Sharon Williams, one of Australia’s most recognised and accomplished marketing executives, has always lived by a single maxim – never give up. Twenty-six years ago, when she was nine months pregnant with her daughter Charlotte, Sharon, then working as a marketing consultant for a big tech company, was told by her boss that the impending birth undoubtedly meant she wouldn’t be returning to the company.
“He said that since you’re pregnant, you’ll be off then, which was more than a little ungracious of him,” recalls Sharon. “But then the company’s major competitor called a couple of days later and said ‘I hear you are leaving. Would you come and work with me? I waddled in nine months pregnant to meet him and he said that since its your first baby why don’t you have the baby and then come back to us.’
Two weeks later, just a few days after giving birth, Sharon wheeled a pram and her newborn daughter Charlotte into her former competitor’s offices. “I started contracting for him for $40 an hour,” Sharon says.
“I realised I had a business on my hands and that I should register it. I was trying to come up with my name when the word ‘’Taurus’’ popped into my mind. It was my star sign and I looked it up and it said: likes beautiful things, loyal, earthy, strong, tenacious and stubborn. I thought, yes that sounds like me.”
That was the modest beginnings of Taurus, a company that Sharon has transformed into one of Australia’s leading bespoke marketing and public relations firms, supplying business to business marketing solutions to both small family-run businesses and global ASX-listed companies located on six continents.
This down-to-earth, divorced mother of three has carved her own niche in a highly competitive industry, shaping a business model that has helped more than 1000 companies achieve greater recognition, market penetration, brand power and improved sales goals.
One of Sharon’s greatest strengths is turning negatives into positives, both in a business sense and personally. She’s now entering her 27th year in business and has seen the impacts of the Global Financial Crisis and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as dealing with divorce, the death of her sister and half-brother and baby niece and being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“What experience has taught me is that you have to prepare for new phases and challenges and that might be in your personal life or in business,” Sharon says. “I have run my own business for all that time, and it is still in business and one of the learnings from that is that you have to constantly reinvent yourself and refresh your approach in response to outside influences.
“In short, the world is a constantly changing place and if you want continued success then you need to change with your target audience, with their needs, their likes, their ambitions and their influences. You must be constantly ahead of your game.
“You have to be ethical and honourable about being on your game for clients and make sure they are getting great advice that they will benefit from. And then being on your game as a professional and keeping a standard and watching for the next great innovation and, hopefully, being the first come up with those things.
“That also means that when times are tough that you have strategies in place that will help you get through them. For example, having had breast cancer and having lived through the GFC, I have an emergency fund in the bank.
“I didn’t have that before, but it means that while the pandemic has been difficult and challenging for all sorts of reasons, at least I have a fall back that I can rely on and money that I know I can use to bankroll the company if I need to.”
Settling for the status quo is not a part of Sharon’s plan. “The world is full of builders, stabilisers and destroyers,” she says. “You’ve got builders who create, stabilisers who keep things going and then there are destroyers who in a clever way break things down and throw it up in the air to reinvent and restart the cycle to make it all happen again. I have had to be all three of these in my career. And I love it.
“I’m a single parent with three children who depend on me. I have clients who depend on me to give them advice, and the right advice. And I have staff who depend on me to pay them so they can support their families and pay their mortgages. And that is a great privilege.”
All this experience and accumulated knowledge went into creating a simple yet sophisticated methodology that underpins her approach to business. It’s called the Taurus Bullseye, a patented and trademarked approach to defining business goals and then setting out to turn them into reality.
“The Bullseye is the centre of the dartboard or the centre of a target if you like,” explains Sharon. “Business objectives is where we start and it’s always about money goals. Whether you are a business or a charity, or a philanthropic quest, you need money to pay bills.”
We send out a questionnaire to new clients and their objective is always the first thing we ask about. Then we move on to marketing and communications and the layers that we need to address to make those goals happen. Then we turn that into a 90day plan with a clear direction to success.”
And successful Taurus is. A quick scroll through their website reveals an impressive client list with eminent names such as Commonwealth Bank, Dicker Data, Invocare, Clean Up Australia, Blackmores, QBE, MLC and a host of other instantly recognisable brands and companies.
