Career journey: Lydia Mansi

Meet Lydia Mansi, a digital marketing consultant and mother of two young boys, on a journey to make a career out of her love of writing. Lydia started out working as a magazine editor and now runs her own consultancy business.

Tell us about yourself

I’ve always been single-minded (bar a brief flirtation with wanting to be fashion designer, aged 14) I have always wanted to be a writer. Age eight, growing up by the sea in Devon, I asked my head teacher to borrow the school photocopier and proceeded to create a ‘school magazine’. I drew all my own pictures (and made up most of my own stories) and sold each weekly edition in the playgroup for 20p. And so the obsession was born.

Fast-forward 10 years and I was still hell-bent on a media career. I did an intern stint at Glamour (shadowing the beauty editor and fashion team) although I spent most of my time sorting coat hangers in the fashion cupboard and fact checking the shopping pages, it just cemented for me how magical print media is.

So, with sights now set on not only media but London too, I solely applied to Goldsmiths College to do a Media and Communications degree. Call it teenage arrogance, or simply that I was driven, but my parents and teachers desperately tried to suggest a ‘Plan B’. Thankfully, due to my bloody mindedness and genuine fear of being told ‘I told you so,’ I got in.

The Goldsmith years

Early Noughties was pre-gentrification of Goldsmiths College, there were no minor Royals, no Curzon cinema – just a lot of asymmetrical hair cuts and a fair bit of pretentious art-student fashion. Those black and white chequered halls literally vibrated with creativity. Just being a part of it made me feel like anything I wanted to be was in my grasp. I wrote, studied photography, painted – it was the most expressive and creative I have ever been. It’s weird when I think I studied media at a time when there was no social media, no smartphones or apps. I had to trek to the library if I wanted to check my emails – now my whole livelihood is built on digital media.

So, my single-mindedness took a little kink in the road age 21. I had graduated, wanted to stay in London and needed a job. I was heartbroken and despondent so, for a reason that is still unclear to me now, I applied to be a recruitment consultant at an investment-banking agency in the city. I was hilariously hopeless. I knew nothing about the industry but I had a blast – drinking champagne at the top of the gherkin and flouncing about in power suits and a bold lippie. I remember walking across London Bridge every morning amidst a sea of grey suits in my emerald green coat and thinking ‘I really don’t fit in here’.

Move into publishing

Thankfully, just as I could feel my soul (and creativity) slowly dying a uni friend mentioned she might be able to get me a role in the publishing house she was working at. Bingo. I started off on the ad-sales desk but was soon making myself indispensable to the editorial team – as my mother always reassured me at the time ‘be helpful, polite and eager, it will pay off’. I remember sourcing ice tongs on the King’s Road one winter’s night at 7pm for one editor and thinking ‘it better pay off soon’. One editorial assistant opening later and I was in. My first genuine editorial, paid role. I still feel really fortunate that my editor, Kate Crockett was incredible. Forget The Devil Wears Prada, I have worked with some of the most empowering, supportive, inspiring women in my media career – she took time to make me a better writer, gave me interesting, meaty commissions (not just the shopping pages) and really nurtured my career.

Over five years I gradually worked my way up through the ranks to assistant editor, health and beauty editor and then magazine editor at 26. I launched a new title in a recession and went on to relaunch a failing title in the publishing house’s stable. Although a challenging time, I think it made me more business savvy and rather than being ‘all about the art’, I now really love getting my teeth into the budgets, pagination and the business end of the industry, which has surprised me.

The future is digital

With marriage and motherhood came a move back to Devon, I had no immediate plans to carve out a media career back in the south-west but after 18 months I got the itch and began working for a digital health brand start-up in Bristol as their content director.

Digital was a whole new game for me. I was overseeing marketing and editorial content for both the corporate and consumer sides of the brand and it was a steep learning curve, as was juggling motherhood and a challenging new career. I’m not sure we can ever get the balance right as working mums (or feel like we have!). But I am immensely proud of the fact that I am raising my two boys with the example of a strong, working mother who does something she is passionate about to provide for them.

