Sarah Williams leads boutique paid media agency Ortus following its rebrand from AGY47 in March.
Ortus is based alongside the rest of the N21 Group – North and Silverbean – at its European headquarters in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and has worked with clients including Clarks, Moda In Pelle and Ethical Superstore.
An expert ecommerce specialist, Williams was made Associate Director in August 2020, having joined as a Senior Paid Marketing Manager two years earlier. She also has expereince at Visualsoft, where she worked for six years.
We found out what lessons her career has taught her.
Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?
Each morning, I make time to immerse myself in the latest news, catching up on LinkedIn trending topics and any updates in the world of ecommerce and digital. By doing this first thing each day, it means I’ve given myself this time to soak it all in before the day gets away with itself with meetings and emails.
What’s been your luckiest break?
I wouldn’t class it as lucky – but it was definitely a case of the right place, right time. I applied for a team leader level role at Silverbean (a full-service marketing agency at the time!) and part-way through the interview process the hiring manager asked me to apply for another role that was being made available due to a huge new client win.
This meant working with a great global brand, with more responsibility than I’d ever had before, bigger budgets than I’ve ever dreamed of managing, and a really exciting challenge – so I jumped at the chance to accept.
What’s your best failure?
Although classed as a “failure” in terms of the revenue we make at Ortus, I’ve made the decision twice this year to cut ties with brands we were managing paid marketing services for, as they were draining not just our team’s resource but their morale too, as well as being over-demanding and occasionally rude.
While this means taking a financial hit for Ortus, it means my team are only dealing with client partners who share the same values as us and appreciate the amazing work they do.
What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?
My best investment in time was whilst I managed the day-to-day running of client PPC accounts over the years. I always wanted to go above and beyond no matter the client’s size, as I naturally set myself a really high standard in everything I do.
Being so passionate in this industry, working really hard, and building those great client relationships has paid off in the long run, as contacts I’ve dealt with over the years know my reputation and have since reached out about our agency services with me as director. Work hard to build a reputation, until your reputation works hard for you!
Which book would you recommend others to read and why?
I hate to admit it, but I’m not a huge bookworm. I’m a big podcast advocate instead, as it means I can combine listening to these while out for a walk or commuting – I’m all about the efficient lifestyle!
My favourite is ‘Diary of a CEO’ with Steven Bartlett. I find a gem, thought-starter or reassurance in every single podcast he creates, no matter whether his guest is a reality star, Olympic athlete or a business owner.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Have passion in everything you invest your time in – or it’ll end up time wasted. Worry less too – this is such a big time and energy waster!
Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?
The biggest “what” for me in influencing my working life is the trust and autonomy given to me in my current and previous roles.
Being given the freedom to make my own mistakes and decisions, and when I’m actively encouraged to have a voice, are all things which spur me on to prove my bosses have been right in their decision to hire or promote me.
I’ve been in many roles where I’ve had to “jump in at the deep end,” and looking back has made me realise the trust was always there from my seniors to tackle a new challenge.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
In my spare time, I’m a part-time influencer – even though I hate that word!
I started an Instagram account back in 2015 to really put my passion and knowledge in the industry into practice and have since worked with amazing brands like The White Company, Hello Fresh and Look Fantastic.
How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?
I think it’s already helped businesses start – if they hadn’t already – discussions around working more flexibly, adapting to new ways of working, and reacting to situations and challenges more quickly.
It highlighted to our agency how strong our team bond is, how much we want to go the extra mile for each other and demonstrated how much we all appreciate the socialisation element of working life.
What does success look like to you?
Success to me is having a happy team at Ortus who are passionate about their work, are excited with the brands they work with and have a really healthy work-life balance. With this, success for me is also seeing each of my team develop, progress and succeed in their own careers.