Sheena Ireland says opening her own business, Specialists in Communications, is one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Sheena Ireland dreamt of moving into business for a long time. She loved her job but couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time to explore what could be. So one day she jumped from her secure position to opening Specialists in Communications.
“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” says Sheena.
Specialists in Communications equips, enables and empowers public and private organisations to communicate with purpose and authenticity. Sheena brings to the table experience from a career in government which saw her move from a junior position (APS1) to a senior position (EL2) by the tender age of 26.
Through her growing business, Sheena fills what she believes is a growing gap in communications for tailored solutions, not one-size-fits-all approaches. She places communications front and centre where it belongs, at a time when the fast pace of business often sees it pushed to the side.
“Having worked in strategic government communications, I wanted to show businesses that knowing audience, being targeted and nurturing relationships are essential to communications success,” says Sheena.
Running a small business isn’t easy but Sheena leans on the skills she developed in government, including in zero-based budgeting, financial management, governance and other administration.
“Until I started a business, I never appreciated how much I had learned through my career,” says Sheena. “When the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’ creeps in to question if I have enough experience, I remind myself that I’ve been advising departments, agencies, industries, CEOs and ministers in communications and parliamentary engagement for more than 15 years.”
Even though Specialists in Communications is young, Sheena and her team have celebrated proud moments, starting with winning a government tender soon after opening.
“Another proud moment was hearing from a government client that I had ‘done myself out of a job’ because I had equipped them, through a review, recommendations report, resource kit and training package, to carry on without me,” says Sheena.
“To me, consulting isn’t about becoming indispensable with clients, it’s about supporting and empowering them to stand alone.”
From the get-go, Sheena has given back to the community that supports Specialists in Communications.
One major contribution is to Lifeline Canberra with numerous studies showing that mental health disorders are the leading cause of work disability, projected to cost the global economy more than A$20 trillion by 2030.
“As a trained volunteer telephone crisis supporter with Lifeline, and as someone who experienced mental health issues early in life, including job burnout, I’m passionate about mental health support and prevention. In my work at Specialists in Communications, I advocate the importance of listening and empathy in all communications efforts. This aligns with Lifeline.
Recently, Sheena got ‘locked up’ for the second time for Lifeline Canberra’s Lock Up Your Boss initiative.
“As part of the event, I held a morning tea event to discuss mental health in the workplace,” says Sheena. “We discussed how to help remove stigmas around mental health, build connections and learn about Lifeline Canberra’s workplace training courses.”
The morning tea was just one of the many gatherings Sheena has facilitated for local business owners, executives and employees to discuss the realities of mental health in the workplace, including dealing with people in difficult circumstances.
Sheena’s passion for communications and mental health prevention also sees her volunteer as a Board Director for community organisation Baringa Early Learning Centre.
Running Specialists in Communications is not without challenges, but Sheena takes these in her stride.
“Working for yourself means you can’t always take leave at the drop of a hat, for vacation, family emergencies or illness,” Sheena says. “Client projects need to be completed.
“On the flip side, it’s great having the flexibility to take time to recharge, grieve or support, without having to worry about your leave balance or deal with stares from colleagues when you leave the office early.”
Sheena began learning lessons early on in her business and continues to do so.
“I can struggle to say no and need to be more proactive in only handling work I love,” she says. “My business and personal life has suffered for this so I’m now firmer about letting some work go and saying no to those who want free advice or aren’t prepared to pay for quality services.”
Specialists in Communications has also learned that it can’t do it all. Sheena now concentrates on the team’s core strengths, outsourcing other elements to external experts who handle certain tasks more efficiently.
Last, but not least, Sheena has learned the power of having a mentor and support network to back her—personally and in business.
“Setbacks and challenges take work, but it’s empowering to have a cheer-squad behind you,” she says.