Sheila Farragher-Gemma is the President of FarGem Corp and owner of Connected Sponsor, a sales and marketing company that helps clients maximize sponsorship opportunities through creative lead generation. She is also a serial entrepreneur with multiple successful exits in real estate, child services, office supplies, and networking. We talk about finding and managing strategic sponsors, the profitable sale of a business, and why companies fail to attract and retain strategic sponsors and partners.
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No-Brainer Sponsorships with Sheila Farragher-Gemma
Our guest is Sheila Farragher-Gemma, who is a serial entrepreneur, having built several viable businesses in real estate, child services, office supplies, and networking, and she is currently the owner of Connected Sponsor and the president of Fargem Corp. She is a fellow European. She graduated from Trinity College, which is a really good one in Ireland. So welcome to the show, Sheila.
Thank you, Steve. This is awesome. Thank you for having me on.
It’s great to have you. So, Sheila, tell me a little bit how you became an entrepreneur and why did you choose the businesses you chose and eventually what is Connected Sponsors about?
Sure. So I became an entrepreneur. As you said, I graduated from Trinity and that year I actually got an offer of a green card and applied for jobs in the States and got a job in Boston. So I headed over to Boston. My big fear was I’d meet an American and get stuck over here, which is pretty much what happened. And I got a job in biotech. My degree is primarily in biochemistry. So I got a job here in biotech and met and married my husband. And I was six years in, became pregnant with my first daughter.
And I knew that I didn’t want to work for somebody else once she was born. I wanted to have the freedom to live life on my own terms and to always be there for her if, you know, there was a school play or a soccer match or whatever it was that, you know, she needed me for, I wanted to have that freedom. So that’s when I kind of found my first business and have never looked back.
That’s, that’s very interesting. And I think it’s very topical, because these days, because of COVID, a lot of people realize that discovered home working, that it’s actually not necessarily a negative thing, it can be a very empowering thing. Just today, I went, I looked at a company that someone recommended to me and they have 64 employees and those people work in 52 different countries, which is mind-blowing to me. Yeah, very successful company. They want to grow to a hundred million dollars. So this is real, this is here for everyone now, but tell me a little bit about your thinking process. So how did you arrive at this idea of building a work from home type of company?
So, you know, there wasn’t really work from home opportunities back then, really. You know, Ashwin was born in 1996. So if you had a job, you generally went to the job. There weren’t really kind of work from home opportunities. So then it was, you had to create something or start something of your own. So the first business that I had was a toner remanufacturing business. And it was just kind of dumb luck that I fell into it. My dad had a friend in California who had that business and we actually paid him some money to have me go there for a week, learn everything I could and I came back and just started calling accountants and saying, hey, I do remanufactured toner.
It’s cheaper than the real stuff. So do you want to buy? And it just kind of built from there. And then I just, you just kind of create it. We had a home with a big basement. So the whole business was found in the basement. There was kind of office on one side and a workshop on the other. And everything was, you know, I’d deliver from my minivan with usually a kid or two in tow. And you just, you know, whatever your situation is, you just kind of have to make it work for where you’re at. And that’s, that was basically it.
So, it sounds like it was a real lean startup operation.
Yes. I think most of the businesses I’ve done have been lean startup. It’s like, my whole thing with a business is it nearly needs to prove itself rather than just putting some money into an idea. You nearly need to kind of like sell the product first or sell part of it first to make sure that it is viable, because otherwise you don’t know and you could be millions, not that I have millions of dollars, but you could be millions of dollars later realizing, oh, that wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Yes, it’s a great forcing function when you don’t have a big budget, then you have to be very creative to come up with solutions. And actually sometimes that turns out to be a great business.When you don't have a big budget, then you have to be very creative to come up with solutions. Click To Tweet
Right, exactly. Exactly, yeah.
So tell me about your evolution. So you had these different businesses, real estate, and the, I call it child services, but it was basically a playground, an indoor playground.
