I’ve got the most incredible guest for you again this week. I am interviewing Sara Price about protecting your lifestyle and finances after critical illness. Sara is the founder of Actually and the co-founder of a multi-million pound communications company called Pagefield.
Sara started her early career in the Westminster parliament and she learned about the corridors of power, how deals are made in those smoke filled rooms, and that the ability to communicate is the core skill required to truly make a difference and to create change. Her story is just absolutely incredible. We talk about how her experience of surviving cancer, redundancy, setting up a multi-million pound business in the last financial crisis of 2008, and another occasion where she was just left feeling incredibly concerned and worried about how financially she was going to manage. We talk a little bit as well about hindsight and what she would do differently, and we touch upon critical illness and income protection. This is one of the things we’re going to be talking about over the next few weeks, because in terms of surviving to thriving that can make the difference.
Thank you so much for being here Sara. You’re the founder of a business called Actually and the co-founder of a multi-million pounds communications consultancy business called Pagefield, which is the one that you set up during the last financial crisis. So tell us a little bit about your journey that led you into building that communications company.
Well, I kind of came into communications by accident, although when I look back, I suppose it was inevitable really. I studied politics at university. It was my moment of rebellion. I was meant to do law, but decided politics would be more interesting. And after I finished my master’s degree, I went to work in parliament. And when I was working in parliament, I adored working there. I learned about the corridors of power. I learned how deals and negotiations were done. But the thing that I learned more than anything else was that communication, the ability to communicate well, was the single most important skill you could have if you wanted to make a difference.
So I’ve basically dedicated the whole of the rest of my career to helping people and brands and organisations to communicate better. Now looking back, it was always inevitable. I have always been in love with words ever since I was a small child. Words were so powerful and magical. They could transport you to other places, to other worlds. I was a bookworm from a very early age. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of words. So as I say, looking back, it was always inevitable that I would end up in communications in some way, shape, or form.
Wow. So how did you go from politics into communications?
After I left parliament I went to work for UNICEF as a political adviser for UNICEF in the UK, which I absolutely loved, but I couldn’t pay the rent. Many people reading this who work in the nonprofit sector I am sure will be able to confirm that. Certainly when you start out in the charitable sector, the salaries are not great and if you’re also trying to live in London, it can be a real struggle. So I had a conversation with my bank manager who told me to get a better paid job or to leave London. And in the end I decided to get a better paid job.
So I went to work for a trade association that represents the advertising industry. It was quite a small organisation and they wanted somebody who understood politics and could help them with their parliamentary lobbying and legislative work, but who would also be prepared to take on some of their media activity. And so I became, at the age of 27 or 28, the director of public affairs for the advertising association, which covered both the political lobbying stakeholder relations work and doing their PR, their communications, and being their primary media spokesperson. That was the start of doing both parts of what I think of as communications. And then I went from there to Transport for London, and then went from there to one of London’s biggest communications agencies where I sat on the UK board.
Wow. So what led you to set up your own business? Was there a particular reason?
There were several things. Mark, my business partner, and I started Pagefield in 2010, and in 2009 I would have to say that I had what the Queen has previously referred to as an Annus Horribilis. I had an awful, awful year. We lost a very close member of my family. My best friend died. All sorts of horrific things happened at work; I discovered that a male colleague of mine whose book of business was less valuable than mine and less profitable than mine was nonetheless earning 50% more than me. Infuriating to say the least. And then I was made redundant in 2009 at the height of the global economic meltdown, post financial crash.
All of these things together combined to really make me very determined that nobody was ever going to set my salary again. I was never going to be at the behest of a boss or a board of directors ever again. When I was experiencing all those really difficult things that were going on in my own personal life, it makes you reevaluate what’s important. And when you discover that somebody else, for whatever reason, is being paid so much more than you are, it made me realise that:
- There was more to work than working for others, and
- That nobody was ever going to set my salary for me again.
And what was so important to you about that?
My father said to me when I was a kid; “Sara, salary is the reward for work and profit is the reward for risk. And it’s only people who are prepared to take risks, who will ever really make significant amounts of money. You’ve got to be prepared to take that risk, to take a leap of faith.” And up until that point, I don’t think I ever was. But what happened when I was made redundant was I was in this position of risk anyway, so I decided that I guess now is the moment. I was coming up for 40 – If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it. And it was compounded actually because just before we started Pagefield, I had a really horrific accident and I smashed my leg into a thousand pieces and ended up in hospital for a month, and then in bed for another three months after that. I was completely unable to work, and I remember lying in bed at 2 o’clock in the morning thinking, “How the hell am I going to pay my mortgage? How am I going to pay my credit cards? How am I going to pay my bills? Am I going to have to declare myself bankrupt?”
