Work Matters: Cate Hamilton

Cate Hamilton is the founder of Babel Babies, a company which runs multilingual music lessons from birth to Key Stage 2. After graduating from Oxford University with a degree in English and Modern Languages, Cate worked in Paris and then in various jobs before becoming an English and French teacher at a secondary school in Glasgow. She now lives in Cheltenham with her husband and three children. I asked Cate about her experiences, plans for the future and who has inspired her to succeed in business.

How did the idea for Babel Babies come about?

After I had my first baby in 2010 I realised that babies are incredible at learning languages from birth, which was very inspiring after spending quite a few years trying to convince teenagers in Glasgow that French wasn’t a total waste of their time. At six weeks old my little boy was copying me saying ‘hello’ and I was speaking to him in French sometimes, but felt a bit strange doing that in case I confused him. Plus I also speak Italian and Portuguese, so I wondered if I should introduce all of them.  I started reading up on bilingualism and multilingualism, and at the same time I was discussing with a good friend from university which languages she would teach her new baby as she speaks Russian, German and Arabic. We decided to sing songs to our boys in lots of languages, keeping a blog of our experiments, and our NCT friends joined us too. After a few months our group outgrew my lounge and I decided not to go back to teaching in schools, but to see how Babel Babies might work as a business. We hired a room once a week in a pub, encouraged people to come and sing in many languages and stay for coffee, and it really took off. The combination of our musical approach and research into language acquisition is equally as effective for adults and children, and very different to how we learned languages in school: it’s a little language revolution!

What are your plans for the business in 2018?

After six years of working with families and young children, I’ve realised that the adults love learning the songs in different languages for themselves, as much as they appreciate the opportunity to start languages early with their children. This year I am recruiting a team of language revolutionaries to expand our sessions across Gloucestershire and Bristol, extending our age range from birth up to Key Stage 2 in schools, and introduce lifelong-learning sessions for adults and training for teachers too. For me it’s very important that Babel Babies avoids becoming yet another franchised children’s business at this stage of our development. We are all working together to create new materials, in a way that only teachers can – it’s an explosion of energy and creativity. I also want to offer a truly flexible work opportunity for highly qualified education professionals, who want to build up their hours of work alongside their other commitments, including their families. So, expect lots of new social events with a language twist – languages are for talking, after all.

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring business women?

Firstly, I think it’s OK to pivot. For a while I thought franchising quickly was going to be a good plan, but actually it made me very unhappy and since I started the business to fulfil a need in my own family, it was no good going off in a direction that brought no joy. Change of tack, and we are all so much happier. Secondly, surround yourself by positive people who champion what you are doing, and who really get you and the way your brain works. I’m collaborating with some other incredible business women who I’ve met through networking events locally and nationally. Women supporting women is an amazing thing, and if you find your crowd, you can really raise each other up.

Who inspires you in the world of business?

I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference to the world, whether on a small or large-scale. So I love the communities that Kate Starkey and Hayley Southwood have created with CheltenhamMaman and Southwood Social Hub. There is a lot of love and inspiration in their new approach to networking groups. Instagram is a riot of colourful and inspiring businesses, and one that really resonates with me is Mother Pukka because I love Anna’s honesty and her #flexappeal campaign is close to my heart. I’m also eternally grateful to my Dad for his steady business insight: sometimes I can get caught up in this week’s drama, and he helps me see how in six months/two years it’ll all pan out if I make choice A or choice B now. It’s good to take the long view sometimes, and not sweat the small stuff, which as a tired mamma of three, can be a useful reminder!


Are you a language teacher based in Gloucestershire or Bristol? Babel Babies is looking for talented linguists to join their team – to find out more click here: babelbabies.com/Blog, or email Sarah Wilkinson: sarah@swchr.co.uk.

babelbabies.com
facebook.com/babelbabies
instagram.com/babel_babies
twitter.com/babel_babies

How to harness the power of influencer marketing

Influencer marketing can often feel like a confusing minefield, it is increasingly, however, a huge aspect of digital marketing and one which should never be underestimated. As an independent brand who has seen the real and huge benefits it can offer, I wanted to bring you my top tips for working with influencers.

I am Gabi Cox, the founder of Chroma Stationery, an online business proving colour loving personalised and branded stationery for both individuals through my website and in bulk to fellow brands and businesses. Chroma is all about creating bespoke and affordable stationery that truly reflects the personality of you or your business.