For those in the States, it was like Chuck E. Cheese’s, but nicer. If anyone has had kids in Chuck E. Cheese’s. Yeah, so the evolution was through the toner cartridge business, I joined BNI, which is Business Network International. I got a lot of my business from there. And in BNI, you’re encouraged to one-to-ones with other members to learn more about their business, they learn more about yours. And everyone kept telling me I should meet this guy, Jeremy Shigeru, who was in a different chapter.
So eventually we ended up meeting, we met in Starbucks and we’re kind of talking about business. He was in IT and it was a good match with toner cartridges because he was fixing printer. I mean, the computers I was fixing the printers, but very quickly we started chatting about real estate and investing and the whole kind of passive income conversation. And it was funny because we both just read Rich Dad Poor Dad that book. And he was like, yeah, did you see the game at the end of that book? It’s, it’s, you know, it’s $200.
What kind of idiot would pay $200 for a book?” And I was kind of like, me? Do you want to play it? So that relationship started to grow and we started investing in foreclosures. This is back in kind of 2001, 2002, before they became a big thing. And Jeremy was very technical, so he built this whole database to run our business on. So we hired one person to kind of generate letters for us and it was all coming out of this database of foreclosures and it would generate letters for both of us that we would mail out and go to the homeowners and either try and buy their home to get them out of the situation they were in or list it.
If it didn’t look like that it was going to be a purchase. We also had real estate licenses so we would list it and the data, the whole thing was so helpful to us. We were like we should maybe put this out as a product and see if maybe people will pay a subscription for it. And we just built up this huge subscription business that every week we release the data and we have people paying us a certain amount every month per county and it just became this huge flourishing business, which is amazing.
And one of the ones I wish I had sold, by the time we kind of got around to thinking about Siloam, the foreclosure crisis was in its height and we had the edge that we had was we were getting the foreclosure data early. So we were probably getting it before the homeowner even really knew. They knew they were in trouble, but they hadn’t gotten the final notice saying that your house is going into foreclosure. By the time we started exiting from the business, it was pandemonium. It was 2006, 2007, 2008, everything was crashing. So we kind of had lost that edge and we just kind of let it shut down and close down on its own. But it was definitely interesting and learned a lot.
Yeah and the timing is everything. And around 2007, eight, whoever could exit just before the real estate crisis, they got a really good deal there.
So what about connected sponsors?
I’ve been doing connected sponsors for about 10 years now and how that all kind of came about was just a very kind of organic growth. I was in another business with a partner, Deanna Rogers, and she got recruited out of that business to go work for a big digital marketing firm called Digital Marketer. They run a lot of great events here in the state, actually all over, but in the States, one of them being traffic and conversion. So they recruited her to be their event manager.
And she asked if I would come in initially and help her with sponsorship, because in all the businesses I ever did, I was always kind of that strategic partner, joint venture, networker, the person who kind of took care of the relationships. So I came in and started doing sponsorship for her and for traffic and conversion. And, you know, it’s a big event. They have 5,000 to 10,000 people added. So a lot of people saw what I was doing and started asking me to do that for them, which I did.
And then, so I’ve kind of been doing that for about the last 10 years. And then in the last year, I’ve kind of pivoted and started doing more training to train people to do what I do and kind of make it so that I’m more of a consultant than actually the doing of the business at this point.
So you basically teach companies how to get strategic partners and sponsors?
Correct. That’s, you said it so much more eloquently than I did.
So what does that look like? I mean, can you teach me a little bit, you know, in an action? I mean, I don’t want all your secrets, but.
Sure, yeah, of course. So let’s say for this podcast team, if you wanted to get sponsors, the first thing you really want to look at is what it is that you’re offering them. So you’d have to kind of do a deep dive on the listeners of the podcast. And, you know, they’re, they’re listening to you for a reason, reason. They’re looking to transform something or change something or learn something.
