Work Matters: Christabel Saul

Christabel Saul is the founder of the The Mother Maker, a curated online marketplace celebrating and supporting creative mothers.

Why does work matter to you?

As a mother, work matters to me because it brings freedom and  a sense of purpose outside the home. More importantly for me at the moment it’s giving me a creative outlet and an enormous amount of drive and personal achievement. After many years of being a stay at home mum, I realised how much I enjoyed working. I have always had a strong work ethic and would want my kids to have that too. Of course, money would be nice and some security that comes with that but that’s not why work matters to me. It’s about setting an example to the future generation. I want to show my kids that it can be just as important for the mother to provide for her family financially and that dad too can share in the family duties. Aside from being your bread and butter, finding work that you enjoy can be a source of happiness, fulfillment and an outlet for your creativity.

Describe in three words what professional success means to you…

Waking up HAPPY. I know that I have found professional success when I have found something I love doing. Success in financial terms would be great too. But that will come when you love what you do and work hard enough at it.

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

Oh I have so many project ideas. I am a bit of a dreamer really and a crazy woman who tries to do too much at once. But I would love to work on curating a coffee table book and collaborate with makers, designers, artists and photographers or a series of children’s books would be lovely too. I would also love to work on a series of exhibitions which I am quietly planning for 2018. I would love to also see next year be ‘a year of collaborations’ and put my design and illustration skills to use. Perhaps create a homewares, accessories or childrenswear collection under The Mother Maker brand.

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

I have been so lucky with most of my jobs. At the age of 18 I took on a role as an assistant stylist which I thought was the coolest thing ever at the time and felt like I was following my dreams of working in fashion. It was a shame because despite my eagerness to learn and contribute, my boss was a bit of a dick. It did make life pretty miserable at the time. It was such a competitive environment and I spent a lot of my early years offering free work.

What did that experience teach you?

It taught me how important it is to be humble and kind to others and that egos don’t belong in any workplace. If you are kind and supportive to those around you, people will respect that. It also taught me to be more confident, and to be confident of your own self-worth.

What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?

I have always had a hard time with self promotion and being ‘proud’ of myself.  I guess my entire career journey  is something I am proud of and the skills I have taken away with me across all areas of business. I worked for a long time as a freelance costume designer and stylist and never quite felt like I got the big break or spent long enough getting that dream job on that multi-million pound production. I did however make the decision to have kids so plans for a career in Hollywood were put to the side. But I think my proudest moment would be launching The Mother Maker. If it wasn’t for having the kids I would never have found my dream job. I wanted something that would allow me to choose the hours in which I can work and the hours I can spend with my kids. Working freelance as a designer was great but I was inevitably staying late on set and coming home tired and exhausted and putting my family under pressure.  I also wanted something that would allow me the opportunity to work with other creatives bonding over the mayhem that is motherhood, school pick ups, order deadlines and I now get the chance to work with all these amazing mums who understand what it’s like to work flexibly . So after almost two years of loose planning and debating whether or not to go for it, in November of 2017 I finally launched themothermaker.com. An online marketplace and events company that sells a carefully curated selection of products made by independent mum run brands and artists. We also run workshops, markets and exhibitions to promote the work of these incredible mums.

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

Going back, I wish I was more informed about how important it is to find something that you love doing. I don’t know who I would have sought career advice from. I spent too long doing jobs in my early 20s without too much of a guidance on what my goals were. I would have loved a mentor who taught me this early on and how important it is to set goals for yourself. Oh and a fortune teller would have been ace too. Someone who could have given us 80s kids  an insight into the future and how it would affect the way we work. Times have changed so much since my 10th grade careers advice class. Technology has changed the landscape in the workplace and the sheer volume of information we are able to share. I mean as a business owner, if  I don’t know how to do something, I can just google it or post it on social media. I went to university but never finished my degree which I used to regret, but Google has taught me a lot.

Who is your present day career heroine and why?