“We work with small start-ups and with ASX-listed multi-nationals,” says Sharon. “Some have been with us for more than 26 years and some have started, become successful, sold and started again. There’s one business that is now on its fifth company with us. But the link between success and our clients is the methodology for what it is you want to achieve and then set it in stone and work towards it.
“I get no greater satisfaction than meeting with a client after a year and popping the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate what magnificent work we have all done. That is an amazing feeling.”
Sharon runs her business with three important core values that are as much about her as they are the company. “We have three core principals to how we operate here at Taurus: we work with people who we like; we work with people who believe in what they are doing, and we work with people who are going to pay us on time.
“This might sound a little bolshy or arrogant but if we don’t like you when you contact us or if we don’t share an alignment of core values then it’s simply not going to work. If you can’t respect us or respect my team when we come to you with an open mind and advice then, again, it won’t work.
“If I don’t believe in what you are doing, then how could I possibly take it on and work to make it a success? I must believe in what you are doing. And finally, this is also a business, and I must pay people’s salaries so, quite reasonably, I want my clients to pay me on time. That is part of our philosophy. We always pay people on time, and we don’t owe money anywhere. That is simply good business practice.”
Sharon was born in London, England. Her parents divorced when she was just six. “Nobody got divorced in those days, so I was a bit of a pariah at school,” says Sharon. Her childhood was spent with her grandmother, who lived next door and under the influence of her great aunt who founded and ran a successful private girl’s school.
“I had this wonderful and amazing education at an all-girls school,” recalls Sharon. “And with people who were much better off than us because my family actually ran the school so I attended for free, even though my sister and I walked home to a shoe box maisonette and Mum had no idea how she was going to buy us shoes or pay the bills. I took my own children back to show them where I lived and they couldn’t believe anyone even lived like that.”
“As a result I always believed that I could do anything that I set my mind to. I was constantly with and watching women who were very capable and accomplished. There wasn’t time for insecurities because they were working so hard doing it all, running a business, Mother, wife, thought leader, no time for ‘’poor me’’ – they all just did it. Taking care of their men, driving change, creating opportunities for others selflessly, so I grew up with the mindset that I could do or achieve whatever I wanted in life.”
Those attitudes supplied a solid foundation for Sharon later in life that allowed her to overcome the emotional upheaval of her parents marriage and divorce. “At 16, I wasn’t confident in my ability to run a relationship,” she says. “I always had this feeling that I was going to be let down. But I was confident that I would always be able to go forward if those relationships didn’t work out and I was lucky enough to meet Guy, Father to my 3 children.’’
“I saw my mother work hard. I saw my grandmother and my great aunt work hard – and this was during the 70s when there wasn’t even a Property Act for women in the UK – and I just never expected that I could do something.
“I find the discourse about women being held back and not being able to achieve things a little irritating because I believe we can do anything we want to. It’s only us holding ourselves back. I have had an amazing life with men supporting me – not financially – but supporting me in my ambitions and business goals. So I don’t buy into all that gender stuff.”
That’s not to say that Sharon’s life is without difficulty. She was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago and is still carrying a tumour. But she won’t be defined by that experience.
“I’m not in a bad space,” she says. “I will define Cancer and not allow it to define me’’
‘’In retrospect, I could have bought more property. I could have invested better. But I have a place to live. I have a successful business and for the past eight years I have thought that I am on borrowed time anyway with breast cancer, and I am still here. I guess I haven’t done too badly. My approach is that I have to own it all – the bad stuff is my fault, and the good stuff is my fault, too. I take responsibility for my decisions.”
On Sharon’s computer is a post it notes on which is written in large letters: INSPIRE, ENTHUSE and MOTIVATE. This is another part of her approach to business. And it applies just as much to Sharon as it does her team of 15 dedicated team members some of whom have been with her for over 20 years.
“I wake up every morning excited about what I and my team are going to achieve as individuals and as a team, about how they are going to excel and push and be the best version of themselves that they possibly can be. I wake up and think about how we are going to do wonderful work today. It’s a really lovely experience, to live like that each day.”