You may or may not have noticed but I’ve been a little (OK, a lot) absent from my blog and social media lately. In the last six months my freelance work has really taken off and I’ve simply been unable to keep up with Social Butterflies. I started the website to create an online platform to inspire women in their professional lives and hosted two events to create a real life experience offline. It was (and still is) my passion project – so much so that it inspired me to take the plunge and become self-employed. But one thing I hadn’t fully appreciated before was the amount of work, energy and commitment needed to maintain a consistent online presence and build an online community (hats off to all the full-time bloggers and influencers!). I realise this a tad ironic given that I advise clients on digital marketing, but actually immersing yourself in it on a personal level gives you a whole different perspective!
Also, I have a personal confession to make: I became a bit fatigued with the whole Insta-Influencer-World. Now, I’m not knocking the positive side of community and campaigning – two of my favourite accounts champion this ethos (@doingitforthekids and @motherpukka). But here’s the thing – you can have too much of the same thing, and let’s be honest as Instagram has become bigger and bigger over the last couple of years so has the proliferation of trendy ‘themed accounts’ aimed at women. If I see one more post stating ‘Community over Competition’ or ‘Empowered Women Empower Women’ I may choke on my bagel. I never desired to be in the ‘in crowd’ so I suppose I took a step back and watched from a far.
So, true to its original purpose but inline with my newly established freelance business I’m going to review and redesign the Social Butterflies website and work out how I can merge all the great content I’ve created collaboratively with other women alongside my own business. I hope it will be a creative hub of inspiration that showcases female talent, shares useful information and helps to grow my business profile. Hopefully you’ll stick around to see the rebrand and redesign!
I’m Vicki, I’m married to Chris and we have three children, Millie (4), Arthur (2) and Oscar (7 months). We live in Kent and I spend my daytimes as primary carer for the children. But in the evenings, I jump on the laptop and my work comes to life!
Tell us about your career story to date
It’s been varied! I left uni in 2005 and went straight into a graduate job in an investment bank – I just caught the end of the high rolling, big spending, pre-crash boom. It was fun. After about five years, I switched to the private equity world and continued my career in a male-dominated, high pressure environment. I absolutely loved the energy of the financial services industry. It is such a fast paced, dynamic environment and the adrenaline of pressure and stress made me feel alive. I always imagined I would be a career woman, but then Millie was born and everything changed.
Since becoming a mum, I have launched two businesses which fit around my primary role as a mother and full-time carer for the kids. My first business launched just over two years ago – I bought a baby and toddler class franchise after Arthur was born and we now have over 500 children attending classes every week across south-east London, Bromley and Bexley. My second business launched a few weeks ago For the Love of Mum is an online store selling practical but stylish products for mums.
I was inspired to create For the Love of Mum whilst breastfeeding Oscar. I didn’t like the way my body felt; or that I had no control over when or how long I would next sleep, or that I struggled to get off the sofa and play with our older children. But I had a neon pink pouch which I carried everywhere with me, stuffed full of breastfeeding pads – this pouch used to make me smile, it reminded me of who I was and am. It made me think, that at a time when you are struggling to feel like yourself – the way you look, the clothes you’re wearing, the way you feel – perhaps surrounding yourself with practical products that reflect your pre-baby, independent style could make you feel better and more yourself. So I set about searching for products that were style-led and on-trend but also useful and practical. And so For the Love of Mum was born.
How has motherhood changed your professional identity?
Gosh – in every way! I always expected to be a career women, in the traditional sense. My husband and I had always dreamt and hoped to have a family, but those plans always included some form of childcare that would allow me to return to work. So it was a total surprise when Millie was born and it broke my heart to leave her at home – no-one expected me to be a stay at home mum.
Becoming a mum changed me in every possible way. So it was a huge leap to resign from my job after Arthur was born and commit to being the primary career. Having said that, I still had a work ethic and ambition that I needed to fulfil. I’m very proud of the two businesses I am building and how they both fit alongside looking after the kids – you’ll find me logging onto the laptop every evening once the kids are asleep.
