Be amazing. Be yourself.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Helen Ahrens, and I am the director of Good Things Marketing. We’re a digital agency working with start-ups, small to medium businesses, co-working spaces, global businesses and executives to help good things grow through strategy, digital marketing, social media, marketing & personal branding.
Businesses who want to work with Good Things Marketing know us for our deep expertise in personal branding, digital marketing and coworking. We love to solve our customers’ problems by offering creative & innovative solutions – and having a whole lot of fun along the way!
In the past I have worked in a diverse range of roles across differing industries. I have worked in radio, film, digital journalism and event management, as well as predominantly working in marketing, tech and digital services across Australia and internationally. Then I transited from a traditional 9 to 5 job into this entrepreneur lifestyle, which sometimes involves working 12 hours a day, and loving every minute of it.
“Whatever it is that you do, as long as you are great at it, you don’t have to define yourself as an introvert or extrovert to become successful. You just have to be authentically you.”
What inspired you to run your own business?
I’m super ambitious, hungry to learn and love doing things out of the ordinary. In a 9 to 5 job context there are boundaries that don’t always allow a person to fully utilise their creative potential that could add extra value to their employer. I was fortunate that a lot of my past employers did allow me the opportunity to grow and try new things, but I was still not at the point where I wanted to be and felt I could do more for my clients. Running my own business has given me the chance to challenge myself further, while enjoying the freedom of being able to fully utilise my creativity and allow myself to do weird and wonderful things. With GTM I have built the flexibility to do what I want, whenever I want, all across Australia (and soon Asia!) and deliver great results to my customers every time.
Speaking at City of Unley Unley Road traders upskilling savvy business owners on Social media and Digital Marketing strategies.
What compelled you to make that transition from working on a 9 to 5 job to running your own business?
I’ve always worked a serious amount whilst I was studying, which allowed me to progress through my career very quickly. I used to work long hours during the day and study at night and do the odd freelance job on the weekends too. After graduation I had worked on my own business for 1 month under a different name but I was very young and wasn’t brave enough at that time so I went back to a traditional job. Even then, I slowly found myself working my way back into running my own venture.
As I gained momentum working freelance whilst also growing my customer base, I identified a gap in the market that required a specialised technical and marketing combined service with a cutting edge national view that I could offer. I decided to focus full time on my own business. The transition wasn’t smooth, most transitions are not! There were a lot of bumps on the road but as an entrepreneur you have to make sure that when you stumble you can quickly learn from it, pick yourself up and move forward to bigger things each time.
“You have to be ambitious, you have to be a go-getter and you have to want it badly. You must learn to love the journey, the process and the outcome. Why would you want to work up to 100 hours a week if you didn’t love it?”
How did you gain credibility when starting out?
I’ve worked very hard to build my personal brand throughout my career and throughout my volunteering work, as well as achieving high standards in all of the work that I deliver. I had even started to get noticed by the world’s biggest software company for the results I was delivering to their big Australian clients. I leveraged this strong personal brand and experiences to open new opportunities with key players in the industries I was targeting. When people saw my name or Good Things Marketing’s brand, they knew that I had worked with some of the biggest brands and businesses in Asia and had the experience, but also had the guts and determination to make it work in my own business.
What important factors helped you get to where you are today?
I started out without a startup supportive network, so I had to go and build one. I was very fortunate to have established Good Things Marketing as part of the Hub Australia and Hub Adelaide community. Through their incredible supportive network I was able to gain new experiences, meet amazing mentors and upgrade my skills further. The wonderful Hub Adelaide coworking community helped me realise that I had what it takes to pursue my dream and the coworking community within Little City Studio now helps me to develop and foster my business on a daily basis. They say that it takes a village to raise a child and I believe it takes a community to raise a business.
I have been fortunate that I was able to have broad national and international experience in my career early on. Most people only work in one industry but my experience across multiple industries always with a tech and marketing focus has meant that I’ve been able to constantly adapt, evolve and become more innovative and creative.
“Always go above and beyond every single time to deliver excellent work. If your work is only average, then why bother?”
I love the entrepreneurial journey. I get to work things that I’m great at while working hard to achieve incredible results and smash new milestones. Every day is a new challenge because I get to learn and work on new things. Today I was up at 5.20 am and already excited because I knew that I would get to do filming today, have an interview with you, attend 2 client meetings and all that would happen before 9am! I am excited to work those 12 hours days when it’s required and I know most people would say no to this. I guess I am a bit crazy but you’ve got to be a bit crazy to do some of the projects that I work on! It comes down to how much you love what you do.
What challenges did you face initially?
All of them. I come from a small rural town where running your own business was never an option for me. I had only ever known that all I needed to do was get a job and do that one job until the day I retired. Initially, there were a lot of things I didn’t know when I had started my business. Finance was the biggest stress because I had never run the books of a business before and lots of people told me that I’d fail. The first thing I did was find a specialist in the area and I have employed her specialist training and advice from that point onwards to ensure our financial success!
Sharing our experience on entrepreneurship and insight for South Australia’s economy at PricewaterhouseCoopers with Royal Croquet Club, Little Miss Dive Shop & Crab Shack Cofounder Stuart Duckworth & Toby Strong Cofounder & MD of Podcac.
What early mistakes did you make?
