Inside Track: Founder of iZest Marketing Jenny Taaffe

‘We’re recruiting furiously’, says Dublin-based digital marketing agency boss

iZest Marketing was established five years ago by Jenny Taaffe. The Dublin-based digital marketing agency's client list ranges from iConnect and Fáilte Ireland and the Al Mana group in Qatar. iZest also worked on the Irish Rugby Union Players' Association's online mental health campaign.

What distinguishes your company from your competitors?

There are so many digital agencies that will react to a brief from the client – we don’t react to a brief from the client. We question and prod and really turn any brief upside down and what we find, every single time, is that what initially was requested is never what’s needed.

What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face in business?

Starting out is not easy. I left a good job – I was MD of I was in my early 30s and I just said I wanted something different for myself. I’m an entrepreneur at heart – I wanted to step out and make this change. The biggest challenge was actually doing it and deciding to set up something.

What’s your major success to date?

We are perceived in the market as a bigger brand than we are so I think our brand perception is exceptionally strong for the size. A lot of people think we’re a 30-40-person organisation and I think they are surprised by the level of customer service. Every customer that’s ever worked with us on a project basis has turned into a retainer – I think that that’s a testament to the work that we’ve done.

What could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment?

I think there needs to be a lot more incentive for people to take the leap and set up businesses. The financial incentives are simply not there. From a tax perspective there are no incentives to running your own business. There are grants there, there are things through Enterprise Ireland but often, if your business isn't very internationally focused, you may not fall into that criteria.

Do you think that the banks are open for business?

Certainly in the last year I think things have changed. Through the accountancy firm we use, they are constantly bringing us opportunities and things that can help us to grow. But you have to have a solid business, you have to have solid cash flow. I’d say as a start-up it’s probably very difficult.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

It’s probably not going for it enough, not having the confidence to go for very big projects and having a bit of a smaller business mentality, which is a mistake. You really have to start a new business as if you’re a big company. We’ve definitely got better at that in the last year and a half and it’s paid off.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

I think I have a very strong tendency towards female entrepreneurs. I would always look internationally at very successful entrepreneurs: Jessica Herrin, who set up Stella & dot, which is a big American company with a strong presence here – watching her story of really starting from nothing and building it into a serious global brand. On a smaller level I genuinely admire anybody who takes the risk to set up their own business.

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?

One thing that always stuck in my mind, from a boss I had in the past, is you need to act as if you have the job that you are going for, so in other words be in the future. Act and present yourself as if you’re going to be the MD, the director, the owner. You nearly have to be the person you want to be before you get there, if that makes sense.

How do you see the short-term future of your business?

We have an awful lot going on internationally. We've a big opportunity to set up an office in Dubai this year and we are about to launch into what I think is a very different phase of the business. We have a big opportunity with a major social media company that wants to work with us. We're recruiting furiously – we've hired three people in one week recently and we are looking to grow our team and to bring in the best.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

We’ve been profitable for the last four years – I wouldn’t put a number on it but our company is valuable, our brand is valuable. We definitely will be looking for partners in the next few years to help us grow and scale to an extent that we won’t be able to fund ourselves but I see myself staying in the business, being the majority owner and driving it certainly for the next five to 10 years.