I’d worked so hard my whole life. I grew up believing that abundance was possible, riches was possible, but you have to work really hard for it. So I had always worked so hard and then through no fault of my own, I found myself in a situation where it could all be taken away from me.
Money is the only thing that has ever kept me awake at night, and as I lay there, at 2 o’clock in the morning, with my leg in plaster unable to move, thinking I was going to lose my home, it all came together in this real determination that I would never be in that experience again. I would never feel that degree of insecurity again and I would never allow anyone else to determine my financial situation.
What’s interesting for me is how you use that word insecurity. You were feeling insecure because you didn’t have money there that would give you the security.
I always think the emotional connection we have with money is essentially what we’re seeking, isn’t it? We’re either seeking away from pain, away from insecurity, or towards security. And what I find really interesting is that in the depths of all of that, you used that determination to fuel you forward.
When I talk about financial goals, a lot of the time when people don’t achieve goals it’s because they haven’t got that passion or determination enough to want to do it. So it sits on a to do list forever because we’ve got no motivation behind it.
Looking back on that now what would you have done differently?
Well, I have a confession to make: I’m quite stubborn and it sometimes takes me more than one go round to learn a particular lesson. Because that wasn’t actually the first time that I had experienced that night terror of not being able to pay my bills. About 15 years ago I had cancer and I wasn’t able to work. Again, similar sort of situation lying in bed in a hospital, but it wasn’t the cancer that kept me awake at night. It wasn’t the fear that I would die that kept me awake. Somehow I knew that I would be okay. But it was how am I going to pay my mortgage? How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to pay my credit cards? That’s what kept me awake at night.
All that time later I was back in the same situation again, and the one thing that I knew I should have learned the first time round (I definitely learned it the second time around) was I didn’t have two things. One was I didn’t have a fallback position, so I didn’t have a nest egg tucked away that would tide me through that period. But I had no insurance of any kind. So I didn’t have critical illness cover. I didn’t have anything that would pay out in the event that I was unable to work for any reason. It’s infuriating now looking back that it took me two massive life changing experiences to learn that lesson.
What do you think contributed towards not having insurance? Was there any particular reason? Did it ever come onto your radar?
I remember it came onto my radar in my early 20’s when I started actually earning decent money. I saw a financial adviser for the first time and they mentioned critical illness cover, and I think the arrogance of youth, I just kind of assumed that it wasn’t going to happen to me. You know, I was never going to be too ill to work, don’t be ridiculous! I got my first Saturday job when I was 12, I’ve been working my whole life. I’ve always been able to work. So I think you just assume when you’re in your early 20’s that you’re going to be fine. You’re never going to get sick, you’re never going to be unemployed. And then it just never really came up again. There were always other, more important things to spend my money on. I would be one of those classic people that would sit there and go, well, I can go out for a really nice meal with my friends, or I could pay insurance. I’m going to go out for the meal with my friends.
I was the same with pensions when I was in my 20’s. The same financial adviser – I don’t know why he even bothered speaking to me after this – also talked to me about pensions, and I was like don’t be ridiculous. I was about 25 at the time, pensions were for people in their 60’s, you don’t have to worry about that just yet. Things that I wish I could go back and say to my 25 year old self: get the insurance.
I don’t think what you’ve described there is actually too dissimilar to many people. I had exactly the same mindset. It’s never going to happen to me.
But I think that there’s a lot of responsibility in the financial services profession. We need to do more to make it easier for people to get these insurances, make it easier for people to even understand these insurances, because there’s so much complication and jargon around insurances. And gender diversity, too. Sometimes women just feel really uncomfortable talking about retirement and critical illness because it’s that that fear mindset.
We don’t want to think about the worst case scenario, which is why most people don’t have a will in this country because no one likes to think of the worst case scenario.
We’ve just partnered with a company called Anorak, and they make it super easy to take out insurance policies and that’s I think is part of the key – is just to make things simple for people.