Starting my own consultancy this year has been my biggest learning curve yet. It finally felt like the right time, after 15 years in the media industry. I felt comfortable that I had something to offer and that what I do is of value. This was a massive milestone for me, to feel confident enough to go it alone and be a one-woman brand. In marketing, especially digital, there are a lot of people using a lot of technical terms to try and hoodwink businesses and brands into thinking they need to pay big bucks to ‘make their mark online’. They don’t. I want to simplify digital marketing and work with independent brands to help them build their customer relationships in a natural, authentic way and stand out in a crowded marketplace, creatively.

Work Matters: Alice Judge-Talbot

Alice Judge-Talbot is a blogger, Telegraph columnist and digital marketing consultant. I first became aware of Alice after reading her brilliantly titled article ‘We Are Not Sodding Mumpreneurs‘. I knew instantly she was my kind of woman. Her blog morethantoast.org is a wonderful insight into family life as a working single parent. I love Alice’s honest, self-effacing approach to writing about her own experiences, which she shares so candidly I feel like I know her. Also, Alice is also something of a rare breed in the world of ‘mummy-bloggers’ – someone you can actually admire for her style and sparkle because she manages to convey authenticity in its true sense (not the contrived version increasingly displayed on social media). If you don’t already follow her then I suggest you remedy that immediately.

Why does work matter to you?

On a practical level I’m a single mum, so the sole breadwinner (and only adult!) in my household: work is pretty important for our survival. Knowing that the livelihood of my two kids and I rests solely on me used to be terrifying but I now find it empowering. It definitely keeps me motivated. Work otherwise is the one thing that keeps me sane. Like many I know I found the entry into motherhood tough to handle, and I love that I have a purpose and motivation away from my kids.

Describe in three words what professional success means to you…

Waking up happy.

What would be your dream job/project/company you’d like to work for?

Good question! I’m lucky enough to work for Waitrose on a regular basis, and they’re one of my favourite brands in the world. I pinch myself that I get paid to create recipes and write for them – dream come true. I’ve been working on a book for the last five years and it finally seems to be coming together. The day I sell that will definitely be a peak.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

I’ve always wanted to work in some capacity online, ever since I got the internet at the age of 14. But back when I started my career 13 years ago these jobs (unless they were in web design) were really hard to come by. So I started my office-based work in recruitment, which remains the toughest job I’ve ever done.

What did that experience teach you?

Resilience! Working in any kind of sales you have to have a thick skin, and recruitment helped me develop one. Now, I’m never scared of a difficult phone call or tough client meeting – they will never be as hard as the sales calls of my early twenties.

What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?

Running the award-winning digital marketing campaign for the release of Harper Lee’s book, Go Set a Watchman. It was such hard work but a really wonderful product to help launch, and my campaign led to record-breaking sales of the book for HarperCollins. That was pretty cool.

If you could go back in time who would you seek career advice from and why?

To be honest, I absolutely adore Hillary Clinton and think she is so inspirational when it comes to promoting women in the workplace. I was lucky enough to see her speak recently, and if I could seek career advice from one person it would be her.

Who is your present day career heroine and why?

It’s very inspiring to see mothers who are breaking the mould and creating the new wave of entrepreneurs: doing something they love around their kids and making money from it. There are too many to count: Gemma of Mutha.Hood, Steph of Don’t Buy Her Flowers, Hayley from Southwood Social Hub. I love seeing such brilliant women around me excel and succeed, it really spurs me on.

What words of professional wisdom would you impart to the next generation of women

Never give up on your dreams! Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough.

Have you ever considered trying something completely different career wise, if so what?

I really don’t know what else I’d do. I really enjoy my career and it’s diversified naturally with the wants and needs of my family (and me!). The only other thing I wanted to consistently do was be in Hollyoaks, so we’ll see if they come calling 😉

Work Matters: Anna Cascarina

Anna is the founder of Little Flea, a website dedicated to profiling cool kids brands and shops. Anna also produces the unique Little Flea Magazine, a online showcase for these brands that includes photographic shoots, trend pages and interviews.

Why does work matter to you?

I suppose it’s down to needing a creative outlet and wanting to work. I worked intermittently when the kids were young but when they were both full-time at school, it was important for me to start earning again. Plus I think it’s important for my girls to see that their mum can do other things other than be their slave!

Describe in three words what professional success means to you

Flexibility, happiness, money!

What would be your dream job or project?

