In this week's episode, Sara Moccand-Sayegh shares how she joined a new team when she started as an SEO specialist in an agency. She discusses how often she saw her recommendations implemented during the first year, how she built trust as an SEO and what she learned about herself. We also find out what inspires Sara and what empowers her to be the brilliant woman she is today.
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Hey, it's Isaline. Today, we discuss how to fit in a predominantly male team when you join a company. That's the story Sara is going to share with us today. Let's have a sneak peek in Sara's life today. A warm welcome to our guest, Sara.
Sara is living in Bern, Switzerland, and she fell in love with SEO during her personal project. That was about 10 years ago. A short time after that, she decided to resign her job in finance and dedicate the rest of her career to SEO. In 2018, she started working at Liip, one of the biggest web development company in Switzerland. She works as an SEO specialist where she supports partners and clients in all corners of Switzerland with all things SEO.
Sara, when you started in that web development agency and you found out you were part of your predominantly male team, how often were your SEO recommendations implemented during that first year?
Moreover, let's face it, SEO is a little bit invisible. It's not like design that help you do a pretty website. That makes like a lot of difference also from that point of view. The challenge was being considered in the project. Also, sometimes, relationships are important. For example, I was like speaking with people, but then, they were not interested in my capacity. It's like, "Hey, she's the funny one." Like, in the team, you have the funny one. But then, it's not just that. I can do my job and I can do it professionally. Can I show you that I'm able to do it? I think then that was frustrating. Can I say the word "frustrating" on that? I couldn't prove my value, couldn't progress initially. I would say, initially, that was really my challenge. And when I understood how the company was structured, which kind of challenge I had, then from there, I could progress.
But again, proactively, a product owner -- the names, a product manager, it depends on the framework you use. Proactively, a project manager, let's say, let's call it project manager, going to the client saying, "Hey, you know what, for this website, you want to build. You know what? You need SEO since the beginning." That was not happening. So, work for me was to change the mindset of people.
One is to have some small project that you can use to showcase yourself. Second thing is to understand that in the company, it's a little bit like in the outside work, you need sponsors. This is a concept that my brother, my oldest brother, taught me years ago. And sometimes, he comes back to me. It's like inside the company, with people, they will speak highly about you and will promote you to other people. I did have to find my sponsors -- let's call them sponsors. But I did have to find my sponsor inside the company. They were people trusted by other people inside the company and they were like saying, "Hey, she does a good job. Maybe she can even help us." Like help us bringing more business maybe.
For example, I remember then at the beginning, I was working on the Liip website. Now, I don't do it anymore. These years, I don't do that anymore. I just focus on the clients. At the beginning, I didn't have so much work. I was like, okay, let's maybe try to work on the Liip website. One of the PO, this product owner or project manager, call it the way you want, that take care of the Liip website also had clients. By working a bit on the Liip website, I got in contact with him. Next, when we started discussing and I started showing that I can bring value for this, this, this. Then he realized, "Wait. SEO could also be an open door for the company." Maybe because an SEO project would always be smaller than a web development project, a web development will speak money-wise, will bring much more money than SEO. "So maybe, Sara, you could be useful to enter some clients. Get to know some clients, do your SEO job on their website. But then, keep us in mind if they want to have a new website." Okay. That also affected me a bit, because like he was like, "Yes, but the SEO could be an open door." And then, he started speaking around about open-door stuff. That also helped me because I started proving my value, website, like of Liip. Then it happens that the PO started speaking notes around to other PO about that.
Gradually, I started working with more and more PO. I started covering the entire Switzerland. Before, I was just focused on the French part of Switzerland. Gradually, I had many more sponsors and many more POs that I could work with. My sponsor, not just POs, but I realize the importance of developers because I'm in a development company and developers are very strong there. Their values don't need to be proved in a certain sense. It’s acquired because that is the mentality. I was able also to "conquer," between quotes, some developers, which were my sponsors also and which were like pushing by saying, "Hey, you know what? Maybe in this project, we need SEO." Or, "Hey, there is a problem. Contact Sara because we think that we did something that could block the crawlers. Sara, give it a look." And then, I realized that okay, there is from top to down POs, and from bottom to up developers that could support you.
I would say the first year, it was more about awareness and some small projects here. The second year, it was much better. Second year and a half, it was like, "Oh, she's growing and going also outside Lausanne." And then, it was, I would say, one year and a half. Then, it's really like I'm comfortable. People directly come to me and I don't have to anymore beg, to be honest.
