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

Meet-up with Kate Starkey (CheltenhamMaman)

On Monday 20th November we had 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?

The event was 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. We talked about running a business, digital marketing, social media and the tricky balance of being the face of your own brand. Below are photos from the evening, taken by Bristol based photographer Jessica Siggers, AKA @porthjess.

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.

Mother of all tribes

Meet Danni McCabe, owner of Mama Tribe, a fantastic hub of information for mums all over the UK. It’s a curated business directory listing everything from retail brands selling covetable products, to groups which host events and small businesses offering a range of services. Plus it also features regular articles from women on a range of topics including motherhood and digital marketing advice (as a regular contributor I’m proud to be part of the tribe). The concept was born out of a passion for the social media scene and a desire to find a better work-life balance.

Tell us about your career to date

I left London nine years ago and moved to the Cotswolds with my husband to start a family, but continued to commute to work in London until I went on maternity leave. Our eldest boy, Monroe is now seven.

There was no option for me to work remotely and with no family on hand to help, it would mean leaving our baby in nursery and wrap around care for up to 12 hours a day. So I chose not to return to my job as manager of a health club and instead went about setting up my first business.

Sadly, that business came to a very unexpected end! After just a few years trading, there was a fire in the flat above my bridal boutique. It took them 16 months to repair the building and the effect on my business, my ability to trade from a temporary office space was detrimental, so I had to closedown.

It’s not all bad though, firstly it gave us the time to go through IVF and after three rounds, I managed to get pregnant with our second little miracle boy Lorne, who is now two. Secondly I realized that the retail business I had created didn’t offer me as much flexibility as I’d hoped. So that’s when the idea for Mama Tribe started to develop.

What sparked the idea of Mama Tribe?

During the newborn days whilst feeding my second son, I started following different bloggers and became addicted to Instagram. I become aware of the number of women choosing or finding they were unable to return to work after having a baby because of the effects it had on their family life. Instead, they were choosing to go it alone and putting their years of experience and skills into new business ideas that they could create from home or around their family.

In many ways this isn’t a new phenomenon, women have been setting up their own small businesses for years, but what did seem different, was the way in which social media, in particular Instagram, was allowing these businesses to market themselves in a professional manner from their kitchen tables.

Via Instagram I became aware of these women in business and was drawn to their creative brands. I wanted to support them, buy from them and promote them. I became a brand rep for a number of the brands and became more involved in the Insta-shop community.

My attention then turned to the new type of business networking groups. The first one I came across was Mothers Meeting, set up by Jenny Scott in London, running motivational workshops, sharing advice, resources and inspiration.

Being based in the Cotswolds, as an ex London girl, I felt out of this loop and unable to access this network. I was just about to set up my own local version, when I found out about other groups setting up across the UK. Other business orientated women felt the same as me, they wanted access to this type of network and community.

So that’s when I came up with the idea to create a national hub, a directory dedicated to this new community. That was unique in its effort to profile all of these new groups, but also listed all of the Insta-Shops I’d grown to love and other businesses set up by women. I was a mother with a baby whilst all of this was developing, but I felt there needed to be a resource for future new mums to tap in to, to find out all about and connect with like minded, business savvy women.

What are your aspirations are for the business?

On the website you can find independent brands and businesses set up by women or for women, with a focus on supporting women that are mamas or hope to be. As more people hear about Mama Tribe, the community will grow, the directories will expand and so will the opportunities to network, support, collaborate and promote each other. Together we can become a strong, talented workforce of women raising our tribes.

How do you manage juggling a business with being a mum to two young children?

It’s exhausting, sometimes frustrating and stressful, but I love it! I love the flexibility, I like that I choose when I want to work, go to the park, or chill out at home and watch a movie with my boys. I’m learning to manage my own anxieties and the pressure I put on myself. I work hard (anyone that knows me, knows my brain doesn’t stop) so for me, my focus is to switch off and give myself time off with my boys. Things like housework have become less of a priority or concern. I got a cleaner, so the house is clean and the mess is just toys, dumped clothes and shoes mainly. I’ve come to realise it’s not worth worrying about.