Why does work matter to you?
I was bought up to believe women and men are equals. That women can achieve anything they set their targets on and certainly match anything a man can do. I have a deep-seated work ethic and personal ambition to work and create some form of independent income. But since having children, I’m very passionate about the work I do – hoping to support and nurture new mums, helping them to feel good and have confidence and belief in themselves.
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t know! At the moment I am following my nose, seeing where life experiences take and inspire me. My time to work is very limited and I want to enjoy these precious years with the children at home. But I’m also aware that as the children get older and spend more time at school, I will be looking to work more, challenge myself and see what I can create. So lets see…
Consumers make quick judgements about brands. We spend so much time online these days, we are constantly making snap decisions on who to follow. There can be different motivations as to why someone chooses to follow you, but for the purposes of this article I want to focus on businesses who are trying to attract new customers, and retain existing ones. If you’re looking for some quick pointers to help you stay on track with your marketing strategy read on.
One of the biggest turn-offs for a lot of people is inconsistency. As a consumer if you aren’t sure what a brand represents it can be confusing and you are less likely to commit to following and engaging with them. If you are starting out and want to build a community (and ultimately attract customers) you need to set out a clear brand identity for your company. I’m not just talking about visuals, but knowing how to translate your brand’s personality into the written word is crucial too. Are you funny, informative, irreverent or serious? Try anthropomorphising your brand – for example if Social Butterflies was a person it would be a career driven mother who was a savvy consumer of lifestyle products and services. If you can define its personality and attributes you can begin to see its place in the market. Being confident about this information will help you stand out from the crowd and create a niche for your business.
STAY TRUE TO YOU
Don’t keep chopping and changing your offering. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m doing” more than a company that regularly changes its image and business offering. Being consistent doesn’t mean you can’t evolve of course, but over time. If you’re overhauling your entire proposition within a matter of months from launching (or even every couple of months) then something is seriously wrong. You need to take time out, reassess what it is and have a clear business strategy before you start marketing your services. Particularly if you are offering any kind of marketing services – this could be the kiss of death for your business otherwise.
THINK LIKE A CONSUMER
The best way to get back to basics with your online business presence is to think about how you interact with social media as a consumer. Sometimes you can be so immersed in the day to day running of a business you forget to put yourself in the consumers’ shoes. Look at how other businesses project their image online – what works and what doesn’t.
BE A LEADER
But don’t follow a lazy business model by simply copying what other people are doing. Authenticity and originality are the attributes which will engage and retain your customers, so keep it real. You’ll find that customers in a niche audience will tend to follow the same people, so you will stand out as a copycat pretty quickly. If you’ve been inspired by someone else’s success then that’s great, but trying to keep up appearances and shadowing someone else’s online persona will only lead to feelings of disappointment. Concentrate on your own strengths, your company’s USP and carve out your own voice.
DON’T OVERSTRETCH YOURSELF
Don’t compare your business offering to others and simply try to match or exceed it. If you have a strong offering in one or two keys areas, then focus your energy on building those up and making them pay. Once you’ve honed those, then you can look to expand your services or product range. Spreading yourself too thin just to keep pace with competitors is not good business practice. Always remember what your key skill sets are, refine them and teach yourself new ones.
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE
The message is pretty simple: know who you are and what you do. It’s not rocket science, but so often people get overwhelmed by the mass audiences online and start to panic. This is totally understandable; it can be an overcrowded marketplace. But all the more reason to take a step back and have a clear digital marketing strategy in place before you go live. Be confident in your offering and if in doubt seek advice from professionals.
If you’re interested in finding out more then visit my new digital marketing consultancy website: amywhitedigital.com.
