Learn to do it — There’s nothing that you can’t learn if you dedicate some time to it. While you need to be able to rely on key people in your organisation to be specialists in their field and run aspects of the business, as the General Manager, it’s important to grasp the key areas too so you can ask questions and support Managers within the team to improve their departments. I feel that the best Managers and leaders are those who aren’t afraid to learn just about anything.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Marchant, General Manager at digital marketing agency Exposure Ninja. Charlie runs the daily operations of the company and oversees the work of 100+ people, who all work remotely. Charlie is the co-author of “The Ultimate Guide To Content Marketing & Digital PR” and has a background in competitive link building and content marketing. Outside of work, Charlie runs a UK travel blog and travels frequently.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been a keen writer and spent much of my time squirrelled away writing. After graduating from Exeter University in 2012, I interned for the BBC and Picturehouse Cinemas’ marketing department and loved it. I then spent a year teaching English in Taiwan but felt it didn’t align well with my passion for writing. That’s when I started my UK travel blog and started to search for writing and marketing work.
I started work with Exposure Ninja in 2014, writing blog posts and articles and running outreach campaigns for clients. I loved the work, firstly because I was able to write for a living, secondly, because the company ethos is so great, and thirdly because the agency is fully remote, allowing me to travel and work.
After two months as a Content Marketing Ninja, I was offered the position of Head of Content Marketing at Exposure Ninja. I gladly accepted and set about building the team from just myself to a team of 20 writers and outreach specialists. I trained the team in content marketing and SEO. I loved the work and after three years, I’d grown the Content Marketing department to be the most profitable in the company.
From here, I was offered a promotion to General Manager of Exposure Ninja in 2017. I’m very driven and jumped at the chance to further expand my knowledge and skills, and taking on a new challenge appealed to me. I now run the daily operations of the company across all our departments, including SEO, Content Marketing, PPC and Website Design and Development.
Can you share the most interesting thing that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story about our company is that every employee is fully remote. I manage a team of 100+ people across different countries and timezones. There are many companies out there who still think it’s impossible to run a company this way, but we love it. I often get asked how it’s possible, but with the right tools, software and people, it works well. We use Teamwork to manage projects, Hubstaff to manage our work hours and Slack and Skype to communicate.
Our team is happy and more productive because they can work flexibly (though they still commit to working a set number of hours) and from their own space — without the noise and distractions of an office environment. Remote working has been groundbreaking for Exposure Ninja because it means we’re not restricted by location when we’re hiring — instead, we can prioritise finding the absolute best person for the job, no matter where they’re based. This has led us to recruit some of the best minds in the industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest moment you experienced when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Digital marketing is a competitive industry, so like all businesses, we like to keep an eye on what our competitors and industry leaders are doing. One of the UK’s top digital agencies were running one-to-one sessions with business owners as a way to generate leads. I went “undercover” to one of the sessions to see how it worked. The session was run by one of their department heads. A few months later, I was speaking at the BrightonSEO conference and my cover was blown when the department head who ran the session with me also showed up as one of the speakers!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re a very forward-thinking digital marketing agency. Everyone at the company works 100% remotely. We found that encouraging our Ninjas to work from where they choose increased productivity by 50% compared to their office-chained counterparts. This setup also allows us to hire the most talented people for every role because we’re not limited by proximity to an office. This, in turn, allows us to deliver the absolute best service to our clients.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice would be not to overlook anyone in your organisation. When you see someone performing excellently, empower them to do more. If they keep performing, raise them to a role where they have the autonomy they need to impact the organisation and drive forward.
Be conscious of latent biases by basing your promotions on data that shows team members excelling and smashing their targets. That way, you recognise top performers even if they don’t shout about their work and avoid promoting people just because you get on well, they’re more like you or they’re a confident talker. Instead, you promote the people who deserve it and will benefit the trajectory of your company overall.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Split your team into sub-teams and divisions and empower the right person in your organisation to oversee each group. Generally, a Manager or Team Leader will perform best when they have a maximum of around seven people who directly report to them. Once a team grows more than that, divide them again and make another team member responsible for overseeing the work of a group. Exposure Ninja currently employs over 100 staff. I directly manage our seven Department Managers. Each of these teams also has Team Leaders managing teams of three to five people. This allows everyone at the company to receive one-to-one coaching on a weekly basis with their Line Manager and have someone dedicated to supporting them to hit their goals.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely, we are all products of our environment and the people we surround ourselves with. There are many different people who contributed to help me get where I am.
