Beer was traditionally brewed by women until the mid-fourteenth century, and Swansea-based brewer and entrepreneur, Sarah John, is bringing that tradition back to Wales.
Sarah’s micro-brewery, Boss Brewing – launched in April 2015 with her partner and business partner Roy Allkin, is currently taking the Welsh beer industry by storm.
Boss Brewing currently produces eight craft beers, or real ales, and one lager from their Llansamlet brewery using quality ingredients for people with a passion for beer.
Sarah originally studied journalism at Cardiff University then went on to work in sales, marketing and business development.
Meanwhile, she brewed beer at home with her partner using a hundred-litre kit that produced two barrels.
Turning you passion into a business.
After helping others grow their businesses, she thought “I really want to do this for myself” and so combined her entrepreneurial flair with her passion for brewing to create the micro-brewery.
The success of Boss Brewing has been rapid. Within the first year of operation, they built up a customer base of over three-hundred outlets, including pubs, wholesalers, delicatessens and farm shops.
The micro-brewery has won eight business awards and two industry awards, one within just six weeks of launching.
— “I knew we were going to work really hard and I knew we were going to give it our all,” says Sarah, “but I didn’t expect to be where we are now.”
“You’re the boss.”
So what are Boss Brewing’s ingredients for success? Sarah says that it is partly down to the ethos of the company, summed up in the phrase, ‘You’re the boss’.
The micro-brewery encourages feedback and suggestions from its customers, which is then used to create new beers.
— “Pub landlords in rural Wales asked us if we could make a traditional best beer, a classic brown ale. So we brought one out just for them and it became one of our best sellers. We get people involved and so they are the boss of us.”
Sarah also worked hard to create a buzz in the weeks leading up to the launch, from getting pubs and shops on board to creating a following on social media.
Although the business has grown successfully and swiftly, there have been some challenges.
Within a month of starting the business, Sarah discovered she was expecting a baby, so had to juggle a new business with pregnancy and then looking after a new born baby.
“You can have it all.”
— “When you start your own business, you’ve got to give a hundred per cent. You’ve got to give it your all to succeed. So the main challenge for me has been juggling work and family life.
Time is a challenge, so I often work late in the evenings when my daughter’s gone to bed.”
Sarah found inspiration from sporting executive, television personality and writer Karren Brady, who returned to work soon after having her baby. “I find her very inspirational,” says Sarah. “I realised that you can have it all.”
For any woman starting up a business in Wales today, there is help available.
Sarah has signed up to Chwarae Teg’s Agile Nation 2 – Career Development Programme for Women, where she will gain an ILM Level 5 qualification in Leadership and Management.
Despite a wealth of experience in growing companies, management is new to Sarah.
This support will be invaluable, particularly since the micro-brewery has taken on two new employees via the Jobs Growth Wales scheme, a cost-effective way for businesses to take on new staff while providing job opportunities for people.
Involving the local community.
Sarah also says that brewing is a friendly industry and she has received help and advice from other local brewers.
In addition to welcoming feedback and suggestions from customers, she also got the local community involved by holding a competition for students at Swansea University to come up with the micro-brewery’s name.
“It was enterprise and education working together”.
Future plans for Boss Brewing include opening a bar in Swansea, selling the beer online and gaining more customers in England.
Sarah has also recently had a meeting with Business Wales to discuss exporting the beer, possibly to Scandinavia, an area “very receptive to British beers”.
Progress, not perfection.
Sarah believes that confidence is the key ingredient for women starting their own businesses.
— “I think women are actually harder on themselves than men. I think women expect perfection. But it’s about progress, not perfection.”
She says there is no substitute for hard work and putting the hours in, but her top tip for other women is:
“… just have the confidence and go for it”.