After more than 22 years in dedicated senior marketing roles, Michelle Fragar decided to start her own small business that is now thriving with over 17 clients. BRANDiT is a Marketing, Branding, Digital and PR Agency that acts more like an outsourced marketing department. They get inside the business and work directly with the CEO or Marketing / Sales teams to plan, execute and enhance the marketing functions in their business.
Here’s our chat with Michelle.
You previously worked in a male dominated industry, was this one of the catalysts that led you to start your business?
I worked in the mining industry for almost a decade, as well as in Security Technology which were both male dominated and yes, I did have challenging moments. It’s funny because people talk about the plight of women and diversity and femininity and feminism and all these other words.
But all I did was work in a male dominated industry and try to do my best every day, so it was never an intentional “I’m going to break barriers”. I just always did what I thought was right and kind of pushed boundaries along the way. When I would go onto mine sites, I would prepare for my boobs to be stared at, but I brushed it off. And when I opened my mouth and they see that I knew what I was talking about, the men would refocus and listen.
Back then, 15 years ago, the only female you’ll see in every single mine site you go to is the lady on reception that will sign you in. I remember going into the boardroom saying, “I want us to hire a female salesperson.” And they said, “That’s probably not going to work.” And I pushed and said, “I truly believe it’ll work, we just got to make sure that she’s trained double, if not triple to every other male that we have. And we make sure that we get our best salespeople to train her.” And it worked. She was amazing and was a top-ranking sales rep in our team.
When I started my agency ‘BRANDiT’, I built a very female focused business, not intentionally, but it’s just how it worked out. I will also be looking for men to join the team since I believe that as a female leader, we need to embrace and drive equality and culture where we can. I look for the best people for the job, the people with the right attitude and desire to make positive change then we can teach them the rest. I also believe that the way to make change is to lead by example and that’s what I’m doing.
Were there any other significant turning points?
Learning the power of self-belief was an important part of my business owner journey. In all my years in corporate roles, I always had the Executive or General Manager to acknowledge when the work was good or even great. When I went out on my own, I had lost that belief in myself following a redundancy. I built my self-worth around how good I was at my job, and as we know, the spoils are small in the first few years as you re-invest into staff, product or equipment. It was a massive mental turning point for me when I was awarded the winner of the 2020 CPM of the Year award by our industry body, the Australian Marketing Institute. It was a slap in the face, waking me up and reminding me to trust and value my knowledge. We all struggle with imposter syndrome no matter what you have achieved, so sometimes, it’s time to back ourselves up. That led to 6 months of systemizing the business for growth, buying a new office and moving us all in – ready for a big 2021.
When you initially started your business, what hurdles did you face?
I made every mistake in the book. I lost all my years of being commercial savvy and freaked out a bit, you know allowing yourself to focus on eating the elephant, when all you need to do is take a bite at a time. What I wished someone told me earlier was that staying in your “genius space” is key to success. I had come from a corporate existence when I was paid well to stay in my “genius space” marketing all day every day. No one was asking me to do the Accounting, Sales or IT. Now, I had to do it all! The best thing I did was to get a Business Coach who could keep me accountable, refocus my planning and relax into the knowledge that there was a well laid plan in front of me.
As a dedicated marketer, I also struggled with the idea of sales, cold calling and pitching. Learning to let people teach me and seek guidance was pivotal. Today, I laugh at how frozen in fear I was at the idea of picking up a phone. So really, I was my greatest hurdle, the mental game is so important so find a friend in business or a mentor who can be your sounding block as staying in your own head is counterproductive.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
My two greatest hurdles were my fear of sales and lack of community. We moved from Newcastle to the Gold Coast just before I started BRANDiT and I knew no one. I came from a town where I was in the CMO role for one of only two large publicly listed companies. Everyone knew where I was and wanted my budget. Now, on the Gold Coast, starting a business without connection or sales confidence was a challenging situation.
So, I did two things,
1 – I joined the Australian Marketing Institutes (AMI) Queensland committee and tried to find my new tribe of marketing nerds. These are people who I can ask questions from or form connections and also a safe place to build a community.
2 – And most importantly, I couldn’t have overcome most of my hurdles without the support and direction from my husband. We had met at work, and he was a State Sales Manager and very good at sales. So, his strengths were my weaknesses and he, over the years, gave me the tips, skills and confidence to do “sales”. It was a big piece of my business pie that needed help.
You have overcome adversity in your life, which has built resilience, so do you think this is an essential trait for an entrepreneur?
The two biggest personal attributes that you need to run a business are absolutely resilience and the second is emotional intelligence. Working with men for so many years taught me that I needed to leave some of the emotion at the door and when I transitioned into working with more women, I struggled with the emotional side of females because men are very black and white. I can go into a boardroom; I can say what I need to say with men and we can talk about the issues and not get personal. You have the conversation factually without the emotion and I got very trained in that mentality, which is probably why I did so well with men. It’s vital to look at a situation and see if there’s an opportunity or an issue and how do I deal with that and how do I level the emotional side and actually make a clear decision? I have a strong business acumen and can look at both sides of the story without getting emotionally invested. I honestly think that’s my competitive advantage.
What has been the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Not trusting myself and getting sucked into the small business mentality is definitely a regret. I should have known better; however, I did meet some great friends with small business networking which made it all worthwhile. There are different levels of thinking and the biggest advice I can give to anyone in small business is to always think big, act and plan as if you have all your ducks in a row and sales are rolling in. I noticed a lot of small business owners create a job, but struggle to build a business. A sellable asset. We all need to be honest with ourselves. When I was starting out, I was sucked into small thinking, and it kept me still for a while. The more we focus on having a roadmap like a business plan, marketing strategy, comms plan, sales KPI’s and truly understanding the numbers – the more you will grow into building a business, not creating a job.
What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?
Oh, that’s easy, hiring my first junior. I was very honest about just wanting to consult; however, companies wanted the whole experience – one person who can help them with all the marketing. The day I hired my first team member was so scary. But it was 100% the best decision I ever made. I am heavily focused on culture in my business and my client’s business as I’ve seen, if done right, the power it holds is beautiful to watch.
I’m trying to create a place where people are excited to come to everyday. I’d hate to think of anyone on my team who wakes up thinking “I don’t want to go to work”. In truth, most of my team beat me to coming to work and it’s beautiful to see happiness and engagement from your team. And best of all, that filters to your clients and supports my desire to provide an exceptional customer experience.
How do you personally measure success?
I know this will sound cliché, but my success is based on my client’s success. It has nothing to do with me if I’m honest. I want my clients to see growth and cultural change, and with that comes a level of success I’m proud of. In addition to that personal success for me is keeping a stable team with the right people. Once you find them, you can’t let them go. If you do, you need to look at why they left and own it, fix it, and work harder to keep the right ones.
How do you make the most of your day? Any tips?
I’m a bit of a workaholic, which I would recommend you to not start that habit too early as work-life-balance is really the key to happiness and success. I start every day with a short bike ride to get my brain ready for the day and so I don’t feel so bad when I sit at a desk for 9-12hrs a day. But in all seriousness, I notice the days I don’t exercise, I’m sluggish and much lower in energy. It’s been a must have part of my day for over 20 years. I used to be addicted to the gym but the past few years I just don’t have the extra time, so I have an RPM bike at home and ride every workday. It gives me more family time while also getting the brain stimulation to get me through the day.
Do you have a business app you can’t live without?
Oh that’s a tough one as it’s a tie. I’m in love with both ClickUp and Milanote at the moment. But if I have to say which has the most positive impact on the business it would be ClickUp. It’s a project management platform we use and its great with so many things you can do in one platform. It saves my team hours and centralizes our information much better than previous platforms. Now, I just have to learn all the features because like most tech, we learn the 20% we need immediately but waste the rest. I can’t wait to learn more.