Justine Perry knew from early on that she wanted to run a business, but she realised it would be challenging.
In fact Justine has had to face more challenges than many entrepreneurs. Her husband and business partner Steve was diagnosed with cancer just a few years after their digital marketing and web development business started up and died in 2013.
Justine has not only kept the business going, but has grown revenue by 135% over the last year and increased her team by 600%. “Our mission is not to be the biggest digital marketing company, but we do want to be the greatest,” she says. “We’re not prepared to compromise on quality. Her hard work and dedication has led to her being named a finalist in the Entrepreneur of the Year category of this year’s 2015 FDM everywoman in technology awards to be announced on 17th March. She says simply: “I could not let the business Steve and I had worked so hard on go down the toilet.”
Learning the ropes
Justine had worked for 17 years for the marketing department of Associated Newspapers, mainly on the Evening Standard and Metro and Loot. She was there through both her pregnancies, but realised when her children started primary school that she wanted to redress her work life balance. She had wanted to run her own business, but knew that, to do so, she would need to wear a lot of hats. So she decided to get a job locally and learn the ropes of running a business. She found a role as general manager of a software company in Hertford and worked there for two years before starting Cariad Marketing with her husband in 2009.
Working for herself gave her greater flexibility to be around for school events and sickness. “When you work for someone else you can’t always do that and I wanted to be there for everything,” she says. “Having children shapes all your decisions afterwards and it also shapes you as an employer.” Several of her current team are working mums and she says she realises the importance of flexibility from her own personal experience. “If people are happy they do their jobs better,” she says.
She describes the evolution of her business as “a bumpy ride”. Not only did she lose her husband in 2013, but also her best friend and business partner. “It made a real dent in the business,” she says. “It meant I had to completely change the business plan.”
Steve’s speciality was in web development and that had been a major part of the business so Justine had to bring in outside help for the web development element and re-focus it on marketing, where her skills lie.
She says she could have gone under when he died, but she realised she had responsibilities to her children and employees. She felt very passionate about the business which was her and Steve’s dream. “I didn’t want to see it fail,” she says. She also found it therapeutic to put her energy into the business.
Steve was ill for two years and Justine describes the last three months as “very, very difficult”. He was in hospital for around five weeks then a hospice. He came home for a week and had to go back to the hospice again. Justine lived and worked from the hospice. “I found work cathartic,” she says. “I could lose myself in it. It gave me something else to concentrate on and it became my mission just to keep the business going,” she says. She was very honest with her clients and kept them informed. They knew that the work would be done. She didn’t lose a single client in that time.
The staff at the hospice – Isabel Hospice in Welwyn Garden City – were very good with the children, including Justine’s stepson. “They were there when I needed them,” she says, “and they helped prepare the children for a very traumatic time.” As a result she wants to repay that support and Cariad Marketing raises money for the hospice and for two other charities.
Justine says people around here were very kind. “Family, friends, clients and the school were amazing. I felt wrapped in support so I do count myself as blessed,” she says.
She adds that had she been working in London she doesn’t think she would have been able to keep working. It is not just because she runs her own business, but it is the nature of the business too. Digital marketing can be done at any time of day or night and from anywhere, says Justine. Cariad, which originated on Justine and Steve’s kitchen table, is now in its third office. Its work encompasses everything from content marketing, SEO, infographics, video marketing and writing white papers to pay per click advertising.
Justine only started doing social media marketing when she was working for the software company and says she has to ensure staff are constantly kept up to date with the latest developments and training. “We were one of the first companies to introduce social media training for SMEs when we launched. I wanted to make those skills accessible to smaller businesses, but at a price they could afford, to bring big company thinking to small businesses,” she says, adding that she counsels SMEs to make sure they network well in their local community.
She says building the right team has been vital and that mindset is as important as skillset. Unlike other social media companies, Cariad Marketing offers a holistic digital marketing package. “We sit down with clients and work out their objectives and then suggest ways across different channels for them to achieve it. They almost get a whole digital marketing team for less than the cost of a full-time member of staff,” says Justine. The package includes targets such as specific numbers of new client inquiries.
Future plans include continued growth, the introduction of new services and an emphasis on training. “We’re a highly skilled team who enjoy working with people. We see ourselves as an extension of our clients’ team,” she says.