Yeah, I agree. When I was talking to that financial adviser and I was 25 years old, there’d been a big pension scandal, and so when financial advisers started talking to me about insurance and pensions, I was like, I’d be better off putting my money under my mattress at night. It was really, really complicated and I didn’t really understand it, and there’d been all this scandal about the misselling of pensions so I was very suspicious of anyone who wanted me to hand over big wadges of cash all the time. I think a lot of people, certainly my age, who remember that didn’t get pensions for exactly that reason.
Of course now we’ve had PPI and so many other things, and I think an awful lot of financial services companies are getting tarred with that brush and people are suspicious and sceptical. I remember a very good friend of mine at the time, we were talking about this particular type of insurance and he said, well, you know, all these insurance companies are the same. They have so many caveats in their policies that you’ll never be able to claim anyway. So what’s the point? And that’s indicative of a level of scepticism that actually I think is really unfair on an awful lot of very, very good financial services companies. I’m a massive fan of Starling bank, I’m a massive fan of several big financial services companies that do great, great work and whose reputations have been tarnished to some extent by the misbehaviour of others.
Yes. And actually if you strip it all back, the pension is just the vehicle that you use to put money aside for your future self. But when you’re in your 20’s, you don’t think about what you’re going to be doing when you’re 60 or 70, and that’s half the problem in the industry. Every time we think of pensions, we think of someone who’s 65 on a park bench, a couple holding hands, it’s the same old analogies and it’s not particularly inspiring or motivating.
What else did that experience teach you from a mindset perspective?
Mindset’s really interesting when it comes to money, and I’ve done a lot of work on this and it’s something that I’m still working on even now. I remember having this moment of real clarity that fear and the fear of scarcity is the single biggest block to abundance, to not only earning and having money, but to enjoying it.
People talk about abundance a lot. I grew up in Jersey, in the channel islands. I was surrounded by abundance. We weren’t particularly wealthy at all, but I was surrounded by yachts and millionaires. It was a beautiful, beautiful place to grow up and I was surrounded by very wealthy people, so I always knew that abundance was possible. And I remember talking to money mindset coaches years and years ago who said, “Well, you’ve just got to believe in abundance!” I was like I do believe in abundance. I just don’t seem to have any. I realised that it was fear.
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe abundance was possible, but:
- I didn’t believe it was available for me
- I didn’t believe that it was possible without really hard work. Dedication, 12 hour days, seven days a week, etc.
- I had a fear of losing it all. That there was no point in accruing abundance because it could be taken away from you.
I got really, really present in my life on those two occasions when I had cancer, and when I had the accident. I was literally sitting in the fear of losing everything, and I came through the other side of both of those experiences realising that fear itself was the block. That actually you need to make a choice around money. You need to choose resourcefulness and belief in abundance.People talk about money is just energy. Money is just a measuring stick. Money is neutral. People attach emotions to money. There are no emotions attached to money. Money is neutral.
Money is a tool that’s used to help to gain the emotion that you’re wanting to attach to it. A lot of people say “I’ll activate my abundance mindset.” But actually if you come from a place of scarcity, what happens is you create a bit of a financial comfort zone. And so what happens is your brain looks for further evidence to support that ‘lack of’ mindset.
That can do one of 2 things: either you attract more money but then you hoard it and then you don’t take any risks. You don’t invest in the stock market. Or we get rid of it as quickly as possible because the belief is that we don’t deserve it.
So it’s really interesting actually how our experiences right back from childhood, and then through our own personal experiences, do alter the meaning we attach to money. That’s the key. What meaning do we attach to money? And what do we really believe is possible? Because if the belief is there, the emotion changes, and then the behaviour starts to change.
But what happens is that too many people come from a place of scarcity and think I’ll just do all these courses and learn everything there is to know about managing money and investing and then I’ll be fixed. But that doesn’t work because you could know everything there is to know about money, but if your behaviours aren’t there and the emotions and the thoughts aren’t there, then it won’t happen anyway.
Exactly. And it’s so interesting because as I say, I did believe in abundance. I do believe in abundance. As far as I’m concerned, the money is there, it’s just a question of access. But it took me a very long time to realise that my belief in abundance was for other people. I believed that abundance existed, but that it wasn’t for me. And so even though I earned really good money from quite an early age, because I worked incredibly hard and I was very ambitious and very determined, it just never seemed to stick. I was always, always in debt, always maxed out my credit cards, always into my overdraft well before the end of the month. Money would come in and then it would just go. I would just spend it. And when I look back, I think, what was I spending it on? It wasn’t like I had a huge, beautiful house or an incredibly expensive car.