I established Chroma Stationery whilst in my final year of university. It was a uni project and after putting hundreds of hours, countless all-nighters and a lot of stress into the brand, after graduating, I didn’t want to let it go. I decided to take all the work I’d created and launch the business ‘for real’, running a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise the initial funding I needed to afford my embossing machine and the first 1,000 notebooks. Since November 2014 I have sold to individual customers across 28 countries and in bulk to brands including ITV, Max Factor, Boots and American Airlines. The brand has grown from strength to strength with new team members, an office space and a lot of new products.

chroma stationery
Chroma Stationery’s products are fun and colourful.

One strategy which has been fundamental from day one has been our work with influencers. I started this with very little background knowledge or idea of how it worked but over the past 3.5 years have established an influencer marketing strategy which works; with social media and YouTube mentions from the likes of Zoella, Lily Pebbles and Louise Pentland.

TOP TIPS: INFLUENCER MARKETING

Plan
The amount of planning you put in before implementing your influencer strategy will directly effect how successful it is. Just some of the things you should consider include:

Micro vs major influencers?
It is easy to send out some samples or stock to all the top influencers, the ones with millions of followers. But if they and their audience don’t fit with your brand, it will be a waste of time. Instead, opt for micro influencers who reflect your own target audience. Often these influencers, although don’t have millions of followers, do have a very loyal and engaged audience.

Focus on engagement not followers
With the ability to buy followers, this can no longer be an accurate representation of someones success or real reach. Looking at a posts engagement (comments, likes etc) will show you how many people actually engage with an influencers work. It shouldn’t just be a numbers game but also about the quality of the engagement.

chroma stationery
Don’t expect content in return for a free gift.

Know their audience
Knowing the audience of your ideal influencer is crucial and shouldn’t be underestimated. Always do your research. Sending out your new leather purses to a vegan influencer is not going to be a good fit. Make sure that your brand aligns itself with the influencers you reach out to; this is so important to you both and helps to ensure a great partnership.

Build sustainable relationships
Working with an influencer should never be about getting as much as you can from them, for as little as possible. It’s about building sustainable working relationships between two businesses.

What is your budget?
There are two ways to utilise influencer marketing, paid and unpaid. Paid is more of a collaborative option, working together with a person to create content that promote your brand. Unpaid is where you send an influencer products for free, in the hopes or with an agreement to post about them. Knowing your budget and where this might limit you is key before getting started.

chroma stationery
Sending a personalised product shows thought and attention to detail.

Sending something for free?
Don’t expect anything. You are not paying the influencer for their time or effort, you therefore aren’t really in a position to demand content. You can work hard to create a product they’ll love, send it at a great time, cross your fingers and hope they love it enough to mention it (Hey Zoella!) but you can’t expect anything for free or be annoyed if they don’t post.

Approach an influencer as equal, fellow business person
Bloggers and Youtubers get a lot of hard press, with some not seeing the value, time or effort it takes to do the work they do. As a brand or business you should always work and interact with an influencer as a fellow, equal businessperson. You are looking to create lasting partnerships and working relationships not quick business wins.

The importance of personalisation
This comes down to both product and interaction. Sending a product which has a personalised touch or shows that extra effort has gone into it can make a lot of difference. With regards to interaction, do not blanket send out the same email or Insta message, copy and pasted to everyone you’d like to work with. Each interaction should be unique, thought out and on brand.

By doing your research and following just a few simple steps, you can really utilise & work with influencers for mutual benefit.


instagram.com/chromastationery
chromastationery.co.uk

Niki Groom: Work Matters

Niki Groom, AKA Miss Magpie Fashion Spy, is an award winning fashion, beauty, food and lifestyle illustrator based in Bristol. Her passion for colour, print, trends and a background in fashion design informs her artwork and blog. I love the way Niki showcases a diverse range of female body imagery within her illustrations. She positively celebrates ‘real’ body shapes, sizes, disabilities and skin colours in a truly inclusive way.

Why does work matter to you?

There are times in the past when I’ve been in jobs I didn’t like and I craved a different direction, and if I’m honest on those occasions work was just about money and about climbing the ladder without really thinking why. But I’ve now managed to make my passion my job, and as a result it’s become part of my life. The things I like to do in my private life (such as travel, museums, cinema) all feed in to my work – it’s all intertwined. I can’t imagine not working, I certainly don’t think I’ll ever retire.

Describe in three words what professional success means to you…

Freedom, creativity, money.

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

I’d love to do range of clothing for a brand with my illustrations printed on to fabric. I was a fashion designer for years so it would combine all of my skills. I used to have a list of dream clients and I got to work with all of them and that taught me a lot. For me now it’s not about the brand, it’s about the people who work for the brand and how they are to work with. I don’t hold any brands high on a pedestal anymore (apart from Dries Van Noten!).

