very technical. And he was building WordPress websites, Magento websites for the business and I was doing the technical SEO. So it was split, very much one side and the other, we were newly married, very newly married. In fact, I gave my notice to the company just before we got married and came back off our honeymoon. And that was it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Really went off the deep end, especially an agency as well, because you like life a little bit difficult, right?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Well, yeah. I think if you don’t take that leap, you don’t know what you can get. And we were both quite high up in the companies that we were at so we thought, “Well, if we don’t do it now, when will we do it?”

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, absolutely. So over the last say 14 years, I know that Luke might have a different perspective on this, but what do you think your biggest success has been in the time that you’ve been running the agency?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Oh, it’s been really difficult. Success wise it’s hard to tell because everything’s been up and down, and you can measure success in very different ways. I think when we were our biggest and we had about eight or nine employees and we were working from an office, we felt very successful, but we started leaning towards that company that we wanted to get away from. So we started doing much longer hours, the kids were in after school clubs instead of us doing the pickup and things like that. And it’s very, very difficult managing those sort of people. Luke is very good at managing people. I struggle with it somewhat. I think sometimes you have to realize your own limitations.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. You got to remember, I know it sounds glib to say you started the business with the plan on the back of a napkin, but the purpose of the business was to have a life balance, right? And kids are massively important, especially to you guys because… I’ve met your kids. They’re pretty awesome. And I know for example, they love all of their activities and that sort of stuff. And you want to be there to en enjoy it, and that’s part and parcel of it. If you have a business of nine people and you’ve got to be there every day and you’ve got all of the pitches and all of the team stuff, that isn’t necessarily the success, is it?

Chris Simmance (Host):

It might be a couple of quid in the bank and prestige and things, but realistically, success is measured by the does it meet the purpose of the business? Is it meeting your strategic aims, your reasons for getting out of bed in the morning? So I guess if you were to… Like you say, things went up and down, moved around, you had a lot of staff, you had a few staff, you had an office, you’re now doing flexible working in terms of hybrid or flexible in terms of everyone can work remotely.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Well, we did. When lockdown happened, everybody went home. We were like, “Right, take your stuff. Let everybody go home.” And we’ve always hired people based on their personalities more than their skillsets. So personality wise, we’ve always had people who they’re very enthusiastic, they’re very hardworking, they’re very trustworthy and they enjoy what they do a lot. So when they went off and they weren’t in the office anymore, we still kept those lines of communication open, but it just felt so much better. They were a lot happier. They weren’t doing the commute. They were able to do the things that we’d already been doing. They would be able to pick their kids up from school, drop their kids off. We also expanded our business quite a bit. So when we first started our business we wanted to help UK businesses, because we started in the recession, the first one.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, of course.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

And we wanted to help small businesses with big brand solutions basically because we knew that without the overheads we could do what we did in big agencies for small companies. But now we’ve expanded quite a bit. So we’ve got a lot of international clients, and it’s very hard to look after those clients when you’ve got someone in Australia and you’ve got somebody in California. You can’t have your staff working five o’clock in the morning to three o’clock at night to deal with these people.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

But we do also want to have that communication open. So quite a lot our staff are now able to because they’re not in the office, they’re not working set hours. They can have a call early in the morning, seven o’clock in the morning and then they finish early, they finish at two or something as long as the hour and the output is the same, because we’ve got these trustworthy people, we’ve got hard working people, we can see what they’re doing, the outputs there, there’s no reason not to do it. And it serves our clients a lot better because we can have chats with Australia. We can have chats with America.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. It makes it a hell of a lot more flexible and also happier for everyone, I guess. So over that 14 years with things changing relatively, I say not frequently, but over 14 years a lot has happened. If you were to create a time machine and go back, I know some of those cameras that you guys have got are quite technical, maybe you could repurpose them. You go back in time, 14 years, Luke is gone to the toilet at the cocktail bar and you sat there with your napkin, with the business plan on it, one piece of advice would you give younger version of Sadie?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

