Saija Mahon talks to Workingmums.co.uk about her company's award-winning practices and about running a flexible, global SME.
Mahon Digital Marketing has staff working in three different countries – the UK, Finland and Thailand – and flexibility is the key to its success. As a small company with only eight staff, several of whom work remotely, its flexible structure means it can take advantage of international time zones and grow the business on a faster scale than more conventional organisations.
It is that strong business case and the international marketplace in which it operates that has won it this year's Workingmums Top Employer Award for SMEs with under 26 employees.
Mahon Digital Marketing started just over three years ago while its founder Saija Mahon was on maternity leave.
Saija had decided that she wanted a different way of working from the long-hours culture she had before at a media agency in London and had seen how her father, who ran his own business in Finland, had had the flexibility to work round his family life.
She built the business up organically, fitting it around her daughter's sleep patterns and often working into the night in order not to compromise family time.
She gradually built up a UK team of staff who all worked remotely. In the last year or so, however, the company has grown substantially, which has brought new challenges.
Saija has opened an office in Ware near her home and her daughter’s nursery.
She also launched an office in Finland last year where she saw tremendous potential for the digital marketing skills her company offers. She used a different format to the one that applied in the UK as remote working is not common in Finland.
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In the UK there are four members of staff. Two are office-based, including Saija, and two work remotely, one of whom is a parent. The remote workers visit the office a couple of times a month for client meetings and a catch-up. Saija sends suggestions for when to come, but says it is a flexible arrangement.
There is also one member of staff based in Thailand where Saija is trying to register Mahon. He used to work in the UK, but moved because his wife is Thai. Saija says the arrangement works well for both parties as she gets to retain a valued member of staff and he gets to keep his job in a country where he might find it difficult to find a new job in digital marketing.
Saija says she plans rigorously to make it all work and uses technology such as Skype to keep in regular contact. “Excel is my best friend,” she states. At the end of the month staff tell Saija what tasks have been completed and if there are any concerns that they need help with. The only challenge she has faced is over the transition of the staff member to Thailand. She has had to take on some of his meetings as many of his clients are UK-based and it is important to maintain a physical relationship with clients. At the same time her workload has increased as the business is growing. She says this is a temporary growth issue and is hoping to take on a new office-based person soon.
Saija plans to expand to France and Sweden in the future and the company’s French website has just gone live. She says getting the right staff in place is crucial to expansion and, to do this, she goes through her contacts. “It is important to me that there is trust. I have trained some members of staff from scratch,” she says, “but you cannot teach a good attitude and a willingness to learn.”
*A more extensive version of this profile and profiles on other Top Employer Awards winners will be published in Workingmums.co.uk's Best Practice Report in the Spring.