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I work from home a couple of days a week, and like all women I end up doing chores in between work. Loading the washing machine, unloading the dishwasher (and reloading), checking the fridge for missing items before the inevitable ‘top-up’ shop to the supermarket later (I feel a sad sense of achievement if I can avoid going at least once a day). My ability to multi-task is second to none, as is my ability to procrastinate. The internet has been calling me today with its cheeky loveliness and I’ve been powerless to resist. However, and quite unbelievably, amid endless cups of tea, a quick power-up in the form of a few ‘Waitrose-mini-hot-cross-buns’, I have actually written my CV. I know, I’ve even impressed myself.
I write this blog alongside my day job, and I’m currently trying to find time to launch my freelance business (digital marketer and editor). During this process I’ve been going through my CV for the first time in a long while, and oh my lord it’s been an uphill struggle. Does anyone else find writing in a self-promotional style buttock-clenchingly awkward? I’m happy to write about other people and tell their story, but when it comes to listing my own experience and achievements I feel out of my comfort zone, much like Nigel Farage at a Eurovision party.
Writing down your professional story is an exhausting process, but once you’ve written it you can spend an infinite amount of time refining it, or as I like to call it, disappearing down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest (goddamn you Pinterest). There are so many styles and designs these days for CV writing that I find it all a bit overwhelming. So I’ve decided to stick to my guns and opted for simplicity. A clean design coupled with riveting lists of experience and achievements *should* speak for themselves.
Part of the reason I’ve done this, is so I have a clear vision of what I can offer, what I know and how much that is worth to a business (and I don’t just mean financially, don’t underestimate sparkling wit and personality). If you’re thinking of returning to work, looking for a new job or perhaps starting a business, writing a CV can be a cathartic process – think AA meets NCT (but with jobs) – the first step is admitting you’ve got a problem, and remember, it’ll be worth the pain! It’s a good idea to get other people to check for errors obviously, but most importantly, writing about yourself in the third person (always a bit weird, but necessary in this context) helps you think objectively about what it is you have to offer. Which, I can guarantee will always be more than you think – age for once is a distinct advantage!
I’ve used two photos to illustrate visually what I mean about having a ‘CV reality check’. The main image is obviously not mine but an idealised, Instagram composition (credit to desk of dreams creator: Emma Highfield). The second one is the reality of my home working situation (it’s my kitchen table surrounded by crap). My point is that you need to think of a CV as you would the picture perfect desk – it’s a contrived version of reality. We recognise the same concept in the real picture, i.e. there is a table and a computer, the similarities end there sadly. So don’t stress about how to present yourself on paper – just write it down and tidy it up later.
We all have bundles of experience to offer future employers, particularly once you’re over the hump of, ahem…35 (ish). We should learn to celebrate our achievements for what they are, not compare ourselves to Instagram perfection (that gorgeous desk can bloody well piss off with all its neatness). Being a mum unofficially qualifies you as a PRINCE2 practitioner, referee, chauffeur, wine taster extraordinaire, UN diplomat (I could go on). Basically you’re awesome, even if at first glance your CV needs sprucing up.
If you’re thinking about starting a business or have a business that needs more strategic direction, then you could benefit from branding knowledge and expertise. One thing is clear though – success will not come overnight. “Building an online brand can take years” says Janet Murray, PR consultant and business owner.
It’s always prudent to speak to experts if you want to impartial advice. With that in mind I spoke to Janet Murray owner of Soulful PR – she specialises in teaching and empowering people to take control of their own PR. By sharing her expertise, individuals and businesses can raise awareness of their brands and attract more customers without hiring an expensive PR company or writing numerous press releases. With a proven track record in pitching, writing and editing, Janet has had countless stories published in national newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, Times, Sun and Daily Mail. Having worked as a journalist for over 15 years she knows what other journalists are looking for in a story “and, crucially, what they’re not”.
If you’re looking for some straightforward, easy to implement advice then follow the simple rules outlined below and you can start to measure success in the short term.
