More than a mummy blogger

Who said you had to stick to one field of expertise in your career? Certainly not Helen Farmer, a freelance writer, editor, voice over artist and family celebrant. Originally from the UK, Helen lives in Dubai with her family and writes an award-winning blog called The Mothership. She writes about the highs (and lows) of being a working parent living abroad. Helen shares her career story and proves that being a mum needn’t restrict your career options.

Tell us about yourself

I knew from age 14 which degree I wanted to do, and tailored all my education options and weekend jobs to getting on it: a Broadcast Journalism course at the University of Leeds, where all of the tutors were current BBC employees, and work experience took place at the same studios where Countdown was filmed. It was competitive to get on, and even more so once I was there, with stressful projects and my fellow students frequently in tears in our ‘newsroom’ (this is back in the day when we felt lucky to have a room with internet access). I quickly realised that this wasn’t for me, and my first job was in print, working on a small magazine in Northumberland where I was both writing features and selling ads. I learnt a lot about both disciplines – fast. Afterwards came a stint in PR and marketing, working for one of my property clients. Then came a move to the Middle East age 24. In truth, it was a choice between moving abroad and moving to London – and Bahrain scared me less than the capital. Classic Northerner!

I worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency before moving to Dubai with a rather regrettable ex. Thankfully, while the relationship didn’t last, the UAE has been a fantastic place for my career. For three years I worked for a guidebook publisher, writing and editing books for expats all over the world, before launching their website. Next came three years as deputy editor on an entertainment magazine, where we worked hard, but enjoyed the best the city had to offer, from concerts to dining, plus interviewing visiting celebrities and reviewing hotels all over the world. I stayed with the same publisher and was promoted to editor of a new magazine, one I was able to be instrumental in creating, that’s all about normal life in an extraordinary place. We supported small businesses, sought out inspirational people and created a really feel-good title that I’m immensely proud of to this day.

And somewhere in there I met my husband and got pregnant with my first daughter and starting blogging, launching a website called The Mothership. I went part-time when she was a year old, then a few months later decided to go freelance, focusing on the blog, writing for other titles, working as a voiceover artist and start training as a family celebrant, allowing me to create and conduct wedding blessings and baby naming ceremonies. Something of an eclectic mix.

Helen also works as a wedding celebrant.

It’s been a year since I went freelance, and I wouldn’t change a thing (apart from the unreliability of payment). My blog has been nominated for (and won) awards, I’ve written for some of my favourite magazines, and I’m loving my work as a celebrant. It also allows me more time with my toddler and newborn baby. Yes, it’s chaotic, and there’s always something for me to be doing, but it’s working.

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

I’ve always written, so starting The Mothership was really just a way for me to deal with the newness and weirdness of being a mum. What has followed, however, has been fantastic, and one of my favourite parts is the social media community I’ve built – I’m all about those ‘me too’ moments in parenthood, the ones that make us feel less alone and less mad. That it’s okay to admit that you don’t love every second. Digital technology has also been really helpful for the celebrant side, from brides connecting with me on Instagram to having Skype meetings with couples from all over the world.

What are you tips for managing a multi-faceted career?

I love a routine, so after nursery drop off at 8am, the mornings are for work, then it’s pick-up, and more work during naps, and then it’s family time. I usually meet brides via Skype or in the evenings, then weddings take place in the afternoons – the first ceremony I did was a month after giving birth, and my mum was in the hotel lobby with the baby in case I needed to breastfeed her!


Helen is following…

Anna Whitehouse AKA Mother Pukka: we met in Dubai (her husband was my editor) and we all became friends. I really admire how she’s using her platform to promote flexible working in the UK, and doing it with a sense of humour. And I really respect her transparency when it comes to working with brands and doing sponsored posts. She’s a breath of fresh air – and I can’t wait to see her at a wedding in September. Mummy bloggers gone wild…

I did a yoga class with Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) last year, and it changed the way I think about exercise. She’s truly inspirational, and has made me feel less self-conscious about being the biggest girl in the gym. Her Instagram feed is full of laughter and advice, and I’ve started doing her Every Body Yoga video classes via an app called Cody.


