Alison Winn grew up in Glasgow and originally trained as a bi-lingual PA in French and German. Her first major role was with Express Newspapers where she spent 10 years working through the ranks on the News Desk and Sports Desk in Glasgow before moving to Fleet Street to Circulation and finally culminating in 5 years as PA to the CEO.
On returning to her native Scotland she spent the next 12 years as a senior PA for a Scottish plc. It was during this period that she discovered her passion for all things on the internet. When asked to become the plc’s Webmaster her first question was “What’s that?”
A quick introductory course to web design was lined up by her employers. This was a light bulb moment. Juggling full-time employment with motherhood Alison knew that when her daughter started school, it would be impossible to combine the two. And so started the night time studies. Alison commenced an Open Learning Diploma in web design which she passed with Distinction a year later. During her lunch hour she would sit in Princes Street Gardens and cold call potential customers for new business.
Fast forward seven years, Alison now has a portfolio which includes her previous employers, blue chip organisations and sole traders.
She embraces good, honest, organic SEO with a passion and gets a real thrill from seeing her clients achieve good search engine rankings and indeed turning their hits into orders. She strongly believes that there is no mystery involved with SEO and in addition to providing SEO services to her own clients and design/PR/marketing agencies, she provides training services to show businesses how they can optimise their own websites by a combination of good SEO and on and off-line marketing.
Seasons Design provides web design, email marketing, photography and copywriting services.
It specialises in organic search engine optimisation (SEO) and SEO training. Whilst SEO is not particularly difficult, it’s simply a case of knowing how to make your website attractive to search engines, it can be time consuming. Seasons Design’s one to one training can give businesses the knowledge to optimise their own website in clear and practical steps and take action immediately to improve their web visibility.
Seasons Design also provides an impartial web consultancy service for companies needing some guidance either in the development of a new website or looking to improve an existing website. Recent projects included a cry for help from a company who had started a new web project with a third party but who had ground to a halt because the client was basically a technophobe and didn’t know what he wanted or what the capabilities were for his new website. Communication had dried up between the client and supplier and Seasons Design was able to review progress, make suggestions and get the ball rolling again. Another project involved the creation of a website tender document and specification for a large technical project and the identification of suitable industry suppliers who had the skills and expertise to complete the project.
- How did you decide upon a career in technology? Did you study science subjects at school/college?
I had trained as a bi-lingual PA in French and German. Without revealing my age, the technology surrounding us today was not around when I was a student. I studied short-hand and typing and learned to type on a manual typewriter. 20 years later, I still use my shorthand efficiently to this day.
As my career progressed so did the technology and I was always eager to embrace this, adding to my skills set whilst being a little amazed at what could be achieved and at what speed.
I never ventured down the science route. Some people are good all rounders but I am a great believer that some people are stronger on the mathematical side, some on the creative side and other on the language side.
I don’t care what age you are, what your background is, I strongly believe that everybody is good at something.
2. What was the attitude towards technology as a career choice for women from school/college career advisors?
At the time of leaving school there was no emphasis on technology at all. Having achieved good results in languages and being proficient at typing I was directed towards the bi-lingual secretarial direction.
There wasn’t a huge focus on career guidance. It was more a case of getting a good “job”.
From my own perspective, the opportunity to explore technology came within my career and I took all the opportunities provided by my employers but also continued my technical learning in my own time and at my own expense when I decided to set up Seasons Design.
As the internet and technology changes so rapidly, I am constantly learning be that through the attendance of further training courses, seminars, signing up to on-line educational resources or frequently buying books for continued learning. I usually have 3 technical books on the go at any one time and I cannot remember the last time I read a novel for relaxation.
3. Have you experienced any discrimination/barriers to progress or would you consider being a woman in male dominated environment to be an advantage?
To my knowledge I don’t believe that being a female has caused any barriers. In some cases I think it has been to my advantage as I am able to communicate clearly and simply to new and existing clients.