I believed in abundance, I just didn’t believe that it was for me. And I believed that it could be taken away from me. And so in a way I think I spent it because the alternative was to lose it all.
Really interesting. And how would you describe your relationship with money now?
I have a much more relaxed attitude to money, I would say, in that it doesn’t keep me awake at night. I don’t worry about it. I don’t worry that it will all be taken away. I don’t worry that I will lose everything, and therefore I’m much more prepared to take risks. I am much more prepared to invest. I would no more have invested money 10 years ago than I would have flown to the moon. But now I will invest money, and I will take risks. And as you know, a year ago I started another business.
Tell us about that.
So we started Pagefield back in 2010 and everybody said we were completely insane. It was the middle of a massive global economic financial crash and my business partner, Mark, and I both had great corporate jobs on offer and both of us went, ‘Let’s go and start our own business in the middle of a worldwide economic recession.’ But I think we both felt very strongly that actually in the middle of a recession is probably the best timing because if you can make it work in the middle of a global recession, then you have a really robust, really resilient business model. And if you don’t make it work then you can just blame it on the recession – it wasn’t my fault, it was a global economic recession, you know? We had great faith. We both believed very strongly that it would work, but we were also conscious of the fact that there was this huge economic recession going on.
Anyway, we did make it work and Pagefield very quickly became a very successful, very profitable business, and is now a multi-million pound communications agency, and we work for a huge brands. Starling bank are one of our clients, but we also work for people like Kelloggs, Airbnb, and British airways. So an amazing business and we’re very, very proud of what we’ve created and the team that we’ve built.
But about 18 months ago I really decided that I wanted to do something different and that I wanted to make a difference. And it took me right back to when I was working for UNICEF. Funnily enough, because of money I had had to leave this job that I absolutely loved in order to go and earn more money. And I remember the day that I left UNICEF, I promised myself that one day when I could afford it, I would go back into doing that kind of work again, the kind of work that really fulfilled me and really felt purposeful and felt like I was, in a very small way, making some kind of difference in the world.
So about 18 months ago, I sat down with a big piece of paper and I said, right, okay, if I was going to make a difference in the world, what would I want to do? I wrote a list of all the things that I wanted to have an impact on the, all the things that I would change. If I could wave a magic wand, what would I do? And there were over a hundred things on the list. Everything from plastics in the oceans to gender equality to tackling human trafficking, you name it.
I sat there for days just in complete paralysis. How do you choose? How do you choose between saving the environment and stopping human trafficking? How do you make that decision? And then a really good friend of mine said, isn’t one of your favourite expressions, “Why choose?”. I am that person who, when you go out for dinner and they say, should we have the creme caramel or the apple crumble? I’m like, why choose?! So why are you choosing? Just take everything that you know about communications and help people who want to make a difference to communicate better. And then you get to work on all of those causes all at the same time.
So I started Actually, and Actually exists to help purpose led entrepreneurs, because I believe that you can do good and do good business, to unleash the power of great communications so that they can grow their businesses, grow their impact, and make that difference in the world. And the more of them I help, the more of the things on that list of a hundred I get to cross off.
Oh, that’s just genius, isn’t it?
I love it. Interestingly, mindset comes into that as well.
Tell me a bit more about that.
Well, I can teach people how to use great communications. I can teach them how to develop their own PR programs, how to create great messaging. And I’m a business woman myself. I’m a business owner. I’m an entrepreneur, so I can teach them about business strategy. But if they haven’t addressed their own mindset issues, then it doesn’t matter how many skills I give them or how much advice or how much counsel I give them, they’re not going to do it. They’re not going to step up and speak up and be the leader that they could be, make the difference that they could make in the world.
So over the course of the last year, I’ve adapted and flipped the model. So now we work with people on mindset and on communications and on support because those are the three things that I think if you’re going to make a difference in the world as a purpose led entrepreneur, you’ve got to have. You’ve got to have the right mindset, you’ve got to have the right communications, and you’ve got to have the right support. And those are the three legs of a three legged stool that enable you to really stack up, fulfill your purpose, and make your difference.
