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Moms Doing It For Themselves: Pauline Sargent

Forget Silicon Valley. Ireland’s digital technology revolution is in full-swing! We chat to Dublin-based tech innovator, Pauline Sargent of Social Zavvy and DigiWomen, about her road to setting up in business and how she balances work and life.
 

Tell me a bit about your businesses?

I run two companies, one is Social Zavvy, www.socialzavvy.ie - my digital marketing company. It was set it up five years ago. I work with clients to build, maintain and measure their online relationships. I lecture with Dublin Business School. It’s all about helping people with their business marketing strategy; what channels and tools to use. How to get the best return for social marketing, as it can be quite confusing for SMEs. The other company I run is DigiWomen, www.digiwomen.ie.

It’s for female makers and users of digital technology. We help women to set up businesses. We encourage women who have become leaders in their field to talk about what they do, how they have faced challenges in the world of tech. How it optimises what they do. How it can help grow their business. We have over a thousand subscribers and hold events and workshops on tech education. We help women to improve their use of Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress and the list goes on. It’s also a support group that advocates for women in tech. So, if we see a conference for digital technology with a roster of all-male speakers - we get in touch and let them know that there are female speakers out there who are just as talented. We want to change the ratio! Women are the highest consumers of products and services, yet, a lot of the time they are serviced by all-male companies with all-male boards.

What was your motivation to set up your businesses?

It was out of necessity. I have two young children and I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to bring them to school and collect them after. Between my husband and I we wanted to juggle it. He works in the public sector and does shift work. We reckoned we could manage childcare between us. We couldn’t afford crèche fees and I spent a lot of nights working after they went to bed from 8pm to midnight. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had to set up my businesses out of necessity as a 9-5 job wasn’t viable. But they say that you don’t work a day if you love what you do. Bottom line - I absolutely love what I do. Once the kids were in bed, I knew that I was helping clients to get better at what they were doing. That made everything easy!

What is your background?

My background is actually in the travel industry. I worked in it for twenty years. I started out as a travel agent and then I was the customer services manager for American Express and American Holidays. I decided to go back to education, so I did a business degree. I developed a social conscience for the area I was living in and started to get involved in community activism. From that, I realised the power of social media, and how you can reach a wider audience. It accelerated my interest in what social technology can do. So, I went back and did a postgrad in digital marketing and then did a masters in it with DCU. I love digital marketing; the fact that you can just go on Facebook and speak to people. You can get onto Twitter and anyone in the world can help you with a difficult problem. It also gives you a feeling that you’re not alone, that you’re not isolated.

What have been the highs and lows of setting up your business?

There have been many of both, it’s been such a rollercoaster. One of the highs was DigiWomen winning the Dublin Lord Mayor Digital Champion award in 2013 and getting recognition for the work we do. It is also about helping women advance in using technology and seeing that it can accelerate their growth and improve their business. The lows are sometimes the isolation. You're working on your own so you do have to learn to connect. You learn to pick up the phone and say: “Hey, I’m struggling”. Because, as soon as you talk to someone it helps.

Other lows have been around accounts and learning how to navigate both the accounting and the tax system. Then also, you have to learn how to work with clients. You have to make sure that you’re not doing too much work for them, but that you’re also giving them good value. There hasn’t been one particular low, but I suppose it’s about trying to keep yourself at a certain balance. You’re only one person, trying to do a lot of functions that a corporate company has many people working on, as opposed to just one.

What advice would you give other mums who would like to set up their own business?

The key thing, looking back now, I would put certain things in place. Firstly, I would make sure I have an accountant whom I can work with and who wants to help improve my financial system. The second aspect would be to get a customer relation management system in place. It could just be an excel sheet. But every person you meet is a potential client or support person for your business. You have to keep track of them. It’s important to have good client database management. Start working with your clients, don’t wait until you have your logo, etc. Start doing work. Even if it’s just two hours a week.

Build on it, but also make sure you get paid from the beginning, don’t do too much free work. I would always advise to put some form of contract in place. In the beginning I didn’t use business contracts - but now I make sure that I do. I will work for a client on a timeline of three / six months to a year. I always put a contract in place; it doesn't have to be a ten-page document. It helps to give the client and you a scope of the project is. Value yourself. There is a certain amount of free work that you have to do in the beginning to build yourself up, but make sure that it’s going to add some value to what you’re doing. But after that say: “No, this is my fee, I can help you in these areas, this is what I charge hourly / daily”. Don’t be apologetic. Remove those words: “I’m sorry” from your vocabulary and value what you do. I’ve spent a lot of time (and money) going back to college and achieving a masters, if people want that knowledge then they should pay for it.

Also, set up a template detailing how to turn down opportunities. While they might seem like a great thing to do at the time, if you’re giving up half a day to go and speak at an event and you’re not getting paid for it, find a way of making it valuable as in a PR opportunity for your company. But make sure that you’re recognising the outcome of it. Your template could be along the lines of: 'My workload is very high this month, perhaps next month?'. It’s all about getting a system. I'm all about systems and processes at the moment, because there’s only so much that you can do as one person.

Do you have any tips for balancing your work and family life?

What I do is I try to put in my boundaries. I have a co-working space. I work in the Guinness Enterprise Centre. For me, getting out of the house and having a defined business area really helps. It also means that I'm part of a business community. Sometimes you just need to have that face-to-face contact. I don’t have a full-time office, I don’t need it as I am in clients' offices a lot of the time. My kids come first, once they’re collected from school, brought swimming; doing whatever they're doing, then I work everything else around that. I don’t have one tip, I suppose you keep on learning, and re-evaluating. Saying to yourself: “Well, that was a mad week. I'm not doing that again!” It makes it easier to say no.

What’s the next step for your business in 2016?

To put more energy and focus into DigiWomen. We’ve been accepted by IBM onto their Global Entrepreneur Programme. So, what that means is that we get access to their services and solutions for a year. DigiWomen wants to be more analytically driven. We want to look at the metrics and see where the challenges are that women face when starting a business. We want to help them then. The rate of women setting up their own business has improved, but we’re still not on par with men and that needs to change. Also, the approach to women in work needs to change. We operate and learn in a different way. Our environment is sometimes home-based, caring for children or elderly relatives. I'm not saying that men don’t, they do have those challenges too. But for a women to get into the middle of the city centre and go into a hackathon with a load of young guys in hoodies is not the optimum environment. We need to look at how these hackathons or accelerator programmes are run to see if we can make them more geared towards women and what they want.

If you were granted three wishes for your business what would they be?

  • For Digiwomen I would like easier access to funding
  • I would like more support from government bodies
  • I wish for growth to grow our team and service offerings. We want to make a real impact for women in tech
For more information go to: www.socialzavvy.ie and www.digiwomen.ie
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About the Author

Lucy Earley works as an editor in the beauty and pharmacy-retail industries. She's a delighted recent convert to the maternal side with the birth of her daughter, Lara, in August 2014.

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