Interview with media business owner Sharon Goble

At the age of 41, journalist and broadcaster Sharon Goble became a mum – and her life changed forever. After returning to work part time she set up her own media company with her husband, and hasn’t looked back!

What’s your career background?

I worked as a journalist and broadcaster for the BBC and ITV for twenty years, but I did a number of different jobs before I decided on a career in the media. When I left the University of East Anglia with a first class degree in French and German,  I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do next!

You could say that I arrived at journalism through a process of elimination. By the time I became a radio reporter at the age of 26, I’d already done a range of jobs abroad: an au pair in Germany, an English language assistant and a language teacher in France, a ski rep and a tour guide in Austria, as well as work experience at a major advertising agency in Paris.

Back in the UK, I did a post-graduate qualification in Broadcast Journalism and discovered that I loved being out and about interviewing people from all walks of life and being live “on air”. I worked in local and national radio for the BBC before moving to telly as a regional reporter for ITV.

I’ve done stints for national news too, but for 16 years I was based in Devon – a part of the country I’ve come to love and where I still live and work.

How did your career change after you became a mum?

I became a mum of twins at the age of 41 and it changed my whole life, not just my career!

I wanted to enjoy my sons’ early years and spend as much time with them as I could so I took a year off and then went back to work part-time. Three years later, the opportunity arose at ITV to take redundancy and I didn’t think twice.

My priorities had changed since becoming a parent. And after twenty years in broadcasting, I was up for a new challenge and excited about the prospect of doing something different, which I could work around family life.

As it happened, my husband was also redundant for a few months, but we decided to turn what could have been a worrying and negative situation in to a golden opportunity – a big family adventure before our sons started school.

At very short notice, over the internet, we arranged two house swaps on the other side of the world. We exchanged our home in Exeter with a family who lived just outside Sydney in Australia. They also had a second home on the coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

So… we jetted off with our four year old boys for a two and a half month trip, stopping in LA for a few days on the way out to New Zealand and in Hong Kong on the way back from Australia. We also splurged some of the redundancy money on a fortnight touring New Zealand’s North Island in a camper van, which was fantastic.

The whole trip was an amazing experience for us as a family, though not without its difficult moments being together 24/7! It also gave me and my husband the opportunity to reconsider our plans for the future. He resumed working as a TV reporter and I decided to work for myself.

What did you do?

I toyed with the idea of a complete change of direction. I love interior design and did a course before I had the boys. I also considered setting up a decluttering and home styling business.

However, after weighing it all up, I decided to stick with what I’m experienced at. For a couple of years, I was freelance. I produced and presented some corporate videos, working with a cameraman/editor who’d been a colleague at ITV.

I also started copywriting and public relations work and was asked to do some media training workshops. In between these roles (and being a mum), I was renovating our house which we’d moved to a few years earlier and it needed a lot of work!

In 2011, I set up If… Media as a limited company, specialising in video production, PR, copywriting and media training. I work for businesses and charities of all sizes, from sole traders to large organisations like the Met Office and local authorities.

Why did you start If… Media?

I really wanted to use the writing and communication skills I’d honed as a broadcaster to help businesses and organisations get their message ‘out there’, whether that’s through video, press releases and media campaigns, good copy, or helping them with their public-speaking and interview techniques.

I also wanted my business to be flexible so that I could make the most of the years when my sons were little. In fact, Isaac and Felix were the inspiration for my company’s name – it’s their initials!

How do you use the skills and experience from your career in your business?

In lots of ways. Taking on a new brief from a client isn’t very different to a reporting assignment. You have to get your head around the facts and draw out the most important information. You’re always looking for elements that bring your client’s “story” to life and make it relevant and interesting.

In news you work to very tight deadlines so I’m used to turning work around quickly if I have to, but in the business world the pace doesn’t tend to be quite as fast!

I work with experienced cameramen and editors to produce broadcast-quality videos without the high costs of bigger production companies. I take care of the planning, scripting, and interviews and I oversee the edit. If the film needs a professional voice over or presenter, I can do that too.

In terms of media training, I tend to work with small groups or one-on-one as it’s important to give people opportunities to take part in a number of interviews and review how they come across.