Helen’s work

themothershipdxb.com
instagram.com/themothershipdxb
facebook.com/themothershipdxb

Empowering women to succeed in business

Meet Jessica Rogers, a professional coach who helps women who run their own businesses. She shares her career story, coaching tips and suggests some great women to follow.

Tell us about yourself

I started my career in marketing children’s entertainment brands and went on to manage well-known toy brands such as Star Wars and Transformers. I liked my job to an extent and I was successful it but I always felt like there was something missing, it never felt quite right.

When I had my first child, whilst negotiating my return to corporate work, I started seeing a Life Coach, it was through this process that I decided to do some coaching training as self-development. After my first month I realised that I loved it and I was good at it, I had found the ‘thing’ I had been missing for a long time. So I quit my job and threw myself into the training. I started my coaching business working with women returnees in large businesses as that is what I knew and I felt well qualified to help these women.

Now, I coach women who own and run small businesses that they are looking to upscale. We work together to clearly identify what they want to achieve and the practical steps they need to take to make it happen. I also provide interactive workshops and coaching sessions for women returnees as part of the TechPixies programme.

I’ve also always had a yearning to work with young people – I started off coaching and mentoring unemployed young people on a south-east London housing estate. Over the years I have coached young people in and out of education, now I do project work for a local group of colleges working with students who have been identified as being “at risk”. This work is really important to me as I feel that giving young people the space that coaching provides can set them on a positive path of self-awareness and taking personal responsibility for their future life and career.

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

When I first started coaching nine years ago I saw most of my clients in person, partly because I went to see them in their place of work but also because some people felt uncomfortable about not being able to see me. Now, whilst I still do a lot of phone coaching I also coach by Skype and FaceTime, which has meant I have a wider range of clients in a wide range of locations.

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with social media, I love the connectedness it brings and I love finding new people to engage with, but I hate putting myself out there. When I ditch the fear and do it I love what happens but I have some blocks around it that I am working on!

What are your top coaching tips for women?

  • Be true to yourself – always: don’t waste time comparing yourself to others – “plow your own furrow”.
  • Trust your gut: if something doesn’t feel right it usually isn’t despite how attractive others may want you to think it is.
  • Surround yourself with the right people: those who inspire you to aim higher and who have your back.

Jessica is following…

Jenny Garrett: I have known Jenny for about four years – we met on Twitter! Over the years she has been my coach and I have taken her self-development courses and attended her Happenista retreat. Whenever I have any contact with her she never fails to inspire me with her lovely manner and wise words.

The Step Up Club: I love how these two women give positive useful tips for everyday life in a stylish and accessible way.

Life According to Her: The vibe and no nonsense tips from Ahyiana in this feed really resonate with me.


Jessica’s work 

jessicavrogers.co.uk
instagram.com/jessicavrogers
twitter.com/JessicaRogers76

Top 10 Takeaways from Blogtacular

I attended Blogtacular last weekend (a blogging and online conference in London). Rather than write a blog post detailing my thoughts on the event I thought it would be fun (and a good way to test out new skills) to try my hand at recording a Podcast. I used the Opinion App on my phone, so bear with the quality. I think it sounds OK and it goes to show what you can do with mobile technology these days (record, edit, overlay music and share).

Stop dreaming, start doing

The Step Up Club is a fresh, new voice in the women’s career conversation. We are here to celebrate all women – whatever your job. The two of us sit at either ends of the creative/corporate spectrum: we know that it’s just as valid to aspire to career contentment, as it is to want to become your company’s next CEO. We are the authors of the newest women’s career manual: Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day. Through our stylish events, online content and newsletter, our aim is to make women feel empowered, boost their skill set and broaden their network to really love their work and life.