Danni is following…

I follow so many inspirational women online, it’s hard to narrow it down. I have over 130 businesses involved so far, but it’s growing daily and I’m so proud of all the talented women that are part of the tribe. However, there is one lady that does stand out to me and that’s Anna AKA Mother Pukka. She is followed by thousands because she is honest, motivating, inspiring and very funny. She has a way with words and poetically portrays the truth, the real highs and lows of motherhood, whilst passionately campaigning for flexible work opportunities for parents. If you’re not already following her, then do.


mamatribe.uk
facebook.com/mamatribeuk
instagram.com/mamatribeuk
twitter.com/mamatribeuk

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau

Have you ever dreamt of writing a book? I’m sure we all have at some point: a beach holiday bestseller or perhaps a ‘how to’ guide on a subject that you’re passionate about. The reality is that very few of us actually sit down and put in the hard work that’s needed to go from notebook to bookshelf (or indeed Kindle). Well, that’s not something we could accuse journalist Julie Ferry of – her recently published book The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau is a work of non-fiction that is surely destined for a TV series: “Husband hunting in the Gilded Age: how American heiresses conquered the aristocracy”. What’s not to love?

Tell us about yourself

I always knew that I wanted to write for a living but I’ve probably had a less structured career path than most who end up as a journalist and author. I completed an English degree at Cardiff University and would have liked to go on to do their respected Master’s course in journalism but I couldn’t afford it, so instead I went to Japan to teach English as part of the JET programme for a year.

I didn’t know anything about the country and certainly didn’t speak any Japanese, so when I got posted to a remote island between Japan and South Korea, it was a bit of a shock to the system. However, somewhere between the bouts of homesickness and struggles with everyday tasks (shopping at the supermarket isn’t easy when you don’t read the language!), the whole experience taught me a lot about myself. It taught me to be brave, get stuck in and most of all, that I could challenge myself and come out the other side.

When I got back to the UK, I applied for a post at the British Dental Association that included editing their student magazine. It was my first taste of professional journalism and was a steep learning curve, as I had to learn commissioning, writing and editing on the job. However, it was a great experience and confirmed my belief that journalism was what I wanted to do. When I was offered voluntary redundancy a couple of years later, I decided to take it and use the redundancy money to give me the cushion I needed to go freelance. Luckily, my boss asked me to take on parts of my old job on a freelance basis too.

Next, I secured a part-time job in a press office, which gave me an insight into the other side of journalism, which was to prove invaluable. On my freelance days I worked to secure my first commission with a national newspaper, which came with an article for The Independent. From there I started to get more and more commissions, eventually writing for publications like The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph and Glamour magazine. I won’t pretend it was easy, there was a lot of rejection involved, but it was incredibly rewarding to see my byline in some of the newspapers and magazines that I had been reading just a few years before.

In the meantime I began working on proposals for non-fiction books and submitting them to agents, which meant a lot more rejection. However, finally I managed to get an agent interested and, with her help, I managed to put together a proposal that was ready to go out to publishers. The proposal was for The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau, a book about the American heiresses that married into the British aristocracy during the Gilded Age. It was picked up by a publisher and the book was published in February this year.

Tell us about your book: from the initial idea to publication

The book was maybe the six or seventh idea that I had worked on over a ten-year period. Non-fiction books differ from fiction in that publishers usually require a lengthy proposal from the author, which details some background research on the book and what you hope to find out and chapter outlines, as well a couple of sample chapters to get a sense of the author’s writing style. With a fiction book the author usually submits the whole manuscript. I had got pretty far down the line with an agent and publisher on a previous idea but was rejected at the last minute because the marketing team didn’t feel that the book would be an easy sell to female readers. It was disappointing and of course there were a lot of times I felt like giving up, but looking back at it now I can see why some of those ideas and proposals didn’t make it. When I was working on The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau I knew why it had been accepted. It had the perfect mix of rich characters, gossip, glamour and historical details that captured people’s interest from the beginning.