I don’t think I could go back to working for someone else now but I’d love to collaborate with a high-end photographer/videographer to create and style kids fashion films.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

Working in a box packing factory.

What did that experience teach you?

To work hard to achieve my goals and nothing is beneath you!

What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?

My 10 issues of Little Flea Magazine as its a massive achievement for a one man band.

If you could go back in time who would you seek career advice from and why?

I would probably listen a bit more to my lecturers at The London College of Fashion as they knew what they were talking about.

Who is your present day career heroine and why?

I do love Sophia Amoruso founder of Nasty Gal and also Michelle Obama – she’s incredible.

What words of professional wisdom would you impart to the next generation of women?

Try not to compare to others. It’s tough not to but everyone is on their own journey.

Have you ever considered trying something completely different career wise, if so what?

Yes, I would love my own fashion line. I know exactly what it would be like. Maybe one day, who knows.


Photo credit: Sharon Copper (sharoncooper.co.uk).

Finding a work-life balance

Luisa Sanders is a social media manager and blogger who is passionate about giving mums the confidence to forge new careers or go it alone after having children. Having taken a career break of over 18 months after having her first son, Luisa took the plunge into the world of freelance, working for a variety of organisations including Netmums and English Heritage. Since 2013, Luisa has worked for Aardman Animations as a social media manager. She also writes a blog, Bristol Bargainista. Here she shares her story and explains why she feels becoming a mother has given her more confidence and made her more productive.

Tell us about yourself

I’ve never followed what you’d call a ‘solid’ career path! I had literally no idea what I was going to do with my life when I left university and in all honesty I felt pretty overwhelmed by the idea of navigating the world of work. I’ve worked in everything from publishing to gaming, but my career before kids didn’t really fulfil me. I can see with hindsight that I was often marking time in work – just filling the days and looking forward to the next pay cheque without really pushing out for more. I knew that writing was the thing I loved best about my job but I often felt frustrated by the creative limitations of working for a big organisation. By the time I’d become pregnant with my first child, I’d started doing a little bit of freelance writing on the side and realised that this was ‘my thing’.

That was almost 14 years ago and today I’m in a much better place professionally. Having children has without doubt focused me in terms of career. It hasn’t been easy – I took a break of over 18 months after having my first child, plus we moved from London to Bristol in that time, but becoming a mother gave me a new-found confidence and determination to carve out a freelance career. I never wanted to be the mother who was out at work from dawn till dusk, missing the nativity play and never seeing her children, so I become absolutely focused on making an income in a way that suited our new family dynamic.

luisa sanders family

How to you balance the demands of children and work?

I’m one of those annoying people who has managed to find a lovely employer who does their best to offer family-friendly, flexible hours. I’m constantly astounded by the lack of value society places on mothers and that organisations can’t see that they’re missing out on a huge talent pool by not offering flexible working. Personally, having children has made me much more productive at work – I fit in what I used to do in a five-day week into much less time. I think there’s a lot of time wasted in unnecessary meetings, hanging around the water cooler or simply faffing about when you have more time at your disposal. I don’t mean to denigrate those full-timers without kids but I do think you value a good employer much more when you’re a working parent; I never take sick days, am always punctual and pack as much into my days as possible as I know how lucky I am – it’s a deal that works in everyone’s favour.

In the early days, I had moments of wondering how I was going to make it all work – there were a lot of early morning starts, working at 6am before the kids woke up and then picking things up again when they were in bed. I’ve worked many weekends and have taken my lap-top on family holidays, but that’s the deal you make when you go freelance – I was happy to do those unorthodox hours to be around for my children when they were little.

What are your tips for mums trying to get back into work?

I won’t lie to you – I found the journey back to work challenging, exhausting and bewildering. I felt as if the landscape had totally changed in the time I was away, plus I only returned back to ‘proper’ work when I was on the cusp of turning 40. Rocking up to Aardman for my first day at work, I’ll admit I had a wobble; how was I, a middle aged mum, going to bring any relevance and insight to my new social media job?

But you’ve got to shut down that inner monologue and remember all the things you do, as a mum, bring to the table: resilience, patience, problem solving, time management and real life experience, to name just a few. I became a much more competent person after having children, something I reminded myself of frequently when I was feeling unsure of my abilities. That and the fact that I’d pushed a baby out and that no job interview or stressful work situation could ever be as life changing or important as that.