The key to successfully promoting yourself or your business depends on ensuring your customers are receiving useful, valuable content alongside the product or service you are offering. With so many businesses embracing online marketing you need to stand out from the crowd and offer something extra. Janet strongly suggests “posting regular content: blogs, vlogs, podcasts, newsletters, at least once a week”. By adding value to your business offering you can create a community of people who engage with you and share your content amongst their colleagues and friends. People are increasingly media savvy and will spot a hard-sell so by providing genuinely useful content in the form of an article (you might be a food company providing recipes), or video content (a yoga instructor providing YouTube video exercises), you can start to build subject-related content.
Building a successful brand means being consistent across all media channels. In simple terms this means ensuring your brand identity is distinct and recognisable so you can start to build a strong presence across all your social media platforms. Creating graphic elements with a strong aesthetic, colour palette and photographic style have helped Soulful PR build a beautiful Instagram account (see images below). Janet’s top tip in this area is to “hone your skills on one particular social media platform” and once you have established a look and feel and built an engaged audience then you can focus your efforts on replicating this success on other platforms. Rather than spreading yourself too thin over multiple platforms, this way you can experiment with one and when you feel you’ve nailed it (this will be measurable by analysing your insights, comments and follower numbers) apply this winning formula for continued success to other platforms.
Often overlooked when starting out – collecting email addresses from people visiting your site is an important way of gathering data and reaching out to your customers. “Too often successful businesses discover too late that they’ve missed an opportunity to collect customer data”. Set up an account with an email marketing platform such as MailChimp from the very start and begin to capture email addresses by offering useful, exclusive content. Use this information to talk directly with your customers in the form of a newsletter and offer discounts. By creating a special ‘club’ for people who subscribe you can entice them in – but don’t forget people don’t give away their details freely (do you?) so offer something they don’t get on the website as a casual browser.
Don’t be afraid to “work with your competitors” says Janet. The internet has democratised information in such a way that users have become arbiters of consumer choice. Just look at the plethora of comparison sites like moneysupermarket.com and Google Shopping etc. Use this to your advantage by working with and linking to your competitors. It might seem like an odd thing to do but by creating a niche for yourself as the “go-to business to discover what’s happening in your particular industry” you can make competition into a positive attribute of your business identity. Also by keeping an eye on what your competitors are up to you can be quick to offer alternatives.
When starting out in business it’s difficult to know how and when to invest in your brand. One piece of advice Janet feels strongly about is your brand identity (unique logo, website, marketing collateral, product design). We all have such short attention spans these days and the internet is a visual medium so investing in a strong brand which is aligned with your company values can really help make you stand out from the crowd. Websites which hark back “to the 90s” won’t help you either. These things needn’t cost a lot of money particularly if you can’t afford a graphic designer or a web designer. There are plenty of free online tools now that can help you create artwork and logos, such as Canva and website building sites such as WordPress and Wix. The important thing is to keep it clean and simple if you go down this route – you can always add photographs and illustration to liven up content – sites which offer free photos such as Pixabay are a good place to start if you don’t have a budget. If you are using your phone camera to take photographs then try using apps such as ColorStory and Snapsneed – both excellent photo editing tools which enable you to add filters, crop images, overlay text etc.
If you are a bit further along your business journey and want to take things to the next level then Janet offers in-depth training and services: Soulful PR Studio (£42 p/m, or £378 per year); book coaching or consultancy (£300 – £2300 +VAT); sign up for the Done-with-you PR service £5000 (&VAT).
Me and Orla is a highly successful lifestyle blog by Sara Tasker. With a focus on beautiful, ethereal photography and styling, Sara documents her life in rural Yorkshire with her daughter Orla. Her success on Instagram has created a demand for courses teaching others how to take better photographs and grow an online brand. Janet has learnt a great from Sarah about how to improve and grow her Instagram account and is a big fan of her work.