Many founders start businesses because they want to be their own boss or do more of what they love. When Sarah Belcher discovered she had cancer, she decided to spend her time and energy on something she truly cared about. She wanted to give back to her community while creating memorable experiences – and not be tied to a desk all day.
Sarah’s passion finally turned into a reality with Sarah Belcher Events, an events company specializing in unique experiences that attendees can’t get elsewhere.
As well as producing concepts and managing projects and events, Sarah’s team also works with local businesses and stakeholders to create sponsorship opportunities that deliver results long after the event has passed.
Now that Sarah works for herself, she’s free to create events that inspire people’s imagination, such as the wildly popular Krazy Races. Read to discover how Sarah beat a cancer diagnosis and the inertia of local government to build a thriving events company.
How Sarah Redesigned Her Life After Healing
Before starting her business, Sarah was an event manager for a local council in the UK for almost 20 years. She spent her time planning and executing outdoor events for the Telford area. However, the council setting constrained Sarah’s creativity as she had to adhere to the guidelines set by senior council officers. Instead of corporate events, Sarah wanted to create unusual events – but that didn’t fit the council’s objectives.
In 2016, Sarah discovered she had cancer. Luckily, doctors caught the cancer early on and it was treatable. Sarah fully recovered, but the experience changed her outlook on life.
She says, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me because it forced me to rethink my life. In 2017, my husband and I took a sabbatical from work and took the kids (at the time, six and eight years old) out of school. We wanted to go traveling. So, we just got on a flight to America, without a real plan, and traveled around for six months. We figured that life is too short and we wanted to make lasting memories as a family.”
When they returned home from their travels, Sarah realized she didn’t want to sit at a desk all day anymore, working for somebody else. She wanted to turn her big ideas into a reality. So, in 2018, she set up her own event business.
Sarah says, “I love making people happy and if I can do that by earning a living and giving back to the community, that’s a win-win. The goal was never to earn lots of money. Our tagline is ‘producing uniquely creative moments’. I’d had this life-changing experience and I wanted to do something meaningful to help others make lasting memories too.”
Creating Memorable Experiences For Herself and Others
In 2019, Sarah Belcher Events planned and hosted its first big event in Shrewsbury, UK: Krazy Races. The idea was to showcase wild and wacky soapboxes in a derby-style race. Sarah had seen her brother win a soapbox race, and from that moment on, she wanted to create one herself.
“I put the feelers out there, sharing on social media that I was going to run this self-funded event. But as soon as I shared it with the world, companies asked if they could sponsor the event. It’s such a unique event compared to what was on offer in the local area, so we had sponsors knocking at the door, which is kind of unheard of,” Sarah says.
Sarah marketed the event on social media. She generally stays away from leaflets and posters as these are not eco-friendly and don’t work well enough to justify the cost. Instead, Sarah advertised the event on Facebook, which proved to be an effective channel to draw in a crowd.
That first event was a gamble, but the response was phenomenal. The town of Shrewsbury rallied around it and there was lots of enthusiasm from local businesses. Over 17,000 people attended the event. Alongside creating a family festival atmosphere, the event also raised money for a charity and supported the local economy. The race benefited Macmillan Cancer Support, which Sarah chose because they helped her when she was ill. In total, the event raised £20,000 ($24,500) for Macmillan.
While Krazy Races is a for-profit event, it always has a charity partner. The event generates profit from sponsor investments, team entry fees, trader income, and spending on the day. It’s free for attendees, but there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to make donations. Sarah says, “We allow our charity partner to raise money on the day from selling our brochure, teams raising funds, cake sales, and lots more.”
And to top it all off, Krazy Races won the national award for Best New Event in the UK from the National Outdoor Events Association (NOEA).
Getting Back Up After Covid Knocks Down Your Business
A couple of months after Krazy Races won the award, Covid hit and lockdowns began all over the world. For two long years, all events were postponed or canceled. Sarah says, “After all that momentum of our first successful event, we had to put the entire business on hold. While it was extremely unfortunate, it did give me time to take a step back and create a proper business plan and lay out future strategies.
“Initially, I didn’t sit down and plan how much it was going to cost and what the pitfalls were. I just started and have been doing it on the fly ever since. Even if I had planned it out more though, nobody could have imagined how long Covid was going to last. It did teach me an important lesson. Going forward, I always have in the back of my mind: What if we can’t run next year? How are we going to manage the business? Now that we have a solid five-year business plan, we are more prepared for those types of obstacles.”
The founder also realized the importance of having a fallback. Sarah’s family had to dip into their savings during the pandemic – which they were lucky to have because her husband is employed full-time. With a family to take care of, you need to know you can survive when your business falls on hard times.
Post-lockdown, Sarah Belcher Events again generated a lot of interest. Sarah took on contract work, including running small youth festivals, writing health and safety documents, and hosting corporate client events. But she couldn’t run the business by herself anymore (up until that point, she had spearheaded everything).
She says, “I still wanted to take the kids to school. I still wanted to be there when they came home. And I didn’t want to have to do everything myself.” Now, she’s hired a full-time marketing manager and three young adults looking to gain experience in graphic design, social media, administration, and so on.
This year, 2022, is the first when Sarah Belcher Events has been able to operate as usual. The founder has focused on growing Krazy Races due to its success. The company gets requests from towns and cities all over the United Kingdom to host Krazy Races there. It has hosted two events so far this year with over 25,000 attendees combined. Part of the package is that the town gets to choose a charity partner, so each event is dedicated to a different cause.
It’s Okay to Say No to Certain Opportunities
Cash flow has been the biggest challenge for Sarah Belcher Events. Before getting sponsored, the company needs to self-fund the events. A few key sponsors return for every event as they believe in the cause – and Sarah – giving the company a small runway.
Although sponsors flock to the events, they also bring challenges. Sarah says, “We try to partner with sponsors that align with our ethos and values. Sometimes that’s difficult because until now we haven’t been in a position to be picky about sponsorships. Fortunately, we have been lucky that the businesses who have worked with us so far have shared our values.”
Sarah Belcher Events focuses on sustainability and wants every event to be net-zero. Some sponsors might not operate within that philosophy. In the future, Sarah wants to be more discerning about who sponsors the events, vetting each of them beforehand. It’s important to maintain the business’s core values, even if it means saying no to some opportunities.
Overall, due to the pandemic, the company experienced a net loss after charity donations and vendor payments. But next year’s forecasts look good. “We’ve been able to build up momentum after Covid and are already planning 2023’s events,” Sarah says. Even with growing income in 2023, the founder wants to stay lean, only expanding the team when it’s necessary to fill gaps and not taking on more events than the company can handle.
Overcoming one obstacle at a time, Sarah finally gets to chase her dream of creating unique moments in time. If you are considering starting your own business, do it soon – or even today – because you never know what life might throw at you.
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