More than anything I would like to continue my work with Clinique, they are such a brilliant team to collaborate with and I hope that my opportunities with them will continue to develop.

I’m also always up for a challenge, so something totally new and a risk would appeal. I hosted Instagram Live on the Boden feed once whilst illustrating at the same time, it was great fun and I enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

niki_groom_photo
Photo: Remco Merbis: merbis.com

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

My first job after graduating with a Fashion Design Degree was as a receptionist for a company called RMC (Ready Made Concrete). It might sound like an edgy street brand, but sadly they just sold concrete.

What did that experience teach you?

I don’t have a passion for concrete, but sometimes you have to leave your ego at home and focus on paying the bills.

What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?

My window display for Accessorize went worldwide, it’s still the biggest project of my career and it was so exciting to see photos coming in from all over the world.

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

I wouldn’t change anything to be honest, I’m not one for looking back.

Who is your present day career heroine and why?

Oh I have many! Gill Button, who is @buttonfruit on Instagram is one. She was a commercial illustrator for years she is now an artist, and her work is incredible. Then Helen Downie @unskilledworker who started painting aged 50 and has just done a range with Gucci. The thing that marks these two out for me is that they are also nice people. Both will chat with me on Instagram even though we have never met. I find them both very inspiring women and I feel excited by their success. I don’t quite know what path I’m on at the moment, but they inspire me to just be myself and do what feels right.

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

Always be professional and diplomatic in the way that you communicate, even if it takes a whole day to write a response to an email. On, and don’t work for free.

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

I’m currently considering doing voice overs! I get so many comments about my voice on Instagram Stories and so I’m thinking it might be something to investigate to earn some cash.


missmagpiefashionspy.com
instagram.com/miss_magpie_spy

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.

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.

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

Interior design with a difference

Zoe Hewett began her career as an Art Director in the film and television industry before retraining as an Interior Designer. She is now expanding her digital business offering and running workshops alongside her consultancy work. We asked Zoe to share her story and tell us about her plans for the future.

How did you become an interior designer?

Growing up in Cardiff, I spent my childhood making rudimentary props and sets for the plays we would put on for the grown ups, and my teenage years making giant carnival costumes and redecorating the house when my parents’ backs were turned. When I took the school quiz to find out what career path I should follow, I got into trouble for being interested in too many topics. Little did I know at the time that is precisely one of the best qualities for being a designer! I knew that I wanted to be a set designer though, so I went to art college in London and had a ball making live performance art installations in broom cupboards, period costumes and miniature models of monolithic opera sets.

The reality of making a living as a jobbing designer in Wales was incredibly difficult, particularly as I had trained in a different city and didn’t have those all important college to industry links. I was an outsider in my home town, and never quite managed to get enough work. Instead I found work in the film and TV industry as an Art Director. It was heaps of fun and better paid than theatre, but the crazy hours and feast or famine nature of it all eventually left me feeling disillusioned and burnt out. To get out of this rut I moved quite suddenly to Bristol, and as cringe-worthy as it sounds I kind of found myself, or at the very least my mojo, upon starting Capoeira. It had a profound effect on my outlook and confidence (not to mention physical fitness).

I decided to retrain and enrolled on an open learning Interior Design Diploma. Although the design process and required skills are exactly the same for both roles, the two industries are quite different. As career changes go this was more of a tweak than a total transformation, but that’s just as well, because having been creative all my life because I can’t really do anything else. So far it has gone smoothly, probably because people expect to have to pay interior designers, whereas the art world runs on air and broken dreams.

My business, although micro, is finally starting to grow after being in start-up mode for an extra long time. Midway through my first big job (a furniture store) I found myself unexpectedly expecting a baby with a (very) new man. Our daughter was then born suddenly at 26 weeks. It was a pretty hideous time and as a result she has additional needs, so it is imperative that at least one of us has flexible work, and for the moment that’s me. It is important to me to be able to also offer something affordable, because consultation, design and project management fees are exclusive for most, so I have started running interior design workshops which seem to be going well. That also fits around family life better than a full-time job with a commute!

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

Digital technology has absolutely revolutionised how I work. When I was documenting scenic continuity on film sets the preferred method was (the now amazingly retro) Polaroid camera! Digital cameras were just coming in but it was easy to lose track of scenes. It also used to be almost impossible to photograph anything in a dark theatre without paying a professional photographer, which would have cost most of the design fee, but of course without photos of your work you can’t get more work.

The iPhone for me has been amazing. Being able to show all your previous work in the palm of your hand is serious luxury after years of lugging around a heavy A2 portfolio of artwork in all weathers. I used to have to burn CDs with home printed front covers to send people my portfolio, which makes me feel like an old lady saying “we didn’t have TV when I was young”. I did go on a Dreamweaver course to make my first website, and I managed a one page CV with a photo which was pretty impressive for someone as analogue and non-techy as me.

