Fi Bendall is CEO Bendalls, CEO Founder and Director of The Female Social Network, and a Non-Executive Director of Judo Capital, as well as Co-Founder of Genrossity. Fi is a global citizen having worked across three continents for over 24 years in the digital and technology sector. Her reputation as a global thought leader, innovator and ‘CEO’s secret weapon’ has been built on the platform of having successfully founded three businesses and amassed an enviable international client base.
Fi is a passionate advocate for women entrepreneurs. She writes about challenges faced by the rapidly growing cohort of women aged 35+ leaving corporates to become entrepreneurs. But this strategically savvy business woman has gone a step further. Recognising that women are the predominant consumer base, Fi created The Female Social Network to aggregate a powerful conglomerate of women’s business networks, whose combined reach is astonishing (and growing).
In 2017 Fi received three international Stevie Awards including Most Innovative International Woman of the Year, Silver International Female Entrepreneur of the Year and Silver International Maverick Woman of the Year. She was also named a 2015 Westpac/ Financial Review Top 100 Woman of Influence in Australia.
You Founded Bendalls digital strategy agency 11 years ago. As a pioneer and thought leader in the digital space, how has digital strategy evolved and what are the current and future trends you foresee?
I founded Bendalls 13 years ago now. The main shift in digital is ironically people! Australian’s have always been early adopters of technology and also they have one of the highest usages of social media in the world. However, business in Australia, has not been quick to catch on. They may talk innovation, but they hide behind the same mindset of next 6 months figures and shareholder value. However, now we are seeing a big shift in those same organisations. They feel under threat. Overseas businesses, ecommerce, small domestic businesses are all playing in the same playing field as the big boys. So Corporate Australia has to get a shimmy on and catch up.
The other big news, is that so many women are opting to start their own business rather than go back into the workforce. The advent of digital means they have a low-cost entry point and can literally trade as a global company from day one. This is hugely exciting, as there is no stopping them. As a community these female entrepreneurs all collaborate on social media and at networking events.
We are seeing the emergence of the micro-economy reaching scale and the power of small business driving innovation in a way large business just can’t compete, due to legacy systems and thinking. It is creating a whole different eco-system, where smaller businesses are winning out.
Why did you decide to create The Female Social Network (TFSN), a collective network of 25+ communities reaching over 8.5 million women and 660K female entrepreneurs, and what is its purpose?
TFSN was created on two fronts.
- Philanthropic, to champion Female Entrepreneurs, raise awareness and build a connections between the networking groups, collaboration and government. Drive positive agendas and look for better financial literacy and business acumen support.
- Commercially, I observed that on social media there are some amazing groups of women and networks, all collaborating and with highly engaged participatory audiences. However, I realised many were struggling to commercialise, and that media agencies couldn’t really get to whose who, and were randomly offering low money for sponsored posts. It really under valued the audience of these networks. So by aggregating a number of the networks, which are run professionally, we are able to deliver a huge audience which is also segmented, that enables brands to do business with TFSN as a collective and invest proper dollars into these networks.
Our secret is that we don’t offer sponsored posts, we offer brands an opportunity to invest $$ but also time in building participation and engagement with our females. This way any content created is done authentically and organically.
We have also spent a lot of time understanding the psychology and micro-nodes of connectivity in TFSN, so are able to understand how to get an engaged audience and flow of opinion streams out. While we have a big collective number, we actually often talk to few to get to many. It’s knowing who the right effective opinion leaders are who can get into the all the millions of micro-connections.
As a serial Founder of three businesses, what were your key takeaways from starting each one?
Each one was started with the birth of a child, which is a bit mad in hindsight! But adversity can and has driven me.
I think the biggest learning I have had, is you need to have guts and keep your nerves steady. It is hard work but if you don’t believe in yourself and shut that little nagging voice up (which we all have), you won’t be able to move past the challenges you will face
So, mindset is incredibly important.
The second part is cash-flow. You need to think cash flow and profits, not turnover. A focus on money more than marketing is very important and I often see other women, frightened of the money but great at the marketing. Cash-flow is king in business. Profit is sanity, Turnover is vanity.
Having a mentor. You are never too old or too late to keep receiving advice and guidance. Get an advisory board together. Ensure everyone knows their roles, from Chairman, to an introducer, to operations, etc.
Be generous, share, collaborate and build your posse to support you.
At Bendalls, you use a methodology called Emotional Data Solutions. What is this, and what makes it effective?
Since 1992, we have worked in the field of emotion and what behaviour types and characteristics does a person have to be effective at changing someone’s opinion. We have unique methodology that enables us to survey as well as observe who these people are. Effective Opinion Leaders (EOL’s): there are very few people with this personality type. Add to that the nature of digital, and if you know who is effective at changing opinion and let them loose online, you can create amazing results.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Being a single Mum working in her own business. Overcoming the fear and pushing forward to be there for the kids, but also be the sole income earner, with no back up at all, nor any child support being provided.
It has been exhausting at times, frustrating, and very hard to keep the balance. I found it harder with critical teenagers than young children. Also having the tenacity to keep going on, when you would rather hide under a doona when things get overwhelming.
I am now very much supported by a husband who works in the business, and a third child who is very supportive. So life changes and you move with the changes, but certainly my biggest challenges were doing it all as a single mum.
What are you most proud of?
I immediately want to say something personal! But on a business front, I am really proud of the team that works alongside me. I have some amazing young women, who are creative, dynamic, have a strong work ethic and really have created the culture of the business. I am overwhelmed by how great they are, and I am so proud of what they achieve and seek to achieve.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
You can do it. Don’t give up. Believe in yourself. Don’t question yourself, keep your eyes on the road ahead at all times.
Lastly – don’t be afraid to ask for support, mentors, introductions or advisory board members.