Interview with Meagan Bickerstaff, founder of INKWAVE, digital and influencer marketing expert and content creator

Find out how award-winning Digital Director Meagan Bickerstaff launched her own influencer marketing agency INKWAVE to address a lack of authenticity in the industry.

What’s your career background?

I’ve worked in the digital marketing industry for about ten years, both agency and client side as a Digital Director with leading companies such as Sky, Mercedes, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, Kellogg’s in the US and UK.

I have received notable awards in the industry, such as the UK Sponsorship Awards for Mastercard Rugby World Cup Campaign and just recently the WACL Future Leaders Award 2019 (Women in Advertising and Communications). 

I am unconventional in my beliefs and enjoy challenging the majority idea so the ever-changing digital space has been the perfect platform for me.

I’m now the CEO and founder of INKWAVE, an influencer marketing agency, which I established when I noticed there was something missing in the industry – authenticity.

As the industry has evolved, more platforms and ways of working have caused abrasive content strategies and we have lost that human aspect so at INKWAVE, we’re bringing this back. Our focus and commitment is on creating meaningful connections and conversations for brands through influencer marketing. 

Where did the idea for INKWAVE come from?

On a personal note, I run several projects including Happy New Mum, a website and community which aims to support and elevate maternal mental health. Originally this started as a blog where I shared the truth about motherhood, but I found so much more within this community than I could have ever imagined.

The support and strength I found through the parenting blogger community helped me through very rough times as a new mum, and I wanted to do the same for other mums who may be struggling so I turned the blog into a community. We have a support system in place where mums volunteer their time to offer support and advice to any mums who are struggling or just want to chat. 

I saw first hand how using the power of social media could do something good, so my passions collided and I created INKWAVE to prove that we can use influence for good. At INKWAVE, we create meaningful influencer campaigns with lasting impact by combining authenticity, creativity, and deep audience insights.

Additionally, I’m very passionate about women’s initiatives; I’m a member of Bloom, a professional women’s network, that takes action on gender equality and diversity and I’m a recent WACL Future Leader Award Winner (Women in Advertising and Communications), and I’m a mentor for the Girl’s Network, helping disadvantaged teenage girls. I’m also the proud mother of a wonderful and challenging toddler. 

How did your career change after having children?

My career drastically changed after having my son. 

He was quite a surprise. My boyfriend and I were only ten months into our relationship and I was not ready mentally to have children. I was more focused on my career and climbing the corporate ladder. At the same time I was offered my dream job, a digital lead role in the marketing department at Sky. I thought I could handle both, so I accepted the job and proceeded with the pregnancy. 

Being a new mum was a huge transition though, I was completely out of my comfort zone and to be honest, I struggled to adapt. I was the first out of my friends to have a baby, so when I returned back to work after maternity leave I felt really lost.

I didn’t feel like myself anymore. So, in an act to rebuild myself and connect with a community, I started a parenting blog which to my surprise became moderately successful, I was featured in Huffington Post, I collaborated with large brands such as Lansinoh, and I was a finalist for a Reader’s Choice Award for Britmums Brilliance in Blogging. 

This community gave me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I became more passionate and determined than ever to keep growing and creating things I love. 

A few years later however, I found myself very unhappy in my career and personal life, despite the fact I was now a Digital Transformation Director at a global advertising agency and the parenting community I built was growing into a platform to help other mums. 

This is when my two passions, digital advertising and creating content, collided – and with much internal debate – I followed my gut and left my corporate job to start my own business, INKWAVE.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

Creating my own company, INKWAVE, is my greatest achievement. It has been a personal journey of growth and fearlessness, and I feel so much more authentic in my day to day life than ever before.  

It took a lot of time and guts to accomplish it and I was very strategic about the set up. I developed a platform to gauge interest in the community. Within a month, I had over 2,000 influencers who registered! My dream to start my own business was starting to feel real. 

I spent about a year working on my business plan, saving financially, connecting with the community, networking with other female founders, and preparing for the day I summoned up the courage to say, “I quit,” to my manager.

I finally felt like my authentic self; motivated, action-oriented, a doer with heart. It was overwhelmingly personal – albeit it was also a professional decision – and everything just felt, light.

With my new found confidence, I have become the person I have always wanted to be. 

Now here I am, only four months since the launch of INKWAVE working with both small and big brands such as Mastercard, HSBC and a Silicon Valley tech startup, and speaking on talk shows in the startup world. INKWAVE is completely self-funded and the platform was built between myself and my other half, we have been very grassroots in our approach and it has proven to be a success.

What’s your USP?

We believe in using influence for good, we do this by creating meaningful conversations with lasting impact through influencer marketing. 

