Digital marketing entrepreneur Sue Keogh shares her mindset for business growth
“Start-up Spotlight” by Invested Investor, published in partnership with Angel News
For this month’s Start-up Spotlight, we interviewed entrepreneur Sue Keogh, Director of Cambridge digital marketing agency Sookio.
A specialist in digital content, Sue was a website editor for the BBC, Yahoo and AOL, and Project Manager for ITV.com before founding Sookio in 2008. She regularly shares her expertise on the radio and at conferences, through the Sage Business Expert programme, and in the newly launched Sookio School range of online courses. A finalist two years running in the Best Business Women Awards, she talks us through her growth story and tells us what advice she would share with new entrepreneurs.
1) What does your company do?
Sookio is a digital marketing agency specialising in content. For some clients, we create the content – we’ll write whitepapers for the Royal Society of Chemistry or annual reports for property giant JLL, or we’ll film Dr Rowan Williams for the Cambridge Trust and produce a video for Cambridge Econometrics about the company’s history. For others, they have a solid in-house marketing team in place but need help with strategy or some training to will sharpen their skills in digital marketing. We work closely with marketing teams at the University of Cambridge for example; they wouldn’t want to outsource their social media but welcome the strategic support and fresh pair of eyes on the activity.
2) How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
It’s all about the content! There are lots of web design and PR agencies out there, building websites and promoting the brands, whereas we focus on what goes in the middle – the content that will really engage people, drive website traffic and help build loyal communities.
We have a lot of expertise drawn from working in different sectors, on different channels and with businesses of all shapes and sizes. So we’re not afraid to challenge clients and say, “We don’t think this will work – try this instead.” We’re honest with people too, very straight-talking. We don’t hide behind marketing jargon and we don’t promise to get you 20,000 Twitter followers overnight.
3) What are the challenges you faced in setting up your company?
When I say to people I founded Sookio in 2008 – at the height of the economic crisis – sometimes there’s a sharp intake of breath, and they tell me it was absolutely the worst time to start a business. I’d just been laid off from ITV (my second redundancy in 18 months) and I’d just had a baby. Living in Ely made it feel even more of a challenge when all the opportunities in the fast-growing digital sector were in London.
Although on the face of it, these were all obstacles, I actually found it worked to my advantage. Businesses were looking to employ people on a more casual basis, and use companies like mine who didn’t come with the overheads of desk space and National Insurance. I was able to work late nights, early mornings, and take on work at short notice.
I’ve discovered that people have long memories when it comes to good work, and Sookio still has clients now that came from those early days when we were just starting out and I was breaking my back to make sure everything got done.
4) What are the great stories of ‘rewards or satisfactions’ that you can share?
Moving into our current premises was a big moment for us. When we started out, finding premises was a big problem; at one point I went round the shops in Ely town centre shops with flyers asking if their upstairs space was free. I eventually found somewhere, then we moved to shared office space in Cambridge, and then in September 2017 to our base on Mill Road.
It’s the sort of creative space I’d always wanted – light and airy, in a lively part of town, and with plenty of room to grow. I just feel really happy walking around the place! And because our partners in video, animation and web design moved in as well, it’s supporting their businesses too and we generate work for each other. A rewarding moment that put it all in perspective was when a long-time client came for a visit and said a lovely thing: “Whenever I catch up with you, you’re always moving forward.”
5) How do you characterise success?
As an agency, we work with a lot of different businesses with very different objectives. Some people want to get onto the first page of Google, whereas others don’t mention it at all. Sometimes they actually have too many customers or applicants and it’s about filtering people out. And of course, everyone wants more sales!
So, we need to set targets that match these individual goals. And success for our clients feels like success for us. More widely, the feeling that we have lots of interesting work coming in is good. Picking up awards is good. Getting word-of-mouth referrals and hearing that people speak well of us in the business community feels good too.
6) How do you view your relationship with your investors?
That’s an easy one, because it’s just me.
7) How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It’s a lot better now that I have a good team around me and the children are older. In the early years, well let’s say I discovered that it’s possible to breastfeed while editing web content on a laptop.
I’m very into fitness – as well as the gym I go running a lot, and did the London Marathon in 2017. Staying healthy helps me keep on top of things at work. I also turn notifications off on my phone, otherwise I find I’m a slave to it out of hours. I’ve learned that replying to messages in haste, while on the hoof, doesn’t always get the best results…
8) Who inspires you and why?
Cindy Gallop (Twitter bio: “I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business”). I like people who roll their sleeves up and get on with it!
9) If you could offer an entrepreneur one piece of business advice, what would it be?
I don’t have much time for motivational quotes, but there’s a nice thing I see when I’m out running in Ely; next to the Babylon Gallery there’s this stone circle in the ground with words carved in a spiral, finishing with the phrase ‘All it takes is belief’. I never have time to stop and read the whole thing, but I do think to myself how this applies to running a business.
If you start with a clear goal in mind, and you believe you can get there, you will. Once you start thinking a few steps ahead you’ll instinctively start putting the right things in place to help you achieve your goals. It may only be you at the beginning, but if you think, “What processes would I have in place if there were 50 of us?” or, “How would this product have to scale if we had 1 million users, not 10?” then you’re in the right mindset for growth.