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Interview with Vicki Jakes, Online Marketing and Website Optimisation Consultant at Hey Vicki Jakes
Vicki is one of my biggest success stories as an executive coach.
We met in 2018 - she'd just left her board-level role at a leading digital marketing agency and had approached me to help navigate her new business venture, Hey Vicki Jakes. Less than a couple of years on Vicki has a thriving business with a paid membership of over 160 people and helps in excess of 500 people a month with her Supercharge Your Website Challenge!
Vicki, tell us a bit more about your journey. What did life look like in the run up to starting your own business, Hey Vicki Jakes?
I spent several years making websites in my spare time at home. It was all I did in the evenings and I would use my new skills to get in with the bands I went to see.
"Hey you guys are great - do you need a new website?"
A few years later I was able to work for an agency who made websites for big companies and work with some of the smartest developers I've ever met. They were all very kind to share knowledge and expertise with me in exchange for my skills in stopping the agency interrupting them all the time and not having to talk to clients. I developed a real respect for how developers work and how to craft websites that had a purpose and actually worked.
I later worked for a healthcare agency and worked my way up to the board, despite not really being an expert in healthcare! I loved working there and was relied upon to pick up the slack when projects got behind and educate clients on exactly what they needed (not necessarily wanted) and grow and train the team to approach website builds in a way that stopped burnout and frustration.
My interest in helping to deliver friction-free development projects led me to become a "SCRUM master", who is like the cox of a rowing team, working in the middle to drive work on an agreed set of features, protecting the project from interruption during 2 week "sprints".
I would have pursued this but had babies and wanted a slower pace of life, so this is what led me to start working on my own.
I missed working with small business during my time at agencies, so decided to commit to working with non-corporate clients and see if I could bring that agency-level thinking to the work we did together on their websites.
What a journey! Let's go back a little further, what sparked your interest in websites in the first place?
I had always been around computers since a young age, playing around and reading the manuals, collecting magazines with disk and then CD-ROMs but I actually wanted to work in the film industry, but I couldn't get a paid job. You had to volunteer your time as a "runner" making tea and serving lunches (all unpaid) and that wasn't really appealing!
I had no idea I wanted to build websites until I saw a home learning course advertised on daytime TV that would teach you how to do it. It was really expensive at the time (20 years ago) but you would get a BTEC qualification too and so decided on a whim to pursue it.
Gender diversity at board-level is still lagging, despite the industry being much more gender-balanced than others. What's your experience been?
Despite being a board member at the healthcare agency, I still had trouble being taken seriously in meetings. I also encountered elitism from developers that I worked with for the first time, who assumed I didn't know anything about the tech because I was "just" a project manager. I was able to have conversations with them about their approach to architecting a project and I always felt I had to "prove" my knowledge first - it wasn't implicit.
Clients did the same thing... one client had been fairly dismissive of me in a group meeting until I was introduced as the "director". They had all just assumed I wasn't senior, which I feel may have been to do with my age, or my gender.
Ouch - what advice would you give to employers to stop others experiencing what you have, and to encourage more gender diversity?
Having some sort of "starter" program for developers where they can join and learn on the job is a great way to encourage more diversity in roles because you're able to supply the training and supportive environment to grow. I've seen some great female developers come out of such programs.
The world has changed a lot since I started working on website 20 years ago and I see better inclusion but you still have to stop, look around and think "could we do better"? Don't accept what you see, thinking you can't change it as an employer because you can!
Talking about advice, if you could give your younger-self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don't work so hard to prove yourself. You always knew enough, be confident in that knowledge. I'd then give her a big hug as she probably needed it.
And finally, what do you get up to when you're not running your own business?
I love my two daughters more than anything and you can often find me playing LOL Surprise dolls with them or helping them serve up lunch from their garden playhouse "kitchen". They keep everything real and I love them for that.
For International Women's Day 2021, we're celebrating those in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. You can read our other interviews here.