And then, yes, you know me. I obviously did it the unofficial way. I was going directly to people, laughing a minute with them, speaking, and then saying, "By the way, you know I work on this project which is very similar to the project you are working on. On that, what I could do this, this, this. For example, you are working with that designer, which I have worked in the past on this project. So, hmm, I see similarities between the two projects. So, maybe I could bring you value." There.
Once you have the first step and they allow you in a project, they see that you are doing a good job. I don't say always do a good job. Sometimes, I probably do something less good. But then, what I do, I cover it up. I always say the truth, okay? "It was not perfect. Let me work on that to improve it." I'm always a 100% honest. Most of the time, things go as I expected. Sometimes, I just have to cover up. So, it's really the first.
And when you are inside the project with a PO, and you have proved your value with the developers, because in reality, I really need to prove also with the developers. With the POs, because they need to advance my tickets. But a developer, if they don't want to implement it, they will explain to the PO that there are other tickets more important. Somehow, you need to prove it also to them. Full stop. Once I could put my foot in a project and prove my value, then the product owner and developer mentality was like changing already. You see? You did your work and something was changing. So, in the next project, they would've more easily taken you into account.
But as I remember, there was a pandemic and the COVID, and you're talking like how you went to people and talk to them. But there was a time where much of it was from home. What did you do then? Because you were not in an office. It was not like you can go and bump to someone's desk and have a conversation.
And for folks who are currently in this situation, who feel stuck and feel they are not listened to, what would you recommend them to achieve something like you do? How do you make people listen to you? How can you be heard?
I come from an analytics background in reality. Few people know it. You know it, obviously, that I come from an analytic background. While I speak lot, I often understand better maths than general communication. For me, it was everything starts within analysis. Okay, you have to analyze why they're not hearing you. So, that is the first step. They're not hearing you because they don't trust you. They're not hearing you because they think then you are not confident. Maybe you are not confident because you are too junior and you need to grow. Or they're not hearing you because there is a problem of relation, interpersonal relation. I think the first step is really to understand your environment and why this is happening.
Next, when you have why this is happening, then you can solve it. Now, sometimes, solving it ask for a lot of effort. For me, there is the second question. Are you willing to put that effort to solve it, yes or no? If you're willing to put the effort to solve it, then okay, you fight to solve it. For example, if the problem is then you are too junior and they still don't trust you, that could be okay. You accept it, and then you are like, "Okay, let me prove my value. Give me projects. So then, I can grow in knowledge, and then I can prove my value." If the problem is interpersonal, like with team members, that, from my personal point of view, is much more complicated. It's like that will ask a lot more effort, and probably also shut your mouth from time to time, which I don't know if somebody really wants to do that.
Now, the question is really, should I stay? Or if the interpersonal part doesn't work, should I go? Why should I waste my energy on this? For me, it's really always analysis, try to understand what is the problem, how do I solve it, and how much energy do I want to spend on solving this problem. Again, interpersonal are probably more complicated because you have to analyze, first of all, is it you that is the problem or is it the dynamic? Can you break this dynamic, yes or no? There are a lot of things to think and decide what you want to do next.
Actually, that's also what Arianna Lupi shared with us in her workshop, that it's always an option to change team and try something else.
Wow. I see that time is running out, but I still have one last question for you, Sara. What is one thing recently that's helped you in your career, that's helped you grow or develop yourself? And just tell us the most written thing you did, you read, or whatever it is. that you want to share with us.
I recently did a certificate in diversity and inclusion, which is a subject that I'm very curious about. That helped me a lot. A lot in understanding myself, understanding that I have limits. I never thought about me having limits, in that sense. But yes, I have limits. I have also bias, which means that you need to be conscious to change it. I think then that help me get awareness and I believe that will help me in the future. And also, inside the company that I'm working. I joined a team that is trying to work on improving diversity and inclusion. After the certificate, I went and said, "Hey, can I help?" Because I think then I'm bypassing a little bit my limits also, and I think we can work all together to improve them. I would say that one.
This was WTSPodcast. We are on a mission to amplify women in the SEO industry. Join the community if you haven't yet. We have a Slack channel. We also have a newsletter, and we do workshops. Being part of an active community of 5,000 members, it's something that's hard to describe. I think you need to try.
I was your host. I'm Isaline Muelhauser, and I'm happy to answer any question on social media. Sara is also happy to answer any question on social media. You find her on Twitter. Thank you so much for listening to WTSPodcast. Thanks, again, Sara, for joining us today. Bye, everyone.