The women around me, including my mum, with her unwavering faith in me, and my grandma, with her take-no-crap attitude; my best friends Natalie and Hannah, who are incredibly supportive and amazing career women in their own right (a Research Technician specialising in mosquito behaviour at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Online Shop Coordinator at Monmouth Coffee, respectively), and the fearless, determined women I’ve met along the way — like my friend Liezl — are my daily cheerleaders, who I couldn’t be more thankful for.
Of course, I’m also grateful to our company founder Tim Cameron-Kitchen, who took a chance on me back in 2014 when I responded to his job ad saying “I’m the writing Ninja you need” (everyone at our company is called a “Ninja”). Tim’s advice, feedback and tenacity have been hugely influential on both my career and who I am.
I’m also grateful to my partner Luke, who is there through my stress, tantrums, tears and triumphs. When I took on my first writing gig, I was asked to write an SEO-optimised article for a dentistry company. At the time, I had no idea what SEO was and started to crumble. I said to Luke: “I don’t know that I can do this. I’ve no idea about SEO.” Luke said to me: “It can’t be that hard. I know you can do it. Just Google it and learn it now.” That’s what I did, and here I am managing an SEO agency!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I volunteer as a mentor with a great charity called The Girls’ Network. It aims to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities in the UK by connecting them to a mentor and a network of professionals. I run monthly mentoring sessions with my mentee, where we discuss overcoming limitations, career paths and opportunities, and work together on improving confidence. I was the first person in my family to go to university and was very shy and under-confident when I was in school, so I hope that my story can help other girls and women in my community to achieve their goals.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Listen to what’s being said — It’s common for our preconceived beliefs about a situation or person to lead us to enter conversations assuming we already know what’s going to be said. Our brains then listen for signals that support our preconceived beliefs and pay less attention to anything outside of them. Suspending expectations before conversations is much more productive because you can really focus on what someone is saying. I practice identifying and suspending limiting beliefs about a conversation I’m about to have beforehand so I can be a more attentive listener.
2. Ask the hard questions — It can be tempting to skirt around difficult conversations at work, but it’s important not to, as these are often instrumental in improving the organisation. When you ask hard questions directly, you’d be surprised how open people are with their responses. You’re providing an opening for them to share their experience and give feedback.
3. Empower others — One of the questions I ask when there’s a problem is: “what does your ideal outcome look like?” I’ve found that empowering other people within the team to come up with solutions and evaluate the potential risks or drawbacks means that, long term, you have a more proactive, solution-focused team who are actively part of the decision-making process.
4. Hire self-motivated people — What motivates everyone is different. I’ve found the most dedicated and productive team members are intrinsically motivated. They don’t rely on new incentives or discipline to get the work done, but their desire to do well comes from themselves. With self-motivated team members, you don’t need a carrot or a stick.
5. Learn to do it — There’s nothing that you can’t learn if you dedicate some time to it. While you need to be able to rely on key people in your organisation to be specialists in their field and run aspects of the business, as the General Manager, it’s important to grasp the key areas too so you can ask questions and support Managers within the team to improve their departments. I feel that the best Managers and leaders are those who aren’t afraid to learn just about anything.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love to inspire a mentoring movement where every adult pursuing their career or dream is paired with a young person from the least advantaged communities. Their role would be to guide, support and open those young people up to new opportunities and learning. I’d love to see something with this setup, like The Girls’ Network, across all communities and genders. Mentoring is a really powerful tool and providing a new support network and different outlook to someone can be life-changing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it. — Michael Jordan
I often hear people say “I can’t do that” or “I don’t know how to do that”. A key turning point for me in my life and career was realising that my response should actually be “I’m going to learn to do that now.” The only way you come to know things is by learning them, so when you encounter an obstacle that stops you from getting somewhere, you have to learn what to do to overcome it and then do it. People don’t expect you to know everything all the time, but they expect you to figure it out.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to have brunch with Emma Watson. We’re born only a year apart and she has achieved so much in her 29 years — both in her career and her work with the UN. Her social good and gender equality work towards empowering young women inspire me daily. She’s a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and helped launch the UN Women campaign HeForShe, which calls for men to advocate for gender equality. I’m an avid follower of Our Shared Shelf, Emma’s book club, which features an awesome range of women’s literature. I’m currently reading the extremely impactful book “Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America” from her reading list.
Thank you for all of the great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.