People sometimes hate hearing themselves or seeing themselves on screen, but it’s the best way to learn. People often don’t realise they have little habits that detract from what they’re saying until it’s pointed out to them. It’s also about helping people to focus on their key messages and make the most of interview opportunities.

The copywriting side of the business has developed a lot in the last few years and I particularly enjoy helping people find the right tone and words for their website or marketing material. I find it satisfying when I’ve helped someone find “their voice” as a business or translated muddled, wordy text into concise copy that’s easy to understand and conveys a clear message.

It’s quite common for journalists to move to PR. Having been on the receiving end of some appalling press releases over the years, I know what journalists are looking for and how to improve your chances of getting positive stories in the news. My time in TV also made me very aware of the importance and impact of pictures.

My career background has made me an all-rounder. I’m used to getting to grips with a topic I have no previous knowledge of and teasing out the information that’s most important.

What’s it like running a business with your husband?

My husband Richard is a co-director of If… Media but, in reality, the business is ‘me’.

He works full-time as a reporter for ITV in the South West. He rarely knows what the day will bring or where he’ll have to go so there’s a limit to what I can ask of him.

Richard’s a good sounding-board for ideas and sometimes gets involved in video or media training projects, but the day-to-day running of the business, networking, social media, finding clients and doing the work is down to me.

Who is your typical client, and how do you help them?

Most of my clients live in the South West. That said, I’ve done work for businesses in Yorkshire and Berkshire, who have come to me through recommendation. I’ve also just had my first overseas client; she lives in Germany and asked me to work with her on the content and copy for her new website.

Most of my clients are in business, either their own or employed by an organisation. I’ve done videos for a dress designer, an image consultant, a solicitor, a solar panel company, a country house hotel, the Met Office, you name it! I also work for charities and the public-sector.

What do you love most about what you do?

The variety. The inspiring people I’ve met. And knowing that I can help in areas many people struggle with – writing and visualising how things will look come pretty easily to me.

I enjoy the creativity of playing around with language and images. That’s why my company’s tagline is “’Possibilities with pictures and words’.

I also love learning new things and running my own business has been a steep learning curve! Social media was in its infancy when I was a reporter but I’ve learned to embrace it and now, contrary to expectation, rather enjoy Twitter.

And what do you find most challenging?

Never having enough hours in the day! Working from home, you can feel a bit isolated if you don’t make the effort to get out and mingle. Also, you have to make sure you don’t get distracted by other jobs around the house. Of course, there are upsides too, like being able to walk my boys to and from school most days and organising my routine to suit me.

I do miss the banter of a busy office and the adrenalin-rush of live TV, but I enjoy being my own boss and have made lots of great friends through networking, some of whom have become clients.

How do you work around your boys?

I only occasionally do breakfast networking as I can’t guarantee my husband can cover the morning school run. Mid-morning and lunchtime events are better for me, or in the evening, once Richard is home.

Writing and PR projects are straightforward to fit around home life. I write and make calls when the boys are at school and can continue on the keyboard when they’re in bed, if I have a deadline to meet.

When I’m filming a video or doing media training, I send the boys to after-school club or arrange for them to go to a friend’s. None of their grandparents live nearby so we don’t have that kind of back-up but we muddle through.

What’s your five-year plan?

I haven’t planned that far ahead! Isaac and Felix will be off to secondary school in just under two years’ time, at which point I would like to step things up a bit. But I don’t want to wish their primary school years away so I’m quite happy for the time being, as long as I’m earning and have interesting projects to work on.

This year I’m embarking on a new PR venture in collaboration with another Devon-based PR professional. We’re just in the process of developing our logo and website. It’s a new way of working for me so we’ll see where that takes us!

What advice do you have for other ambitious mums?

Be open to new possibilities and ways of working. If you have an idea you think you can make a business of, go for it! Just make sure you have a bit of a financial safety-net in place in case it takes a while to get established.

Above all, have fun and remember that your kids will grow up quickly. Don’t work so hard that you miss out on those precious years and the opportunity to mould your life and work around them.

You can find out more about Sharon and If… Media on their website.