Mindset is not just about money, although I think that’s a huge part of it because there’s a lot of purpose led entrepreneurs who seem to feel that because there’s a sense of purpose and because they’re doing good and being of service that they shouldn’t also make money. So it’s a massive, massive block for people in this sector. And you’ve got to tackle that because I actually believe the complete opposite.
I think that money is a virtuous circle that enables you to be of greater service to the more people you help, the more money you make. The more money you make, the more people you can help. And so actually, if you’re a purpose led entrepreneur and you want to be of service and you want to make a difference and have a bigger impact, you need to make more money. Address that mindset block early on.
Money is about how comfortable you are with receiving and how comfortable you are with giving. It’s that exchange, isn’t it? You can’t change the world and help more people if you’re not helping yourself first.
A lot of what I see, particularly with female entrepreneurs, is that we often do have a very giving relationship with money. So we’re actually very happy to give away, not necessarily money, but time. And because we have this giving relationship, which is beautiful, it means that we then go into burnout and overwhelm because we can’t just freely give away all of our time, we have to have really strong boundaries.
I think that is definitely a mindset shift, but it’s also a behavioural shift. It’s understanding the benefits of you having those boundaries for your time and money and freedom and energy. Because the more time you give, the less energy you’ve got for yourself and the less energy you’ve got for yourself, the less time you’ve got to be fulfilled.
Absolutely. And it’s never once and done. Some of the people that I have a huge admiration for in terms of their mindset and their approach, I know are still working on this. It’s a life lesson. I’m doing a whole series of free masterclasses at the moment and we talk about exactly this issue about sales. We did a masterclass on sales and people were asking me “Should I be selling now? Shouldn’t I just be giving everything away for nothing? Because you know, we’re in this terrible emergency and crisis.” And I said you need to step back and ask yourself a question – is giving everything away a default position for you? Or is the decision you want to make now a strategic decision to grow part of your business?
For me, generosity is one of my core values and it’s one of the core values within my business. So there’s always a kind of a generosity to how I do business. And so in the beginning of this Covid-19 crisis I was thinking about what I wanted to do to support people through this crisis, I decided I would do this series of free master classes and they’re called ‘Thriving in a Time of Chaos’, because I had some things that I thought I could share and would be of service and would be helpful to people. But before I made that decision, I had to ask myself a whole series of questions. Do I have time? Can I afford to do this? And does it fulfill a strategic purpose in my business? And it was only when I knew that the answer to all three of those questions was yes, that I decided to go ahead and do it. Not because I don’t want to be of service. Of course I do. My whole business exists to be of service. But because it’s really important that you make those decisions on a strategic basis and not just as a knee jerk response to fear or panic or a set of assumptions.
I had people coming to me saying, “Well, no one’s got any money to spend, so how can I possibly try and sell to people who haven’t got any money?” I said, that’s just blatantly not true. It’s clearly not. Yes, there are an awful lot of people who are suffering and who do have less money and who may well need your help, but actually selling to those people that do have money is what will enable you to help those people who don’t. If your business goes under because you just give everything away and don’t make any money then you can’t help anybody.
It’s one of the reasons why I set up my podcast, because in the early days of my business, I wanted to help everybody. My mission was to inspire and equip a million women to be financially resilient.
I was so frustrated that I wanted to help everybody, but I couldn’t continue to do one to one work because I didn’t have any time left. I thought, well, how else can I get this out to more people? And then that’s when I formed my Money Circle membership and the podcast.
And it’s beautiful because I know that for people who can’t afford to work with me or come into my membership or my courses or anything like that, they can listen to the podcast. I’ve had so many amazing reviews from people who have listened to it and said, Oh my God, for the first time ever I now have some strong financial foundations in place and it’s lovely.
There will be ways that you can help people who are maybe not ready or able to commit financially. And that’s okay. It’s about giving out value to the world, to the people who need it, that you’re fulfilling that purpose, but you’re doing it because you want to do it.
And I know, Sara, you’ve got some exciting things coming up in your business over the next few weeks and months as well. So if anybody would like to connect with you what would be the best way for them to contact you?
Two ways. I am always available on email here: Sara@actually.world. Also if you go to my website you can subscribe to my mailing list and it’s a lovely place to be. I don’t believe in spam, so you will not get a hundred emails a day from me. But what you will get is advanced notice of things like the free master class series that I’m running to help people thrive through this period, and the various training and courses and workshops that I’m running to help people really step up and increase their impact in the world.
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