Arriving from Mauritius at the age of 19, Sharon Latour was following her heart and looking for adventure and a world-class education. She never expected to stay in Australia permanently, but after completing her studies, Sharon decided to build her career in the country she had come to know as her second home. Less than ten years after graduating, Sharon is the Founder and Queen Bee of Marketing Bee, a full-service digital marketing company helping clients all around the globe.
What was it like when you first arrived in Australia?
Everything was so huge! It felt like in the movies. The highways, the buildings, everything felt so big. Mauritius is tiny, but in Australia, there is so much distance between places. If someone says something is ‘just around the corner’, you can drive for 45 minutes and still be in the car. I arrived in the middle of summer, and it was 40-something degrees. Mauritius is hot, but I’d never felt heat like this before. It was intense but exciting.
You studied in Melbourne, how did you find settling into your new city?
Aside from a few friends I knew from Mauritius, I didn’t know too many people in Melbourne. But I was encouraged by how welcoming, friendly and courteous people were. My first Melbourne winter was hard and a bit of a shock to the system for this Mauritian girl. I got pretty sick that first year.
I was lucky to find a job quickly, working at Leona Edmiston. It was a great job, even though sometimes the customers didn’t understand my thick French accent. I learnt a lot and got to practice my English. I picked up lots of Australian slang and speech which helped me. I ended up staying in that job for over four years while I completed my three qualifications in legal practice, business administration and marketing.
My first Melbourne winter was hard and a bit of a shock to the system for this Mauritian girl.
Why did you decide to stay in Australia after your studies?
I felt that the professional prospects might move a little faster in Australia due to my young age. My education in Australia was a significant investment for my family, and I wanted to build a stable career to make their investment and belief in me pay off.
Tell me how Marketing Bee came about.
When I left university, I was fortunate to get a big corporate job. It involved building lots of online projects and led me to realise there was a gap in the market for helping mid-size companies with their communications.
I wasn’t enjoying the routine of corporate life, and I felt very limited by what I could do within the role, so I began planning my own business at night. In 2013, I quit my job, with no savings, and started consulting, working from my bedroom and cafes.
I decided to call the business Marketing Bee after reading an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about how bees and business are similar.
How did you grow Marketing Bee from just you and a laptop to the success it is today?
Those first years were tough. I didn’t even know if I was going to get my permanent resident visa for the first twelve months or so. I was building this business not knowing if I would need to pack it all up and go back home. But I wanted to keep going, and thankfully my visa came through in the end.
In those early years, I was working on Marketing Bee during the day and taking on part-time jobs at night to pay the expenses. Soon after I started, I met Gemma Swain, our first bee. She believed in me and helped Marketing Bee get a wonderful head start. She’s still very much part of our story. As the business grew, I saw that we had a model that was making a difference to our clients and I was named in Smart Company’s Top 25 Under 25 Startups in 2013, which was a big confidence booster.
In 2015 I moved the business to Sydney to be closer to the bigger technology firms. We’ve created a program that gives mid-size companies access to professional marketers without having to have an in-house team. Our system, Hivernate, keeps us accountable. Our clients have access to see all of their files and tasks, so they feel in control of their projects. We’re a full-service global digital department, and our systems are accessible from any device in the world, 24 hours seven days a week. So, it’s grown quite a bit from those early days. We’re 100% self-funded and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far.
In those early years, I was working on Marketing Bee during the day and taking on part-time jobs at night to pay the expenses.
What’s next for Marketing Bee?
It’s an exciting time for us. For starters, we’ve just launched our new website which coincides with our wider range of services and team. I was recently a winner in Anthill’s 30under30 list for young Australian entrepreneurs. We’ve worked with businesses from all over Australia and the world including New Caledonia, France, Denmark and the United States and we want to keep building our presence locally and globally. We also have a second brand coming out soon, The Small Business Guys, which will cater more to solo and small business operators, but with the same level of service we give to our larger clients.
What lessons have you learned that you’d like to pass on to other immigrant business owners?
As an immigrant, one of the most valuable things you bring to your business is your culture and your perspective. Coming from a poorer country gave me the patience I needed to build my business without feeling inadequate when success didn’t come overnight. In my team, we have people from Hong Kong, Kenya, Italy, India and more. We have cultural sessions every week where team members teach us about their backgrounds and cook foods from their home country. Migrants are amazing at making something out of nothing and making the best of what we have. Your heritage will be the key to much of your success.
Describe what your ideal world looks like.
Creative, fair, amicable and tolerant. That sounds ideal to me.
For more information, visit the Marketing Bee website.
Images credit: Marketing Bee