Interview: Gemma Went – Cutting through the noise.

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Dedicated to ensuring businesses get the best digital marketing advice, consultant Gemma Went is turning her attention squarely to the needs of SMEs

This is one of a series of interviews leading up to Like Minds, Bristol – powered by Barclays  which takes place on September 8th & 9th. You can learn more about the event and book tickets here.

In the science of acoustics, the key to targeting sound is to think small: using small wavelengths such as high-frequency ultrasound focused in a narrow beam like light to, literally, cut through surrounding noise.

It is a principle that digital marketing and online business consultant Gemma Went seems to practise instinctively in order to slice through the clamour that has accompanied the digital revolution.

In recent years Went – whose industry experience spans big brands, corporates and agencies as well as SMEs in such areas as entertainment, music, events, beauty, fashion and design – has increasingly been lured to the cause of small businesses.

“It started as digital marketing but has moved to more of an online business coaching role,” she explains. “I would start to work with them on social media and once I told them they had to have a business plan and understand what they are trying to achieve, I found that many didn’t.

“We ended up backstepping a few paces and actually looking at their business strategy and how that runs online. So I have broadened what I do to mentor and coach smaller businesses into how to build and grow a successful business online. I really love doing it – I get an absolute kick out of helping them.”

Went brings with her huge experience – marketing for 15 years and specialising in digital for over 10 – and is keenly aware of the need many SMEs have for the right advice.

“There are a lot of voices on the internet claiming to be experts in the digital world, and they are not. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and small businesses don’t know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong.

“I try to make it easier for people to understand what’s right and what’s wrong by cutting through the noise and giving them solid advice based on real experience.”

Much of Went’s mentoring work is now conducted through Facebook, where late last year she created the Simply Smart Online Business group, which has grown rapidly into a vibrant community.

“I have been watching Facebook for a while and I’m a huge fan of it, but I spotted a real trend about a year ago of entrepreneurs starting to use the group function,” she recounts.

“When I was looking to build that side of my business where I am coaching and working with smaller businesses, it just felt like Facebook groups were a really good way to go. My aim with Simply Smart Online Business was to create a place where entrepreneurs and small businesses could get to know me and get some free advice.

“It’s going great guns and is really active. We have got about 730 people in there now and we have built an amazing community of people discussing online business, social media and digital marketing. It’s not just me helping – they all help each other.”

The attraction of Facebook from a small business perspective, she believes, is that it can “show the real person” and enhance trust.

“At the end of the day people do business with people, whatever the size of a business. For most people running a small business, they are the face of it, it’s their personality, their core values, everything that they stand for, their baby. On Facebook, you get more access to that so you can actually see the person behind the business – you get to see the real person.”

Another key aspect of Went’s work is her Simply Smart Business Mastermind, a mentor group for small businesses that, under her supervision, work together and support each other to reach their goals over a six-month period.

Her current group comprises six women entrepreneurs who receive coaching from her, but also from each other. They engage through a private Facebook forum where they can chat daily, ask questions and get support. Members also undertake monthly one-to-one business coaching sessions with Went through Skype.

In August she plans to launch a far more ambitious initiative, the Simply Smart Business Academy, an online membership academy training small business in every area required to start up and grow an online business – from software and finance tools to copywriting, social media strategy, scaling up, and outsourcing.

The academy is not only evidence of Went’s burning desire to coach and mentor SMEs, but also of her keen understanding that psychological barriers can obstruct the digital progress made by entrepreneurs.

“A lot of success in this area comes down to self-belief and confidence. My role is help to bring those to the surface – and then talk it through.”

To hear more on this from our stellar line up of speakers, come and join us at the Like Minds, Bristol, “Innovation & Ideas Festival” – powered by Barclays on September 8th & 9th. Read more and book tickets here.

About the author

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Gavin O'Toole is Consultant, Head of Research at Onyx and a journalist, author and copywriter with a specialism in finance and business.