Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
My interest in online marketing started in 2007, during a marketing master degree in France. At that time I was searching for an internship less connected to the traditional ways of marketing and more related to the impact of technology. After experiencing a job in banking and few internships, I started to work as Junior Ecommerce Specialist for Europcar Paris. It was the moment when I discovered PPC strategies and digital marketing tools for the first time.
The next step on my evolution ladder was to learn straight from the creators of PPC advertising and so I joined Google Ireland in 2010 where I worked as AdWords Specialist for 3 years, mainly with advertisers from France, Belgium & the United Kingdom.
In 2013 I decided to come back to my home country, Romania, where I joined a young team in a digital performance agency, working with the top spenders on the market. 1.5 years later, equipped with all the experience needed to prove that a young woman can lead an agency and deliver high quality results, I started my own business, building my own path.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
Zarbi Marketing, the agency I founded 2.5 years ago, was built to help young entrepreneurs grow their business in an online-centric world. At the beginning, I wanted to focus on Google AdWords campaigns and specialise exclusively in pay-per-click strategies. The increasing demand for Facebook promotions, website content, emailing campaigns, led me to expand the scope of our services and now I proactively look for new platforms and tools to stay ahead of the game and keep our customers highly competitive.
I had the dream of building an agency since I was still working inside Google. I realized then that many of the companies had a common issue – lack of specialization of their employees. It was an issue in 2012, it still is nowadays, especially for SMBs. They hire a single person who does any type of marketing, without having in-depth knowledge about the capabilities of PPC advertising platforms. This leads the business to perform poorly and owners generally draw a fake conclusion: “online marketing is not working for me”. My goal is to prove that “it has to work” even though sometimes it takes a bit longer before it starts to work.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
One of the values of the agency is transparency and I try to build a culture where we are honest and sincere about everything we do for our clients. We make sure they are informed, aware about how their budgets are spent and we constantly try to educate them regarding the trends and new discoveries in online marketing.
Transparency means also being sincere with your team and authentic with your colleagues, communicating openly about achievements and also failures. Transparency builds trust and trust is the backbone of a great teamwork.
This can sometimes be a challenge. Marketers are known to have a professional ego and a certain degree of impatience. If you also add the fact that many of them are very young and ambitious, you are faced with a rather competitive atmosphere. Talking about failures and personal development requires diplomacy, way beyond the usual “carrot & stick” approach.
Loyalty is also hard to achieve, for the same reasons as above. I am lucky, however, to have found great team members and I dedicate a lot of energy and time to help them grow and find satisfaction in their work.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
The first thing that bothers me is that I am still part of a minority in this industry. Male leaders run most agencies and whenever we gather for events, workshops, pitches or competitions, I see myself surrounded by male business owners.
This disparity in gender forces me, in client negotiations, to always offer a little bit more than my standard services just to get the opportunity to be considered for a project and prove who I really am professionally.
The network of supporters helps men more than women and, on a small market, this makes a huge change in the way that clients choose their partners. I noticed that this solidarity between men, is sometimes taken to the point where they would endorse professionally someone exclusively on the basis of a good friendship, without having tested the respective technical abilities in advance.
This frequently makes me wonder why women are less inclined to help each other in similar situations? I still don’t have the answer for this question.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share your thoughts on this?
It is an unfortunate figure as I know women, with a lot of talent and skills, hold the majority of executive positions in these agencies. I suspect that in some cases women are still reluctant when it comes to assuming roles at the top of a company. In other cases, their access is limited. From my experience, plenty of women also continue to be very critical about their own work and their ability to assume higher roles, downplaying their achievements and even auto-sabotaging their professional ascent.
Doing good work isn’t enough. Receiving awards isn’t enough. Being outstanding and a good team member isn’t enough. I believe an important element in an upward career is to ask for what you want. There is no longer a man’s world, nor a men’s club for which we should find the entrance path.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
I have a mentor I meet every three weeks and I feel that this is probably the best time investment for my career and business. Beyond all the discussions about challenges, the team, financial results, this meeting is an accountability landmark, as I know that someone will check on my results and evolution. It is extremely important for an entrepreneur to build self-motivation and self-discipline and this is where a mentor can have a big impact. Asking for guidance shouldn’t make you feel weak but the contrary – it shows that you are smart enough and determined to succeed. Self-development is essential for any kind of performance you aspire to achieve.
I am also a member of several online communities for agencies and online marketing professionals. These communities help me stay up to date with the evolution of the industry and they also are good talent recruitment pools.
Do you feel as a female agency founder, they offer the level of support you need? Do you need additional support that isn’t currently available?
I don’t see the need for a dedicated support for female versus male agency founders. But I think we need to encourage each other to find the voice to ask questions, give feedback, share thoughts and be less shy in male-centric communities. I myself am sometimes reluctant to share my ideas, because I question my level of knowledge or because I feel intimidated by the experience of senior members. This is, of course, a lose-lose situation.
Expressing ourselves freely, getting ideas out of our head and sharing them openly, without letting fear stop our actions, this is what should lead our interactions in such groups.
What other female founders inspire you?
I often see start-up companies founded by females but I am mostly impressed when their ideas are linked to technology and science and less to traditionally feminine industries (such as fashion, design, food etc.). I am impressed by Alaina Percival and her important contribution to bringing women to top position in tech industries, via Women who Code.
What do you think makes a great agency?
People are the agency, so great people make a great agency. Bringing together motivated people, enthusiastic about the future of the online advertising, with similar values and beliefs is the right way to structure a strong company.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
I occasionally found myself in situations when I was giving away too much energy, knowledge and time for free, without any commitment from my business partners. I recommend to any women leader to value their knowledge (at least as much as they value the knowledge of their male counterparts), choose their clients wisely and keep a fair attitude towards themselves and other women.