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

I survived the summer holidays

The summer holidays are a metaphor for everything that is great, and ‘challenging’, about parenting. A 6-8 week period of intense family time which rouses emotions ranging from serene contentment: “oh how wonderful to have such precious time to creating everlasting memories”. To scenes of complete and utter irritation: “when will this fresh hell be OVER?”. That kind of thing.

I love my little munchkins, but my word do they test my patience. Over the summer three ‘phrases’ have echoed around my head (and I’m sure yours too). So, as a way of drawing a virtual line in the sand and to signal the beginning of a new school year, I have suggested some solutions for future holidays. Don’t forget October half-term will soon be upon us!

P.S. I’m considering introducing a reward based system (blackmail) for blatant misuse of these phrases for future holidays.

1) Indistriminate use of the word ‘mummy’
We wait months for them to say it and then wish they would find literally any another way of starting a conversation. This summer I estimate the daily tally of “mummy” with no valid follow up question or coherent statement has probably reached 50 a day (it could be more). The word makes me recoil before they’ve even finished uttering it “mmm-uuu-mmm…”. I’ve developed a nervous tick, but on the plus side I’ve honed my razor sharp response “YES?!?” down to a nanosecond.

Solution:
Refuse to answer to “mummy” unless there is a genuine question that only you can answer. My default now is “is it a question daddy could answer?”. Answer is usually, but relunctantally “yes”. Also, suggest that asking a question without prefixing it with “mummy” will elicit a more favourable response. Deduct imaginary points for blatant misuse of the word just because they like hearing their own voice. How many times have you heard “mummy” on repeat and it’s clear they’ve either forgotten the question or they’ve developing a form of tourettes.

2) “I’m bored.”

This is a tricky one because I’m sure as a child I was deeply annoying. I find myself repeating words my parents used to say: “Only boring people get bored”. If you’ve found yourself using this old chesnut, have no fear it simply means you too are displaying a similar lazy kind of behaviour but just in the context of parenting. No shame in it, we’re all guilty of this, particularly if you’re trying to work around the kids at home. Parents can get bored too. In fact I think I’ve said to my kids several times this summer: “I spent most of my childhood being bored. Welcome to my world”. Yes, I’m both lacking in any kind of creative parenting style and a hypocrite.

Solution:
Find other bored parents with their bored children and hangout together. You can have a good moan over a cuppa and they will probably wind each other up and then play nicely 20 minutes before you’re due to leave. Classic.

3) What are we doing today?

“Nothing. We’re just doing jobs at home.” If your children are anything like mine you can only get away with this a few times in the course of six weeks. Their generation is living the middle class dream of café society, cultural days out mixing with different people and going on two or sometimes three holidays. They don’t know they’re born, which is why we go camping (just to keep it real). Joking aside though, their expectations are so high these days. I blame the parents (i.e. myself). We’re all having kids later in life and we miss the lattes, lunches, boozy dinners and mini-breaks. As a result we’re all desperately trying to recreate it with our kids. But are we creating little monsters who want it all?

Solution:
Actively seek out opportunites to detatch from the luxuries of modern life and let them go feral. We need to go feral too: perhaps not in the hygeiene department, but we all need to find our inner ROAR and go wild. Take a walk in the country, enforce a digital detox, go for a swim outdoors, breathe fresh air.

Mother of all tribes

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

Tell us about your career to date

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

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

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

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

What sparked the idea of Mama Tribe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your aspirations are for the business?

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

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

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


Danni is following…

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


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

Giving women a voice

Johanna Rossi is the woman behind Raising Women, a community that supports each other through the challenges of motherhood. We asked Johanna to share her story.

Tell us your professional story

I’m a trained interior architect, however I started my career working for The Walt Disney Company designing children’s clothing. When I moved to Monaco I work as a freelancer and then worked for a photographer here who also published a fashion magazine. My husband opened a restaurant so I started working with him, before having our first child. After my second child I studied to be a health coach and then set up my first company Live a Nourishing Life, a holistic coaching, cooking and organic produce delivery company here in Monaco. I then launched Raising Women in September 2016 when I stripped back to concentrate on coaching. Recently I have taken a step back from my work to reassess and have made the decision to stop coaching and realign my work with my creativity. For the moment I’m enjoying writing a lot.

How has social media changed the way you work?

Social media has changed the way I work hugely, for better and for worse. Social media allows us to connect with people all over the world, that we would very probably never have the chance to connect with. However I do find social media has also been detrimental to my creativity, and often to my confidence as trying to grow a brand at the same time as evolving on a personal and creative level can be hard when there are so many ‘rules’ to adhere to if you also want your business equally grow.

What advice would you give to women who are lacking in confidence?

Make sure you know what it is you are trying to do/achieve, confidence comes with clarity. The clearer you are about what it is you want to do and what it is you want to create the more confident you will be.


Johanna is following…

instagram.com/elisejoy

instagram.com/jordanaclaudia

instagram.com/valleybrinkroad


Johanna’s work

raising-women.com
instagram.com/raising_women

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.

Baking with style

Candice Aboderin is a mother, vlogger and runs her own cake business Cake By Candie. A zest for life shines through in her YouTube videos, which she began as a way of capturing family life for posterity. Candice waxes lyrical on a range of different topics and doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths. We asked her to share her story and one her favourite cupcake recipes.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Candice Aboderin and I am 29. I currently run my own cake business Cake By Candie. Prior to motherhood (finally making me take a long walk off a short bridge) I dabbled in advertising and marketing roles, my last job before going alone was with Penguin Random House Publishing. My daughter Esme-Olivia is three and can be very frank about my cake designs, so I still feel like I have a boss of sorts! Apart from that, I love making videos I began doing so just to document my family life, as after my father died I realised I had no video of him. I find comfort in the fact that should I no longer be here and Esme has a burning question she knows that mummy probably made a video about that. I didn’t think others would find it interesting but here we are! As time has gone on it’s made sense to start making baking tutorial videos. With business’ heavily dependant on Google search algorithms, the more content tied to my business name, the better.

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

Thankfully, I’m young enough to say that I don’t know life without it. When it comes to running a cake business, the plus sides are tremendous. Gone are the days of sourcing bank loans and dealing with overheads. With a bright, beautiful Instagram, authenticity and most importantly a great product, you are able to run a business from your sofa! The consistent downside to social media, is watching others and their numbers thinking that you or your business is not doing as well as it should. Whenever I feel those feeling creep in, I know it’s time to take a little break. Personally, it has really helped me build a community that have shared my business and content no end. I am forever indebted to women whom I haven’t (yet) met. I don’t ever see it changing the way I work but hopefully, it will continue to enhance it.

Pink Faux Velvet Cupcakes: far easier twist on the red velvet classic

Ingredients

Cupcakes
7oz caster sugar
7oz butter
7oz self-raising flour
1tbsp milk
¼ tsp red gel food colouring
1tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Buttercream
9oz butter (softened)
1lb 11/2 oz icing sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp red gel food colouring

Method

Cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius (fan) or 180 degrees Celsius for gas/gas mark 4.
  • Line a cupcake tray with cupcake cases and set aside.
  • Cream together the softened butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  • Beat the eggs in one at a time until fully incorporated. At anytime if you see the mixture curdling add in a tablespoon of flour. Then throw in the rest.
  • Now add the gel food colouring and combine until your mixture is positively pink! At this point if you want to use vanilla extract, throw that in too.
  • Fill the cupcake cases two-thirds full. I find the easiest way to do this with an ice cream scoop but using two spoons will suffice if you don’t have one to hand.

Buttercream

  • Beat together the softened butter and sifted icing sugar until pale and fluffy. Consistency is key here, so try not to over beat as it can make the buttercream too runny. Once done, add in the food colouring until a desired shade of pink is reached.
  • Once the cakes are cooled you are now at liberty to get the party started. For beginners, there is no need to fuss with a piping bag and nozzles, you can jut use a palette knife (even a butter knife will do) and spread until your heart’s content. For those that want to try their hand at piping, I have instructions in this video.
  • Lastly, sit on the sofa and stuff your face!

Candice is following…

 

I love Yvadney and all that she creates. A part-time stylist and full-time mum, it’s wicked to see a mother who hasn’t got totally lost in the SMA sauce and still takes pride and finds a way to have fun with the way she looks. She also created an awesome platform Mum’s That Slay which celebrates a plethora of mothers tackling teething while wearing Gucci loafers. I love it!

Motherhood_RXMotherhood, especially motherhood as a black woman, can be really lonely. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been to a mother and baby group and been the only POC in the room. Visibility is so important. I love the way MotherhoodRX don’t exclude anyone but really work hard to lift up black mothers who aren’t usually represented in mainstream media

June AmbroseThe queen of celebrity styling (can you tell, I really love playing dress up?). June Ambrose is such an inspiration. With a glowing CV and such a positive outlook to life, her Instagram is where I go to feel good. Plus she styled, Jay Z who is my fav, married to everyone’s fav Beyonce. So June Ambrose has breathed the same air as Beyonce. I’ll take my kicks where I can get them!


Candice’s work 

cakebycandie.com
youtube.com/c/candiescorner
instagram.com/candiceaboderin
instagram.com/cakebycandie