Phanella is a former lawyer and banker who retrained as an executive career coach, working (alongside The Step Up Club) on women’s leadership and diversity with all kind of big companies as well as individuals. Alice is a former fashion features editor at The Times, Marie Claire and Red, who alongside The Step Up Club continues to write freelance for many of the broadsheets and glossies. Between us we have five children and live in North West London.

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

Getting our message out there has definitely been enabled by social media and digital technology. Our book, of course, exists offline and contains a huge body of content, career workouts and advice. But without our blog and social feeds, it would be that much more difficult to get the more personal element of support out to our community of women – many of whom can’t make it to our events in person. We are working on a full online programme to reach and connect these women, but in the meantime we rely on these other channels to have an impact.

It is hard, when Instagram and similar feeds are bursting with edited images of life perfection from all corners of the world. It takes a mind of steel to remain completely unmoved by this – but as we say at the start of our book, finding success (and when we talk about success, we do so with a view to all facets of life) is about celebrating our own uniqueness and not allowing ourselves to have the lives of others impressed upon us negatively. Sure, it’s brilliant if other women inspire us to reach our own goals, but it is also important that we stay true to our own beliefs and values, which is why we spend a lot of time helping readers (and attendees at our events) unearth theirs. We like to refer to values as the hashtags of our lives: we can’t get away from social media, but we can let it help us guide us towards our own success.

What are your confidence building tips for women in business?

We feel passionately that confidence is an integral part of career success, fulfilment and enjoyment. Confidence turns our thoughts into actions, it is the emotional driver that we hold within ourselves and women do tend to struggle more acutely with confidence levels. Why? Because our internal thoughts, the ones that make us empathetic, kind, unique and brilliant, also have the capacity to hold us down. Who hasn’t succumbed to the voice inside their heads that says we aren’t good enough, or that that other person is much more capable? Of course, everyone has these thoughts but when we allow them to feel comfortable within our heads – when we let the proverbial devil dwell for too long – it has a negative impact on how we feel, how we function and in turn, how others respond to us too.

Confidence is not innate, which means that we all have the capacity to change our internal rhetoric and in turn, build our confidence. Also, in our book, we explore fully the practical tips that you can employ to also improve your confidence levels from the outside in. Neither will happen overnight, but if you can break the negative belief cycles that dictate your thoughts, and implement some positive physical changes – standing bigger, speaking more slowly and taking the time to really listening, all of us can become a more confident, self-assured version of your current self.

Finally, we believe that each of us is uniquely brilliant. We each have our own unique definition of success and if we play to that – no one else’s – then we will feel more confident about our careers.


Alice and Phanella are following…

Style Me Sunday: We love Nat’s no bullshit message, incredible sense of style and massive smile. She is gorgeous inside and out. We are especially loving her Friday finger slot.

Cherry Healey: We’ve both been watching Cherry on TV for years and she brings the same sense of humour, openness and honesty to her social feed and in real life.


The Step Up Club

We send out a weekly newsletter with loads of career advice, our latest blog posts, first dibs on our event tickets – they often sell out here first – and (coming soon) discounts on our favourite work related brands. At the moment we’re giving away an exclusive excerpt from our book that WILL help readers define their personal success when they sign up. Just follow this link: bit.ly/SuccessGiveaway.

Let’s get digital

Meet Claire Greville, a Digital Mums graduate who has since set up her own social media consultancy Greville Social in Bristol. Claire studied Accounting and Finance at university and had a successful career working in higher education, before making the difficult decision to take redundancy after they were unable to accommodate her flexible working request (sound familiar?). So with no idea of what she was going to do, but with a bit of time to reflect on what kind of job would suit her and her family, Claire stumbled across a Digital Mums Facebook advert, and the rest (as they say) is history.

Why did you choose Digital Mums and what was it like doing the course?