The actual writing of the book was incredibly difficult in terms of deadlines, as I had around a year to deliver the manuscript. I researched in libraries and archives for six months, which included a trip to New York to look at the American side of the story and then I wrote the manuscript in three months. It was tough finding the time to write, as I had my three-year-old at home almost full-time and my six-year-old at school, so there were a lot of late nights. However, they all became a distant memory when I held the finished product in my hands for the first time. When I saw the book in Waterstones, I had to stop myself from letting out a little scream of excitement.

Who or what inspires your literary work?

I am very drawn to strong women from history that have largely been forgotten or fallen by the wayside. I think because of the inequality that women faced in the past these extraordinary characters were often airbrushed out of important events, despite wielding considerable power behind the scenes.

Can you tell us about future books you’re working on or a project you’d love to get off the ground?

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau has been optioned for TV, so I would dearly love to see it on screen one day, although I am very aware of how difficult it is to get a book to that stage. I am working on a proposal for the next book at the moment, which covers a similar period (late Victorian era) and resurrects some very interesting and influential women to their rightful place in history.


Julie is following… 

I love Twitter and I’m always blown away by the articles I discover through @Longreads and @TheAtlantic. Matt Haig is both inspirational and amusing and I love Sarra Manning for all things bookish.


julieferry.co.uk
twitter.com/womentoinspire

Speaking about confidence

I will be speaking about ‘confidence’ alongside Chiedza Sowah, founder of A Bunch of Mums, at Sunita Harvey’s Lucky Things event in Bristol (click here to buy a ticket). Join us for an afternoon of socialising, networking and inspiration. Sunita’s events are a great way to make real life connections.

I first met Sunita at Blogtacular where she was speaking on a panel with author and broadcaster Emma Gannon and writer and blogger Alison Perry. So, I was hugely flattered to be asked to speak about a subject close to my own heart – confidence. As a newbie blogger (I began Social Butterflies in January 2017) I’ve been overwhelmed by the opportunities, experiences and connections I’ve made via social media.

(Left to right): Alison Perry, Sunita Harvey and Emma Gannon speaking at Blogtacular.

My story is one a lot of you will relate to: finding your professional identity after becoming a mother. I’ve been on an incredible confidence rollercoaster over the past seven years but maintaining a positive attitude and believing in my own abilities has enabled me to keep on going (even when I’ve felt like giving up!).

We are our own worst enemies when it comes to confidence. We unrealistically compare ourselves to others and delude ourselves into believing in perfection. As I get older I’ve becoming more conscious about my strengths (and weaknesses) and I’ve come to the conclusion that being the best version of myself is more than good enough. I hope that along with Sunita and Chiedza we will create an interesting discussion around what confidence means to us – I do hope you can join us.

Meet-up with Hayley Southwood

On Wednesday 5th July I hosted an event at The Forge, owned by Silke Lloyd (pictured right) in Bristol with businesswoman Hayley Southwood (pictured centre). The evening was an informal talk and opportunity for local women to make new business connections. Hayley inspired us all with her career story – the highs and lows. I wanted the event to feel informal and intimate and everyone was encouraged to ask questions. We then tried ‘speed networking’, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds! The idea was for everyone to make three new connections over the course of 15 minutes, and it worked surprisingly well.

I was lucky enough to work with local Bristol suppliers to provide products for the event: soft drinks from Bristol artisan producer Lovely Drinks; goody bags from Amphora Aromatics; and a selection of teas from Pukka Herbs. I worked with lettering artist Ellen Waldren and screen print artist Stephanie Orr from Flat 102 to produce limited edition tote bags. I also commissioned Bristol poet Tatterhood to write a poem which summed up the spirit of Social Butterflies.

It was the culmination of a journey I’ve been on for the past six months and it was lovely to share the experience with so many wonderful women. I started this website initially for two reasons: to connect with like-minded women who felt passionately about fulfilling their career ambitions after becoming mothers; and as a way of showcasing my digital skills in preparation for going freelance. What I hadn’t bargained for along the way is that it would become much more than that. It has become a community, a platform to showcase inspirational women and share our knowledge and experience. The best journeys take you to an unexpected destination and I’m happily embracing the twists and turns.