Writing my blog helped me to learn some great digital skills and help me find my voice – I wholeheartedly recommend this as a way to explore your creativity or hone your writing skills if writing is something you love. While I’m not a natural networker and suffer with anxiety, I learnt to put myself out there. I connected with numerous people and companies in Bristol; some I never heard from again, but some become clients I’ve enjoyed a long-standing relationship with.

I’ve also always been honest about the fact that being a mum comes first with me. Interestingly, in the interview for my first job post having children, I was asked what my proudest achievement was to date. I answered ‘having my son’ and immediately wondered if I’d just committed career suicide. But I got the job and it was – I was informed by employer afterwards – my honesty and obvious dedication to my family that got me the job. Those employers DO exist but you need to work hard to find them. So do your research, send out those emails and keep going – you can make motherhood and work work for you – good luck.

Supercharge your wellbeing

Meet the founders of Supercharged Club: Emma Fullwood post-partum fitness expert and life coach Mary Meadows. The dynamic duo bring together a unique blend of physical and mental exercises to help women focus on their wellbeing after childbirth. We all know that coming to terms with changes in our bodies during pregnancy and labour can be very difficult. Then there are the hormonal changes which can trigger all sorts of emotional responses – put simply your mind and body goes through the wringer! Well, with that in mind, Emma and Mary have created a hub of support and practical help to guide you through this tricky time and leave you feeling in control, healthier and happier. You can sign-up to the next 6-week online mission here: superchargedclub.co.uk/join.

How are you embracing digital media in your business?

Technology and social media is the crucial element to our business, we are able to bring our 6-week missions to any women anywhere in the world because of it! We have clients from Los Angeles, Dubai, France, Canada, South Africa and all over the UK. We are able to bring women our expertise and support them on their adventures through our laptops and iPhones which is just incredible.

What are your top motivational tips for mind and body?

  • Eat more broccoli
  • Drink more water
  • Make sure you take a big deep breath at least once a day!

Keep it super simple, don’t try and make things harder for yourself, life is hard without ourselves making it more so.


Mary and Emma are following…

burrelleducation

Burrell Education: Jenny Burrell is a post-natal exercise specialist, there is nothing she doesn’t know about exercise for women of all age groups.

briannabattles

Brianna Battles: an expert fitness coach for athletes, inspires Emma as she loves her straight-talking, take a look at her blogs so inspiring!

missmagpiespy

For Mary, inspiration comes from anyone who breaks the rules, owns their words and actions, and inspires others. A great woman she had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago is Niki Groom, AKA @miss-magpie-spy, a talented fashion and beauty illustrator who’s Instagram feed, and blog is beautifully curated and inspirational.

hurrah4gin

The lovely Katie from Hurrah for Gin always manages to post what all of us mums are thinking!


Sign-up to the next 6-week online mission: superchargedclub.co.uk/join

superchargedclub.co.uk
instagram.com/superchargedclub
facebook.com/THESuperchargedClub
youtube.com/channel/UCJWk9v_BVPptV7Dec8w1Oyw

Find your inner goddess

Meet Lizzie Astin, the creator and founder of The Goddess Body Formula, a 12 week transformation programme for busy women.

Tell us about yourself

I started my career in recruitment, working long hours, sitting on my bum, drinking too much and eating badly. Seven years into my career, aged 29 I was dissatisfied and frustrated I decided to chuck it all in and re-qualify as a Personal Trainer. I started my business in 2015 at a mainstream gym and very quickly developed a reputation for getting the best from clients with fun sessions and an inspiring attitude.

lizzie aston

By 2016 I had carved a niche as a Transformation Coach, working only with women who really wanted to overhaul their physical health. I started to develop the foundations that would later become the ‘Goddess Body Formula Programme’. In 2017 I moved to a private studio in Bristol, I launched the online version of the The Goddess Body Formula and rapidly built a new client base of women who were all going through major transitions: divorce, babies, marriage or milestone birthdays.

What motivated you to start your business?

I started my business in 2014 for two reasons: I wanted to do something that mattered and truly made a difference and I wanted to do something that allowed me the opportunity to choose to live life on my terms.