Funnily enough, I found Digital Mums through Facebook (I understand now that it was a cleverly targeted advert!). I was scrolling through my feed one afternoon in October 2015, when I spotted the details. It seemed almost too good to be true as it was exactly what I had been looking for – flexible, rewarding work which I could do from home. I immediately checked out their website and the course sounded really interesting, so I emailed for more information. I did lots of research about Digital Mums in the meantime, but I was getting more and more excited as I thought about it. I loved social media, and the prospect of being able to work for a business as part of the training was very appealing. I decided to apply, and a few weeks later, I was offered a video interview for a place on the course. I was quite nervous but I really needn’t have been. Nikki (one of the co-founders, pictured on the left below) was lovely, and before I knew it, I’d been offered a place on the Social Media Marketing: Associate Programme starting in January 2016.

Digital Mums co-founders: Nikki Cochrane and Kathryn Tyler.

The course itself was a fantastic but very intense experience. It was 20 weeks long, but run over six months, in order to accommodate some of the school holidays. The ‘live learning’ aspect was brilliant. I was paired with a business from the very first week of the course, and I was able to apply everything I learned each week straightaway, which meant that I retained all of the information I was taking in (and there was a lot!). It was also a great way to learn about managing clients and their expectations.

Every student is put into a peer group with five other mums, and my group ‘The Katherine Ryans’, was such a fantastic support. We spoke every week of the course, through Google Hangouts and WhatsApp, and I’m still in touch with them now. The course finished at the end of June and there was a scary final report to hand in, but I passed with flying colours. I took a few weeks off over the summer before starting work for a small digital agency based in London. I did that for a couple of months, but quickly realised that I would prefer to work for my own clients, so I set up my own social media consultancy, Greville Social.

I currently have three clients, all of whom I work for remotely. I still provide social media consultancy to the lovely business that I trained with: Cambridge Academic Performance. I’m just about to start running a new Facebook campaign for Green Ginger Design, a fantastic web designer based in East London. And I’m currently managing Facebook and Instagram for Eye Heroes, a small charity who are campaigning to prevent avoidable blindness in the UK. I’ve also recently been selected as a mentor for Digital Mums, working 1:1 to support another mum through the course and beyond.

My work/life balance is now exactly what I could only dream of two years ago. Gone are the ridiculously early morning starts, and the stressful commute. I now have time to walk my sons to school every day, before I settle down to work in my home office. I do most of my work during school hours, and all of my clients are happy for me to work remotely, keeping in touch with them via phone, video calls, and email. As my work is so flexible, I even have time to do a little bit of volunteering in the local area, helping out at my sons’ school, and also running a local community group’s Facebook page.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing a Digital Mums course?

Make sure you’re absolutely committed to doing the course. It will take over your life for six months and you need to be prepared to put the hours in every single week. It’s not something that you can do half-heartedly as you need to keep up with each week’s tasks and assignments. There isn’t time to fall behind, and the deadlines are strict.

I was fortunate that both my children were at school when I started the course so I studied during the day, but there were plenty of mums on the course with younger children. Just think about how you’ll manage to find the time to study as well as look after the kids. And don’t worry if you haven’t studied anything new for a long time – all the other mums will be equally as nervous as you are. But the support you will receive from your peers and Digital Mums both during the course and afterwards will increase your confidence ten-fold.

The support from the #DMCollective (Digital Mums graduates) continues to astound me every day, and I feel genuinely honoured to be part of such a talented and inspirational group of women. If you’re a mum looking to change your work/life balance, then I highly recommend the Digital Mums course. 

What are your top social media tips for small businesses?

  • Be selective: you don’t have to be on every platform. It’s far better to do two platforms well, than five poorly. Work out where your target audience is hanging out, and focus your time and efforts there.
  • Be consistent: establish a tone of voice and stick to it. Turn up every day – post at the same frequency, preferably at the same times, so that your followers know what to expect from you.
  • Be social: it is called social media after all! Don’t just promote yourself. Take an interest in others, join in conversations, and you’ll start to build relationships, which will pay off in the long run.

Claire is following… 

Mother Pukka: such an awesome inspiring lady who champions the Digital Mums #workthatworks movement. I love watching her Instagram stories.

