Sarah’s #BEYOUROWN WOMAN Story
I launched Boss Brewing, one of Wales’ leading craft breweries, back in 2015 with my business partner. People often ask me ‘where did it all start?’ I have lost count of the number of men and women that have shown surprise at the idea of a woman brewing beer. The truth is that firstly quite simply, I’m a passionate home brewer. Making beer was a hobby of mine. But in addition to that, the tenacious, determined and mischievous side of me loved the challenge of ‘bossing it’ in a man’s world (hence the company name!), taking the industry on and doing it better.
In terms of my career prior to the brewery, I had always been really driven and self-motivated. After graduating from Cardiff University with a first-class degree in Journalism, I spent my early twenties building a career in sales. I sold everything from beauty products to translation services to precious stones and diamonds. I was in business development, growing other people’s businesses when I had that classic entrepreneur moment of ‘I should be doing this for myself’. So I had the idea that I was passionate about – brewing – and I had the drive and tenacity. I knew I was ready to take my destiny into my own hands and create something that was truly mine.
The journey has been an incredible one, starting off on a small-scale of supplying local bars and pubs to where we are now, trading globally and in the major supermarkets. I knew when I started that I never wanted it to be a lifestyle business or a ‘one-man-band’. I had growth in my mind from day one and went at it with a complete sales focus. There’s still a long way I want to go and I am determined to get there. When questioned on where I want Boss to go, my answer is always the same; I aspire to it being an instantly familiar and recognised brand one day, as well-known and loved as the likes of McDonald’s or Coca Cola. It’s a big feat, but I always tend to go all in and refuse to do things by halves.
There have been so many highlights along the way that it’s impossible to list them all. The first would be gaining listings with some of the major retailers – Asda, Tesco, the Co-op and Morrisons – when people were telling me that it was virtually an impossible feat for such a young company and that they are too difficult to work with. Sometimes the seemingly unattainable goals are the best ones to strive for as most people aren’t brave enough to do so – so there’s less competition! The exposure the supermarkets give our brand has been incredible. Being very ambitious and sales-driven, I was determined to create a brand that would not only be a household name one day, but that would have a global presence. To date, our beer has reached countries as far-flung as Canada, Singapore, Scandinavia, France and Germany. Japan, China and the USA are on the horizon for this year. We’ve worked hard on getting our product out there and have already been successful in gaining listings with national pub companies including JD Wetherspoon and Mitchells and Butlers. Whilst customer happiness is our primary focus, it has also been flattering to pick up some awards along the way – both the beer industry and more business general. Our stout Boss Brewing Black is the current title-holder of CAMRA Champion Beer of Wales and on the business side of things, we’ve won in the region of 20 awards including two Chamber of Commerce awards and a Great British Entrepreneur award. There have also been some personal highlights and achievements along the way including seeing our beers poured at the Houses of Parliament bar, being asked to the St David’s Day event at Downing Street, and seeing our beers at a European Parliament event in Brussels. I am a real politics geek, so these opportunities were right up my street!
The biggest challenge I faced came at the very point in time when I launched the business. The day, literally the very day, that I signed the lease for our first brewery premises, I found out that I was pregnant with my now four-year-old daughter Esme. When I broke the news to friends and family, the assumption was that I would close down the business (before it had even begun!) or somehow mothball it. It seemed unthinkable to many around me that I would launch a business and have a baby at the same time.
But I had the opposite of intentions. I carried on with my plans and the first nine months spent nurturing my new start-up business were also spent nurturing my unborn child. I remember relentlessly travelling up and down the M4 corridor visiting pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants to sell our beer. I can still recall walking into a pub in the morning and the smell of stale beer from the night before clashing with my morning sickness. I won’t lie – I was even answering sales emails in the early stages of labour as sad (or preferably driven?!) as that sounds! Five years on with the business going from strength-to-strength, it goes without saying I have no regrets.