They’re looking for some sort of a change in their life. And that’s why they’re coming to you for all of these interviews that you do and the knowledge that you’re bringing to us. And then what are some of the resources that they might need to make that change in addition to what you’re teaching them and what they’re hearing on your podcast every week. And those will be the great sponsors for you. So it’s really kind of getting a good feel for who your avatar is and then getting, figuring out who you can bring in.
That’s going to, to go, who’s going to really help your listener. So it’s kind of a win, win, win situation. It’s like, you’ve got sponsors who are coming in because they want access to the people you have access to. You have your listeners who are looking for resources to help them on that journey, and then you have you who want to bring even more value to your listeners, and of course get paid for it as well.
Okay, so let’s say I scrutinize my listener base and I figure out what my listeners want, and what kind of companies they are, what kind of individuals they are, and what other services could they potentially benefit from. And then I just reach out to these sponsors. I do the research, I reach out and then just offer them the opportunity.
That’s it. Yeah, exactly. And as you’re reaching out to them as well, it’s more of a networking. It’s like, you know, what are your goals right now? What are you looking to achieve? Are you growing? Are you looking for new clients? Would this, you know, specific demographic or client be somebody that you’d be interested in getting in front of. And just building that relationship.
You know, I truly believe that this should be more of a long-term thing. It’s more like a marriage than a date. So you want something that you can feed each other for a very long time and support each other for a very long time. So just finding that right partner that kind of is in line with what you’re doing here in the podcast and with your beliefs and who will work well with your listeners.
So how do I know if, so the podcast is one thing but just for the listeners out there who are not podcasters, what kind of businesses can benefit from strategic partners, sponsors? Is there a special type of business or any business can benefit?
I truly believe any business can. Going back to my early days and joining BNI, that’s really where kind of the roots of this started to evolve in me anyway. You know, before I joined BNI, I had no idea what it was. And I got there, I went to, somebody invited me to a meeting and next thing, there were all these people willing to support my business. And I was just like, I was blown away. I was like, what do you mean? You’re going to help me? You’re going to help me find clients? You know?
So, I think in any business, you can find those strategic partners. As long as you make sure it’s a symbiotic type relationship, that you’re helping them, they’re helping you. I think for business owners and entrepreneurs, I think it can be like a very lonely place because you are kind of in the midst of your business. A lot of times you’re alone, you don’t have somebody, a support system to talk to. You can’t talk to your employees if things aren’t going well because they’re just going to jump ship.
You can’t really talk to your vendors because they’ll be like, okay, well, we’re not going to give you anything else until you pay us. So you just, it’s kind of can be a lonely place. So having these kind of networks and resources where you can just like throw out ideas, you can get support, you can talk out ideas like I’m thinking of doing this, what do you think? What are the pros? What are the cons? You know, and just kind of get some honest feedback. It’s just so powerful.
Yeah now, as you explain it, my earlier business, which was an investment banking business, we actually had such a strategic partnership. We had a guy who owned an accounting and tax advisor firm. We had an attorney who was a transaction attorney. We had a wealth management firm. We had a tax, like a special tax structures firm. And what we did was we often refer them to our clients, but they also support us. They wrote news, wrote articles.
We had their published print newsletter, which we published every month, and they would contribute really interesting articles to it. And then every year we had a conference, which was like a private company fundraising conference recorded, and they would come and speak to our audience there. We invite them for dinner and then we would just discuss how things are going in the market and what options are there. And it was really, really powerful.
It really can. And it’s everywhere. You know, it’s just meeting the people that you kind of gel with and just as long as everyone’s kind of getting something out of it. And the way to really start it is you really kind of have to give first yourselves. You can’t be just like, hey, Steve, so I want you to promote me on this and I want you to do that. And like, we’ll see how that goes. And then maybe I’ll do something for you. It has to be the other way around.
But if you go in with a giving heart and you create these relationships, they can really change your business. Um, so I would suggest to your listeners to like, look around at what else they have, who is looking for the same demographic as you, but isn’t in direct competition with you. Like you said, an attorney, a wealth planning strategist, you know, all those people that you put together all working with the same clients, but you’re not kind of like taking business from each other. You’re actually enhancing the business that you’re bringing to each other.