Now, my website (an easy drag-n-drop template, of course) is all singing and all dancing with video, a shop and a rather earnest design blog. All these little graphics apps are my favourite, for editing photos and overlaying text on images to quickly get messages out on social media – it is just amazing. I just need to keep gradually growing my audience.

Tell us about your new design packages

The idea for the Newlyweds Nest came from wanting to give friends a meaningful wedding present at a time when I had no money. They had not long moved into a new house that needed some character, so I gave them some pointers and it grew from there into a comprehensive interior design service. Initially it was email based, which is quite a popular concept in the States but hasn’t really caught on over here. Somehow I arrived at the idea of putting it in a gift-box, to make it a more tangible present, which is infinitely more charming than printing out documents from an email!

The idea is for couples to enjoy filling in the questionnaires inside the box together, whether their home is old or new to them, and return their answers with photos and dimensions to me. From there I can put together a bespoke design scheme for the room of their choice, complete with sample boards, drawings and a budget spreadsheet, with an action plan for them to follow, to make it a reality under their own steam.

There are two packages: a classic monochrome version and a rainbow pride ribbon option for LGBT couples, and those who just prefer joyful colour. I think there is something fun about using the postal service in this crazy digital age. This is a scaleable business model which is potentially quite exciting, plus because I never meet the client in person it is easier for me to work and still do the school run.

I love face to face client work, but there is a limit to how much I can take on, because the logistics of getting to site to let tradesmen in and simultaneously take a small person to school without any grandparents nearby are a bit tricky. Luckily I have some fantastic builders and project managers to call upon for help with bigger jobs where we do meet the clients and undertake the installation work for them. But I think the digital-postal design packages like Newlyweds Nest (I have more in the pipeline) are likely to take over, because it is also a more affordable slice of luxury service,  especially for clients who would rather save money by doing or organising the hands-on redecoration work themselves.


Zoe is following…

@blackparrotsstudio: Sarah Mitchenall won The Great Interior Design Challenge in 2016 and kindly loaned me a few of her fab monstera lights for a roomset I designed for Grand Designs Live last year. As a former garden designer, her work with jewellery designer Alexa as Black Parrots Studio is just utterly fantastic. There’s a lot of interiors ‘noise’ on instagram, but these women actually HAVE IT!

@ware.london: Jewellery designer Emma Ware is a long time buddy of mine from when we were students at Wimbledon School of Art. When she quit TV working as a Focus Puller to set up her brand, she was a huge inspiration to me and set the bar high. Her work is hugely stylish, wearable and ethically produced. Amazing!

@iris.apfel: How could I not follow this inspirational woman? Interior designer turned fashion and style icon, still working in her 90s, Iris Apfel has such a wonderful outlook and a gentle, joyful demeanour. She is an incredible wit, huge intellect and cheers up my feed every time. I also covet her architect’s glasses!


Zoe’s work 

zoehewettinteriors.co.uk
instagram.com/zoehewettinteriors #mybristolhome
twitter.com/zoehewettdesign
pinterest.com/zoehewettdesign/zoe-hewett-interiors
facebook.com/zoehewettinteriors

Curator of colour

Jessica Siggers is a photographer, social media influencer and Instagram consultant who lives in Bristol with her family. I first encountered Jess via her Instagram account Porthjess, a platform which has helped to build and cement her profile as a photographer. In person Jess is refreshingly humble and honest about her influencer status. It brings with it a whole host of opportunities which some people may feel unable to turn down. However, Jess is in the self-confessed “privileged position” of being able to select commercial collaborators that fit with her sense of identity (she has worked with Farrow & Ball, Pret A Manger, Canon, Cross Country Trains and Finisterre). But she’s also realistic about why others may choose a different path. There is a lot of judgement on social media which has given rise to the “armchair warrior”, but like anyone who has an online presence she has learned to turn the other cheek and focus on the positives and what she’s really passionate about – creating photographs that inspire others.

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer
“When I was trying to think up a name for my business a few years ago, I wanted something which contained my name but also tied in with me living on a harbour plus my love of the sea. ‘Porth’ means ‘harbour’ in Cornish! Et voila.”

A love of Bristol, rainbow colours, the coast and cars are what has made her loved by over 40k followers on Instagram. This strong sense of creative identity is what Jess intends to build on in 2017. So this year Jess will be returning her focus to the art of photography and establishing different ways to earn income. As a respected Instagram influencer Jess has started to run a series of workshops ‘Unleash your Instagram potential’, run in conjunction with Bristol Media and she is also involved in Digital Gaggle (marketing meet-ups and conferences in Bristol).

