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Multimedia Irish firm is shooting for the stars

A lack of available job opportunities prompted graduate Emma Higginson to set up her own company to target growing demand for web based services.

From its base in Tralee, Co Kerry, Higginson’s company, Soma Multimedia Production, works with companies, artists and event organisers to create dynamic web content, including videos, social network applications, flash animations and interactive marketing campaigns.

Higginson, a graduate of IT Tralee’s degree course in interactive media, started the company in May, putting work experience gained on the course to good use.

‘‘I picked up many ideas during my college work experience at Paramount Pictures’ marketing department, and in advertising agencies Feref and Greenroom Digital/Momentum in London. ‘‘There, I saw how the management structure works in the type of agency I am aiming towards building myself,’’ she said.

‘‘I have a lot of like minded friends and we considered forming a collective, but I felt setting up my own business was a better option. The lack of jobs around also gave me a bit of a push. Having an office just makes everything easier for both us and for clients as well.’’ Higginson advised other first-time business owners to make use of the commercial supports on offer in their local community. ‘‘It is all about the preparation. Having a goal-oriented plan means your progress is measurable over time. I found business advice from the local enterprise board very useful even small things like a ready made Excel sheet to keep track of cashflow.

‘‘I met a business adviser through the enterprise board, whose advice was very insightful,’’ she said.

Soma has three full-time staff and two part-time employees. However, despite this, Higginson said that few new business owners could afford to pay themselves at the outset, let alone other people.

‘‘I am working on a low wage and renting an office for €50 a week in a building with six other businesses. We also use as much open source software as possible, which really contributes to keeping the costs down,’’ she said. For technology companies, Higginson said that a cutting edge offering was crucial to success.

‘‘Things change so fast in a web technology environment, so I spend a few hours every week keeping up to date with what is going on online. Search engine optimisation is very hot at the moment, along with giving people control of their web presence.

‘‘A lot of people are able to use social network sites now, so we integrate a client’s social presence into their website,’’ she said.

A product or service that fills a niche in the market has the best chance of long-term success. ‘‘Web designers are two-a-penny and, if you do not offer something different, you will not excel.

‘‘I tried to focus on this, while finding it hard to turn down work that was not in my exact area. It just took a while to streamline the focus of the business,’’ said Higgins.

Although Soma markets itself online, Higginson said that more established forms of marketing, including word-of-mouth and personal contacts, were just as important.

‘‘We have a very diverse client base, ranging from businesses to bands to artists. I manage a band and am involved in a lot of arts events around Cork and Kerry. Old- fashioned face-to-face net- working has been very important for us,’’ she said.

She said Soma would launch new services before the year’s end. ‘‘We are looking at developing applications for use on mobiles and online, which can provide ongoing income for us. We are also working at expanding the video production side of the business. In two years, the company will be a one-stop multimedia agency, producing multimedia advertising from conception to completion,’’ she said.

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