Jools Oliver: is effortlessly stylish, and the sneak peeks into her life with Jamie and her five gorgeous children are fascinating.

Talented Ladies Club: I love their mixture of motivational quotes and practical advice, as well as inspirational stories about working mothers.


Claire’s work

grevillesocial.co.uk
facebook.com/grevillesocial
instagram.com/clairegreville
twitter.com/clairegreville

Ever feel like an imposter?

Yes, that old chestnut. Don’t worry we all do sometimes. I regularly have moments where I have to reality check the self-doubt I feel. Talking to friends and family helps (and being give a metaphorical slap around the face). I don’t whether this is a particular trait amongst women, but I know a lot of us feel like this. Raising the subject publicly acts a reminder to myself to have more confidence in my own abilities, but also to reassure anyone reading this that (despite appearances) even the most apparently switched on people have wobbles too. You’re human and it would be a bit odd if you didn’t.

I’m not usually keen on labels (I don’t feel they are particularly helpful), but in order to illustrate the point I’m making, I want to talk about ‘Imposter Syndrome’: a recognised term in clinical psychology that eludes to a number of behavioural characteristics. The basis for these feelings broadly manifest themselves in the following ways:

  1. A belief that you’re not capable or accomplished, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  2. Difficulty believing or accepting genuine praise and recognition.
  3. Feeling like you’ve somehow faked your success.
  4. Fear of being outed as a fraud.

If you’ve taken time out of a career to have children you may feel this more acutely. That’s why support from fellow women is such an important part of validating your experience and sense of self-worth. Lack of career confidence is a huge barrier to achieving your ambitions, even if on paper you have everything going for you (and I guarantee you have). Receiving praise and recognition for your professional achievements, no matter how small can be the difference between making or breaking someone’s spirit. Often it’s the kindness of strangers that affects us more than the unconditional words of approval we hear from those closest to us. If you’re feeling like this then my top tips are:

  1. Talk to other people:
    I guarantee other people will have felt like this at some point. It’s such a cliché (but it’s true) a problem shared is a problem halved. Families are great, but speaking to objective people who know your industry can give you a more constructive insight into how good your knowledge and skills are.
  2. Write it down:
    Make two lists: one outlining all your achievements and experience; another ordering any areas of concern you have. Next, make a list of actionable goals (can you tell I like lists?). Make a realistic plan of ways you can work on your professional development: attend a training course to enhance your skills, refresh your CV/LinkedIn, join a business networking community.
  3. Meet up offline:
    There is no substitute for meeting people IRL (this is an acronym young people favour, instead of saying ‘in real life’ – I’m down with it). Share your experiences with like-minded women and support each other.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up:
    Remember we’re all winging it to some extent (some of us are better at appearing to look like we know what we’re doing).
  5. Find time to chill out:
    Put things into perspective. I find a large glass of wine and cake really helps (sorry I meant exercise, yes, exercise definitely helps too).

Written by Amy White

Solving the work puzzle

Meet Anna Ives, owner of HR Puzzle, an independent HR consultancy. Anna’s story is strangely similar to mine in many ways – she took redundancy from a career job whilst pregnant and then struggled to find flexible employment post-baby. The frustration we collectively feel as women in this regard seems to be having positive outcomes however. Firstly, women are campaigning harder than ever to achieve flexible working rights for all (not just mums and dads), and secondly it’s breeding a new generation of female entrepreneurs, surely something to be celebrated? Anna’s new company offers support, advice and assistance to those very women.

What led you to setup your HR consultancy?

Picture the scenario, you’ve just found out you are pregnant, you feel amazingly happy, scared, excited and in shock all at the same time. You’ve made the decision to only tell your family and a few close friends before your first scan and you’ll tell your employer after that. Then you get called into a meeting at work and are told the life changing news (at any time, let alone when pregnant) that you are being made redundant.

