Belfast Telegraph

Two women well versed in the business of success

Digital expert Naomh McElhatton and transport boss Jennifer McKeever talk to Lisa Smyth about achieving their ambitions and always looking ahead

Naomh McElhatton has a clear vision of where she wants to be in five years time
Naomh McElhatton has a clear vision of where she wants to be in five years time

Building your brand in the digital space is crucial when it comes to making a success of a business, according to Naomh McElhatton.

However, it is not just as simple as posting a few photographs on Facebook a couple of times a week, which is why she set up Smart NI.

The company, based in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, offers a number of different core services - it hosts events to educate, innovate and inspire digital transformation, offers bespoke marketing consultancy and management options, and provides digital transformation training and digital marketing management.

"Smart NI came about as a result of various conversations with different friends who were struggling with different areas of business," explained Naomh.

"I had one friend in particular whose business closed because he hadn't embraced the digital side of things. He had a fabulous product, but it comes down to how people consume the product and he couldn't compete.

"There is a total lack of education of everything that is available to drive business forward with digital innovation.

"Education is a very important part of what we do, trying to show people the importance of the benefits of the digital platform, whether that is a mobile device or artificial intelligence.

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"There is a massive fear factor out there. I am in my 30s and I have adapted to the digital age and live, eat and breathe it now, while my children have never known a world without social media. But for people in their 40s and 50s, they may not realise how important it is."

Naomh is as comfortable working with global brands such as Dior, Emirates and Marriott Hotels as she is with a local family-run business in nearby Carrickmore.

And she said an online presence is important regardless of the scale of the company.

She explained: "I have come across people in the past who have told me they don't need a website for their business.

"The fact is, if you aren't visible online you are potentially losing quite a substantial bit of business."

When it comes to the digital industry, Naomh (36) has extensive experience and her opinion counts.

She established the DANI awards, which have been celebrating the expertise, talent and achievements of the digital, tech and creative industries since 2010.

Naomh also set up House of Comms, which had an office in Dubai, building it into a successful PR and digital communications company before selling it in 2014 in order to return to Northern Ireland full time.

"I was working a week a month in Dubai but still living in Northern Ireland and I have two little girls," explained Naomh.

"I had to think long term and make a decision about what I was doing because the travelling wasn't suitable.

"I suppose when it came to setting up Smart NI, opportunities arose and I took them.

"Setting up a business this time has been a much more pleasurable experience, as I knew from experience what not to do.

"This has definitely been a much more efficient business, much more structured, there has been very organic growth and it is a very exciting time for us."

Naomh's expertise in the digital sector, as well as her experience building up a business from scratch, has been a vital part in the success of Smart NI.

But she said it is essential to learn from your mistakes and also be brave enough to take a step into the unknown.

"I think a lot of people want to do something but they believe it will never happen for them," she said, "but I believe that you won't know until you try.

"I generally have no regrets. Have I made mistakes? Yes, I have. Have I messed up at every level? Yes, I have.

"I lost everything a few years ago, everything was a complete disaster, I had to rebuild everything and you know what? I'm back, stronger, and I have learnt from my mistakes.

"The way I see it, if you don't learn from your mistakes, you're not going to go any further.

"It's also important to get out there and meet people and network, as well as be open to constructive criticism.

"When I started out in business, I knew what I wanted to do and no-one was going to tell me any different, but I have learnt to listen to people's advice and have realised the importance of focus.

"Having that attention to detail, if you have a plan in place, and follow that, you're not going to go far wrong."

Looking to the future, Naomh plans to build Smart NI into a highly successful brand.

"Ideally I would like to sell in three to five years and write a book," she said.

And despite the fact that she wants to move away from the digital industry, she remains passionate about the sector.

"I don't wake up in the morning and dread going to work," she explained.

"I wake up excited about what I am going to be doing.

"I couldn't imagine working for someone else now.

"Without a doubt I have always wanted to be my own boss - even when I was a child my mum said I wouldn't hold her hand, I wanted to do it myself.

"I would be bored doing a nine to five job. I know I am blessed to be where I am and I don't take it for granted."

Belfast Telegraph