Now, what was interesting in the strategic partnership that we had was that essentially, we tended to be the first point of contact for the clients.
So they would first come to us and have us value their business and see if they can sell the business. And then we were into the process then and we need an attorney or we need a tax advisor or there was a due diligence and there was an accountant that we needed. And then we sold the business, then there was a pile of money that needed to be managed. And that’s when the wealth management people came in. So the way it worked was that we were kind of the funnel. They brought the opportunity and they would support our marketing expense by, you know, participating in the newsletter, paying for being in the newsletter, for, you know, paying for sponsoring the conference. So it wasn’t a two way street. It’s very much. I mean, occasionally we got the odd referral, but typically not very much. It was more…
But you did get value. So, that’s what we go for. So, maybe it’s not referrals, but you’re getting value. Because there’s always somebody who’s the first contact person who then kind of refers out to everyone else. There’s a saying in BNI, if you want a plumber, ask your financial advisor. And it’s like, why would I ask my financial advisor? Because they know everyone. They can find you who you need.
But the plumber may not be the person that you will ask for referring to. Right.
So the plumber is at the end of the line. He’s just getting all the referrals. So, you know, maybe he’s just given a gift back to be like, OK.
I used to be in BNI also. I tested the waters and that was my impression. So let’s switch gears a little bit here. So this this podcast is all about management blueprints. So business frameworks that people use to essentially accelerate their business growth and improvement. Have you had experience with such frameworks? Did you use any? And which ones did you use?
I’m using one right now. I’m doing a lot of, I’m usually an introvert and I’m just like putting myself out there in a very uncomfortable way. You know, I’m doing a lot of podcasts. I’m doing a lot of speaking, just because the whole training part of my business I’ve just started recently, so I’m like, okay, I need to get it out there and let people know, hey, this is what I do now. In terms of frameworks as well, I’m always interested in softwares that will help. If there’s anything that I do repetitively, I want to find a solution for that.
So it’s either a person or a software or something that can stop me from doing that. I really try and focus on more of the kind of high value activities that, you know, are bringing something in rather than, I don’t know, transcribing a podcast, for example, the software that will do that for you. You know what I’m saying? So that’s really kind of the framework and then the repetitive stuff, like I look at, for example, with getting sponsors and things like that as I was creating the course, I had to go back to me 10 years ago and try and figure out, okay, how did, if I didn’t know what I was doing now, because you know the way you know what you do and you just kind of, like you drive a car, you don’t think every time you get in the car, you don’t go like accelerate or brake, touch, okay, these are the gears, this is what I have to do, you just do it.
So just to kind of bring yourself back to that first thing of how you came up with all the frameworks that you have and then break them down to teach them to somebody else was for me it was something that was very helpful to actually realize what it was that I was doing and then I kind of looked at them and said well could they be better, could I like you know tweak them a little bit or so I’m not doing this twice or things like that. So I’m always looking at how to try and really be efficient with what I’m doing over my time.Prioritize high-value activities that contribute to meaningful outcomes, leverage either human resources or innovative tools to eliminate repetitive tasks. Click To Tweet
Okay. Any specific software that maybe is out of the mainstream and maybe most people would not have heard of it, but you find it very useful in your work?
So I run a lot of my business on ClickFunnels. Are you familiar with ClickFunnels? Yeah. Would your listeners be familiar with this?Maybe, maybe not.
I don’t know.
So it just, it automates a lot of stuff for me. So you can go in there and actually any CRM, I just like to click funnels because when somebody lands on my page, there’s kind of just one direction. They’re not going all over the place. So it controls us a little bit more, but that is definitely very helpful. I use a VA’s quite a bit as well, just for, you know, I, I’ve never wanted to, and especially now I don’t want to build up something that’s like huge with a ton of employees.
