Saija Mahon, Digital Marketing Entrepreneur: Why I’m Refusing Investment Offers

Originally from Finland, Scandinavia, Saija Mahon is the Founder and Director of Mahon Digital, a company specialising in digital and search marketing services for businesses.

Saija launched Mahon Digital in London and has recently expanded to open a second office in Finland. She now has a team of 8 people and serves clients spanning the US, UK, Europe, Scandinavia and Australia.

After graduating from a marketing and advertising institute 11 years ago, Saija found a lack of marketing opportunities in her native Finland. She moved to London, where she spent four years working as a Search Engine Marketing Manager for renowned media agencies Walker Media and Profero, handling global clients such as Air New Zealand, Fedex and Western Union.

In 2010, Saija used the experience gained in these roles to go it alone and set up Mahon Digital. Specialising in search engine marketing, social media and online search optimisation, the company helps clients to achieve their sales targets by creating, planning and executing complex digital strategies.

After three years, Mahon Digital has expanded from one office in London to a second location in Finland and handles clients such as M&S Personalised and Paypoint.net. 

We spoke to Saija about the startup scene in Finland; her online marketing tips for entrepreneurs; and why she’s been turning down funding offers!

TNW: What lessons did you learn from the London corporate marketing world, in terms of what you wanted from your own business? Which aspects of corporate culture did you seek to emulate, and which could you not wait to do differently?

SM: Working in the busy and hectic corporate world of London provided me with an opportunity to learn and be exposed to public speaking, presenting in front of a boardroom full of decision makers, and evolve myself to know the entire process of pitching to a potential client, contributing to the presentations and actually delivering them, and of course the hands on work that followed. This enabled me to grasp all-round knowledge of what processes are needed, in order to win clients.

The only thing that I wanted to do differently when I started my own business, and that I’m still true to, is to be extremely organised. At times I felt that in a corporate environment, especially as companies can grow fast, matters might get out of hand very quickly and easily, if each person was not on top of their responsibilities.

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

SM: The biggest challenge so far has been the desire to stay independent and possess 100% control of my companies (now in the UK and Finland, separate companies). We’ve had several investor offers, which of course have been tempting due the access to funding that they offer, however I’ve decided not to open up to this just yet, as I wish to have 100% ownership myself at this moment.

Never say never, but for the time being, I believe I’ve managed to grow the companies successfully independently. 

Sometimes, the extra cash flow would be beneficial and would probably have saved a couple of stressful days, but I’ve kept to my decision.

TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

SM: Yes, there have been several highlights, but the main mile stones have so far been launching Mahon Digital Finland and moving into new office space in the UK! 

TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them? Who are your customers and partners now?

Some of our first clients are companies that we still work with today, which is lovely! They’ve been with us since the beginning of times, and we’ve watched each other’s businesses grow. Our client base has several companies ranging from small to large, however to mention a few, we handle Paypoint.net and M&S Personalised in the UK.

In terms of attracting clients, I’ve never found it hard for some reason, I know I’ve worked hard for them all, and the entire team has; however I believe that we have such a strong product and skillset to offer to our clients that it speaks for itself.

Many of our clients have come on board through recommendation, as we’ve produced some excellent results to other businesses.

TNW: Tell us about the decision to open a second office in Finland. Why did you choose your native Finland for the new office? What were the main challenges with the expansion?

SM: I decided to open an office in my home country Finland, as I wanted to use my market knowledge and language skills in the business world. Also, a physical presence in Finland would allow us to expand to the Scandinavian market, which is still fairly unsaturated, compared to the UK for example. This is also my way of contributing to the economy of Finland, a very important matter close to my heart. Finland has become the ‘home away from home’ to me in the past 10 years, and this was a good way to establish a regular link to my home. I chose to open office in my home city for this reason as well.

TNW: Tell us a little about the startup scene in Finland. What kinds of businesses are emerging? How is the startup scene and business culture different than in the UK?

SM: Finland is a great place to open up a start-up! There are lots of technology and gaming companies that are emerging. Finland as a country is highly focused on technology and driving world class tech products (Nokia, Angry birds and so on).

I’m still learning the businesses scene in Finland myself – however it does seem that the pace is very different to what I’m used to in the UK (especially London).

I am used to a very hectic pace and juggling several things simultaneously, however launching Finland has been a pleasant, slightly easier ‘ride’ if I can say so! As the market is not so competitive (yet), as the UK, it’s not always as aggressive dealing with various business matters, as it can be over here in the UK I’ve found.

TNW: Briefly describe your history in raising investment for your company.

SM: The companies have always funded themselves and grown organically.

TNW: Online marketing can be intimidating to entrepreneurs who are attempting to get to grips with it. What advice would you give to an entrepreneur with limited time and budget who is looking to create an online marketing strategy?

SM: I would advise to anyone not familiar with online marketing and the complex techniques of it, to contact a suitable online marketing consultant to help them to start with.

I’ve consulted many entrepreneurs during my career, and have found that I could have saved these people so much time and effort (and money!) if they would have come to me earlier.

We at Mahon Digital try to be as flexible as we can about consulting,not tying clients up for long contracts and minimum payments of service, which is most likely one reason why start-ups may feel intimidated to contact a marketing agency. We are there to help to get your business off the ground, not to tie you in to liabilities.

TNW: Do you have any role models, mentors, or mottoes?

SM: My motto is: ‘Grow a pair’.

I’ve come to notice that, as the media world can be heavily male dominated (or business world in general), us women need to stand up for ourselves that little bit more and ensure we are taken seriously from the word go. It is unfortunate that this still on occasion happens, however the motto I have, has made me stronger, more aggressive (in the boardroom if needed!) and more confident as a director.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?

SM: I hope to inspire as many entrepreneurs as possible to bring their dreams to life and not be afraid to do so. We have too much gloom and doom in the news these days about recession and bad economic times.

Let’s change this together and make recession a thing of the past! Positive thinking conquers all.

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