After initially setting up PR agency Gerle Financial Communications in Germany, Hagen and his family moved to Somerset in 2010.
What does the business do?
Communication for foreign investment companies operating in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, or planning market entry there. Our company consists of my wife and I, and we work with freelancers from different communication disciplines.
How did you come to start up?
I founded the company in 2002. I’d been a director at an international PR agency in Frankfurt; 9/11 happened and my employer fired 10 per cent of the workforce, including me. Our son was less than a year old, my wife was at home, and we had no income.
How has the business grown since then?
Up and down. After half a year I had my first three regular customers, and from then on it developed well. A partnership with a former colleague failed and I had to start again; then came the financial crisis. But we got up again.
In 2010, we moved to England. Now we have a mix of ‘old’ clients that we brought with us and clients that we gained in the UK but which are all operating in Germany.
Can you run me through a typical day?
It starts around 8am, when I check the trade press. In the morning I contact customers and journalists and discuss projects. I save copywriting for the afternoon. When I need a break, I go for a run.
What has been the highlight for your business so far?
The fact that two customers from our time back in Germany have remained loyal and that we are still working for them after more than a decade.
What’s the strangest request you’ve had from a customer?
At a media workshop with sales representatives for a building society, I was asked: “What does it cost to get an article in the newspaper?” Serious media work doesn’t work
like that, of course.
What one thing couldn’t your business function without?
Our Italian coffee machine!
What’s the best thing about working for yourself?
There is no one who can dispute the success you have achieved.
And the hardest part?
Sometimes you have to wait a long time for your money.
What do you wish you’d known when you first started out?
How many months and even years it can take between a customer’s first enquiry and the conclusion of the contract.
How does your FSB membership help?
Enormously! Customer service and regional managers respond quickly when we have questions. The Brexit hub is helpful, as we provide professional services in EU countries. I also attend the FSB Connect events and meet people from different industries, facing similar challenges.
Where will the business be in five years’ time?
The experience of the past 18 years and the many factors that cannot be influenced have led me to be vigilant. Who knows – maybe in five years we will have a branch in another EU country?
What do you do outside of work?
I am an enthusiastic runner. It can be a helpful disruption when you need a break. Sometimes you come back from your run with a new perspective or idea.