Entrepreneur Sinead Doherty on the rise of flexible working, the challenge of retaining talent and the value of peer networks.
Sinead Doherty is CEO and founder of Fenero, a Dublin-based company that manages invoicing, tax and payments for professional services contractors in the tech, engineering and pharma sectors.
After qualifying as an accountant, Doherty established Fenero in 2009.
She was shortlisted for CEO of the Year at the Image Businesswoman of the Year Awards in both 2015 and 2018, and Matheson Female Entrepreneur of the Year at the Women Mean Business Awards in 2017.
‘Planning and a focus on the big picture at all times is essential’
– SINEAD DOHERTY
Describe your role and what you do.
As CEO of a tax services company with 27 employees, my role is certainly multilayered.
My role continues to evolve with the business growth, and it’s an exciting and challenging personal journey that I love. My main focus at the moment is developing our capabilities to achieve ongoing growth opportunities, particularly in four core areas which are most relevant to us at the moment: people development, customer experience, our brand and our technology.
A typical week currently would see me involved in talent management and recruitment, learning and development planning for individual members of the team, overseeing our latest IT development activities, meetings with the senior management team to discuss weekly progress on business objectives, and working with marketing and business development teams on sales growth strategies.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
Planning and a focus on the big picture at all times is essential! It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day busyness and lose sight of the big picture. I typically try to structure goals and objectives around three-month timelines. I find this keeps us focused and enables us to build momentum on the things that really matter. Constant weekly communication and time spent working with my team is essential to ensure we all stay aligned with the big picture.
Regular self-reviews of how I’m spending my own time are necessary, too. It’s incredibly easy to get knocked off track without creating routines aligned around what is most important and then sticking as firmly as possible to those routines.
Another huge focus for me is on maintaining plenty of mental energy for all aspects of my life. As a mum to six- and four-year-old girls, life gets very full and busy very quickly! I love to get out walking and generally be surrounded by nature; I find it hugely restorative.
I make time to focus on my own ongoing learning and development, too. I have a couple of fantastic peer networks through Going for Growth and The Entrepreneurs Academy, which provide amazing opportunities to be challenged and questioned by some extremely talented women in business, and to learn so much from them.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
Similar to many sectors at the moment is the challenge of recruiting and retaining talent. We have a low staff turnover rate and a brilliant team, but it’s essential to stay focused on the things you need to be doing to maintain an environment which makes your company a great place to work, and also on how to effectively communicate that to the wider world in order to attract new talent to join you. Focusing on employer brand is essential for any company that wants to get or stay ahead in the current climate.
As tax specialists to contractors and freelancers, we are professional advisers to recruitment agencies, businesses and individuals within the emerging gig economy and those who are opting for more flexible forms of work. This keeps us very close to the interesting challenges of how tax, social welfare and employment law keep up with the changing trends in employment structures. It’s essential that these evolve at sufficient pace to ensure legal protections stay relevant both to individuals and businesses without stifling the benefits available to all sides of the economy out of the evolving trends in employment.
We proactively engage with Revenue, the Department of Social Protection, the WRC and others in shaping the landscape for the tax treatment and protections of individuals and businesses operating in these increasingly popular forms of working arrangements.
‘In order for workplaces to be more inclusive in terms of greater female participation, better supports for women in the workplace, such as flexible hours, are crucial’
– SINEAD DOHERTY
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
The growth of the gig economy. By 2020, it is predicted that 50pc of the US workforce will be freelance of some kind. As tax experts specialising in tax and payment management services for contractors, freelancers and others in the gig economy, the demand for our expertise and services is continuing to grow rapidly.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
From youth, I had always wanted to be self-employed, so I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak. But setting me on the road to building a business of the size it has reached now needed a mindset and behaviour shift.
Participating in the Going for Growth programme for female entrepreneurs in 2015, and remaining a member of the community since then, made a huge difference to shifting my mindset to more sizeable business ambitions. It helped give me the confidence to take on the challenge of growing a business beyond what I had achieved in the first five years and to bring us to where we are now, 10 years in business.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Trying to do too much myself in the early days. It can be hard to personally let go of everything that you really need to in order to let your business go on its growth journey. Trying to stay involved in too much of everything inevitably means you are doing far too much and often you sacrifice health, wellbeing, the faster development of your team and some further business growth as a result.
I learned that if you want to substantially grow your business, you have to accept that you must let go of a lot of the detail. Instead, focus on building the best team, systems and processes around you, so you can keep working at the appropriate big-picture level – and with the necessary energy levels – that your growing business needs.
How do you get the best out of your team?
By investing time in understanding what is important to them individually, and actively working to try and align their personal goals with the business goals. Everyone is different and has different priorities so it’s essential to create space for ongoing conversation and communication.
Then, on top of that, in general terms I would say creating a great environment in which to thrive professionally and personally. In Fenero, this means great career development opportunities, an open and trusting environment, and a great sense of teamwork. It’s a very professional and performance-driven environment but one with plenty of banter and fun, too!
Such a brilliant evening at #BWOTY18 celebrating the achievements of so many amazing women in business! #WomeninBusiness pic.twitter.com/bNqNwlLOjp
— Sinead Doherty (@SineadDFenero) November 20, 2018
STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?
I think a lot of industries have diversity challenges, not just the STEM sector. From my experience, what I’ve seen is that accountancy is an industry with many women but with a much higher percentage of men at the top. In Fenero, however, I’m happy to say that we have many women in senior roles.
In order for workplaces in general to be more inclusive in terms of greater female participation, better supports for women in the workplace, such as flexible hours, are crucial – but I also strongly believe that more needs to be done at a Government level when it comes to the issue of childcare, to support more women in terms of remaining in and returning to work.
Who is your role model and why?
There are so many women in business that I admire! In particular, so many from my Going for Growth peer network, including its creator, Paula Fitzsimons, who continually inspires us all to keep pushing forward. I learn so much from so many of them and feel very lucky to be part of such an incredible network of ambitious and game-changing Irish businesswomen.
I’ve also been lucky enough to be involved in a number of initiatives with The Entrepreneurs Academy. Their founder, Joanne Hession, is an incredible role model. She has achieved so much business success while also giving so much to those around her, including through the recent launch of her not-for-profit, LiFT, which aims to create stronger leaders in all areas of society in Ireland. She is a real leadership role model for me.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
So many! Some of my most recent favourite reads have been:
Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown – which is all about courage, vulnerability and truly belonging in our current age of increased polarisation. I love practically everything I’ve read by Brené Brown.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell. I found it to be a really thought-provoking and highly practical read. I’ve since gifted copies of the book to a number of my team.
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
I’m a big fan of technology for most things but I couldn’t get through the week without my notebook and pen! I find there’s nothing like old-fashioned putting pen to paper when you need to engage your creative-thinking side.
Having said that, I also couldn’t get through the week without my MacBook. I like working and meeting in different environments and spaces when I have creative tasks or need to do big-picture thinking, so my MacBook is always with me.
Lastly, Spotify for music and podcasts, and my Bose earphones are also essential!
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