This week as part of my Mums in Business series I’m delighted to feature Jill who is a Partner and Director of Origin Digital; a full service digital agency in Northern Ireland. Having come from an advertising agency background myself I loved reading Jill’s story of how she set up and grew her own business to become the successful marketing agency it is today.
What inspired me and shocked me the most about this interview was the attitude towards Jill from her previous boss when she discussed wanting a high-flying career, instead she was met with comments that she should have a baby and settle down. Although this should be unheard of, it is something that is unfortunately still happening today. However Jill has overcome this along with some other personal challenges, and she is now a successful working mum juggling what sounds like a very challenging yet rewarding business.
Tell me a little bit about you, your background and Origin Digital?
My name is Jill Robb, I’m a Marketing Director and Co-Owner of Origin Digital, a creative digital agency, I’m a mum to a ten year old – and have a new baby on the way! When I graduated from University I was a trainee retail manager in an Irish department store and then became a Deputy store manager of a high street retail store. Although I enjoyed the speed of retail, I wanted to get more marketing / merchandising experience and so I mentioned to my (female) Area manager at the time that I was considering applying for their graduate scheme which was based in London as I felt that this would give me the exposure and experience that I was after. What happened next resulted in a total career change. She asked me if I needed a ‘brain transplant’ and told me that I needed to ‘get pregnant and settle myself down’. I walked out that week. Having applied for marketing roles but only having retail experience I wasn’t even getting to interview stage, so I went back to Uni at age 26 and studied a Post Grad whilst working part time to cover the mortgage. As part of that course I studied emarketing as it was then called- I loved it and I was top of the course! I asked a local website company if I could do some work experience with them and they took me on. They must have been impressed because on the fifth day they offered me a full time position and my career in digital began.
I was married at the time (I’m divorced over 6 years now) and my then husband joined the army so I moved to London with him, applied for a job as a Digital Marketing Manager in a London website development company and got the job. I was with them for 4.5 years working with High Street retailers delivering digital marketing campaigns, training and consultancy. I set up my own digital marketing agency after having my little boy and then moved back to Northern Ireland (where I was originally from) to grow it further with family support around me. I grew my agency from just myself up to 5 staff at its largest in 2013/4.
At that time, I would have worked alongside some web and mobile development companies and in 2014 myself and my now business partners Jonny Kelly and Jerry Staple (who had a 10 strong team) decided to join forces and bring both of our companies together so that we could collectively deliver website and app development and digital growth campaigns holistically within one agency. We re-named as Origin Digital and we have gone from strength to strength since, being listed in last years’ Deloitte Technology Fast 50 for Ireland.
What were your drivers and motivations for setting up Origin Digital?
I was always entrepreneurial and had previously took part in a ‘Start a Business’ progra
mme before starting in retail, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to actually do-so I never followed it through. In 2008 I had my son and went back to work after 3 months however during that time I started considered going out on my own as a freelancer as I felt that it might greater flexibility.
I mentioned this to a lady who had become a friend and a huge supporter of mine who really pushed me to get over any doubt I might have and just do it. Through building my profile as a result of the many speaking events that I did (and still do), I soon had quite a few businesses who were interested in my services and once I felt that had enough potential work, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I had just filed for divorce at the time too which many would think would be a bad time to do this, especially with a 10 month old child, however it was a perfect positive action that would keep me busy and provide a complete and welcome change – so that was that!
How do you balance the business around family and childcare?
With great difficulty and a lot of juggling! My business has always been one of my babies anyway. I couldn’t have started up on my own without having my mum and step dad around and their understanding and support when I needed it. Initially my mother actually took a sabbatical from her own job and flew to London and lived with me for 2 weeks out of 4. I then flew to Northern Ireland and lived with her and my step dad for the following 2 and we did this for approx. 9 months! When I moved home both her and my step dada rallied around, picked my little boy up from school and nursery etc until I got home. My workload grew until I had to make a decision to turn clients away, or take on staff. I decided that I’d become an employer and grow my business.
I met my partner 7 years ago and moved in with him 2 years ago now. Jonathan also has his own business and therefore understands the level of work and time commitment that is required, but we have a great support network from both our families. My two business partners Jonny and Jerry are also both parents, and we all balance and support one another, which definitely shares the load!
Since setting up the business what’s been your biggest success to date?
In general we gauge our success on our clients success- so seeing our clients businesses grow and thrive through the digital products and growth strategies and campaigns that we deliver for them is the true measure of success. That said, the team has won many awards. As well as being featured in the Technology Fast 50 for Ireland, we recently made the final 6 of a banking client’s EU Vendor of the Year Award for Best Performance- definitely a proud moment!
What’s your top tip for Mums who are thinking about setting up their own business?
My top tip for anyone starting out with their own business is not to underestimate the importance of business plans and strategy. You really need to layout where you want to go and how you are going to get- it provides you with a framework for your goals and aims and can help to quickly identify what’s working and what’s not. As I already had clients and knew what services I was delivering for them, I initially dismissed the idea. However over the years the importance of strategy, planning and reviewing results has been proven time and again- it’s not always smooth sailing! I’d also recommend that if you are thinking about starting a business to do so in an area that you are passionate about and ensure that you have a great external support network around you. It’s extremely hard work and often testing, but a massively rewarding journey.
Thank you so much Jill for taking part in my series, and I wish you and your family all the best for the business in the future. You can find out more about Jill and Origin Digital by visiting the website, Jill on Twitter, Origin Digital on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn
If you like what you’re reading and would love to be part of my Mums in Business series then just drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or have a nose at some of the other businesses I have featured in the series: Chalk & Moss, Nutree Life, and Spinsonic Circus.