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.

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.

Time for a positive change

Something occurred to me this week after I’d read some lovely emails from readers of Social Butterflies, there is a never-ending discussion online (and offline) about ‘honest parenting’, we can’t get enough of books like Hurrah For Gin and The Unmumsy Mum. But how about some ‘honest career chat’? I’m not talking about flexible working – there are huge strides being made in that area, thanks to amazing ambassadors like Mother Pukka and Digital Mums. I’m talking about the identity crisis so many women feel when they put their careers on hold to have a family. So why does this issue still feel like a taboo subject?

For many women of my generation (born in the 70s/80s) we had established professional identities long before children came along (not forgetting spontaneous mini-breaks, oh how I miss you mini-breaks). But no-one, it seems, feels comfortable talking about the lows of career compromise in motherhood. The most obvious reason is because people don’t want to prejudice future job opportunities or damage their image. But I’m not talking about committing an act of career self-harm. It’s just about acknowledging those lows so you can refocus that energy on creating new highs. If you’ve taken time out, or your foot off the career accelerator, then your confidence needs building up. You’re not going to get that by feeling unable to talk about it. Knowing others feel the same way is both reassuring and empowering. When you feel part of a movement don’t you feel more energised to make a change?

So I would like to open up the conversation. But this isn’t a drowning your sorrows exercise. This is very much about focusing on the positives. It’s about recognising your worth, valuing your experience, honing your skills, retraining in some cases, pursuing a passion and giving each other a leg-up! (I’ve been there, so I should know). I took a three-year career break a few years ago (but I did have two children) so I never feel awkward about explaining that time off to prospective employers. Maybe if I hadn’t done that I might be earning more money, or have a more impressive job, but I don’t like to look back. I am where I am because of the choices I made – no regrets. I think one of the best things you can do if you are on a career plateau is to skill yourself up. Even now, with over 16 years’ experience behind me I still think it’s important to attend courses, workshops and industry events. You should never be complacent about your knowledge in the workplace. I work in digital marketing where innovations and trends move so fast I have to keep pace.

If you’re feeling out of touch with your career identity and looking to try something new, or maybe just want to enhance your existing skills, then take heart from all the amazing women we feature on Social Butterflies. So many of them have taken career breaks, or left behind stellar jobs to try something new that suits family life. You can achieve that too – all it requires is a positive attitude, determination, a healthy dose of confidence and a good support network. You too could feel like the lady in the photo (looks like a Bodyform advert, I know).

TOP TIPS

KEEP ON LEARNING
The best advice I can give anyone who is feeling out of touch with the work place is to continuing learning: take a course, attend a workshop, go to a talk. Find something that interests you and meet like-minded people. Taking courses purely for professional reasons is great too (I’m currently learning all about analytics…) but be clear about what you want to get out of it, particularly if you’re paying a lot of money for something.

RETHINK YOUR STORY
Even if you’re not currently looking for work, try writing your CV out as you would a diary-style story. It’s a great exercise to help order your career thoughts and reexamine what you have to offer in an informal way. Once you’ve got a clearer sense of what that story is, you can translate into a CV format (have a look at Pinterest for CV style inspiration). Set yourself up with a LinkedIn profile and connect with old colleagues – you never know where Barry from accounts is now working and how he could help (by the way, Barry is a fictional character, purely for illustrative purposes).

EXPERIENCE NOT AGE
With age comes wisdom. We should be proud of the experience we have gained, and not compare ourselves to twenty-somethings. Each generation has their own unique skill set  – ours is multitasking experience (in bucket loads!). Taking time out of work has reinvigorated your desire to work, not diminished it. I’m in my late-thirties and we’re not having any more children, so I represent a whole load of women who are not going to go on maternity leave and we’re less likely to flit from job to job. This is an advantage for a future employer. It’s all about changing negative perceptions and seeing the positives.

