My latest Social CEO interview is with none other than Samantha Kelly, founder of TweetingGoddess and the Women’s Inspire Network. Samantha is an inspirational leader and a leading light in the Irish business scene – and, lets face it, a force of nature – so it’s a delight to feature her in this series.
Samantha, you were a struggling single mum when you had a ‘lightbulb moment’ that made you decide to start your own business. Tell me about that.
I was at a really weird time in my life. I had just turned 40, my dad had passed away and my marriage had broken down, so I was now a lone parent. My dad was a real ‘Del Boy’ – always thinking of ways to make us millionaires! We came from very humble beginnings and dad worked really hard as a painter and decorator. He had that great skill of being able to talk to anyone in a room – from criminals to the poshest people – and make both laugh, and had friends from every walk of life. I was devastated when he passed away.
“My sister put me on Twitter and said ‘off you go’… the rest is history.”
I was therefore in a ‘life is too short’ and ‘you only live once’ frame of mind, thinking about what I’d done in my life so far. Then my eldest daughter came to that awkward milestone of having her first period, so I felt sorry for her and went to the shop to buy her some sort of gift or starter set. To my surprise I found that there wasn’t such a thing. So right there and then in the supermarket aisle I decided that I would create a gift box for everything a young girl needs, and Funky Goddess, my first business, was born.
I had no business experience, never went to college AND had no money. But I just did it. I researched online, sourced everything I needed and decided to promote it on social media as I had zero marketing budget. My sister put me on Twitter and said ‘off you go’… the rest is history.
You eventually sold Funky Goddess, then you founded TweetingGoddess. Tell me a bit more about TweetingGoddess and what you do.
I had no plans to create TweetingGoddess at all. When I was promoting Funky Goddess, I got very comfortable with social media, especially Twitter. I could reach a global audience and saw sales converting from the conversations I was having. I also appeared on the Irish version of Dragon’s Den and my profile soared through media appearances (let’s face it, periods were a bit of a taboo, so the media loved it). The investment I needed didn’t materialise though, and I still needed to make Funky Goddess profitable, so I made the uncomfortable decision to shelve the company and think of something else to do. I then put up a post on my Facebook page telling my customers about the fact that I was selling it and ended up selling it to a customer!
“Twitter has changed my whole life! It’s the reason for my success.”
At that time, I was approached by a local hotel who asked me if could I help them with their Twitter account, as they weren’t sure how to use it. That’s when TweetingGoddess was born. I discovered that people were willing to pay me to learn about Twitter and also manage their accounts for them, as they didn’t have time. The hotel’s clicks to sale went up 15%, so I saw that I could make an impact and improve their sales. I also started to realise I had a talent and more knowledge than I thought I had! I learned as much as I could to improve my skills and surrounded myself with a great team to help me as the business grew. I now have a team of seven.
You also founded the Women’s Inspire Network. How did it come about, what is its main aim and what are the benefits for members?
Running a business can be very isolating. I was building my empire from home and knew that I wasn’t the only person doing that. Initially I started a Twitter chat for other small business owners like me, with the hashtag #irishbizparty, which took place every Wednesday night. We then had an offline event where everyone met and it was magical. That was when I saw the value of community and taking the online relationships offline.
I started getting asked to speak at events and, to my delight, I seemed to be really popular and added value, so the speaking opportunities rolled in more (watch Samantha’s TEDx talk here). I also noticed that most people who were coming up to me at the end were women, and I got lots of emails and messages from women saying that I had helped them in some way, so I decided to create the #womensinspire Twitter chat. This became known as the Women’s Inspire Network – otherwise known as W.I.N. (see what I did there?). I was sick of joining networks and not getting value so I wanted to create something where we could learn what we needed to.
We do weekly webinars and also have a panel of experts in different areas, such as sales training, health, social media, SEO and so on. Members get 30 minutes with their chosen mentor and support in a private Facebook group. So, for example, if someone has a book launch, event or workshop coming up, we help find a venue, or turn up to support them. We also feature a member every week on our #womensinspire hashtag #AskTheExpert, so members can show their expertise. Our site also has members’ discounts and past webinars, and members can upload their own articles if they want to. Our reach is huge, so they can reach far more people then they ever would on their own.
Social media (especially Twitter) is clearly now in your DNA! It’s the foundation of your business after all. If you can summarise it, how would you say Twitter has helped you build your business and your personal brand (big question I know!)?
Twitter has changed my whole life! It’s the reason for my success. Twitter is all about engaging and adding value to your audience. I knew that if I could make people feel special and add value with tips, etc with every tweet, then people would share the content I was putting out. I also knew that there were lots of people just like me who were lonely and wanted to connect with like minded people. So I found my tribe.
“Twitter is all about engaging and adding value to your audience.”
My followers are extremely loyal, kind and add value to me too. Twitter is so easy to make introductions – no long intro e-mails any more. And the higher my following went, the more I realised I could make someone’s day with a retweet or comment. I’ve connected with people from all over the world and shown that I am the expert in my space by sharing my knowledge, assisting others and being myself. I haven’t had to pretend to be something I’m not. I keep it real, but keep it positive too.
What was it about Twitter in particular that you were drawn to as a budding entrepreneur?
I found it easy to connect with people I admired, and loved the fact that you could also get a response from someone you admired. I’m a big fan of Ted Rubin – he talks about Return on Relationship – and we did just that, by me engaging with him and chatting to him, I decided I wanted to bring him to Ireland. So I did. I created a social media event to get him here to speak. And he delivered 100% like I knew he would. Twitter makes us normal people into rock stars if it’s done it correctly. You can influence others and add value, but keep away from controversy, use humour and be kind to others.
Who is your main audience on social media?
My main audience are females aged 35 -45 but, according to Twitter analytics, I have a lot of business owners both male and female in my audience. I also have a lot of my peers in social media/marketing following me and we regularly engage with each other. (Do use Twitter analytics – it is a great free way to see what is working and what isn’t). I also have a lot of journalists and parents in my network from the Funky Goddess days. It’s a global audience and it’s an engaged one, so that’s why I am now a brand ambassador for feedalpha – my audience needs their product.
“With Twitter you can influence others and add value, but keep away from controversy, use humour and be kind to others.”
You must receive a lot of tweets and it must be time-consuming to respond to them all. How do you manage that side of things?
I just pop on notifications when I’m working online. I check now and then and, while I can’t thank everyone, I browse through between 9-11pm mostly to see who I need to engage with and respond to. I try to respond to everyone. Some people use Tweetdeck for this. I use feedalpha for scheduling generic tweets like ‘join Women’s Inspire Network’ or ones that promote me, but most of the time I’m putting out tweets in real time. The funny ones from me are usually off the cuff.
How can other struggling entrepreneurs make the most of social media (without spending a fortune on advertising) to get noticed and win clients? How much time does it take?
No one needs to spend a fortune on advertising. (Saying that, Facebook ads do seem to give good results).
For me though, every event I’ve filled has been done through social media. My advice is to learn how to use it properly so you can get the best results. Social media is not about you at all. It’s about your audience. Make sure you are in the right place. Are your customers aged between 16 and 35? Then you need to be on Instagram and Snapchat. Are they small business owners? Then you need to be on Twitter and LinkedIn. Invest in yourself and learn as much as you can so you can get the sales and learn how to influence your target audience. I have an online program for this on my site.
“Social media is not about you at all. It’s about your audience.”
Write a press release and send it to the media – Google the right contact person if you don’t have a list. Send it to the radio, listen to radio stations where your audience are. Tweet during the show, take part in active Twitter chats that are relevant – there are lots of them out there, including #womensinspire and #irishhealthhour.
More broadly, what role do you think social media now plays in modern business leadership? Is it now essential for business owners to be ‘social’? What are the drawbacks if they’re not?
Yes it’s essential. It’s amazing how many business owners don’t actually know what their social media is achieving. I met a hotel manager recently and he asked me how their social media was doing. I said well yes it’s fine, but your account never engages with me, even when I say good things about the hotel. This is a huge mistake – brand advocates who mention you should be embraced and a conversation should happen. They should have been retweeting anyone who mentions the hotel or anything to do with the surrounding businesses and area – for example, if someone tweets a picture of a lovely sunset in the same county. That kind of thing. The hotel manager had no idea that the social media manager hadn’t been doing this and was a bit annoyed.
I have 45k followers, and if someone tweets to me or responds to me, I always retweet it. Most small business owners can actually get ahead of bigger companies if they ‘get’ social media – which they have to (as I did), as they don’t have big marketing budgets. The best thing a CEO can do is actually learn how to use social media themselves; Look at the analytics, the notifications, etc themselves and see what should have been responded to – and what worked. Also, if the CEO has their own account, they can watch what is going on and actually engage with customers. Most people want to talk to the CEO – it makes them feel special and more likely to recommend or do business with that company.
“The best thing a CEO can do is actually learn how to use social media themselves.”
In this LinkedIn post, you speak very frankly about addiction to alcohol in the past. It was a very brave thing to do this and I really admire you for your honesty. It seems to have inspired a lot of people – was that your main reason for doing it?
The main reason I wrote it is because it was only by getting rid of alcohol that I’m actually doing this interview. I would never have got where I am now if I hadn’t. It was holding me back from reaching my potential and it was making me unhappy. So if something makes you unhappy, get rid of it.
Finally, do you do have any general advice you’d like to share with female entrepreneurs (young, old or in between) just starting out? It doesn’t have to involve social media!
Always surprise and delight your customers. Remember why you decided to start a business in the first place. It’s a roller coaster, but with the right support around you, it works. Surround yourself with good people who celebrate your successes and make you feel safe and cared for. Join a community like my one.
Women’s Inspire Network is a place where you can feel supported, but also learn all about social media, time management, self care and all of the important things we should all be learning. With the internet you don’t need to take a day out to go to a workshop or get a babysitter to get to an event. All of our webinars are online. We do two annual events though, and they always sell out.
A HUGE thank you to Samantha for taking part in this interview. We haven’t spoken to anyone who’s started their own business until now, so this is an interesting departure for the Social CEO series.