"If you let that happen then you won’t succeed.”
Sydney born and bred, Debra lived in the Eastwood and Marsfield areas, and was – and still is – very close to her family. She loved her childhood, and has fond memories of playing cricket and riding bikes & skateboards with her brother Steve and friends on the local streets. “I enjoyed school and although I wouldn’t say I was all that academic,I tried as hard as I could. My parents always wanted to do more and learn more, and they instilled that in us as well.’
Debra’s father was an architectural draftsman, project manager and later a strata manager. He was always “on the go” and worked until he was 80. Debra’s mother was also very hands-on; she’s been a local Avon representative for over twenty years, originally initiated by Debra’s interest in earning an income for herself.
Even while Debra was in high school, she was very ambitious and wanted to earn some money. Keen to get into the workforce, she had a part-time job in a local coffee shop as soon as she could.
“School was good, I studied hard as well as playing lots of netball and volleyball. At one stage I wanted to be a nurse, then a pharmacist, but as I learned more about marketing and PR I really started to lean that way. I loved the idea of helping people raise their profiles through communications.”
Debra did reasonably well in the Higher School Certificate (HSC) and after school initially thought of studying PR at university. As she didn’t have a high enough TER score for the university she wanted to attend in Sydney, she secured a job and studied PR at TAFE part-time. As a mature age student, Debra later achieved a Masters of Communication Management at UTS (University of Technology Sydney).
Debra’s first job was as a receptionist doing front desk duties, administration and filing, however the position was made redundant. At the time, Debra worked with the wife of TV host and producer Simon Townsend, who introduced the two. Debra then worked for him on his program aptly called TV-TV. Other co-workers at the time included James Valentine, Edith Bliss, Sueyan Coxand Gretel Killeen. Here Debra made good progress in different production roles and,for the first time, realised the media was the right industry for her.
Debra then spent five years at Channel 9 in Willoughby, working on the production side of iconic programs Business Sunday and The Small Business Show alongside colleagues Emma Alberici, now Lateline host on the ABC, and Janine Perrett of Sky News Business.
After contracting glandular fever in 2000, Debra left the world of TV, and moved into PR initially doing contract work, before moving into a full-time role at the City of Canada Bay Council where she spent five years working in the media and events team. Debra directed and produced numerous large-scale community fairs, music festivals and events which have now grown to be thriving communities. She also had extensive experience developing communications strategies, increasing profile and brand visibility, personal branding and issues management.
Moving up the government hierarchy, Debra also worked in the Public Affairs team for the State Government in Fire and Rescue Services. She co-ordinated communications strategies for stations across metropolitan New South Wales including Hazmat (Hazardous Material Unit), Rescue and Community Fire Units.“I have so much respect for emergency personnel, and fire fighters in particular. They work so hard and risk their lives almost every time they go out to do their job.”
Things were going well – almost too well – and it all came crashing down when Debra had an accident in 2008, severely breaking her elbow and humerus. It was a bad break, and she underwent many surgeries and years of rehabilitation and still suffers some permanent damage. After six to eight months, Debra tried to go back to work, but found she simply couldn’t do the work with her injuries.
“It was really frustrating. I went from being a very fit and active person, to having to move back in with my parents. Most of my money went into surgery, rehab and medications. The only upside was that it gave me a lot of time for reflection.”
Support was crucial at this time. “My partner Steve, my parents and brother Steve together with my close friends were all an incredible support. They helped me rehabilitate and get my life back on track, which took many years.”
Debra spent a lot of time on social media while recuperating. She desperately wanted to get back into full time employment and was trying to think of how she could get back into PR, although initially not full-time. Meanwhile, she was learning there were lots of ways to use social media to communicate with people, and she found she was becoming interested in various communities online.
In 2011 after consulting her partner, they decided to “give it a go, and have never looked back”. The fledgling business was offering PR and social media services, along with desktop support. Most of the work coming in was for social media, so Debra went with that groundswell,positioning herself as a community builder.
Despite loving it, as a small business owner, Debra reports she often has sleepless nights, with her worries and concerns spinning around in her head, keeping her awake like buzzing insects. Her long-term vision for the business is what keeps driving her though. Many people said she should be looking after herself better; not working so hard while still recovering. Debra found she could manage the workload if she based herself at home and continued her rehab, so it actually worked in her favour.
For Debra, social media is about building communities and connections for business. “The world is hyper-connected. I realised I’d been building communities previously by default. I’m really passionate about reaching out to connect with people.”
Social media can easily be executed the wrong way, especially by business. Too much outbound messaging and any emphasis on sales-oriented advertising should be avoided for fear of alienating and losing audiences. Relationships are the essence of all successful businesses, so Debra is focussed on helping businesses and entrepreneurs to connect emotionally with their audiences.
“People go online to learn, to be educated and to build relationships. The way to build trust and develop profiles around thought leadership is to connect online and build the relationship first,” she advises.
Debra also adds, “Avoid random posting or tweeting as well, as it doesn’t add any value and turns people away. You need to get a return on investment and stay focussed.” Importantly, Debra encourages business owners to have a measurable strategy in place so criteria such as the level of engagement can be monitored.”
Social media is always changing, so Debra is always reading and learning about changes and updates to the various platforms. “It’s so important to look at how your competitors and clients are using social media and that’s going to provide the best guide to how you should approach it.”