Having lost 15% body fat and three stone I went through a serious transformation. But it wasn’t just my body that changed, everything changed. I actually cared about myself for the first time in a long time and I started to make empowering decisions. I gained weight because I didn’t care enough not to, I ate crap, drank too much and didn’t exercise. At first it was my changing physically appearance that provoked me into changing my habits, but that wasn’t enough, I couldn’t stick to anything and I didn’t know how to undo all the damage. In 2012 my mum was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly I did know what to do. I made it my mission to live as the best version of myself, starting with my body. I became fascinated with mindset and personal development and started to apply these principles to physical training – the results were incredible.

When I was angry, I worked out, when I was sad, I worked out, when I was happy, I worked out. I had an outlet – an empowering habit and I was addicted. My new-found passion allowed me to be a better person for her. Not being comfortable in my own skin had consumed me, made me selfish, snappy, fragile and self-absorbed, now I felt vibrant, energetic, strong, I had faith and belief.

In 2013, I quit my job and qualified as a Level 3 Personal Trainer. I didn’t really have a clue about running a business but I figured if I brought the same enthusiasm to my clients that I had for my own training and I gave them the benefit of my experience then things would change for them too, and they did.

lizzie astin

I spent two years working in a gym, business was flying but I was exhausted, delivering 30 hours of one-to-one training, fitting in my own workouts and all the planning outside of the gym was too much, the level of service was in danger of being compromised. I knew for me to carry on serving at that level the business model had to change. I moved to a private studio and the Goddess Body Formula online was born. The programme gives all the practical advice, mindset, nutrition, workouts and support I give, but it is delivered remotely and can be done from the comfort of your own home. I still work with clients one-to-one, but space is limited.

I built the majority of the online content for my programme whilst down in Cornwall caring for my mum full-time during the final four months of my mum’s life. The cancer got her, she never gave up and I won’t either. I came back to Bristol in April 2017 and moved into the new studio, taking on just a few clients and giving myself time to heal too. I work with up to 10 clients face to face at a time and take on 2-4 new clients each month. In addition to formally launching the Goddess Body Formula online I will also be launching my podcast which will be a combination of tools, tips, insights, stories and interviews to support and guide your journey to a happy and healthy body for life.

How are you embracing social media to grow your business?

Instagram is hugely popular in the fitness industry and it is very possible to develop a huge following using this platform alone. However, I have my misgivings about it! I do not deny that aesthetics are a big motivator for many and can be empowering, however, to focus solely on that misses the point and can create feelings of low self-worth. I am all for a bit of body ‘inspo’, but I want to make it inspiring for the right reasons, there are too many fitness models with low body fat, fake boobs and fake lips. I use Instagram to share the journey, to encourage my followers to fall in love with the process and show case the results I have helped my clients achieve.

Facebook is a great tool and they are always developing the platform for business owners. I have a private Facebook group called the Goddess Body Community which is a safe place for me to share my own journey and the journey my clients are on. In this group I offer practical advice as well as theories and stories that inspire and motivate my members. I use my business page to advertise, my focus has always been on offering value, mainly through blogging. I share practical information demonstrating how to simplify eating for weight loss, and I share my own personal experiences to allow my audience to engage with me on a more personal level, it’s important to understand the journey that helps you to achieve the result.


Lizzie is following…

mollie sapp

Molly Sapp: she has really helped me from to understand the ways I have previously limited myself, how to overcome money mindset issues and in no uncertain terms cut through the BS. They didn’t teach us how to run a business in school, there are load of coaches out there but Molly’s messaging speaks very clearly to me and where I am at right now!

emily skye

Emily Skye: she has an amazing body and she has a great training style that I know works, but more importantly she teaches great mindset principles, she is authentic about the challenges she has faced and honest about the reality of the effect of pregnancy on her body, it’s refreshing to see!


Lizzie’s work

Email Marketing for Business

In partnership with She Is Digital I’ll be running a workshop on email marketing in Cheltenham on Tuesday 7th November, 9.30am-12.30am. Click here to book a place on the course.