We’re currently in the process of developing a “Business for Good” platform which will host purpose-led businesses, independents, social enterprises, and charities who believe in positively impacting the world, and connect them with vetted quality and trusted influencer community of 2,500+.

Through our new platform, our goal is to help businesses that are doing good to build relationships with influencers in an authentic and affordable way. The businesses offer gifted or discounted products in return for social media posts. 

This is in the testing phase so there are zero upfront costs for businesses who’d like to be hosted on the platform. The brands who join will have access to a 2,500 vetted quality and authentic influencers who value business for good.

We offer access to experts in influencer marketing, training and workshops, events with influencers and a trusted community. The goal would be to establish long-term relationships with the influencers who have performed well through the gifting campaigns.

Who’s your target audience?

Any brand with a product to sell who is looking to drive awareness, advocacy or conversions; start-ups, small businesses, corporates. 

For the platform, we are looking for purpose-led businesses.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Many ways! This will be either through traditional networking, events and workshops we host on influencer marketing, or being featured in publications. 

I’ve been featured in a few publications which might be of interest for businesses who are looking to learn more about influencer marketing: 

  • Why We Need to Think People Over Platform to Move Past So-Called Authenticity Issues in Talking Influence
  • INKWAVE Founder Says Brands Should Rethink Their Influencer Marketing Approach in YFS Magazine
  • The Lowdown on Instagram Stories in Rising Tide

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Mastercard wanted to raise awareness of their association at Disneyland Paris and Mickey Mouse’s 90th Birthday. Rather than only delivering on views or likes of the content, we developed a strategic plan and creative idea to create global digital experiences with quality influencers from each key market – Italy, Spain, France and the UK – so audiences at home could actively engage in the experience, connecting the digital and physical world.

The results: 

  • Over 1.5M reach with 12% engagement rate and 137K added value video views.
  • Over 760K views and 35K engagements in 2 days, this includes replies, emojis, sticker taps to @mastercardeurope #pricelessmickey90 #mastercard on Instagram Stories.
  • 75% view rate and £0.03 CPV.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

My biggest obstacle hasn’t been a single moment, but rather its my mindset when I feel like I am failing. This could be for a number of reasons, maybe a proposal didn’t get accepted, or we don’t have any new campaigns lined up, or my son is ill and I haven’t slept in three days. On those days, or weeks, my “inner critic” gets the worst of me. 

It’s like I have this annoyingly productive overachiever girl from high school stuck in my head, constantly telling me I need to do more. I could be doing better. I could be more successful. I could work on Saturday morning instead of a coffee and reading a book. 

However, I’ve now decided to stop being so hard on myself.

I found a few useful tools on how to deal with my “inner critic” because it was starting to really affect me, and I was worried it could take a toll on my business. I’ve found your mindset as a solo founder is THE most important thing when it comes to success. 

This book called “Playing Big” by Tara Mohr talks about your inner critic, the thoughts you have that make you feel anxious or fearful. Apparently everyone has them, and they are meant to protect us from “harm.” But because we have evolved, the “harm” is no longer the possibility of a tiger attacking us from around the corner but rather for instance, doing a presentation in front of a large group of senior management.

Our inner critic goes into overdrive when we do something that is perceived as “harmful,” but in reality it’s not that big of a deal. The inner critic is constantly there but very unnecessary. ⁣

So to get rid of the inner critic, we’re meant to politely say to this voice “thank you for your concerns, but I got this.” Instead of getting angry at the voice, we need to treat it as if it is a teenager who doesn’t know any better. Getting angry at it can cause a backlash effect.

So far, just saying this sentence to my “inner critic” thoughts helps a lot. It’s also being aware of when you have those nagging thoughts, pointing it out and saying “oh that’s just my inner critic talking.” 

Why is work so important to you?

I want to live a purposeful life, and that means being fulfilled by creating, connecting and inspiring through my work. I have always loved being in an “innovator” role in my corporate jobs and found it inspiring to work alongside other liberal and forward-thinking people.

But after I became a mom, I discovered that what really fuels me is serving a community which is what I do now through the various projects I am a part of and my business. 

How do you balance your work with your family?

I don’t believe there is such a thing as balance, especially when you are a business owner. Life all blends into one thing. Family problems collide with work problems and that’s just the way it goes. If you can manage to get through them all without going completely crazy then I would say you’re doing a great job. ; ) 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Just go for it! Sometimes the fear or worry that it’s not good enough or that somebody else is already doing it stops us from making that first move, but I believe the more we create collectively the more we will grow as a society. 
  2. Do one small thing TODAY that will get you to the next step. The first small step I made when I was setting up my business was creating the website on Wix. 
  3. Be aware of your inner critic, and don’t let it get you down. Remember to say “thank you for your concerns, but I got this.”

You can find out more about INKWAVE on their website.