International Woman’s Day
8th of March is International woman’s day, a day to celebrate all things great and wonderful about women, a day to celebrate achievement without regard to divisions, to look back on woman’s great accomplishments and how far they have come. To mark the occasion we have pinned down Mary Fenton, CEO and founder of Zone Marketing to ask her a few questions about what she has achieved and how it has been setting up a new business as a woman. Let’s see what she had to say.
Tell me about your professional background and how you came about setting up your own business?
My business background is in sales, mostly in the tech industry. During the recession period in the 90’s the company my husband was working for went bust, we were bringing up a family at the time and cash was tight. He made the decision to set up on his own and I got involved helping when I could with whatever needed doing, it was all very hands-on. I soon settled into sales and marketing which included a lot of hard work selling on the phones. I found out I had a knack for it, enjoying the challenge and I continued working there part-time while the children were young.
There were several reasons for ‘going it alone’ as it were. Timing was certainly one of them. Approaching 50 with the family grown up, I was ready for a new challenge and I thought ‘why not have a go yourself?’. I wanted my half- century to be the start of something positive, a new beginning, and to see if I ‘had it in me’ to build a successful company of my own.
Taking confidence from being at the heart of one thriving business, I looked at what experience I had gained over my career and asked myself what was I good at, what did I like doing and how could I put that to use to set up a business that would offer a great service. That’s when I came up with the idea of a quality lead generation and telemarketing company, it’s an industry that sometimes gets a poor press and I wanted to offer an improvement on that.
I asked Gunilla Pluthero, a good friend who I had worked with at a publishing company to join forces and become my partner at Zone Marketing. It was Gunilla, (who is Swedish) that came up with the idea of dealing Internationally and offering language capabilities. This certainly helped set us apart over the years together with the quality of the service we provide. It’s important to have a strong idea of why people would want to use your company rather than your competition”.
What struggles did you face in setting up your own business?
“It was a big change for my family and not all of them were thrilled at first. I was running a risk, leaving a stable well paid job to go into who knows what. I sometimes struggled getting my work life balance right and this caused friction at home and stress for me. It was all worth it though, as it was such an exciting time! And yes, there have been times I wanted to ‘ pack it all in,’ I believe everyone faces those demons at some point, but somehow you dig deep and keep going one day at a time.
I’ll always remember looking for a bank in the early days. We were interviewed by a young man who let on it was his first day in the job. A few routine questions later, he beamed at us and announced ‘well ladies I like your business idea and it’s just great that you can keep costs down by working at home and getting all your ironing done at the same time’! We decided to laugh it off, but we chose another bank!”.
Did you find any difficulties in being a woman starting up your own business?
“Coming from a generation where business was very much a ‘man’s world’ and turning 50 as well, I was certainly expecting to run into some prejudices. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I actually think my age and experience helped my credibility in our industry. Being older meant I had put in the years making great business contacts along the way. This experience paid off as I had already built up trust and relationships with many people and this gave me a cracking head start over the competition when it came to pitching business.
As far as being a woman is concerned, by and large I’ve felt on a level playing ground with the men. I concentrate on what we can offer to our customers based on skills and experience and why we would be the best choice for them. I’m sure it helps that we work in the marketing industry which is full of successful business women.
Any advice you would you give to woman out there looking to start up their own business?
Yes, get out there and do it! Making a start is the hardest part, after you make that commitment the rest will follow. No need to be like a man, those days are over, we women are naturally better at the emotional, intuitive side of business, skills which are much valued in today’s market. A steady nerve is important, if you really believe in something have the confidence to stick with it, it will come good eventually. But do keep your mind open to advice and help, I have some amazing close girlfriends who already had successful companies and they supported me in every way possible, especially at the start when I needed it most. My husband was great too, he let us work from his office rent free till we could afford the bills. For me having a business partner was valuable, you get each other through the tough times.
And to any of you thinking it might be too late, think again! I was fifty when I started Zone Marketing and it’s still going strong ten years later. Starting my own business gave me a new lease of life, I found I had more energy for everything and I’m convinced the constant challenges help keep me young at heart”.
What are your plans for the future of Zone?
“We now have a trusted brand and track record in our business of Lead Generation and Telemarketing and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. I believe it’s important to keep focussing on what you are good at and best known for, but at the same time making sure you are evolving with the times. We are always checking out how we can add value with new products and ideas to keep ourselves fresh and relevant in today’s rapidly changing markets.
Currently we have plans to expand our digital department, It’s a natural extension of what we do and there has been such a huge explosion in on-line, video and social media channels since we started 10 years ago. We think it’s vital to keep embracing this technology and we are building a team who offer new skills and experience. Some companies now use us for the whole marketing package. We plan to expand this side of the business in the next 3-5 years and provide a complete service to our clients”.
So there you have it, some great stories, tips and advice from Mary. Zone marketing has been around for 10 years now showing some staying power, and that everything is possible so long as you work hard at it and stay positive.