Jessica Siggers Porthjess colourful bristol street

Alongside her Porthjess persona Jess also runs the the official Instagram network for Bristol: IgersBristol. This is a photography showcase of Bristol and a job which keeps Jess’s feet firmly on the ground. Although she sometimes feels like “a dinosaur” amongst the young Instagram crowd it’s a good way to keep track of the latest photography trends and what is popular online. But that doesn’t impact on her signature style, if anything seeing what is trending has only reaffirmed what subjects she loves to photograph and makes her happy.

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer bristol street

One thing I respect and admire is Jess’s strong sense of identity when it comes to work and family life. Although the two need to coexist in a practical sense they aren’t linked in Jess’s mind: she’s not an Insta-mum. Whilst being a mother is an integral part of who she is, it’s not what makes Jess a successful photographer. I for one am looking forward to seeing how Jess’s career develops in 2017 and I’ve been lucky enough to attend one of her popular Instagram workshops.

JESS’S TOP TECHNICAL TIPS

1) Do you use your phone as well as your camera? If so how do you use them differently?

“I never leave the house without my compact Canon M3 DSLR and crummy old Samsung phone, permanently set to camera mode. I tend to use my phone for those quick shots where timing is everything (in my case usually an old car going past) and the camera for more structured shots where picture quality is important. I also have my ‘Big Camera’, i.e. my Canon 5D, which I use when specific shots are required for clients.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer stokes croft bristol beetle car

2) Do you alter the images at all for use on Instagram?

“There are three things I always do before any of my photos make it to Instagram: run them through the auto-straighten feature on the Snapseed app, to tidy up any wonky horizons; crop out any unnecessary bits, again through Snapseed; use one of two filters from the brilliant ‘A Color Story’ app. My filters of choice just lighten the photo and enhance the colours to how I like them so that my Instagram grid always looks cohesive.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer ss great britain bristol

3) Hashtags are an important part of Instagram: how do you choose the ones you use and are there specific ones you like to use?

“I have a list of my favourite hashtags saved in the Notes function on my phone (for ultimate Instageekery, they’re also saved into different categories such as ‘Doors’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Colour’). These are all either hashtags which have worked previously and continue to work for me and my style or hashtags which I’m just using for now but may drop in future (e.g. seasonal tags). It’s good to mix them up a bit and find new ones from time to time. Helps you find great new accounts to follow too.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer bristol street scene

4) What’s your top photographic tip for people who take photos using their phones and uploading direct to Instagram?

“Turn your gridlines on in your camera settings. Helps you to align your shot perfectly and avoids too many of those wonky horizons!”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer harbourside bristol

5) What advice would you give aspiring photographers looking to grow their online profile?

1) “Look up the local Igers (Instagrammers) network for your area such as Igers Bristol. We host regular free photowalks or ‘Instameets’ where lots of like-minded photographers get together and provide support and fresh inspiration!”

2) “Find a hashtag which relates to your style of work, e.g. I like #candyminimal, or even the hashtag for your area, e.g. #Bristol. Like and leave nice comments on photos that you like and others might do the same to you. This helps build followers.”

3) “Come to one of my Instagram workshops!”


Jess is following…

Valuable Content bristol logo

@valuablecontent (aka @sonjajefferson and @sjtanton): “Two clever, brilliant fellow Bristol Media members who are at the top of the content marketing consultancy game and also happen to be mothers. I’m also lucky enough to have them as my neighbours and my career took a big turn for the better when I took their advice over pastries at Sharon’s kitchen table one morning last year. They’re like my business fairy godmothers.”

Dolly Land

@dollyland“’Dolly is Sharon, a mum of five who lives in Clovelly, Devon. We became friends through Instagram via our love of the sea and met just before Sharon became social media manager for @2minutebeachclean, a +20k strong community of barefoot warriors taking two minutes out of their day to keep our beaches clean of rubbish. My family and I now never leave a beach or riverside without having a quick litter-pick first and that’s largely down to Sharon.”

Sara Venn Edible Bristol

Sara Venn, aka @saralimback“I’m ridiculously proud to call Sara my friend. She runs @ediblebristol, a branch of the Incredible Edible movement, launched to make Bristol the UK’s first edible city. In most areas of Bristol you’ll now come across an edible garden planted by Sara and her team. She’s also mum to one daughter like me and gives the best hugs.


Jess’s work…

porthjess.com
bristolcolourcapital.org
instagram.com/porthjess
instagram.com/igersbristol

Interview with Amy White