Seasons Design provides various on-line services to businesses and quite often I am told “at last, someone can explain it in plain English”. We carry out a lot of SEO for businesses. Some we do directly for our own clients, other work is outsourced to us via advertising/marketing/PR and digital agencies. I have even been called into an agency to train their Account Managers in SEO so that when they go out and speak to potential clients that can talk knowledgeably and in clear terms to them. I have noticed recently the number of automated programmes that businesses are using for their SEO. They run off programmes for their clients but whilst they see the results they don’t “look” at them. I am always digging deeper asking “Why”, “How can we improve this”, “What does this Mean”, “Here’s an Opportunity”. With all our advancements in technology and automated processes, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people and that their business is their livelihood.
4. Do you think that there are any differences in attitudes/opportunities for girls choosing a career in technology now compared to when you made your career choices?
No, not nowadays. There are many women running their own technology related businesses, be it web design, telephone service providers or social media. These women set the standard for females to aspire to.
On the IT front, I am amazed at how today’s youngsters are so adept with their use of technology. From a very early age children are introduced to technology, whether it is via computer games, mobile phones or even learning through schools. My daughter’s homework regularly involves carrying out arithmetic homework via participation in fun “games” on-line. Only this week she had to do a powerpoint presentation on an EU country. We had to research the facts on-line and then present them in a slide show. She animated the slideshow herself and then together, we selected and embedded a short video within the presentation. She will then have to present this to her class. She is 10.
IT is taught equally to both girls and boys at school today.
5. What do you think could be/needs to be done to increase the number of women entering technology businesses?
We are all aware of the power of the internet and what can be achieved with regards to communication from an early age. With the introduction of early IT skills at schools, it’s a natural progression “if” a female chooses to further explore this area with opportunities in IT and Communication at colleges and universities.
On the job front, you cannot discriminate between sexes, and career opportunities within IT companies is subject to skills, qualifications and experience. It is no longer male dominated as women are as capable as men in this field.
6. What do you think can be done to encourage women to stay in technology businesses and to advance to senior/board level positions?
There can be long hours within the IT sector and in many organisations, if a system is needing an upgrade or rebooting, it tends to get done outwith normal working hours in order to minimise disruption to users or customers.
I am a strong believer that flexible working hours would encourage women entering technology businesses. With the expectation that our technology will work for us 24 hours a day, you could quite literally, work all day, every day. In recent years, instead of chasing a top salary, women are now relinquishing higher salaries in order to achieve a better work-life balance. I am not necessarily talking about women with child care issues but just the realisation that “me time” can be as good as any money.
By providing flexible working hours, job sharing, businesses would have a better retention level of women in technology. This would apply to the majority of businesses.
7. Do you think the increased use of social media/internet technologies make technology in general more acceptable to women/girls?
Absolutely. I know if I wish to stay in touch with my girlfriends, that they will all be hanging out on Facebook from about 9pm. It’s amazing how quickly and how many responses I can get to comments on Facebook at that time of night. Saves on the phone bill!
On the career front, Linked In is great for women in business. There are no barriers to age, sex or geography. The ability to communicate, research and find like minded individuals is fantastic.
I heard recently of a female working in the UK, who had always wanted to work in France. Deciding that the time was right, she simply ran through her contacts on Linked In and after a few on-line introductions got her job in France.
8. Is there anything you would like to add?
We are each responsible for our own career paths, and indeed our path in life. With the opportunities around today I feel that so long as we are willing to put in the time and the hard work, we can achieve whatever we want to.
I set up my business seven years ago but I started the plan 10 years ago. I had a good, stable, and well paid job in Edinburgh but knew that when my daughter started school, I simply couldn’t juggle the hours and school holidays.
My training in web design for my employers was indeed a light bulb moment. I knew it would take at least three years to set up my own business so I worked backwards from when I wished to leave.
I worked full-time, would get back home before seven, get my daughter to bed and then into the night studied for a Diploma in Web Design via an Open Learning Course for which, I received a Distinction a year later. On completing this I would attend the evening classes in setting up your own business with the Business Gateway.
By the time I resigned, I already had a few clients. If you knew how much money we had in the bank, you would have said don’t do it but I was determined. Today I earn more money than I did when I was employed full-time. However, my biggest pleasure is the freedom I have to dictate my own agenda.
On the down side I never switch off. I also have an e-commerce business which I run and there’s not a day goes by (even at weekends) when I am not doing something for one of the businesses. I do struggle on the work-life balance, as do a lot of people, but wouldn’t swap what I have for anything.
Article by Alison Winn: