Annabelle Smith is one #girlboss you want to know

Founder of start-up, Social Playground, Annabelle and her team spend their days bridging the gap between the online and offline worlds through live digital experiences.

It hasn't always been snapchats and Instagram filters though. Annabelle started her career in experiential marketing, before dabbling in fashion PR. This eventually led to a stint in New York, working in social media strategy for Nine West, Estée Lauder and Roxy.

Upon returning to Australia, Annabelle launched Social Playground.

Two years on and Annabelle now oversees a team of 3 full time staff, over 30 event staff, and 4 international outposts.

Annabelle is passionate about small business and entrepreneurship. She is actively involved in the CoSydney Coworking Space, where she and her team share an office.


Growing up, what kind of career did you want to pursue?

I grew up in an entrepreneurial household so I knew from early on that I wanted to run my own business, but for years I wasn't sure exactly what that business would be. I toyed with ideas in travel and fashion but it was a bit of luck and being in the right place at the right time that landed me the idea for Social Playground and it's turned out to be the perfect culmination of my experience in marketing, PR, events and digital.

Who inspires you?

In society today, we spend so much time consuming information about each other (our peers) through social media. Perhaps surprisingly, it's here that I find a lot of inspiration among everyday women (and men) who are realising their dreams and making big things happen. Whether it's an old friend from high school or someone I've met briefly who has shared their aspirations; to see them work hard and make it happen is what really inspires me. 

Who (apart from you) is most surprised by your achievements?

Ha I've always been an overachiever so I guess it was somewhat to be expected! But on a serious note, I think my parents are both pretty amazed... more so because they have only just grasped the concept of how Instagram and hashtags work. 

How have women helped shape your success to date?

Throughout my career I have had some amazing #girlbosses. From early on, I was inspired by their confidence and learnt from them how to maintain just the right amount of professionalism and keep the emotions in check. I've worked with some amazing women who go out of their way to offer business support and who are genuinely interested in seeing me succeed. 

What qualities do you most admire in a female colleague?

I'm going to make a generalisation here but I believe women are unequivocally better at detail! A colleague who has amazing organisation and attention to detail is worth her weight in gold. Especially as your business grows and you find yourself delegating more and more, it's so important to have a team around you who you can rely on to get it right.

What's the key to successfully balancing work and life?

I don't think there is one magical key! The lines between work and life are so blurred these days and I think it's equally as important to pursue a career that you love so that you don't feel the need to draw such a solid line between work and play.

To me work life balance isn't about turning one off and the other on at a certain time of day, I think the most important thing is to be present in the moment - whether that's work or leisure. If you try to be everywhere at once you end up doing half a job in every aspect of your life. Instead give the task at hand or the company you keep your full attention and truly be present and focussed. 

Having a partner to share the duties definitely helps. I am a big advocate of Sheryl Sandberg's #LeanInTogether and am blessed with a partner who shares working, parenting and domestic duties with me. Being a team is paramount to being able to balance it all.

If you had an afternoon to yourself, how would you spend it?

Magazine, coffee, music and the couch. I am old school and love nothing more than flicking the pages of a magazine to truly relax.

Who do you regard as your mentor?

I don't have one specific mentor, instead I try to understand people's strengths and learn how they use those strengths to their advantage. Someone may be brilliant at negotiating their way out of a difficult situation so I'll really take note of what they do to handle it and I won't be afraid to ask for their advice in that particular area. 

One of my favourite Ted Talks is by Amy Cuddy about faking it till you make it. She says it's not about fake it till you make it, you have to fake it till you become it. We can all observe the actions of others and start practicing (faking it) over and over until eventually it becomes us.

What personal attributes have you used to overcome adversity in your life?

I have a ridiculously positive attitude. I experienced a challenging time with my business last year, right at the same time as having my first baby. It was definitely one of the hardest emotional and intellectual experiences of my life but believing that everything would work out in the end got me through. I think if you believe that things will work out, and you have the passion and drive to make that a reality, you are able to take bigger risks and put the worry aside to focus on achieving what needs to be done. I see negativity as a complete waste of energy and really invest that energy into making good things happen. 

I also believe in being really nice! I think "nice-ness" is one of the most underrated attributes but it is amazing what simply being nice can do for your professional and personal life. Nice attracts nice and before you know it you have this amazing network of people who just want to see each other succeed.

If you could make one change to women's lives, what would it be and why?

Flexibility in the workplace for mothers. I have seen firsthand the barriers that women face after having their first child and the difficulty of returning to work part time. Job sharing or part-time work is offered by so few organisations and yet for so many women it is their preferred option to enable them to balance work and a young family. I have watched many friends give up their careers because their workplaces weren't compassionate towards their new status as a mum and refused to offer any flexibility. There is no reason why our society shouldn't be able to adapt to more job sharing or part-time roles.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Right now the hardest part is finding enough hours in the day. Running a business with only part-time hours in the office is not easy and there are always more things I would love to be doing to grow the business. It means being incredibly productive with the hours I have and outsourcing or delegating tasks that I don't really need to be doing myself. 

I think one of the hardest lessons to learn as an entrepreneur is to take a step back from the day-to-day running of your business and look at the bigger picture. When you start out, you're in the trenches, wearing every hat across the business. In order to grow, you have to remove yourself from that and put other people in place to do that work in order to give yourself clarity to see where to take the business. Having my son forced me to take a bit of time off and make that mind shift. It was actually one of the best things that could have happened for the business.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to success in your field?

Network and collaborate. Although it can be exhausting when you have a packed schedule and a new business to get off the ground, networking is so important in this industry. Meeting people face to face in a world that so often hides behind email offers incredible reward. Find likeminded people early on who compliment your business or idea and find ways to work together to build both your success. Building a strong network of contacts and supporters is the key to success in an industry that is in many ways driven by word of mouth.

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