I think to follow your passion a bit more. So I assumed that because my job was technical SEO that that’s what I should carry on doing. And we do technical SEO, but I also felt because it was just me at the time that I had to expand out onto link building, which I’m not particularly good at.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. Yeah. We both [inaudible 00:10:11] when you said that.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Yeah. I also felt that was my box. But over the years we have… The good thing about having a big team is it did allow us to step back and look at our passions a bit more. When we first started mine and Luke’s department, so to speak, were very different. It’s now merged because we’ve got similar passions, we’ve got similar creative vision. We’ve also felt that as an agency we had to be a Jack of all trades. We had to offer a full service solution, and we had to hire people or to be able to do this.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

But when we actually thought about what we enjoy doing and what we put our time and effort, yeah, we can do this, we can do certain parts of the job and we can do it adequately, we can do it competently. But we didn’t necessarily enjoy doing it, and we weren’t specialists at it. So once we realized that if we followed what we are good at, what we love and drive our passions, that way everybody else came with us because we are the heads of the company, our passion drives all the rest of the staff. When they can see us having fun, they have fun.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

When they see us getting excited, it’s contagious. And that’s why we’ve gone down the specialism of video SEO, video marketing. Luke has always been passionate about creating videos. He’s always had animations, done animations. I’ve been passionate about the marketing side of it and having the technical SEO, apply that to YouTube, which is owned by Google. It all made sense because we enjoyed doing it. And it was much more creative for me. And it was an area that we both could push down. And the team love it. We still do a lot of technical. We don’t build cheap websites at the moment anymore.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

We used to do these WebPress websites for small businesses just to get them the online presence that we could then work on to improve that presence. Now we work very much on bespoke coding, it’s much more technical. Because that’s our technical director’s passion. He doesn’t like a high output of quick nasty, cheap website, he wants to be proud of what he does. And because of that we’ve now got majority of our website clients, our retainer clients, where we are doing conversion rate optimization, we’re doing speed tests. And he just works on that bespoke coding to improve larger websites, stuff that not your [inaudible 00:13:05]. Yeah. He really is. That’s why we love him. He’s great.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So if you were to have popped into existence, given yourself that piece of advice to follow your passion a bit more, do you think that the younger version of you, apart from being surprised to see an older version of you appear, do you think you’d have listened to that advice or do you think it would’ve been, I don’t know, ignored or?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Oh, it’s hard to tell because when you’re young you’re arrogant, aren’t you?

Chris Simmance (Host):

I’m older and I’m arrogant still.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

I think also with age comes a little bit of confidence in yourself. And there’s always been a bit of… When we set up the business we were scared. It was a relatively low mortgage for both of us to be unemployed and put in everything into this business. Yeah. It was very, very scary, scary time. And I think, although I would’ve loved to have followed my passion, I don’t think I would’ve taken that advice because I would’ve done I think what we probably would’ve carried on doing is what we felt was the norm because it’s tried and tested, we’d seen it work. Although saying that, it didn’t work then, it didn’t really work. That’s why we left those companies, because it didn’t work.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And quite a lot of agency leaders when they start their agencies off, they start them off from a perspective of, “I don’t like where I am and I don’t like something about it, so I’m going to go do it all by myself.” And then what happens is they go, “Oh, well this seems to work this way.” And then the next thing, before you realize it you’re building something that you didn’t like, and you think that it’s great, because you are running it instead.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

That actually you’ve just turned into what you didn’t like.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Exactly. Exactly. So is there something that you guys have done really well that absolutely hit the market perfectly? Something that you’ve done that is perfectly Falkon, that you did it that one time and you went, “Wow, we’re onto something. We’re going to keep doing this.”

