“What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”

Dawn Farrow is founder and chief executive of Boom ENTS and Boom SPORT, which offer performance marketing for live experiences 

Owning and building a live experience and entertainment marketing agency is my second career. I spent 20 years training to be a contemporary dancer and whilst doing so made the decision to learn about “business” at university. By the time I graduated I had come to the conclusion that I was the only dancer in the country with a business degree. I was right!

Identifying what was special about me and my personal skill set was key to knowing what to do next. I spent the following 12 years working for producers, promoters and competitor agencies before taking the plunge to establish my full service marketing agency Boom ENTS in 2012 and the sports division Boom SPORT, which launched in 2018. I now employ 15 people and have clients ranging from racecourses to theatres, ballet companies, festivals and West End shows.  

I’m a farmer’s daughter from North Lincolnshire. Growing up I liked school but had little interest in learning and hated being tested about anything other than musical theatre and dogs! My attention span wasn’t great as I just loved to be out and about and chatting to everyone. I was frequently asked to be quiet…it rarely worked!

My mum is extremely strong and when I was 18 sent me to London to begin my formal dance training career. I was armed with ambition, a modicum of talent and deep-rooted determination.  This is the one thing I have held onto over the years and it’s one thing that I have learnt no one can take from you.

Reflecting on my education and results, it is fair to say that I was an ‘average’ student. Lots of ‘C’ grades at school and dance exam results which said ‘high commended’. That said, I never remember being too bothered and certainly never thought it meant I wasn’t good. I went to a great comprehensive school which taught me about how to talk to people from lots of different backgrounds, and this has been an invaluable skill in running and growing Boom. I very much believe that too much emphasis is placed on exam results. I’ve never recruited someone on results and education. Instead I always ask myself: “could this person walk into a room and start a conversation?”. Few people can.

I love to be outside with my dog when I am not at work. As I get older I crave the life my dad had farming each day. I understand now how hard it must have been for him and also how isolating it was; these are two things which I can relate to now as a business leader. I am also lucky enough to have a daughter, and every day I strive to show her what it means to be a strong and independent woman, not scared to give her point of view or walk into the unknown.

The creative industries are not very diverse. Despite various initiatives to shift the needle, as of 2017, only one in four roles were filled by women, and only one in ten by BAME employees. From the outset I have been committed to developing emerging female leaders, and in my team women outnumber men two to one. In recent recruitment rounds I’ve realised that we haven’t had many applications from BAME candidates and underrepresented socioeconomic groups, and this year we’ve tasked ourselves with identifying partners who can help us right this shortfall. Just as I know that gender equality is good for ALL (it’s not a women’s issue), I also know that my business will be more successful the more diverse my team is.

What are the key features of effective leadership? After just seven years of business I am not sure I know the answer to this just yet as I am constantly learning. If I base it on the lessons I have learnt to date though I would say that listening to everyone at all levels of the business is key (i.e. not just one person or a senior team). You’ve also got to be prepared to take responsibility for everything. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t you and you had no involvement – as a leader you’ve got to take all responsibility.

What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail? Having my own business was something I always wanted. Some days I wanted the ambition to go away and in truth if it had, I could have had a much easier life. But it didn’t go away and so I knew I had to try it. On this basis, I would say ‘do it’. Let the feeling develop, plan, plot, develop ideas over the years and if the feeling that you need to be your own boss and build something of your own won’t go then you owe it to yourself to listen.