How I’ve grown my business: Rebecca Fitzgerald, founder of StrawberrySocial

StrawberrySocial founder Rebecca Fitzgerald defines what business success is for her and the challenges she faces with staffing

Rebecca Fitzgerald and the team at StrawberrySocial have over 60 years’ worth of social media management experience between them.

With classic dot pop art style branding, StrawberrySocial helps businesses and charities to reduce risks in their social and online campaigns.

Before she set up the company, Rebecca was the director at a large social media agency, having also managed projects for Heathrow, Sony Mobile, Royal Mail Careers, EE and HSBC. She’s even had a couple of roles in Australia and New Zealand. 

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I’ve been working in social around 15 years. At the last company I worked at, I spent nine years honing my social media skills and online management knowledge. I also built up and supervised processes and procedural strategies. It was being made redundant from that job that gave me the opportunity – and the push – to go out on my own.

I’ve always wanted to go into business for myself and I actually have ideas for a few different businesses. I chose to start StrawberrySocial because it was what I knew at the time and I understood how to make it a successful venture. This way I could learn how to run my own business from the ground up in an area that I was very familiar with. Overall I’d say that redundancy can be an opportunity rather than a threat.

What experience do you have in your sector? 

Before I started StrawberrySocial I managed large remote teams, moderating the social media presence for global clients such as Sony, BBC Worldwide and Nokia, to name a few. I advised on and managed their online presence across various platforms, and in different languages.

I also have experience working in other media such as events planning and running conferences as well as in training and media production. In fact, many of the contacts I’ve made in the past I’m proud to say have joined me on my journey.

Do you consider your business to be a disruptor? What’s your company’s USP (unique selling proposition)?

I really don’t like the term ‘disruptor’. I believe buzzwords are an excuse to use a lot of words that say very little of actual importance. But if pushed, I would say that our business becomes a disruptor when we are asked to go into our client’s house and disrupt the status quo. For example, a client may present us with a great new campaign proposal. Our job is to point out all the possible issues, challenges and crises that could occur if they are not properly prepared ahead of that campaign’s release.

We count on the fact that flame wars, trolls and general negativity will be a natural part of any online campaign. At StrawberrySocial, it’s our job to help define the potential issues, who they are, what they’ll do, and how to implement policies and processes to handle them successfully and with minimal stress to the brand.

We deal in a sort of ‘insurance’, really. Crisis is something that many companies don’t believe will happen to them, and when it does, they come to us.

Much of what we offer is security – or at least what it involves to be as secure as possible online. We take into consideration that a problem will arise, so we build out a plan to tackle it beforehand. You may not like the idea of paying for this ‘insurance’ every month, but boy are you happy when the crisis hits!

What part does technology play in your business?

Without technology, our business wouldn’t work. It’s all about tech at StrawberrySocial. We manage the online social spaces for our clients which are all online platforms and websites.

When it comes to running the business, we use online tools to ensure each team member has equal, round the clock access to stay informed on both company and project updates. As everyone works in their own time zones and on their own schedules, everything from our scheduling programme, to project management, to administrative updates are accessible via laptops and computers.

In fact, this very interview was conducted by our content lead who lives in California. She interviewed me using Skype.

What funding did you have to start the business and where did it come from?

I used a portion of my redundancy money to start the business, along with a Government Enterprise Fund. I recommend this for anybody looking for a bit more capital to start their business. I was able to pay it off in two or three years, and the delivery partner (Transmit Startups) helped build the business plan as well.

In reality, it takes about £20,000 to start your services business and much of this is to pay yourself while you keep building the business and until clients start coming in.

As the business has grown, what major challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Cashflow is always a challenge, whatever your business. Even if you have lovely clients, getting those invoices paid on time, ensuring your team is paid and even having enough funding to bring in more business is a constant pressure.

Staffing presents its own challenges as well. We work with experienced freelancers (many of whom have been in the industry almost 15 years), but because of the nature of the business it can be difficult to keep people motivated. Campaigns and brand crises will arise, and then will end. Then you’re left with a very talented team struggling for consistent work.

Just believing in yourself is a challenge. You have to hold your nerve during tough times, although it also part of the excitement!

Have you turned to external finance to grow? If so, what type – debt or equity?

Over the last couple of years we’ve worked with ESME Loans, a digital lending platformfor small to medium-sized businesses, owned and backed by NatWest. This has been helpful when trying to grow the business and move to the next step.

What would you say to any other business owners mulling whether to bring in outside investors?

I’ve turned to government schemes and business loan companies so I can’t really comment. What I can say is no matter your business, you should plan what you’re going to do with your money very carefully.

How do you measure success for yourself, your investors, your team and your customers?

The first measure is always being able to pay our bills!

Practically speaking, being able to make a living doing something you enjoy with the freedom and flexibility to work to your own timetable and be financially stable doing this is a big ‘up’.

Creatively speaking, I count receiving excellent feedback from our clients as a clear marker of success. I’m especially proud of the work we do with our charity clients and they’ve been generous enough to help us put together several case studies. One of them says that having the back-up our team provides has allowed their own team to keep their mental health in check which is both rewarding and humbling.

Many new clients have come from recommendations shared by our current and past clients. They tell others how good we are, and that’s a great measure of success.

What business (or personal) tip would you give to other entrepreneurs hoping to grow their businesses?

First: always have a Plan B. Second: network, network, network.

Who has most influenced your working life?

My family is my core strength and influence. They have always instilled confidence in me to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to.

I‘ve had the chance to watch what other leaders have done with their businesses and this has affected how I run my own business. I quickly realised what I didn’t want to be as well as what I did. Having the opportunities to observe and learn from others has been enlightening.

How do you relax outside of work?

I love to read and I love my books. I read three books a week. Usually I’ll have a learning or inspirational book, an autobiography and a horror or crime novel all going at the same time.

I highly recommend The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins as one of my favourite inspirational books. I also like to read about other ways to improve, such as nutrition, exercise and health. It doesn’t have to be specifically about business or self-improvement, it’s more about expanding my knowledge and learning things that I can apply to my daily life.

I watch a lot of film and I love TV – Netflix, specifically – too. It’s a form of escapism for me. Oh, and I love to run (well, it’s more of a shuffle).

Rebecca Fitzgerald is MD and founder of StrawberrySocial and a member of the Growth Business Venturers Club. To find out more about becoming a venturer, see here

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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