Everybody and anybody who has an online presence has an active email address. So when it comes to connecting with your audience and customers, there’s no channel with a wider reach than email. Crafting the perfect email to send to your mailing list could be the one thing that builds a strong and lasting relationship with your audience, turning a reader into a paying customer.

What you’ll learn on the course

  • Why Email is the best at driving conversion
  • An introduction to MailChimp, the No1 email service provider
  • What types of content to include in your email campaigns
  • How to craft a killer email
  • How to measure your success and plan for future campaigns

This workshop gives you the inside scoop on all things email and how you can use it to reach your audience in that one place they visit every day – their inbox.

Social Butterflies meet-up with CheltenhamMaman: 20th November 2017

Join us for the second Social Butterflies meet-up with guest speaker Kate Starkey, founder of CheltenhamMaman, the online platform and events business for parents. Kate’s business is going from strength to strength and she has won two awards recognising her achievements: UK Blog Award winner in the 2017 Parenting category and Digital Woman of the Year at the Gloucestershire Women of the Year Awards 2017. Who better to discuss business, the power of social media and represent the South-West?

You’ve heard of ‘Professional Networking’ – think of this more as ‘Prosecco Notworking’

The event is hosted by me, Amy White, founder of Social Butterflies, a website and online community committed to celebrating and connecting women seeking professional inspiration and wanting to expand their career horizons. Like lots of things these days it all began with a blog, the blog spurned a wonderfully supportive online community and so it felt like a natural progression to create events so people could meet in real life (preferably over a glass of something).

My experience is a very common one – I took a career break to have children and when I returned to the workplace I’d completely lost my professional identity, and with it most of my confidence. These events are designed for women who don’t necessarily identify with the corporate world and treading a traditional career path. We are happy to challenge the conventional 9-5 culture in order to fulfil our career ambitions and hopefully achieve a better work/life balance. This is a totally informal evening for women (not just mums) looking to expand their networks beyond the realms of social media and chat about their careers, business aspirations and discuss how the digital world can transform their professional lives.

I figured you might have a few questions about the event, so I’ve outlined some key points below…

Venue

The event will be held at The Square Club in central Bristol, on Berkeley Square, just off Park Street.

What can I expect from the evening?

– Glass of Prosecco (obviously) and a goody bag

– Talk with our speaker Kate: sharing her experience setting up and running a successful online and events business.

– Q&A with guests: Kate & Amy will answer your questions.

– Speed networking (or as I like to call it) ‘notworking’: 15 minutes divided into 5 minute intervals where we will actively encourage you to make three new connections (I promise it will be fun).

What will you get out of it?

– Make connections: meet women at all different stages of their professional journeys.

– Feel inspired: hear from our guest speaker Kate, Amy and other guests.

– Gain knowledge: opportunity to ask questions and get advice.

Who is the event for?

– Women who want to expand their professional networks in a relaxed, social and non-judgemental setting.

– Those with a keen interest in developing or acquiring digital knowledge that will help them in their professional lives.

– These events are not aimed at ‘mums’ but are for all women, all ages, all backgrounds and at all stages of their professional journeys.

– You might be running your own business, a freelancer, working in an organisation, on a career break, on maternity leave, wanting to retrain, or simply just curious about the possibilities that expanding your digital knowledge could bring.

Ticket info

Tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable between events, however you can transfer the ticket to someone else just email: hellosocialbutterflies@gmail.com.

Email updates

I’ll be keeping you posted on information about the event via email.

Pursuing a creative passion

Meet Vanessa Dennett, owner of The Simpson Sisters, a small business which runs creative workshops in relaxed and collaborative settings in Bristol and North Somerset. Like many women, Vanessa put her career ambitions on hold whilst raising her children, but now she is finally able to pursue her passion and showcase her creative talent through her blog and the workshops she runs.

Tell us about yourself 

I grew up in a small village in North Somerset and had a pretty idyllic early childhood. I went to the village primary school and then onto the local comprehensive where the idyll ended. I became pretty unmotivated and much more interested in horses and boys than anything academic. I was however considered bright enough to be studying the sciences at O-level and consequently wasn’t allowed to continue with the more creative subjects which I enjoyed.

