A parting message from Louise Ottewell
When Darren and I first began discussing the possibility of joining forces and opening our own Cairns based marketing agency, it felt right. There were no niggling doubts, just a shared vision to strengthen the marketing solutions available locally, and negate the perception that expertise in our field could only be found in bigger cities.
Having met at a job in 2016, everything seemed to slot into place comfortably. I don’t recall us ever having a detailed discussion beyond ‘‘shall we start our own business?’’ That decision seemed to make itself. Our skillset consisted of enough differences and overlaps to make it viable. Equally as important as having the expertise, shared vision and work ethic, was a good sense of humour. Being willing to put in the hard work is of course vital and isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable or devoid of fun. We’ve certainly had our fair share of laughs over the years that’s for sure.
Forte Marketing has been as important as family to me and without doubt, a career highlight. Taking an idea from a conversation and turning it into a successful reality, fills me with immense pride. So, it probably goes without saying that making the decision to change career direction wasn’t easy. I often remind myself how fortunate I am to be in a position to make that choice for myself, rather than it being of the Hobson variety which so many people find themselves in.
I am immensely proud of everything that Forte has become and knowing I helped lay the foundations of success is incredibly satisfying. There is nothing quite so rewarding as seeing something which once only existed in our minds, becoming a solid reality. So, as I step back from the business to watch it flourish from a different vantage point, I thought it opportune to reflect on some of the memories I have made during my time as Co-Founder.
One of the biggest challenges initially was coming up with a name. Everything was open for consideration however as with many of these situations, sharing some of the options would fall sadly flat in an ‘inside joke’ kind of way. Suffice to say, they never saw the light of day for a reason, or not a printable one at least.
Eventually, we found what we were looking for and our business had a name. We suspected a few people would refer to it as ‘Fort Marketing’ and ignore the ‘e’ on the end so I shall take this opportunity to clarify that it is pronounced ‘fort-ay’, meaning strong or loud. It aligned perfectly with our vision of creating something at which we excel and without wishing to blow the trumpet too much (I am British after all and we aren’t well known for it), I like to think it lives up to the name.
As I stand back and take stock of how Forte looks today compared to how we wanted it to look when we first set out on this ambition, I can say honestly say that what we imagined, we built. The business is robust, well regarded and driven by an awesome team who in my opinion, are the best of the best. They are specialists in the purest sense of the word and without their collective efforts, things would look very different. I have learnt a lot from everyone but none more so than Darren.
Darren has an enviable business acumen and future driven approach. His unwavering drive and marketing talents have taught me more than any course I could have attended or qualification I could have got. When you start a business, there is no manual and a lot of the time, you figure it out as you go. Aside from the marketing side which we were already across, both of us were brand new to the administrative side. I remember being very proud of our spreadsheet approach to bookkeeping for about ten seconds. A meeting with our accountant however, soon made us realise that we should probably invest in some professional finance software.
All businesses are of course a work in progress and one cannot rest on one’s laurels. I recall the countless words of caution and reminders that ‘’most companies won’t make it past 12 months’’ as we embarked on our foray into business. Maybe it was naivety, overconfidence or sheer bloody mindedness, but I didn’t for one second think we wouldn’t see 13 months. Naturally, the words of caution were well intended, but nothing makes me more determined than third party doubt. Stand out of our way, we’re coming through! And come through we did.
Darren and I have so many memorable moments from the early years and we kept each other going through the hours of cold calling and hairbrained ideas that we came up with, by collecting adventures for our mythical book. When things got tough, we would say ‘this is going in the book’.
I will always remember the day we got our first client. It was so exciting and what’s more, they are still a client today. Since then, we have grown Forte’s portfolio to include some of the most well-regarded businesses not only in Cairns, but throughout Australia and most recently, overseas.
Website builds, television commercials, SEO, social media marketing, digital campaigns, rebrands, billboards, marketing strategies, collateral, content, media releases – these are just some of the ways we’ve helped businesses use effective marketing to grow. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a client’s face when they first click the link to access their new website. We have seen tears of joy and some clients who are usually very chatty, have been left speechless (for the right reasons). And that’s exactly what we set out to do. I love driving into town and seeing Forte’s work dotted around. I am sure my friends are sick of me pointing it out but that’s it’s not going to stop!
Being part of the Cairns’ business community has been an honour. From the Cairns Chamber of Commerce, to BNI, the CBWC and Toastmasters, there has been something I have taken from each of these fantastic groups which has not only helped my professional growth, but my personal development as well.
Another moment I will never forget was being a finalist in the CBWC’s Small Business Owner awards category last year. I am not a fan of being in the spotlight but it was such an honour to stand on stage next to other business women who I admire. Not long afterwards, Forte Marketing was announced as a finalist in the BEX Awards Marketing Excellence category. To have taken the business from being a conversation to a highly regarded agency in such a short space of time was certainly a ‘pinch me’ moment. Not only did we make it past 12 months, we grew rapidly in both reputation and capacity.
As they say, from little things, big things grow and that includes the team. Kirrah joined Darren and I as our designer two years ago. We had worked together in various roles for over a decade so it was wonderful to welcome her on board. Then Shartara who had worked at The Space where we were first based, came on board a year later. Last but by no means least, Juan joined as the third director of Forte Marketing at the start of the current financial year.
Forte moved to Pease Street at the end of 2020 – another major growth milestone as we had our own office. We didn’t however, own a tape measure so Darren donated his height as a pictorial indication of what furniture would fit in. His impression of a fridge, couch and photocopier are immortalised in photographs which live inside my phone and helped us plan what would go where. It worked too!
The business has been supported in so many ways, not just by the team, but by external individuals such as the fabulous Paul Furse from frontrow foto. Paul not only makes us look good, but he also enthusiastically jumps through our many and varied ‘interesting ideas’ hoops. I think I could write an entire newsletter just about those. There are many more of course, you know who you are.
So, thank you to our clients, the team at Forte Marketing, my friends and my family for everything. As for what’s next in my world, a little downtime is in order. At the time of typing, I am sitting with two Briards at my feet in my friend’s farmhouse kitchen which is tucked away on a 20-acre farm in country Victoria, glowing with pride at having helped create such a wonderful business. How good is life and how good is it to realise a dream? If you’ve got one you’ve been toying with bringing to life, give it a go. You never know how it’s going to turn out but one thing’s for sure, you will learn a lot, laugh a lot, sleep less but achieve more than you’ll ever imagine.