Phenomenal Woman: Digital Strategist and Co-Founder of Senteo – Zeenat Mahomed

Zeenat Mahomed is the co-founder of a Small Business Digital agency called Senteo.

I met Zeenat earlier this year. We were introduced by a mutual business colleague, a web developer working on my website, who is now also a partner in Zeenat’s agency. She has been my saviour and is someone I share all my business ideas with, and has helped position my brand exactly where I want it to be in the digital sphere. I think I’ve introduced her to everyone I know, and I’d like to now introduce her to my wider audience through this feature. She’s amazing at what she does, understands the digital space, and she has great ideas. Did I mention she is amazing?

1. Please can you give us a brief background of who is Zeenat Mahomed. Your family, your education and background?

I’m truly blessed in the family area. I’m the youngest of three kids. My parents are entrepreneurs. Over the years, they’ve had many successful business ventures. They’ve also always encouraged us to pursue our own paths and to work for ourselves. They believe that our gene pool doesn’t allow for us to work for others and they’ve been correct in this summation.

My sister is an advocate at the Cape Bar. She chose this route as she felt it’s the best way in her field to be her own boss. My brother is an actuary in the UK. He worked for KPMG for many years and is now a consultant for his own company.

Unlike my siblings, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life until after school. I was good with numbers and so I was encouraged to study accounting or investment management but both of these bored me to tears. I always felt I had a creative side to explore and my brother encouraged me to look into marketing as it had both creative and analytical elements to it.

I studied at BCOM Marketing at the University of Johannesburg and immediately after I graduated, I moved to London on my sister’s recommendation. There I got to work for companies like Burberry and British Sky Broadcasting and spent my free time travelling through Europe.

Whilst working, I completed an Honours degree in marketing through UNISA. I eventually went on to do a Master’s degree in strategic marketing at the University of the Arts in London.

When digital marketing became a reality, I traversed that arena at an early stage. I had previously worked in many facets of marketing, and the digital space felt like a good fit for me. When I moved back to South Africa, I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay here so I chose to freelance instead of commit to a full-time job. My freelance work started whilst I was still studying for my masters degree so I just continued on that path and never looked back. I’m a digital strategist by name but I do much more than that.

Whilst working with the bigger agencies, I was fortunate enough to meet three people with the same work ethic as me and who had similar goals to me. The four of us decided to band together to offer a more comprehensive digital package to smaller clients.

2. You have started your own digital marketing agency – tell me what this agency does and what is the offer?

We offer a comprehensive list of digital services including strategy, branding, creative direction, design, development, social media management, digital advertising, content writing, copywriting, editing, photography, videography, PR, events and much more.

We pretty much adapt to what our clients need. We are honest about what we can do and are upfront about our limitations.

3. How and why did you start the business? And what is unique about this agency versus other agencies?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many big brands such as Standard Bank, VS Gaming, Mondelez, Audi, Comedy Central, and others over the years, as well as agencies such as The Project and Wunderman. As a strategist, most of my work is results-focused, and sadly when it’s executed, it’s not always implemented the way I recommend and so it might not work the way I initially planned it. But I manage to turn around those challenges because I expect them. I never take anything I do for granted.

In the last year, I was approached by a few small businesses who needed help with their digital strategies so I decided to expand in to that space. What I found was that these business owners were more willing to listen to my suggestions and they also wanted me to implement them. This allowed me to execute my strategy and get actually get the results. Mosidi was one of these clients and she encouraged me to specialise in this area.

This is when I called on my three current partners and we decided to specialise in providing digital solutions for smaller businesses.

We work with people who have the same work ethics as we do. We do not overcharge or overreach our clients. If something takes 20 minutes, we bill for 20 minutes. We are results-driven. We want our clients’ businesses to grow; not just with awareness but with actual revenue. We also do this in a beautifully creative way but we do not let the creativity overshadow what’s truly important – producing measurable results.

4. Zeenat a lot of entrepreneurs are scared to use agencies siting the costs etc. – and not a lot of agencies focus on small businesses – why should small businesses consider using an agency just like yours?

It’s the simple case of “spending money to make money”. We aren’t as expensive as bigger agencies but even for small businesses, investing in digital marketing is a costly exercise based on their relatively small budgets.

What we do is we work closely with small businesses to determine their needs and we then we break it down. We then slowly implement our digital strategies to allow the business to grow, and as they grow, we expand our efforts and implement a bit more. It’s a gradual process. We don’t rush it. Rather, we take our time to grow the business and we account for the owners’ budgets. As they make more money, they have more money to spend.

5. You have taught me a lot about social media and how one can you use the various platforms – what are some of the mistakes people are making when they are doing their own thing?

There are so many rookie mistakes. The most common are:
• Bad graphics, photography and videos.
• No direction – putting up random content in a haphazard way
• No consistency
• Incorrect targeting
• Lack of digital understanding
• Focusing on the wrong platforms
• Not spending money
• Not results-focused

6. What have been some of your own highlights and challenges of being an entrepreneur in agency land with – agencies are male dominated environments and very few women are playing in this sector – so how did you overcome that?

My parents always made me believe I can do whatever it is I want. I was never made to believe that as a woman, I had limitations. So when challenges like that rear their heads, I stick to the mindset I was brought up with. I have a very strong personality and I am extremely straightforward (probably a bit too straightforward sometimes), so I’ve always been able to speak up and assert my voice. Because of that, I’ve haven’t had issues with any kind of domination I wasn’t able to overcome. Sometimes my honesty alienates people but most of the time, it works in my favour. But people also judge me on my work ethic and the quality of work produced, so if you have the results to show for it, getting over those hurdles becomes easier.

My personal challenges has always been trying to navigate what it is I want to do for a living. I’ve gained a lot of experience over the years by trying different things and working with different companies but it took a while to figure out what direction to focus on and how to grow in that space. Until recently, my work has been more of the same. It’s never been boring because every project is new and exciting and there’s always something to learn but it wasn’t going further than just being a senior digital strategist. This new space I’ve entered is risky and “dangerous” but I feel that the rewards will be worth it. I want to see small businesses grow and succeed. I want to be part of making that happen.

7. You have worked abroad – what are some of the insights you have seen from other entrepreneurs and how they succeed?

I’ve worked in London and the UAE and what I’ve learned is that in these countries, agencies and brands alike aren’t afraid to take risks in the digital space. They grab onto the latest digital trends and they try new things all the time. In South Africa, it’s all about playing it safe. We’re actually very behind here. It’s also about achieving proper results. What so many people seem to not understand is that you may have an incredible creative campaign but if it doesn’t achieve proper results, it’s not a good campaign. It’s not about winning awards for creativity. It should be about understanding clients’ needs and achieving it.

8. What advice can you give someone who is looking for a digital agency and what costs should they be looking at?

Start with a strategy: a proper digital strategy to guide your efforts is imperative. With regards to costs: I would say a minimum of R10 000.00 and upwards is required.

9. How can people get hold of you?

We are currently in the process of setting up our own website and digital footprint. We’ve been so busy with helping other clients, that we haven’t had time to sort out our own brand yet. You can contact me via email though:

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