Vanessa Dennett

Suffice to say that I was not successful at O-level, and after an unhappy start at a new school for A-levels I persuaded my parents to let me leave and go to secretarial college instead. I never particularly wanted to become a secretary, rather it seemed a good escape route. A couple of years temping and travelling persuaded me that office life was not for me and I applied for nurse training because I liked people and didn’t have sufficient qualifications to do anything else medical. It’s fair to say I could have given these decisions a little more consideration!

The following years were spent nursing and, following a knee injury, in various medically oriented sales and admin jobs – I recruited Australian nurses for the UK and sold plaster casts amongst other things! During this time I met my husband and we have lived and travelled around the world as he has pursued his career. Australia, Germany, South Africa, Belgium and Sweden have all been home at various times.

Since the birth of our two daughters I have explored a number of potential careers, largely based upon what I could fit around the demands of caring for children while living overseas without any established network and a husband who travelled. I drew upon my secretarial skills typing at home in the evenings, my knowledge of anatomy as a massage therapist and my sewing skills as a technician in a school’s textiles department, but nothing left me feeling very fulfilled or enthusiastic.

How did the idea for your business come about?

While living in Belgium I was offered the opportunity to participate in a pilot online coaching programme by a friend establishing her business. I finally spent a bit of time thinking about who I am, my skills and my interests and concluded that what I would really like to do would be ‘something creative with other people’. At this point we moved again twice in short succession and I put these thoughts on hold. We returned to the UK and I found a job almost next door at St Peter’s Hospice where I helped manage their hospice based volunteers on a short-term contract. At the end of this contract I again felt the frustration and entrapment that I have so often experienced in office environments, and much as I love the hospice I looked again at the outcome of the coaching programme and thought “I just have to try something, anything, more creative”. It was at this point that several threads began to weave together.

simpsons workshops

  • While overseas we had bought a small disused barn from my parents when they downsized from our family home and I had begun to blog very sporadically about the project, simply as a personal record and a way of family seeing what was going on. I had great intentions but too many moves got in the way and I never really got going.
  • While at the hospice I undertook a Digital Mums social media management course in order to up-skill a bit and with the notion that this type of flexible working might suit me. During the course I attended an Instagram workshop at The Forge with Emily Quinton and was introduced to Makelight and the online world of creatives which had somehow been a secret to me until then.
  • Originally a Simpson, I thought that The Simpson Sisters would make a great name for a business. Though I wasn’t sure what business I could possibly run I had bought the domain name a few years ago.
  • Attending creative workshops of all sorts, from cake decorating to pottery, watercolours and stage make-up has been how I have met some of my best friends in various locations over the years and I have spent many happy hours learning new skills in this way.

It suddenly occurred to me that workshops were just exactly doing something creative with other people and that I could either keep attending them, or I could start running them. Being interested in so many different creative pursuits it seemed to me that collaborating with others would be a really great way to do this.

It has taken me a while to nail exactly what it is that I’ve been creating, but I’ve loved finding my way over the last year and can now confidently tell people that The Simpson Sisters is a small creative business whose aims are to encourage and enable creativity by offering a variety of creative workshops in a warm, friendly and relaxed environment, and by providing a small attractive venue for other creatives to use for similar purposes. I love sharing my home with people and workshop days are my absolute favourites. In fact, I’m teaching my first sewing workshop in September and have often wondered how different my life might have been if I had pursued textiles as a subject at school!

How are you embracing social media?

Social media has been a huge learning curve for me over the last 18 months, I didn’t even have an Instagram account until last year and had never tweeted until then either! However, it has proved a wonderful resource and I have benefitted enormously from so many of the lovely people I have met online. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are where I’m found regularly and although I sometimes find three platforms challenging I believe that they each offer something quite different to me. I would love to grow my audiences and have worked hard to improve my photography to this end.


Vanessa is following…

me and orla

Me and Orla : I love Sarah’s honesty and no nonsense approach, her Hashtag Authentic podcast has been one of my favourites.

simple and season

Simple and Season: I had followed Kayte’s blog for a while and jumped at the chance to hear her speak at Blogtacular. I was not disappointed and found her marketing advice invaluable.

makelight

Makelight: without some of Emily and Stef’s courses I would never have pursued Instagram, updated my website or begun sending a newsletter.


