Like so many people, Catherine Bentley took a roundabout route to reach her ideal career. She’d tried hairdressing, being a PA and a legal secretary before being hired by a holiday lettings company as their social media manager. It was this that eventually inspired her to set up her own social media marketing and training business—but the inspiration didn’t stop there.
“I noticed that the Highlands and Islands region wasn’t being promoted as a major destination in its own right,” Catherine explains. “I felt compelled to promote the local businesses that make it great—especially the small ones. They have so much to offer.” True Highlands, an online destination for information about the region, was the result.
Slow starts and setbacks
With 14 years of experience in tourism and a flair for social media marketing, Catherine had hit upon the perfect outlet for her skills. “Finally, at the age of 40, I found out what I want to be when I grow up!” she laughs. She started out with extensive research, business plans—and plenty of determination. With no start-up capital to put into the business, she needed it. Undeterred, Catherine approached local enterprise companies, who initially offered support and assistance. Sadly, the promised funding fell through. “It really dented my confidence for a while,” Catherine admits. “But I just got stuck in. I was determined to succeed.”
Despite the setbacks, True Highlands finally went live on 3 October 2014 with around 75 paying advertisers. But it was by no means an easy sell. Catherine encountered numerous local businesses that had little confidence in another new, unproven business. But some did. Thanks to Catherine’s sheer energy and passion for the project, 40 businesses signed up before the site was even built. “I honestly believe that it was my absolute faith in what I was doing and my love of the Highlands that helped me in those early stages.”
A change of heart
Today, True Highlands thrives online, bolstered by a healthy roster of advertisers and a strong Facebook presence. Social media savvy Catherine knew that she had no time to waste while the website was being built, so she created a Facebook page in advance to start building a following. She shared posts that showed the region in a new light, drawing on quirky facts, unusual topics and local photography to capture people’s interest. It worked. She attracted 5,000 followers in the page’s first month—and a little more than 2 years later, that number has grown to 41,000.
But it nearly didn’t end up this way. In 2015, Catherine suffered a personal tragedy with the sudden death of her partner. Her hardest year yet followed. With the support of family and friends, she managed to keep her business going, but it felt like an uphill struggle. Finally, at the end of 2016, Catherine decided to sell True Highlands and return to the stability of employment. However, it was while showing a prospective buyer the Facebook statistics for True Highlands that she had a change of heart. “I hadn’t been looking at the stats in the last 12 months, but some of my posts had been reaching between 1 and 2 million people. I had no idea. I went home and I made a decision: I was back.”
Catherine vowed there and then to make True Highlands bigger and better than ever, tackling her plans to grow the business with a renewed sense of purpose. As her community grows week by week, she’s seeing the fruits of her labour. Catherine feels a strong sense of loyalty to her online audience, as well as the advertisers who’ve stayed with her through thick and thin. “I want to prove to them that I won’t let them down, that they won’t regret placing their trust in me,” she says. Catherine’s focus is now firmly on the future. “I’m here to stay. I’m in it for the long game.”
Learn more about Catherine Bentley and True Highlands: