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.

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

Ten minutes with illustrator Rosie Johnson

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Greenwich, south east London and grew up there and then on the Isle of Wight. Both of my parents were teachers so the I saw how hard they worked and how much of their lives were consumed by the role. The one thing I definitely wasn’t going to do was teach. I wanted to act, illustrate children’s books and write comedy sketches. If there was a way of me being Rowan Atkinson combined with Victoria Wood and Janet and Allan Ahlberg – that would have been ideal. So, obviously, after a wonderful three years studying drama at Exeter university, I enrolled on a course to become… a teacher. The acting went out the window partly due to the extreme nerves I suffered before any kind of performance. I continued to write and draw little bits and pieces but I felt the pull of teaching and finally succumbed to the inevitable. Fifteen years of working with incredible, dedicated colleagues and hilarious, inspiring children – I don’t regret a bit of it. I met my partner (the best teacher in the northern hemisphere) on the training course and made many friends along the way.

I have a talented, funny, caring step son, Alfie, who is nearly 19; the kindest 7-year-old daughter, Tilda and a chatty, stubborn toddler called Sid who tells me he loves me whilst hitting me with Duplo.

Rosie Johnson illustrations
A selection of Rosie’s illustrations

What’s your advice for anyone thinking about a career change?

I’m sure it’s the same for people in lots of different circumstances, but for me, it was having children that changed things. Until then, I was a career teacher. I spent long hours on the job and thought about it non-stop. Our daughter was premature and we were in hospital with her for quite a few weeks. A vivid memory of that time is making a deal with myself that if we were lucky enough for her to be OK, then life needed to tip in her favour. My time needed to be hers.

I did go back to work after both of my children, part-time. But teaching part-time never gave me the same sense of involvement and passion as it had before. Spending time with my children, particularly reading them stories, renewed my love of children’s books and I started playing around with some ideas for my own. When the contract came up on my last post, I bit the bullet. With the support of the best teacher in the northern hemisphere and my exceptional parents, I decided to begin my illustration business properly.

I loved teaching about 75% of the time and considered myself lucky. I mean, no-one loves working right? A job is still a chore even if you’re fulfilled by it? I had no idea how much I could adore my job. I know it’s early days and the pay isn’t comparable but oh, wow! I can work from 8-5, forget to have lunch until my stomach protests, then go to life drawing for a further two hours only to come back to the shed for a bit more.

If there’s something that’s been niggling away at you- don’t worry about not knowing the details of how you’ll make it work. You have to give it a go.

rosie johnson illustrates
Rosie also designs jewellery

What inspires you as an artist?

The books of my childhood- Shirley Hughes, Helen Oxenbury. I’m inspired by moments I see between people – a grandparent unselfconsciously blowing a raspberry at their new grandchild, a knowing hand-squeeze from a friend. I love the idea of capturing these moments.

Rosie’s work…

rosiejohnsonillustrates.com
instagram.com/rosiejohnsonillustrates
facebook.com/RosieJohnsonIllustration
twitter.com/RJIllustrates


Rosie is following…

helen botrill

Helen Bottrill, founder of the Creative Business Network is a textile designer turned guru. She is motivational way beyond decent memes! She has incredible advice and is such a positive presence for women starting their own businesses.

 

nicole thomasNicole Thomas who is a friend, but also one of the funniest, most caustic, honest writers I know. Her blog Happy Medium Mothering covers many topics from taking care of her autistic son to wondering what to call her daughter’s private parts, to dental health.

 

poppy corbett

Another exceptional woman is Poppy Corbett– a witty, political, clever woman who inspires me to do not just say.