1. Tell me a bit about your business – when it started and what are your main services?
My business is called Zoom In and it’s a boutique conference and event management business. We (my sister Aisling and I) organize everything from Association gala dinners and charity fundraisers, to family fun days and staff summer parties, to conferences, workshops and seminars. I love producing conferences where I use my analytical and critical thinking skills – I have the chance to research and develop content, and find expert speakers in the field. I have to do a lot of reading during the research stage. Everything else is a massive project management ‘to do’ list, and while organisation and planning come second nature to me, I do love putting events and communications together that deliver compelling content. I love being in a room with an engaged audience who are connecting with each other and the subject matter. There are days when I’m at an event and I get goose bumps because I know the room is really engaged, seeing things from a fresh perspective, learning more about themselves and getting something useful from their attendance.
2. What was the main driver for starting your own business?
I had always wanted to start my own business so I decided to set up Zoom In after working for a conference production company in Sydney. There was a gap in the market for a conference for PAs & EAs and so The Executive PA Forum was born. It has grown to be our biggest proprietary conference and I can see how much it means to the people in the room that have made the effort to be there. Quite often their role involves supporting someone else and their vision, but this is the one time of the year that the focus gets to be on them. They really deserve so much recognition for their role, and many Executives could not be half as effective as leaders if it weren’t for the efficiency and skill of their Assistant. So that’s enough to keep me going! It has grown to be our biggest proprietary conference, the only one of its kind in Ireland today.
3. What gets you up in the morning?
I love being creative and enjoy coming up with new ideas, whether it’s ways to make the Executive PA Forum better, find new speakers with cutting edge knowledge, or help a client who wants to explore an innovative concept for an event.
4. If you could change one thing about your first year (or first few years) in business, what would it be?
If you get a gut feeling about doing business with someone where you might not get paid or they have very low budgets and expect you to work long hours for very little reward, just say No! It took me a long time to learn that lesson because I always justified these roles with ‘well I’m getting experience’. Now I value my time and what I do way more, I only work on projects that are well paid and where I will learn something or make great new contacts from taking them on
5. What is your biggest achievement to date?
I am so proud that this year’s conference is the 10thExecutive PA Forum. This was an event I set up as our first proprietary event while working for other clients. It is amazing to see it grow year on year and to have such a positive impact in people’s careers and lives.
The APAI (Association for Administrative Professionals in Ireland) was born from a discussion that took place at our 2014 Executive PA Forum. We had a panel discussion on the subject and a number of PAs volunteered to get together and get it started. I’m very lucky to have been involved from the beginning. It’s fantastic to see the Association going from strength to strength and to see the new connections and friendships that have developed as a result. Working in an administrative role can be isolating at times and so it’s a great place to have open and honest conversations in a non-judgemental environment and the opportunity to lean on each other for support. I am very proud of the fact that I contribute to delivering training and upskilling for this group of professionals.
6. What has been your biggest challenge?
Managing cashflow has been and continues to be a big challenge for us as a small business, especially when your accounts team are constantly chasing up invoices and you have outgoings you are committed to that must be paid on time, it can get stressful at times!
7. What would be your number one tip for other entrepreneurs who want to develop their personal brand (related to their industry / specialism)?
Last year, I worked with a Brand Expert, Lorraine Carter, on her top-level Mastermind course and webinar series. The biggest lesson I learned from working with her is that branding goes way beyond marketing and design and is all about how your customers or clients feel about your business – who you are and what you do. You want your customers to have an emotional connection to your brand so that they want to do business (or buy from you) again and again. Without realizing it I had this pattern I had developed with my own clients but I couldn’t explain what it was. Now I can see where that has paid off as we are a trusted company who deliver on our promises.
8. What advice would you give to other women thinking of starting their own business?
To steal from the words of Nike – Just Do It! If you have passion for your product/service idea, are willing to work hard and sacrifice certain aspects of your life in pursuit of following your goals and dreams, then you can do anything you put your mind to. Practically, I would advise you to have a financial plan/savings for unexpected costs, also do your research and speak to others in your chosen field for advice before you dive in.
9. Lastly, what is your preferred way of networking on LinkedIn? Is it via posts on the feed, networking in groups or via direct message and why?
I have to say I like a direct message, because you can be more personal and you can really get straight to the point with your connections. It is a much more targeted approach.
Fiona Kelly grew up in Carlow, in the sunny south-east of Ireland. She holds an honours degree in Business and Law from UCD, and a post-graduate diploma in Marketing, Events & PR. Fiona’s career began in recruitment consulting after which she worked with a conference training production company in Sydney, before returning to Ireland to set up Zoom In. Zoom In is now in its tenth year of business. In her spare time, Fiona loves to play tennis, badminton and go to Zumba classes! She currently lives between London and Dublin.
This interview was conducted by Jennifer Corcoran, LinkedIn Consultant & Trainer and Founder and CEO of award-winning social media consultancy, My Super Connector. Jennifer regularly writes and speaks on the topics of social media, personal branding, networking and being an introverted female entrepreneur. If you need help with your LinkedIn profile mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @SuperConnector.