That’s precisely the situation I faced just over two years ago. I literally couldn’t believe it. I had worked at the insurance company in question for about two and a half years as a HR Business Partner. I had graduated with a BA in Business and HR and started my first role as a HR Assistant 10 years prior. I had experience in working in a number of different sectors such as the NHS, education and local government, as well as large national and multinational private companies across IT and communications, insurance and service provider consultancies. I even went back to university to gain a Masters in HR Management (studying part-time, while working full-time) and I’m a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD).

What was I going to do? I didn’t want to be out of work for the next six months of my pregnancy (although it would be lovely, and I wanted to have time off with the baby when she arrived).) So, I took a few short-term contracts and ended up working two days before my little girl Beatrix was born in November 2015.

Fast forward nine months and I felt I was ready to start looking to return to work, I was fully aware the redundancy money wouldn’t last forever and I was looking forward to finding a new flexible/part-time role. After about two months of searching I hit a wall, I just couldn’t find any flexible or part-time positions in HR. I knew I didn’t want a full-time role, and it had always been a dream to set up my own HR Consultancy, so why not now? So with the rest of my redundancy money I set up HR Puzzle. I specialise in helping mums and women with SMEs, for those who already have or want to take on an employee/s and all things HR related.

How is digital technology and social media enabling the way you work?

The whole process of setting up and running my own business was new to me. Digital technology has enabled the flexible working pattern I require. Not only does it allow me to work where I want, and when I want, but also allows me to serve clients who aren’t always local me to. I can send emails with a sleeping baby lying on me, or after we visit the park and she is napping on the way home in her buggy. In many cases HR can be dealt with remotely and digital technology enables this.

Social media has also taken on a whole new meaning. I have always had a love affair with Instagram and it was one of the things that inspired me to set up my own business. Lots of really inspirational women, some who are parents, and have great careers or have their own business – showing you can have it all.

I have found lots of great people to speak with and to also help share my journey with through social media. I also regularly use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. It does take a long time but I can already see the rewards and it’s a great way to find new opportunities. After all I wouldn’t be writing this piece on here if it wasn’t for the power of social media.

What are your top tips for women starting a new business?

  1. Follow your passion. It may sound like a cliché but when you do, it doesn’t really feel like work. What I am really passionate about is helping others, especially those I can relate to – in this case women and mothers.
  2. Find a shared work place. I started off working at home to save on costs and a few months in was going stir crazy. I’m a people person and I am at my best when around others. I found a local hot desk via Wenta who offer loads of free business support including a three month free trial. This really helped with bouncing ideas off others in similar situations. I even joined a few Facebook groups who have meet-ups for those who work from home.
  3. Market your business. There are lots of free ways to do this out there, especially on social media, so make use of it. Join groups, follow others (even those with the same businesses) and comment on people’s posts. You never know where this will take you. Don’t get me wrong it’s a long and hard process but it will pay off. Why pay someone else when in the early stages you will have the time to do this yourself.

Anna is following…

Laura from @themodernnursery: she actually inspired me to set up my own business. Her blog post about how she started her business when she had her little girl inspired me to do the same.

Next is my new girl crush! The gorgeous @Eimearvarianbarry. I first heard her of her when I signed up to a Mothers Meeting session on “How to Get Social Media Savvy”. She is so down to earth and talks nineteen to the dozen but you can’t help but watch her. She has two little girls and works around them flexibly, another inspiration of mine.

Finally, it has to be @blossomingbirds not only do we share the same name but again she is an inspiration. She has a really good career and is a mother with two little girls, and has an amazing blog. I just don’t know where she gets her energy!


Anna’s work

hr-puzzle.com
instagram.com/hr.puzzle

My HR services include contract writing, policy & processes, employment law advice, recruitment, training, company handbooks, performance issues and absence management.

I am also campaigning for more businesses to take on flexible roles and helping to support mums with getting back to work after maternity leave/applying for flexible working, just to name a few.

I have some great events coming up, but one that I am really excited about is the Mums Enterprise Roadshow, a child friendly work and business exhibition for mums on a mission (#shootforthemoon). I will be an exhibitor at the London show on Monday 25th September 2017.