Debra has had some tough times with regards to cash flow, so a big lesson for her has been to stay focussed, and always be mindful of that. “Be on the ball with marketing your business, and look at what’s happening in the market.”
Debra loves the highs of achievement,especially securing new business. She now works with a client in Singapore and flew over to have a strategy session with them. Gaining their approval and go-ahead was the most exciting time so far for the growing business. “They’re a client in a completely different industry to what we’ve worked on previously, so it was reassuring to know they loved what we could offer.”
Debra shed some further light on the value of social media for clients by noting “Businesses come to us who really want to connect with their clients on a deeper level. Clients who value and promote story-telling & relationship marketing know those elements will lead to increased customer-loyalty and, in turn, sales”
“We come at it with greater depth than just using social media for communicating. We market ourselves through social media. We’ve secured clients through social media, and built great alliances through connecting with clients on social media. We connect and build, but firstly get to know them personally too”.
Debra says that when dealing with a client’s reputation it’s really important to build the trust with the audience upfront.“Social media isn’t about the numbers only, but there are some people who focus on that aspect to their detriment. It’s people first, rather than how many “likes” you have. There has to be meaning in the engagement. It’s not just about the technology.”
A normal working day for Debra is a 5.30 start with a meditation session and she then jumps straight onto social media to check Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Then it’s into the office and back on social media again.
Debra spends a large part of the day writing content for clients. She’s had good practice handling plenty of high-pressure speech writing at local and state government level. She’s become very good at ‘speaking’ using the client’s voice online so all those early years of PR were very good experience.
Debra advises people should also try to connect with people offline; at business networking and drinks events and aim to build the foundation of a relationship first. “That person you’re speaking to could be a future client or even a mentor, so speak to them on that level.”
Debra has a business coach but in terms of mentors she doesn’t have a formal arrangement in place, preferring to keep it ad hoc. She has at least six different people in different industries who she can call and ask for their advice on a range of matters. “Similar people that are perhaps further along in their businesses, can be very helpful if I have a query. An issue or new idea can go around in your head forever, and often you just need someone to give you a fresh perspective and spark some action, and away you go. I’m very grateful for the input of those trusted people.”
Debra has set an ambitious goal; in five years she wants to have changed the way 10,000 businesses personally connect and build relationships online. It’s not just a random number, Debra has specific long and short term plans in place, including a 90 day plan and a yearly plan for how it will all get done. Monetary goals and marketing goals help keep Debra accountable and allow her to measure and monitor the business, however they are not the most significant drivers.
Expansion for Debra’s business could come in the form of consulting in the USA, and particularly in New York, while also still building the team in Sydney. Currently Debra has a part-time assistant, a virtual assistant, as well as a team of content writers on whom she calls, depending on the nature of the client, or the product involved.
Debra firmly believes that the secret to success is to believe in yourself. “Back yourself, and be authentic. Be the best version of you.”
She believes that you have to live in the business, to be committed and to be dedicated. “It’s hard work, and while I wouldn’t change a thing, you really do need to have that dedication and commitment to it.”
For Debra her work isn’t really ‘work’ per se. “It’s a whole lifestyle thing, but I do think it’s important to schedule time for family,for the gym, and for meditation. If you don’t put it in the diary, it simply won’t happen, and you miss out on looking after yourself. If you let that happen then you won’t succeed.”
Making money in business is important to Debra, but it’s not a big driver for her. She’s here to change the way people connect online. “You have to be 100 percent passionate, and be true to yourself first, and then the money will follow. It’s a lot of hard work but it will follow.”
Debra reports she feels like a different person now than when she was younger, as she didn’t really feel she fitted in. She is quite tall at 188 cm (six feet two inches). She always wanted to be like other people and didn’t know what she wanted to do. Now she has discovered her love of social media, she feels very comfortable and is very excited by the possibilities that brings.
How does she see failure in relation to business? “Things do go wrong, and it’s always a learning experience. I try to look at failure and ask why did it happen, what can I do differently next time? Failure is almost a necessary step in the life of a businessperson for them to achieve success.”
Debra thoroughly recommends a business coaching course around leadership. “You can never stop learning, and we should all set aside a regular time for self-education.”
Debra also sets aside a day each month to focus on building the business and growing it.“That day is all about financial planning,helping me build a sustainable business and growing a great team, so it’s really integral to my plans. Just like the gym and family time, if you don’t put it in the diary, it won’t happen.”
Debra notes that when businesses are doing it tough, often marketing is the first thing to go from the budget. “There’s still an educational process needed around the benefits of social media and how important it is to business.”
“As Liquid Mango Consulting, I’m really passionate about building communities online,helping companies to engage with their customers online, and generate leads to grow their business through social media.”
When asked who she respects in business, Debra has a long list of people in mind. “The top of the list would be Richard Branson, Brene Brown and Simon Sinek who has been helping entrepreneurs to think about their businesses in a deeper way for many years.”
Three Business Tips
- 1. Take calculated risks.
- 2. Never stop learning.
- 3. Be dedicated to what you’re doing.
- ‘Debra spent a lot of time on social media while recuperating.”
- “In five years she wants to have changed the way 10,000 businesses think.”
- “Random posting or tweeting… doesn’t add any value and turns people away.”
- “You can never stop learning, and we should all set aside a regular time for self-education.”
Debra Sinclair inspired her mother to be an Avon lady, but an accident much later in life saw her building virtual and real communities via the superhighway of social media.