I’ve had my confidence lifted and my aspirations raised by connecting with these women online, but what’s made it really special has been creating an opportunity for those women to meet in real life. Social media is a powerful thing and its possibilities are truly empowering, but nothing beats the human touch and last week’s event proved that there is a real appetite for people to meet, chat (and drink fizzy). I’ll keep you posted of future events, but for now I hope you enjoy looking through the photos captured by my photographer friend Jessica Siggers (@porthjess).

 

Demystifying the blockchain

You’ve probably heard the terms bitcoin and blockchain but have no idea what they mean. Don’t worry, when I met up with Helen Disney, founder of Unblocked Events, I had to politely ask her explain it to me (really simply). In layman’s terms bitcoin is a digital currency and blockchain is a public ledger listing all bitcoin transactions. Helen is a female entrepreneur in an industry dominated by men, but she’s on a mission to make blockchain technology accessible for a non-technical business audience with her new company Unblocked Events, which is a hub for events, education and information.

Tell us about your career and how you became interested in blockchain technology

My career has been largely based around influencing ideas and generating public debates. I started off working for a think tank in Westminster, looking at how to reform public services like the NHS, education and welfare to try to make them more responsive to their users. I then used that experience to go into journalism as a leader writer for The Times and a contributor to other newspapers and magazines. I wrote about everything from pension reform to the MMR jab, drug courts and the ‘Metric Martyr‘. After leaving The Times I took the leap into launching my first business which was a pan-European hub connecting think tanks and policy institutes. But after I had my children I started to crave a change into something new so I took a break from being a full-time CEO to think about what I wanted to do next. Into this gap, fell an opportunity to work on content and fundraising for a major European conference about the digital currency, bitcoin. It was during that project that I first started learning about what blockchain was and becoming excited about its innovative potential.

Can you explain to the uninitiated what blockchain is and what it can do?

Blockchain is the technology that underlies digital currencies like bitcoin. But it’s also more than that. You can think of a blockchain as a bit like a gigantic secure, decentralised database – imagine a Google spreadsheet shared by multiple users all able to access an accurate, real-time shared version of the information. This is useful because it allows many different sorts of innovations and improvements in existing business operations, but also opens up the chance for completely new business models. Imagine, for example, that you could access a hotel room using a smart key and never need to check in at the front desk or that you could trade excess energy from your solar panels automatically with local neighbours who need it and earn money from doing so, or that charities could automate responses to humanitarian crises and get money or supplies directly into the hands of those who need it at the touch of a button. All of these applications will become possible thanks to blockchain in combination with other new technologies like smart devices and smart contracts.

What prompted you to setup Unblocked Events and what are your plans for the future?

Three years after first learning about bitcoin, I founded Unblocked Events to share my learning and connect with other professionals wanting to gain an accessible understanding of this technology and build the new business services of the future. I felt that I had experienced a steep learning curve, as someone who is neither a programmer nor a financier and that most events out there about blockchain were aimed at these two groups. I see blockchain as too important not to be talked about at a level that the so-called average person can understand. By creating Unblocked I am building a wider community of interest in blockchain outside of simply financial services and acting as a bridge between the technical and non-technical worlds. Blockchain has a variety of applications in different sectors from healthcare, to energy, to philanthropy, to provenance of goods and so on. To me, it makes more sense to bring in real world examples and help people to understand what this technology can do for them, rather than getting overly bogged down in jargon.

Which women in business inspire you?

I’m particularly inspired by women who are pioneering in traditionally male-dominated fields, especially those who are honest about the difficulties of managing a personal and professional life, and having an online presence in the era of trolling. I tend to prefer Twitter for technology and political news and Instagram more for the creative side of life.

In tech, I follow Meltem Demirors who is an expert in the digital currency and blockchain field.

In politics, I love the ever-ballsy Jess Phillips MP.

On Instagram l I follow Type Tasting which was founded by my friend Sarah Hyndman.


Helen’s work

unblockedevents.com
facebook.com/UnblockedEvents
twitter.com/unblockedevents

Healthcare Unblocked Event: 13 October in London. It will look at how blockchain is set to transform healthcare in a whole variety of ways from improving the integrity of clinical trials, to changing the way healthcare insurance operates and allowing us to take charge of our own medical data.

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