And, you know, my business is definitely more lifestyle than legacy, or I’m not trying to build something to sell at this point. I’m just trying to build something that really supports what I want to do and my lifestyle. So I’m always looking for, you know, I don’t want to hire somebody kind of for 40 hours a week if I can hire somebody to just do project work and stuff like that. So that’s kind of where I look more. So I do a lot with Fiverr. I found some great people on Fiverr. I do a lot with VAs. Just kind of little projects here and there to get things done.
Okay. All right. So what do you use ClickFunnels for other than just having a squeeze page?
So that’s basically it. So the sponsorship product is all contained in ClickFunnels. So there’s kind of a membership area where a lot of the training is. There is a, you know, at the very front of that, there’s what we call a lead magnet, so that, you know, I can entice people to give me their email and I’ll get them some great information. And then if they like that information, hopefully they’ll continue to follow me and look for more. If they don’t, you know, no big deal, we’ll go our separate ways. But it’s just, it happens in the background. So it’s not like something that I have to continuously, like, oh, someone just came on, now I have to do this. It’s just all very automated. So I like the aspect of that.
Definitely. Especially when you have a one person business, you want everything automated as possible so that you can get things done.
And you can walk away from it as well. I just came back from, finally got on vacation. My parents live in California and I hadn’t seen them in a year. So I just came back from that and besides maybe like an hour or two a day kind of getting on my laptop and just taking care of a few things, I truly was on vacation, which is awesome. So, you know, I’m always kind of striving for something like that, that if you do walk away from it, it’s still kind of pretty much runs without you rather than being totally dependent on you.
So, going back to your entrepreneurial career, so you had the real estate business, which you kind of missed the window of opportunity to be able to sell it. But you also had other businesses and you did have a successful sale of a business, right?
I actually had two. So that first business, the toner cartridge business was a dumb luck sale. So basically I had started the real estate and the kids’ indoor playgrounds about eight years into that business and I had a winter where I was kind of getting both of those up and running. I was totally kind of stressed and health-wise I had strep throat probably about five or six times that winter. I was totally run down and I looked at the toner business. I had at that point had two people working for me.
One was a technician who would come go out and fix printers and do all that kind of stuff. And the other was a girl who did a lot of admin for me. So she was in the office every day, just kind of taking care of all the stuff I needed taken care of. And within a couple of weeks, both of them, the technician was going to grad school, the admin girl was going to, she lived in California, so she was moving back to California. So I was like using my staff, I was like, you know what, I’m just gonna shut it down.
And then I just thought to myself, well, maybe, you know, do you think maybe I could sell it? So I called up the one woman I knew who was my competition and says, you know, I’m thinking of getting out of the business. What do you think? Would you be interested in buying it? And she said, yes. OK, great. I was like, what do we do next? I mean, total dumb luck. I don’t recommend this to anyone, but she asked me for my my accounting, you know, my my numbers. I sent those up to her and she’d already made an offer of a certain amount of money.
And she gets back to me and she says, thanks for sending that. But now the offer is half. And I was still like half of, you know, anything was better than nothing, which was what I was looking at originally. So I was like, you know, let’s do it. And it was great because I had clients that I just didn’t want to, you know, leave them and abandon them. I’m sure they could find someone somewhere else, but I, you know, I wanted to have that continuity of service for them. So, so yeah, so that was like, it was kind of cool, but kind of a dumb luck thing, probably not going to happen to most people. And then the other one, Scallywags, which was the kids’ indoor playground, we ended up selling that as well.
And that we went through a broker, got some really good advice on how to market it. And we had one of the things going into that business, I always knew that having a database would be very important. So when the kids came in, we would register them the first time they came in, and I always got their birth dates. So I got to the point where I was sending out probably about a thousand oversized postcards every month when their birthday was coming up, so the month before their birthday. And we had this mascot called Scally, and we’d be like, Hey, Scally, heard it’s your birthday. Come have it at Scallywags.