I had a lot of experience across a lot of industries and that meant that I had lots of different areas to bring to the table. I started by offering a wide variety of services without thinking about what was my core offering that I did best. I ended up cutting the surplus offerings, instead openly outsourcing them to alliance businesses and just focussed on just delivering outstanding work in the areas of digital marketing, coworking and personal branding.
“They say that it takes a villange to raise a child and I believe it takes a community to raise a business.”
Do you recommend people to focus on what they are great at?
This is all up to personal preference. At a young age I tried a lot of different roles across industries so I could discover my passions. However, when you split your attention on too many things at once, this can take your focus away and you won’t excel at any of these. At the same time, being a generalist is awesome because these people can just adapt and thrive anywhere.
If you got to go back in time, what would you do differently?
No regrets! I wouldn’t undo anything because everything that I have done in the past has helped me on the path to get to where I am now and on the journey to where I want to be. I would tell myself to keep on pushing, that things get more interesting every day, be prepared for a roller coaster because you will never know what is around the corner and keep making great things happen and have fun every single day.
“Diversification brings strength. Working together to support other female entrepreneurs can only improve SA’s economic climate and further strengthen the startup ecosystem.”
What top personality traits do you believe successful entrepreneurs possess?
You have to be ambitious, you have to be a go-getter and you have to want it badly. You must learn to love the journey, the process and the outcome. Why would you want to work up to 100 hours a week if you didn’t love it? Be prepared to hear all of the terrible advice from people who have no relevant experience will throw at you, keep moving forward all the time, and always go above and beyond every single time to deliver excellent work. If your work is only average, then why bother?
What future do you see for the creative agency and social media marketing industry?
SA’s Social Media sector is a close knit group, it’s quite common that we share new research and even work alongside other companies on projects and with clients. I’ve never seen Good Things Marketing as competing with anyone else. I can see the industry collaborating closely in the future and the rise of specialists within niche areas such as webinars, cross-platform advertising, mobile activations, digital experiences and these individual specialists being picked up for projects by broader digital agencies to deliver specific outcomes.
Diversification brings strength. Working together to support other female entrepreneurs can only improve SA’s economic climate and further strengthen the startup ecosystem. I can see the diversification of genders in the social media sector and also across age groups as digital natives quickly become trained in marketing applications of their native social media skills.
“If you can sell something in Adelaide, you can sell it anywhere in the world. Adelaide is a fantastic pilot city for testing due to its cultural diversity.”
The future of social media marketing is going to be all about video. Images already perform 7 times better than text, and videos on average perform 9 times better than images again. Text is dead, long live video!
Is Adelaide a great market for entrepreneurs?
Over the last few years McDonald’s ran a pilot to test a healthy product range in Adelaide. Their global market research division was quoted remarking that if it worked in Adelaide it would work anywhere in the world. The pilot test was a success so they took it to the national market with a roll out across Australia. This story is awesome because it shows that if you can sell something in Adelaide, you can sell it anywhere in the world. Adelaide is a fantastic pilot city for testing due to its cultural diversity.
Adelaide can be conservative at times but it is a very supportive place. When you invest back in the state through community service and committing a large percentage of your business to being South Australian-focussed, the community will support you back. You need to genuinely care about the community, local businesses, playing your part in the state’s economy as a whole and the Adelaide community will help you out.
What advice would you give to young people who want to start their own venture?
Have a go.
Go out and have a crack at everything. If it breaks, fix it and learn from it. It is not the end of the world! What do you have to lose? Of course it is going to be hard but these newly found skills and experience will help you make less mistakes in the future and teach you to overcome challenges. Why not spend one day a fortnight to work on a project of your interest or join a wonderful initiative like Splash Adelaide or Renew Adelaide to try out new things and discover what you are good at?
Whatever it is that you do, as long as you are great at it, you don’t have to define yourself as an introvert or extrovert to become successful. You just have to be authentically you.
Be driven and ambitious.
Entrepreneurs need to have ambition first. As you travel down the road and discover the right things for you, passion will come. I see so many people say they are passionate about things but as soon as challenges appear they throw it down so easily. Having that drive from ambition and passion as a complimentary will allow you to succeed long term.
“Opportunities exist everywhere and the areas that are hardest present even more opportunities. Go create your own opportunities and don’t wait for them to fall on your lap.”
Build a support network.
Networking is about building a deep, genuine connection with people and offering a trade of value. It is not a quantity game. Connect with people who also possess drive and have ambition, and build a strong supportive network that will help you realise your potential. You are only as good as the company that you keep.
Create your own opportunities.
The current industry that I specialise in did not even exist when I started tertiary education. Opportunities exist everywhere and the areas that are hardest present even more opportunities. Go create your own opportunities and don’t wait for them to fall on your lap. Hard work will get you the rewards you deserve.
Learn to take criticism.
Originally, I wanted to do a custom retail business and thankfully, someone told me that it was a terrible idea and outlined the reasons why based upon their industry knowledge. It was not fun to hear but I appreciated them telling me the truth. Professionals around you possess great wealth of knowledge so do not take criticism as gossip, go investigate its merits, what improvements you can draw from it and take action!
To find out more about Helen and Good Things Marketing, check out their website. Do you love being an entrepreneur like Helen does? We would love to hear your story.