Photo by Desfura
Shelby Van Zwol started Chain Social five years ago in Mornington. As the founder and director of her own digital marketing company, the 28-year-old is now the mother of baby girl Aspen and leads a successful all-female team. Kate Sears speaks to Shelby about her journey and her tips for inspiring entrepreneurs.
How have the last five years been for you at Chain Social?
In the beginning – well, perhaps the first two years – it was really hard. Digital marketing wasn’t as popular back then, or perhaps not as readily adopted by businesses. On top of this, I had to convince a business to invest in the digital space in the hands of a 23-year-old female digital marketer from a rural town. To this day, a lot of the larger digital agencies are owned and run by men, so it was a little taboo. I’ve also learnt how important it is to be a good leader. I have the best team but truly they are all such hardworking, smart and tenacious women. Digital marketing is ever-evolving, and so are we. Our services have expanded since I started the business. I think a lot of people see where Chain Social is now, which is on track to be an eight-figure business, but they don’t see the last five years where I gave up my social life completely, or where my husband had to work overtime/extra hours to help us stay afloat. Start-up life was hard. We put every single cent back into the business and still to this day reinvest the majority of the business into new team members, training, work perks like holidays and designer gifts for our team.
Was this what you thought you’d do after school?
I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. When I finished Year 12, I enrolled into marketing and communications at university to have some sort of qualification. I wanted to drop out, but I kept at my course, graduated and then worked immediately full time in my parents’ business doing marketing. This is where I found digital and how transformative it was.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs planning to follow a similar career path?
Firstly, be prepared to work for free for at least two years – no salary, no income, lots of overtime – but know that you’re building an asset which should provide you with an abundance of both financial and personal gain in the very near future. Secondly, know your worth and stand your ground. When I started, I was so intimidated by people that were older than me. I would go into my shell and become submissive. Now I challenge everything where necessary. Thirdly, do as much work experience, interning, helping out friends as possible in your industry before taking the leap. You’ll thank yourself so much later. Lastly, find a mentor. For me it was my mum. She was an entrepreneur herself and taught me a lot of my business acumen. I don’t think Chain Social would be as successful without her input and financial guidance in the early days.