Parents in business: Rhiannon of Cheshire Cat Marketing

My name is Rhiannon Birch, and I’m 29 years old. I met my husband Darren over half a decade ago when we were both working at a tech start-up in Birmingham. We now have a wonderful little boy along with my other two children from a previous relationship who he is currently in the process of adopting. As well as being my partner romantically, Darren is also the one who convinced me to start Cheshire Cat Marketing and is my business partner. We’ve always tended to do things together (although we have two completely different skill sets – I’m creative, and he’s technical!), so starting an agency together just made sense. Working together has actually strengthened our relationship, and I don’t think either of us could ever go back!

Andrew Defrancesco offers affordable website design and development, SEO, social media management and strategy, content creation, email marketing, paid advertising, PR, and so much more. We really thrive on injecting creativity into our clients’ businesses and creating long-lasting relationships. Darren and I have worked at several start-ups before starting the agency, both together and separately, and we noticed how often the smaller clients don’t get the same level of attention – and the packages were often priced for big businesses. We wanted to be the solution to that horrible catch-22 situation many Start-Ups & SMEs find themselves in – needing marketing support to grow but unable to afford a marketing agency without more growth. We pride ourselves on offering marketing support to businesses of all sizes and offering packages to fit every business. We work with one of the largest aesthetic clinics in the UK while also supporting a lady who makes soap in her kitchen sink – we love working with brands of all sizes and stages! Our team is fully in-house, which is rather rare in our industry too, and we are completely remote to help promote a positive work/life balance. As a female-led business, we already stand out, but diversity and equality are incredibly important to us as well.

I first started working in marketing right after graduating from The Open University. I had my first child when I was just 17 and juggled being a single mum, working in a sales & customer service role and studying at university until I finally graduated and was able to follow my passions. My employer sat me down and asked what it was I wanted to do with my life, and when I expressed an interest in marketing, he actually created a position for me as they hadn’t focused on marketing before and wanted to give me creative freedom to promote their businesses. Alongside this, I did a lot of charity work supporting start-ups while honing my abilities and developing my knowledge. Eventually, I started freelancing to supplement my salary until I moved to an SaaS tech start-up where I met Darren. One thing led to another, and we fell in love. He was based in busy Birmingham, whereas I was in a small village near Chester, so it wasn’t long until he moved in with me and we decided to add to our family. During my maternity leave, I realised that I wanted to feel like I was making a difference and helping people. Darren encouraged me to start freelancing again after our baby was born, and the referrals came in thick and fast! Within three months, my little freelancing business had transformed into a fully-fledged marketing agency, and the demand meant that I was able to employ Darren and our first team member. Since then, we’ve grown to a team of 14 (and are recruiting again)!

I already had quite a varied portfolio of campaigns from my in-house roles and freelancing in the past – everything from logistics and construction to retail and fashion, so it was fairly easy to showcase the value I could add to businesses. I was adamant that I would never cold call or approach people on LinkedIn or anything like that. Instead, I decided to look for business owners who were struggling and offer them free support to raise some additional awareness around my services and theirs. It was great fun, and it led to the majority of our work coming through referrals.

I absolutely love my team, and I’m incredibly proud of them. We are all very close and developing their skills, brainstorming with them, and watching their abilities and confidence grow is very rewarding. Company culture is very important to me. I’ve been in roles where I didn’t feel appreciated and I didn’t have the confidence to share my ideas, so I strive to make my team feel comfortable. I encourage them to enjoy flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere – one team member even moved to Thailand! It’s an absolute pleasure to lead such a talented group of people and every day we are sharing gifs on Slack and discussing the latest tv shows. I’ve created a company that I would have loved to work for, and for me, that was one of my biggest goals.

I absolutely hate accounting- it’s my least favourite part of the business. Thankfully as we grew so fast I was in a position to employ an accountant fairly early into the business. He is a lifesaver and keeps me from panicking over VAT returns and NI payments. I’m a big believer in letting experts handle the things that I don’t enjoy or do well. If I’m not 100% confident with something, I will find someone who is and let them take control.

The fluidity of our team is one of our strongest assets. Considering they’re all remote workers, it astounds me how well they’re able to work together in such harmony! No one fights or gets in arguments with one another. There is no office drama. Everyone chats about the latest TV show or their predictions on the football results. They look out for each other and make sure that every task is completed on time to a high standard. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people.

