Sharon Brogden has come a long way since she was sacked from her job while pregnant and went into serious debt. Now she is running an international business with a £360,000 turnover from her back bedroom in West Yorkshire.
Her story could have ended up so differently. Six years ago Sharon was sacked when she was five months pregnant with her second child. She didn’t accept the decision and took it to a tribunal, which she won. She was awarded £20,000 for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal. However, she never saw a penny of the money because the company closed down and then reopened under another name.
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The ruling came just before she was due to give birth and meant it was impossible for her to get another job. Three weeks later she went into labour. During the birth she had a serious asthma attack, which she believes was brought on by the stress of the tribunal. She had to have an emergency caesarean and lost four pints of blood. Her baby had a heart attack. “We were very lucky to survive,” she says. She was so seriously ill afterwards that she couldn’t go out to work. The baby had to have a check-up every other week.
Sharon then began to get into serious debt. Her car was repossessed. Her tv channels were cancelled as were her life and contents insurance. She became a recluse. “I was really very low,” she says. She also had a 13-year-old daughter, but she had become jealous when she found out about the new baby and had decided to go and live with her father.
Sharon was having to borrow money from her neighbours to pay for nappies. A friend paid for her internet connection. The friend suggested she join a chatroom because she did not go out. “I was a bit apprehensive at first,” she says, but other people she knew were on it and it was all monitored carefully. It was a chartroom where you could speak to the people there rather than just send text messages and after a while the owner of the room asked her to host a daytime quiz. She did it while the baby was sleeping and it was very popular. The owner did some research into the reasons why and he found it was because people loved Sharon’s voice.
She decided to do some voice training and went to Nottingham for an audio broadcasting workshop after borrowing £150 from her parents for the workshop and audio and microphone software. She made a voiceover demo and loaded it onto various sites, including Freelancer.com, an online marketplace that links small businesses with remote workers and self-employed professionals. The key thing about Freelancer.com was that it had an international reach. Work started coming in. Her first job was a three-minute voiceover for a powerpoint presentation. “It took me over an hour to do it as I was so concerned about getting it right,” she says. She must have done ok because she started getting other jobs.
A company in California approached her as she had worked with one of their clients. They wanted a male British voiceover artist to voice an audio tour of London. They had auditioned lots of US people, but they wanted a genuine British accent.
Sharon went through freelancer.com and found 90% of people auditioning for voiceovers were American. “I thought there was a good opportunity there,” she says. “There are thousands of voiceover artists working in the UK, but the majority are only working in the UK with UK clients. They were not looking beyond the UK. So I started focusing my marketing overseas on America, Canada and Australia,” she says.
It paid off and she found there was a “massive marketplace” in the US in particular. Her Great British Voice Company now has over 40 artists on her books, her clients include Morrisons, Channel Four and Marriott hotels and she has a turnover of £360,000 a year. Sharon has now paid off all her debts and says she is “extremely proud” of herself and what she has achieved, which has taken a lot of hard work. “If I had been told six years ago that this would happen I wouldn’t have believed it,” she says. “I did it to change my situation. I didn’t want my daughters growing up in that atmosphere of sadness and debt,” she adds.
Sharon works from home and has a small studio in a back bedroom of her house, although she is considering looking for business premises. “The beauty of it has been that I can spend quality time with my youngest daughter and when she is in bed I can work if I want to plus I have no childcare costs. In the holidays I can stop work and go to the park with her. With my eldest daughter I didn’t have that when she was young. I was in a full-time job and dropping her off at the childminder,” she says.
Her eldest daughter, who is at university, has been inspired by her mum’s example to set up her own business when she graduates. “She has seen me doing it and knows it is an option that she can create her own job if she puts some work into it,” says Sharon. She still uses Freelancer.com, but now mainly to find new freelance voice artists.
According to the National Outsourcing Association, the number of people using such sites is expanding fast. Matt Barrie of Freelancer.com says the number of projects posted on his site has risen more than 300% to 150,000. Companies post their requirements and pick a preferred bidder. Barrie says it is perfect for start-up businesses, such as Sharon’s. “Small businesses are under resourced and get distracted by side tasks. Outsourcing fuels growth by freeing them to concentrate on what they do best,” he says. Sharon agrees: “Freelancer.com played a big part in getting me started because it connected me with potential customers 5,000 miles away,” she says.