I refused to accept the societal norm that being pregnant means major career goals are put on hold and found the courage within to do both at the same time. It was about self-belief, confidence and having the guts to go against the grain of a conventional pregnancy and maternity leave. Totally unconventionally, Esme attended her first business meeting with me when she was just 6 days old, and I have memories of breastfeeding her during meetings with males in attendance on more than one occasion. I didn’t have a maternity leave and when she wasn’t sleeping in the crib next to me as I worked, I relied a lot on family and an amazingly supportive nursery for childcare. I always say to other women that I could never have done it alone and if you do want to raise a young family and be an entrepreneur at the same time, you have to be willing to ask for and accept help.
Despite all of the challenges I have faced along the way – and there have been plenty of others including working in an incredibly saturated market (there are over 2000 breweries in the UK) and also succeeding in what is still a male-dominated environment – I would not change it for the world. I would do it all over again tomorrow. For me, being my own boss in the 21st century is such a rich and varied landscape of positives and benefits. Every day is exciting and five years in, it still feels fresh and inspiring. It’s about creating your own empire and reaping the rewards of your own graft –rather than lining someone else’s pockets! I have always been extremely ambitious and driven and determined; there is nothing that can compete with having your own business when it comes to realising these traits in the most rewarding way possible.
There’s much that has been written and said about the flexibility and freedom you get from being your own boss and that’s absolutely true. I love how I can choose the school runs that I want to do and take a day off at short notice if my daughter is sick. But that’s just collateral to me. What really motivates me and gets me out of bed is the fact that I am a role model to my daughter, her own real-life superhero. At just four years old, she is already immensely proud of the brewery and can be found excitedly picking out our beers on the shelves at Tesco! There’s a well-known saying that you can’t be what you can’t see. I don’t buy into that – Margaret Thatcher anyone? But I do buy into the albeit clumsier version that you can’t be what you can’t imagine. If I can show my daughter that any dream can be achieved and that you can quite literally create the life for yourself that you want, my work as a Mum and a female entrepreneur is done.
For me, it’s also about being able to use the platform to do good – as just two examples, we supplied alcohol-free beer to males on a dementia ward and brewed a beer for a veterans charity that supports former servicemen and women. As a woman in business, I’ve also been in a fortunate position where I’ve been able to be of service to the next generation of female entrepreneurs. This has come in many forms from giving talks at local schools to presenting on International Women’s Day, to writing articles such as this one. And I get just as much fulfilment and satisfaction from these opportunities as I do from seeing the bank balance grow!
In this juncture of opportunity, choice and freedom for females, I would love to see more women take the plunge and set up their own enterprise. To carve out their own career path, create their own destiny and be their own boss. Technology has made this much more possible – with a laptop and WiFi connection, you can set up and run a business from virtually anywhere. It’s made start-up costs less of a barrier and has given women the chance to make their business work around them and their family commitments. I get so much work done from the comfort of my living room when my little one is sleeping.
To take this plunge requires the right mindset, but I really think we are barking up the wrong tree when we preach at women to ‘be confident’ and ‘believe in themselves’. These things are easy to say, but not so easy to do. I prefer instead to encourage women to find ways how to have this self-belief, using techniques that work for them. There are many strategies – listening to uplifting podcasts and audiobooks, networking and buddying up with other women, self-care (good sleep, eating well, doing kind things for yourself), mindfulness and meditation, physical exercise and for some women, medication and therapy are what’s needed. It is different for all of us, but the one thing that is a constant is that success comes much more easily when you have a positive mindset and strategies for silencing the inner critic. So rather than telling women to be confident, let’s spread the word about how we get this confidence and bolster each other up. Working on my mindset is an everyday practice for me with a daily dose of inspiring audiobooks and YouTube videos being what I find works. Let’s learn and teach about this success mindset and no doubt we will see more women having the courage to #BEYOUROWNBOSS.
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