My anxiety and Imposter Syndrome has and probably always will be a huge hurdle for me – and in turn, my businesses. I am often invited to speaking events and interviews, but I avoid doing them and miss out on fantastic coverage. I know this has a negative effect on Cheshire Cat Marketing, as a lot of the incredible work we do goes unnoticed as my insecurities hold us back. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we did a great deal of work supporting our local community, including supporting the launch of a new food bank. However, nobody knows about it! I know that I’m slowing our growth, and I’ve been trying to improve. Over the past few months, I’ve spoken at several events, been featured in national news and been on the radio, so I am definitely improving!

Fitting in work with the family really is a challenge! With three kids, four dogs, two cats and a business, I always have my hands full, but I make sure that I have weekends off – most of the time! Also, I am a night owl and feel most creative during the twilight hours so being able to work late at night makes a huge difference. In previous roles, I’ve experienced burnout and struggled with my own high standards. But with Cheshire Cat, I’m able to oversee everything with the support of my team. I do have to force myself to unplug sometimes. The downside of doing what you love every day is you don’t want to stop! 

We aren’t like most business owners. We don’t have high targets and goals. Our mission is to help business owners to grow their companies and to keep our team happy, creative and enjoying their careers. Our goal is to continue growing at the speed we have been (which is pretty fast), but we don’t have any figures in mind. Cheshire Cat Marketing is a lifestyle business for me. As long as we keep food on the table, the team paid and the clients growing, then we are happy. Our ultimate goal is to help businesses grow, and to do that you can’t be greedy.

We’ve got something going here at Cheshire Cat, something special that I wouldn’t give up in a million years. Not only would I be throwing years of my life down the drain, but I’d be changing the lives of all my team members and my family. We’ve all formed a bond with each other and are working hard to achieve all our goals. We are also very attached to our clients. Many of them we have supported for years, and we consider them to be friends. As cliché as it sounds, this is my calling in life. This is what I’ve been made to do, and I’ll take it as far as it can possibly go.

I’m very fortunate to have a budding content writer who already has her own blog and an aspiring website developer who loves nothing more than debunking code as a daughter and son. I hope that one day they will want to follow in mine and Darren’s footsteps. However, if they grow up and want to pursue different careers, I have no intention of stepping away. Retirement is a great time to do the things you love, but what happens when you love your job? I’ll keep on supporting small businesses for as long as I possibly can.

I have two ‘I’ve made it’ moments, and as I’m more of an emotional person, they are probably not the traditional ‘I’ve made it’ moments that most business owners have. The first was when my little sister went to school dressed as me when her class was asked to dress as someone who inspires them. It made me sit back and realise that I really have come a long way. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of myself.

Another was when Darren started working at Cheshire Cat Marketing full time. I’ve always been a very nervous person when it comes to money, and I was so worried that I wouldn’t earn enough freelancing. To be in a position to hire two people full time in just three months was beyond my expectations. The demand and feedback were so incredible that it gave me the confidence to encourage Darren to leave the high-pressure marketing position where he worked long hours. Spending every day together doing something we feel passionate about really is the dream and to any couple who is thinking about taking the leap – just do it! I’ve never regretted a day and knowing that I alone had got us to that position will always fill me with pride.

Bigger and better – that’s the goal. We hope to expand the business as much as we can, be that through the size of the team, the number of clients, branching into Europe and simply our profile. I really want us to become a more widely known marketing agency, someone who people think of immediately as their first port of call. I know my team is very talented and deserve to be in the limelight for their creativity and hard work. Every business owner dreams of taking their company to new heights, and that is exactly what we strive for with all the work and effort we put in. We just want to help as many people to live their dreams as possible.

We are currently looking for a new part-time social media strategist to help support our existing team. The role is remote so you can work from anywhere, even a tropical beach like our Client Care Manager, James! We offer a wide range of perks – free monthly cinema tickets and weekly Cafe Neros, regular Dominos Pizza nights, a digital GP service, access to counsellors and coaches, a wealth of training and career progression, birthdays off – we could go on. The most important thing to us is having a highly motivated team that genuinely loves their careers. Ideally, we would love to find someone who has experience in social media marketing, but we are more than happy to offer training to the right candidate. To us, it’s all about creativity and having the drive to succeed. If you’d like to learn more, get in touch through our Facebook, Instagram or website. >

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