POSITIVITY PEOPLE
It’s therefore crucial to surround yourself with positive people. There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism, but the doomsayers can quite frankly f**ck off! If you’re trying to lift yourself up you need people with a glass half full attitude. I always think if you project positivity you will attract it (you can have that as a motivational fridge magnet, you’re welcome).

I’m really hoping by getting this topic out in the open it will help other women out there, who felt like I once did. I’d love to hear from anyone who has felt like this and has made positive changes in their career. Please email hellosocialbutterflies@gmail.com. I’d love to feature your story and inspire other women to do the same.

Coach your way to success

Ruth Kudzi had a successful career in recruitment before moving into education, where she was a senior manager for 10 years. It was during the selection and coaching process for a fast-track head teacher program, that she became interested in retraining as a business coach. Ruth realised her skills and natural aptitude could lead to a successful career. Finding a job which fitted around family life, utilised her expertise, and that she felt passionately about, has proved a winning formula. Ruth now specialises in supporting mums who want to achieve in business. If anyone knows how to do it she does, so we asked Ruth to share her career story and top tips for aspiring businesswomen.

Tell us about yourself

I am Ruth, I started my career in recruitment and executive search before moving into education. I spent 12 years working in education, the last nine as a senior leader and consultant. In 2011 I was selected to be part of a fast track program for aspiring head teachers. Through the program I got a coach and I found the impact transformational. I started to become really interested in coaching and I began to coach on a voluntary basis as well as through work, completing various courses and training.

When I became pregnant with my first daughter I started more coaching training and set up my own blog, I worked on this and a couple of other ventures during my first maternity leave but didn’t put much effort into making them work. When I returned to work full time I found juggling my career and my home life really hard, I knew I wanted to start up on my own. So, I completed more training, got myself a coach and started coaching. It took me about six months to settle on my niche working with mums and it wasn’t until Autumn 2016 that I decided to focus on the business element. By this stage I was an experienced and qualified coach and I realised that my passion lay with helping mums create the work/life balance that I had been able to create.

I love working with mums on their businesses and it is very satisfying seeing other mums build the lives that they want and develop successful businesses.

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

It means that I can be a lot more flexible in where I work and how I work. I have clients from all over the world so I can communicate with them easily which I would never have been able to do before.

I have really used social media to build my brand which was invaluable when I had my youngest with me full time, it meant that people could find out about me without meeting me.

I have built up a strong group in Facebook and on Instagram and have met so many brilliant women – women who I am working with, collaborating with and who are working for me in various roles. It has been amazing to hook up with all of these women and help each other.

What are your top tips for mums who want to start their own businesses?

Money matters
I think planning is key and I know it is boring but financials, work out exactly how much money you need and then add 20% to that. So many businesses fail as they haven’t got their head around the financials, if these really aren’t your thing get an accountant or a book keeper to help you.

Support network
Getting support and building a network around you is key. It can be really lonely so finding others doing a similar thing is a great way of having the team aspect without working in an office. If you don’t know how to do something or you lack confidence then get someone to help you. I work with lots of women who have tried to do everything on their own and they find themselves becoming burnt out and demotivated, there are people who can help you so use them.

Devote time to yourself
Spend time on you every day. You are your business and you need to value yourself and nuture yourself for your business to be a success. When you focus on you and being the best version of you it will have a massive impact on your business (and your life).


Ruth is following…

Mother Pukka is bloody brilliant for her flex appeal campaign, she speaks to so many women as we do still want to work but just more flexibly.

Rachel McMichael

Rachel McMichael (aka the techspert) is a lady I have worked with on tech and she is really inspiring, she is the person to go to for tech presented in a really user friendly way (and is a whizz on Facebook ads).

marie forleo

I love Marie Forleo and my coach Emily Williams is awesome. They are both really authentic to themselves and show how you can create mega businesses online.


Ruth’s work

ruthkudzicoaching.com
instagram.com/ruthkudzicoach
facebook.com/groups/careerchangemums
twitter.com/ruthkudzicoach

CV reality check

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 run this magazine 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!

Desk reality: clearly need to buy A LOT more wine by the way

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.