Vanessa’s work…

thesimpsonsisters.co.uk
eventbrite.co.uk/o/the-simpson-sisters-11355703362
instagram.com/simpsonsisters

Newsflash: social media exists to make money

Sorry to break it to you all, but it’s true. However, the tide is turning and a new generation of bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers are using these platforms to their advantage and making a living from them. Social media networks are marketing and advertising tools like any other, but unlike traditional forms of media (TV, press, radio) they are not subject to stringent regulation. They are embedded in our digital culture purely as ‘social connectors’ and to the average consumer that’s true (on the surface) and that’s why we all love them. But the reality is that they are billion dollar money-making corporations, not worthy social-enterprise projects.

I find it surprising that considering the overwhelming power and effect social media has on our lives that so many people misunderstand its purpose. Money and the currency of influence is what fuels these networks. But we continue to attach the morality of friendship, trust and authenticity to the likes of Facebook and Instagram and feel a sense of collective outrage and disappointment when we are reminded of the commercial realities which are bubbling beneath the surface. I probably sound very cynical, but don’t misunderstand me, I’m just looking pragmatically at these networks as business tools.

Collective delusion

Part of the reason I felt compelled to write this article is because there has been a huge amount of discussion in the last week sparked by an ‘Insta-mums‘ thread on a Mumsnet discussion forum. Several high-profile social media influencers including Mother of Daughters and Father of Daughters (pictured below) have come in for all manner of verbal abuse and criticism for making money through paid social media content. Now, personally I think that if you put yourself out in the public domain you have to be prepared for a certain degree of negativity – there will always be a few people who can’t resist judging and bitching (let’s not forget Katie Hopkins has made a career out of it). However, personal insults (or trolling) are obviously unacceptable and unnecessary, and the armchair warriors would clearly never say it to their faces. That said I do think it’s brought up some interesting points and I think there is a collective delusion going on around this topic.

Clemmie and Simon Hooper

The global corporations like Facebook (who own Instagram) are making billions of dollars harvesting all our data and selling it on to companies which in turn target us with ‘demographic specific’ advertising. We are all happy to create accounts and spend inordinate amounts of time on these platforms. The unpalatable truth is that we are all caught up in the murky net of advertising on a daily basis: consciously or unconsciously and to deny that fact is at best naive and at worst hypocritical. Where an opportunity to make money exists people will exploit it. Fact.

Winning the game

Now, if you turn this on its head and start to consider that bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers are making these mass commercial platforms work for them as a business then you can begin to understand the appeal. After all a lot of work goes on behind the scenes building a social media brand – just take a look at Mother Pukka AKA Anna Whitehouse. Her approach and response to all this judgement and ‘Daily Mail-esque’ controversy is to be open and confrontational, but not in an aggressive way – Anna plays the game as it should be played. She’s a businesswoman making a living and is happy to discuss the pros and cons of walking the tightrope between personal and business. At least she’s open to discussing it and surely that’s the point – the more transparency the better. If she’s not your cup of tea then find someone who is.

I’m not making any judgements about specific individuals, but I think it’s important if you’re going to have a debate about the perceived unsavoury aspects of making a living by selling stuff via social media that you acknowledge the part we all play as consumers in that – we are all at the behest of big business. So, if a few people choose to make money by using it as a business tool we shouldn’t be surprised or overtly offended.

You may choose to be personally upset by the commercial partnerships some bloggers choose to go into, and that’s fair enough. That’s what the unfollow button is for. Within reason you can choose what you see (damn those pesky algorithms). So, I urge people to make active choices about what and who they follow and also remember people are making a living from platforms that are making a living from you. If you have a problem with that then perhaps social media is too morally corrupt a place for you. My philosophy on the whole culture of social media brings to mind a classic quote by Rudyard Kipling: “If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. The world will be yours and everything in it”. Don’t lose sight of what drives the media-technology companies to engineer these social networks. Get what you want from them and enjoy it for what it is.

Changing the culture

Now, rather than having a go at all the people trying to make a living via social media, how about ploughing all that energy into making Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their friends more accountable for their advertising standards. Also, while we’re at it how about better regulation generally on social media and more education in our schools, colleges and universities. How about re-educating the workforce too while we’re at it? Big businesses should take more corporate responsibility for the effects their networks have on society and be clear, open and subject to scrutiny.