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

I don’t think there’s just been one thing. There’s been lots of little things that make sense. A lot of our video work is again, I suppose it’s where our passion, because we put our heart and soul and we have real fun with it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

You’ve done some great video even for me as well. So I know firsthand that it’s great.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

But when we are given free creative freedom to do video, it’s something that we’re wanting to do a lot more of, because we’ve got data to back up lots of things now. We are still improving, we’re still trying to find… I don’t think it’ll ever stop. It’s always, we can find something better to do. We can have more fun. We can create something that people are going to love and we are going to get that right to replicate it. Because we do enjoy it, we did a lot of testing on our own stuff. Luke’s got his own YouTube channel. In fact, that’s one of the things we got all of our staff to do, is set up a YouTube channel. We got the more YouTube qualified and they all got to experiment on whatever they wanted to do. We had one guy, he was drumming. We had one guy with a cooking show. Our geeky technical director had a 3D printing. That’s how geeky… He has a 3D printing YouTube. And it actually it’s quite successful.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It’s niche. Yeah. Quite right. So if there’s someone who’s listening right now and they’ve been waiting to get to this last piece of the podcast where you are going to give them one piece of advice, they’re just starting an agency or they’ve just started, they’re going to start, or they’re thinking about starting an agency, assume they’ve asked for advice, what advice would you give them based on everything that you know now?

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

I suppose to be true to yourself, understand your limitations.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. Big one.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

And understand your passion and what makes you different. Because if you are starting an agency, you’re the head of that agency and everything else comes down from you. You lead and you need to be happy. If you are miserable, then no one else in the team is going to be happy and it will affect everything from productivity to retention, recruitment, everything.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

So you have to make sure that you are being the best version of yourself, not just for your team, but for yourself. And if at any point that you feel like your mental health is suffering, then there’s something wrong and you need to deal with that fast. I think it’s really important. And when we started this business, obviously in the company that I used to work with, it was that culture of you have to work long hours or you’re not doing a good enough job. I don’t know if you’ve worked in these companies, I think you have, where people look at you if you are the first to leave. You can’t ever be the first to leave.

Chris Simmance (Host):

My nickname at the first agency I worked at was minute man because I’d be out the door a minute past five, but that was because I hated working there. And also I was there from way earlier, got my work done.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

But I think a lot’s happened in the past decade and a half that isn’t what business is like anymore. So you don’t have to be like that. It’s not going to make a productive team, it’s not going to make a productive you. And again, everything comes from you, if you are happy, if you are productive, if you are showing a passion. You can’t really start a business without having some passion, whether it’s passion for accounting or passion for the law or whatever, you have to have that. And that is your contribution to the business whether you’re a partner or a sole company, then you have to stay true to yourself really.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Absolutely. That’s fantastic advice, stay true to yourself. If you’ve got an agency at the minute that you’re running and you feel a bit lost in that sense, go back to that, your version of the napkin moment and try and work out why you did it, why you started and go back to that way you can.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Yeah. I know loads of people are doing this at the moment, the four day week, but I started it in January. The reason I did it is because my weekends are filled with kids and then kid stuff, taxi driver, cleaning up after them. I was knackered. So now I take Monday off and I actually do pole dancing, something that is completely switched off from anything else. I do circus tricks and pole dancing. And it’s a reset button because I’m not thinking about work, but I’m still being creative and having fun.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

For some people, it might be a spa day, for some people they might paint, for some people they may read a book. Some people may just spend all day watching Netflix, everybody, whatever it is. But sometimes you just need a break because burnout is real and it makes… And I found that I’m much more productive having a proper break on a Monday and just doing those four days where I’m ready for it, I’m not knackered from taxing the kids around.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And I think the world at large or the Western world at large anyway are starting to pick up on that. And I think it makes a lot of sense. Yeah, back to the advice, I think you’re right in that you should be true to yourself. And that itself closes the podcast. Fantastic advice to end on for sure. And so thanks very much for coming.

Sadie Sherran (Guest):

Thank you for having me, Chris.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And on our next podcast we’ll be talking to another agency leader to hear about everything that they’ve learned throughout their journey. So thanks very much for listening.

 

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