As little as five years ago, working as a social media consultant wasn’t really a career option. It certainly isn’t a role that Newtownabbey-based business owner Louise Brogan, from Social Bee NI, thought she would have when she began her career.
However, having graduated with a geography degree, later trained in IT and then worked in the health service for 10 years, one could say Brogan’s working life has been somewhat unconventional.
'My current career has really stemmed from a very traditional IT job,' she says. 'But doing IT and going into the health service isn’t quite the norm …'
Brogan launched Social Bee NI back in 2013, initially providing businesses with social media management services. She now has four revenue streams, including the newly launched Social Bee Academy, an online membership portal which teaches entrepreneurs about digital marketing. She also delivers digital marketing workshops in person, performs consultancy/one-to-one work and continues to provide social media management for various clients.
'I’ve trained everyone from barristers, to councils, NICVA and more,' she says. 'I also have the Social Bee Podcast, where I interview entrepreneurs, and the Social Beehive Facebook group for small business owners.'
While she may now be something of a digital guru – her podcast recently featured in The Guardian’s Podcasts of the Week article – Brogan is always learning and seeking out the next challenge. Indeed, it is an attribute those wanting to work in the sector should have, she advises.
'I invest in my own training all the time,' she says. 'In the last six months I’ve joined two online memberships, which keeps me accountable.
'There’s so much to learn and I’m always learning and investing in that. You can go along to local workshops but they will only ever take you so far. Unless you’re learning constantly you’ll forget things. That’s why I set up the academy – because I feel there’s so much to teach other people all the time. It’s always changing.'
While the assumption might be that a digital marketing career requires formal marketing qualifications, Brogan’s story is evidence that this is not the case. Indeed, after graduating, she travelled until she was 25, then took a position at an IT help desk job in London.
An MA in Computing and Information Systems at Ulster University followed, before Brogan secured a job as an IT programmer at BT, where she spent two-and-a half years. She then spent a year in Australia, returning to Northern Ireland to get married and to look for another IT job.
'I wanted to do something which made a difference,' says Brogan. 'That’s why I chose the health service. I applied for an IT project officer position with the Northern Trust. As part of that I was teaching health service professionals how to use software and was responsible for rolling out software programmes.
'I did that for 10 years so when I now meet clients and do workshops, people really like my style as I can tailor my teaching to all sorts of audiences.'
It was during maternity leave from the Trust that Brogan made her first foray online, launching an eBay shop for craft supplies back in 2005. This grew into a website and in 2010, a bricks and mortar store.
'The idea of making money online appealed to me. I knew I wanted to have my own business and I learned so much from the shop, where I worked alongside my part-time job at the Trust.'
A business development officer then suggested that as Brogan knew what she was doing online, she could help other businesses with their digital marketing.
'That was when I started Social Bee NI,' she notes. 'I closed the shop and started helping people on Facebook to market their business. That was five years ago. I did that for two years while still at the health service and built up Social Bee NI in the evenings, to a point where I saved enough money to leave the Trust.
'I went to networking events at the council to get clients, met people through word-of-mouth and got work as a mentor through the council. There weren’t as many people around at the time who were helping businesses with Facebook and my services focused solely on social media assistance for quite a while.'
With her IT interest and passion for learning, however, Brogan has diversified her business in the past year, creating online courses, the podcast and now also the academy.
'All the skills I picked up through my jobs have led to the creation of the academy,' she says. 'I love to get into the nitty gritty of how everything works technically and enjoy setting up webinars and programmes. That’s where I think I’m a bit unique. People who come up through the traditional marketing routes don’t necessarily have the technical skills you need in online marketing.
'Creating the academy is all very technical, but the sales funnel for it is marketing. Thankfully I’m comfortable in both these areas!'
This article has been published ahead of Creativity Month 2018, themed around 'careers in the creative industries'. Follow Creativity NI on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming news on this year's event programme celebrating the creative industries in Northern Ireland all throughout March. For more features from previous years click here.
For more information on Louise Brogan's services visit https://socialbeeni.com.