Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I have two kids, 2.5 and 10 weeks old, and I run a brilliant digital agency called Yoyo Design. The baby keeps me busy at night and the toddler and the agency keep me busy during the day, so life is pretty full on at the moment but I love every minute of it.
What’s your background/career path?
At university, studying linguistics, I was working for a friend who ran a small experiential agency. Although it was just the two of us at the time, we worked on fantastic accounts with Carphone Warehouse, Starbucks and many others. One particularly memorable contract was running the VIP room at Big Brother, as Carphone Warehouse was the sponsor at the time. It was my first taste of what it’s like to run a business. I then spent 4 years at other agencies – BD Network, VCCP and Iris – as well as having several adventures around the world.
In 2011, I found myself disillusioned with large agencies. The chaotic way they seemed to run, the egos and I could no longer see a purpose in the work that I was doing. I started training to become a behavioral therapist working with autistic children. The same summer, an opportunity came up to work with my husband and two creative directors to build an agency of our own. I wanted to give my marketing/business career a final shot, before taking a completely new path.
The four of us have been running Yoyo ever since. I was made Managing Director in 2014 a year before I had my first son. After a few months maternity break, I returned to continue to grow and develop the business. A short while later, we hit the magic £1 million turnover and I could not be prouder of everything that we have achieved.
Tell me about your agency.
The agency is predominantly digital-focused, but with creativity at its heart. We keep the work varied so the team is always tested and the focus is on originality as opposed to a cut, copy, paste approach. Over the last few years however, the charity sector has become a significant area of growth after we became the RNLI’s lead digital agency. Juicy projects with YoungMinds, RSPCA and others then followed. The 20-strong team is made up of all the usual suspects: designers, developers, project managers and strategists. Being outside London, we tend to attract a more loyal workforce, so several members of the team have been with us since beginning.
Our goal is to continue building a robust and successful agency based on quality and originality. Our clients and the team are at the heart of everything that we do; as long as they are happy, I am too.
What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
I’m the MD of the business, so I go wherever the agency needs me. I always think of my role as divided in two. On the one hand I’m leading from the front, so a lot of work I do is on the business strategy and ensuring the agency is on the right track to achieving our goals. On the other, and this is where I spend most of my time, I lead from the back and work on any part of the business that needs my support. My goal is to enable and empower the team to do what they do best, so this involves removing barriers to allow them to do their job, motivating and supporting individuals or by offering an extra hand on client projects or sales/marketing activities.
What do you think are most important issues for developing your company culture?
Although I believe you need to define what type of culture you want from the outset, and recruit on this basis, I’ve always found that the culture develops and grows organically. Forcing it can sometimes have the adverse effect of ‘trying too hard’.
Agency cultures tend to be fairly relaxed in terms of hierarchies but I found in larger agencies, egos came into play a lot. I wanted to promote a culture where everyone’s voice was valid, from interns to the directors; everyone plays their own role in building the agency.
For me, here are a few areas of focus in building a strong culture:
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
Overcoming my own insecurities about being a woman in business has been far worse than anything that has directly happened to me. When I started out running the business, I was not only a woman, but I was also young for an agency owner at 26. I thought I had less to offer than others or that people wouldn’t take me seriously. The agency landscape is fairly male-dominated and I would frequently find myself being the only female in the room
Insecurity isn’t always a bad thing. It was the catalyst that drove me to work even harder and made my determination even stronger. That fight will always remain a part of me. I still have moments now, especially after returning from maternity leave, but I just work hard and slowly but surely, the insecurities lift as you start to see successes and start to believe people when they compliment your ideas or the work that you do.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share you thoughts on this?
The figures don’t surprise me, given my experience at events aimed at agency owners but seeing them in black and white is quite a shock. That is incredibly low. I wonder whether it is the risk factor of running a business – it would be interesting to know the % of female business owners in other industries. The other factor may be children. Many agencies are not particularly accommodating to working mums due to the fast paced nature of the work and the long hours. I know a lot of females who work in agencies until they have children in their mid thirties and then change career after this to either work from home or move client-side. This is a shame for agencies. Study after study has proven the benefits to the business of having men and women working together at the top. I’m glad Yoyo is run in this way, but even in our agency, I am one of four directors, and the only female.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
We are part of BIMA and the Drum Network and we have had several mentors in the past but none currently. I do think mentors can be beneficial to the business, and the ones that we have had have given us some fantastic guidance, but you have to find the right one at the right time of growth otherwise it can be incredibly expensive. On a personal level, I have many different people who help me along the way either by opening doors for me, offering advice or just lending an ear. This I find much more beneficial as you’re getting multiple viewpoints.
I also co-run the Agency Leadership Forum, which bring together agency owners every few months around a particular subject. This offers lots of great ideas and support.
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?
The mentors we brought on board offered the support that we needed at the time, to both our male and female directors. The industry has a number of groups and mentors out there if you need, so I don’t think there is any additional support that isn’t currently available. Having said that, a female only group would be interesting.
What other female founders inspire you?
What do you think makes a great agency?
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?