‘There’s no point putting a flashy marketing plan over a bad business plan’

Inside Track: Orla Veale, founder of the digital marketing company Conker

Orla Veale combined her business, creative and technical skills to set up Conker, a marketing company focused on the health and wellness sectors.

What is special about your business?
We don't just walk into a company and take their money to design them a nice glossy marketing campaign. We start by asking them a lot of questions and getting to the bottom of their business strategy and goals. There's absolutely no point putting a flashy marketing plan on top of a bad business plan.

I have over 20 years’ experience in business, both here and internationally, mainly in sales and marketing roles, and I’ve seen companies wasting a lot of money on marketing because they don’t tie it into specific business objectives.

What sets your business apart in your sector?
Two things. The first is that we have chosen to specialise in certain areas such as employee health and wellness and health technology – so we know the market very well, we're very focused and we really understand our customers' business.


The second is that we have the technical skills and knowledge to bridge the gap between the tech and the non-tech people in a business and this is really important in an industry that is so technology-dependent.

A few years ago I recognised how important technology was becoming and decided to plug my knowledge gap by studying for a post-graduate diploma in computer science. It means I understand the technical landscape and how it can be used to best advantage in a business and I’m comfortable around interpreting the insights and information that digital platforms collect.

What's the best or most useful course you've ever done?
The MBA. It gave me the confidence to step out of my employee comfort zone and start my own business. I already had a lot of work experience but it brought all of the elements together, helped my self-belief and honed my management and leadership skills.

What has been your biggest challenge in business?
Coping with a finite amount of time and resources, and ensuring that we're consistently applying them in the right areas.

What has been your biggest success?
We've seen continuous growth since launch. We've also successfully attracted a mix of SMEs and large multinational clients. We have also built up a really strong panel of talented specialists around the world that we work with as needed in different areas.

What piece of advice would you give someone starting a business?
Surround yourself with the right people. Get advice and support from an objective mentor. Keep learning – allocate time each week to increase your knowledge in your relevant area. Look after your health and wellbeing. If you are not healthy, there will be no business.

Who do you admire most in business and why?
I admire many people for different reasons so it would be difficult to pick one person but they would include Patricia Scanlan of Soapbox Labs, Ciara Clancy of Beats Medical, Arianna Huffington of Thrive Global, Nora Khaldi of Nuritas and Pamela Spence of EY. They all possess drive, focus, work ethic and knowledge that I greatly admire.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment?
A healthy cash-flow is critical to the success of an SME and is a constant challenge to be managed. Further Government support for access to funding whether that is delivered through grants or improved tax incentives would be beneficial. The cost of living in Dublin has become very expensive which also drives staff costs up. Support with employee costs or policies to reduce the cost of living would be beneficial to SMEs.

In your experience are banks lending to SMEs?
We run a lean operation and are self-financed so have not had a requirement for bank lending. From speaking to others, my understanding is that there is limited bank lending available to SMEs and it can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. Thankfully, there are more alternative options available now such as peer -to-peer lending platforms that can help with access to funds.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in business?
Trying to do too much. In the early stages of our business, we said "Yes" to every opportunity that came our way, which was great for getting the business off the ground. As we have grown, we have become more focused and targeted which has proven to be a more effective use of our time and energy.

What makes it all worthwhile?
The success of a client, the happy customer, the project delivered, our plans being realised. Those moments keep you excited and energised.

What's your business worth and would you sell it?
I love owning and running my own business so I haven't considered its worth as there is no plans to sell it. Being self-employed is a rollercoaster but it's my rollercoaster and nothing feels better.