And of course, once this arrives through the mail, you know, the parents had no hope that they’d have to have the birthday of Skylar. I was just like, look, I got this. Skylar wants me to have my party here. So, you know, we used to run probably about 40 birthday parties every weekend. It was great. So, you know, it was just great having like a database like that, that you could turn on and off. So when we sold that, we went through a broker and, you know, it was definitely, you know, a bigger sale and just having the professionalism of the broker really helped us a lot as well.
If you have this kind of a mailing list that can be really powerful, lots of mothers with their kids and they’re looking for different ways of getting the kids a little bit engaged and take a breather.
Exactly. And especially in Massachusetts because we have tough winters, and you do as well, but we really do. And, you know, we had a little coffee bar there and the moms would sit and chat and have coffee and the kids are running wild and it was great.
It’s worth big money if you can create these kind of moment.
So, finally, before we kind of wrap this up, tell me a little bit about the mistakes that people make with sponsorships. So how can I screw up my sponsorship strategy and my partnership strategy? What are the landmines?
So some of the things that, a lot of people who come to me looking for me to get sponsors for them, and they’re just thinking in terms of a check. I just, you know, I need somebody to pay for this event. How much do you think you can get? And it’s the wrong questions to ask. It shouldn’t be, you wanna go into it, again, thinking more long-term, thinking more relationship. So if you get somebody to come in and cut you a check and sponsor something and then they leave and you don’t really kind of pay attention and nurture it, they’re probably not going to come back.
So you really want to like nurture that relationship because they literally, you know, I’ve mentioned traffic and conversion. They’ve done such a good job with that that when it comes time for the next event the next year, the sponsor, you know, it’s like, are you in? The sponsor’s like, yes, and off they go. There’s no sales process anymore. There’s no need for it. So just really kind of nurture that relationship at the beginning and make sure that you’re really giving and helping them to succeed, because why wouldn’t they come back if they have like a really good result?Turn your sponsorship into a partnership built on trust and mutual success. Click To Tweet
It’s a relationship. It’s not a hit and run kind of transactional thing, but it’s a relationship building. And what I’m also hearing is that if you want to get into the business of sponsorships, then you have to think about, you know, what can I offer to these people in the longterm and how can I make it sustainable for me to offer this? How can I make it a win-win so that they’re going to stick around and it’s going to bea good run
It has to be good for everyone because you just want to make sure, and think outside of the box as well. I see people put together sponsorship packages and they’ve never asked the sponsor, what do you actually want or what would you need? I love the question, what would make sponsoring this event be a no-brainer for you? So just really kind of have the communication. A lot of times people, I feel, kind of put the whole thing together without ever asking for feedback, and they may just be totally off the mark, whereas a quick conversation about like, what is it that you want? What is it that you need? Sometimes you’ll find out that what they actually need and want is something very easy for you to provide.
That’s awesome. So Sheila, if the listeners would like to find out more, if they want to get and create these no-brainer sponsorships and partnerships, where can they reach you?
Well, I do, remember I mentioned that I had, and I hope it’s okay to do this, but I do have a one-pager that is, it’s editable, which is a word I find really hard to say, I always say editable, people think I’m talking that you could eat it, and you can just, it walks you through kind of a brainstorm of how to find sponsors for the particular thing that you’re looking to do. So they can get that, and then if they want to stay on the list, they can get more information about the things that I do, and that would be great.
Yeah, and they can also find you on your LinkedIn page.
You can find me on LinkedIn, you can find me on Facebook.
Farragher Gemma. So I encourage you to check Sheila out, go on her LinkedIn profile. There are some good posts there to read. And obviously her link, which we’re going to put into the show notes as well. So excellent. Sheila, thank you very much for coming on the show.
Oh, thank you Steve, this has been amazing
Thank you. Great to have you. And for our listeners, if you like the show, please subscribe and write us a review, give us a review, or on Apple Podcasts and on YouTube, you can subscribe for us. And stay tuned because next week there will be another interesting entrepreneur coming on the show and sharing about the management blueprints that they have used. on the show and sharing about the management blueprints that they have used. Thank you.
- Pinnacle: Five Principles that Take Your Business to the Top of the Mountain
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