That’s a tough one because there are so many inspiring women out there. Suzie de Rohan Wilner is the CEO of one of my favourite fashion labels TOAST and a celebrator of the arts. I met her earlier this year, and I love how she merges her love of art and literature with fashion. She’s an inspiration. Especially as she is a mum of two and a creative who has become a pioneer in business too. She also gave me the most profound advice #makeeverymomentcount which is our hashtag and it’s about acknowledging that the time you have with your children is precious and time that you won’t get back. Another one would have to be Holly Tucker. Her continuing support of small businesses is incredible and would love to pick her brain one day.

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

Find a mentor. Take as much advice as possible from them. Don’t try and fit into a ‘box’ created by our society. Don’t just try and find a ‘job’ for the sake of it. Think about the lifestyle you want, your goals in life, and the things you are passionate about. Oh and always put yourself out there for new opportunities. You never know what may happen.

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

The Mother Maker is a pretty big jump and for me is the beginning of a whole new career path. Throughout my time at fashion design school it was always my biggest dream to launch my own fashion and accessories label. But if i was to take a completely different career path, (which I can see myself doing in the very distant future when I am a little older and wiser) I would love to do something helping other people. I would love to be a Doula and maybe specialise in hypno-birthing and learn these skills. I would love to give women the ability to fight their fears, and to find the strength to have an empowering and beautiful birth. I was petrified of the idea of giving birth in the lead up to my first child being born and the whole experience was terrifying and scarred me for life. I almost lost my life and suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that was only diagnosed afterwards. It was only until I met Joy Horner from Glastonbury, a private midwife and amazing woman who gave me the skills and strength and knowledge to have two very beautiful home births. It’s something that I feel is important to every mother, as it’s the beginning of their journey into motherhood. It’s a rite of passage for both mother and child. Joy ultimately unearthed an inner confidence and strength and I was able to knock back my fears, believe in myself and trust that I could do anything I put my mind to. That has ultimately shaped me as a mother, a wife and a woman striving for a career.  I would love to give this gift to another mum to be.

Work Matters: Claire Lowe

Tell us about yourself

I’m Claire Lowe a mixed media jewellery designer maker based in Exmouth, Devon. We relocated to Devon from London with our three children just under a year ago and have no regrets, living 10 minutes from the beach and the Exe estuary means we have such beautiful surroundings on our door step, the pace of life is much more suited to us and our family.

I studied for a degree in silversmithing, jewellery and allied crafts and graduated in 2005, the course was fantastic and in a great location at the top of brick lane in London. The course allowed me to experiment with a lot of different materials and processes and this is where I learnt to use resin which is a liquid plastic which sets once mixed.

Tell us about your business – how did it all begin?

After graduating I continued to make jewellery and set up my business progressing my graduate jewellery into a more main stream collection. This range of jewellery was based around tea. I used tea as material and an inspiration, pieces were made with silver and resin and the tea leaves were cast inside the resin with either a clear or white finish. The tea collection is still in production and quite often gets selected for exhibitions with a tea theme.

The business has grown and paused for each baby as they’ve come along but the beauty of making jewellery is I can pick it up and put it down around nap times, school runs and once the children are in bed. During the short pauses of making I really missed the physical process of making, being a maker is a huge part of who I am. During my degree I took a short teaching course to enable me to share my skills and teach others jewellery making. Over the years I have taught a variety of jewellery courses to adults and children.

What do you make and what inspires you?

The process of making inspires new designs and allows me to experiment and create new ideas and pieces, currently I am making a collection which focuses on 3 colours and a specific set of shapes. The mustard collection combines the colour palette of mustard yellow, white and grey resin with silver and oxidised silver. The teardrop shape leads on from the collaborative pieces made between myself and another jeweller. This collection is sold through art gallery shops, independent jewellery galleries/shops and online.

The business continues to grow as my designs develop and go in different directions new and exciting opportunities come my way, It’s really exciting to get a new outlet for my jewellery or to apply for an event and be accepted. Getting an invitation to take part in a specific exhibition is really rewarding too. I really enjoy having a brief to work towards so sometimes it’s good to apply for an exhibition with a theme which will then take my work in a new direction. As the children gown and I have more time to make I hope to take on more opportunities and teach more. Getting away from the studio is always healthy and I try to meet up with other makers and exhibit at crafts fairs so I can interact with the people who buy my jewellery.

In the past I have collaborated with a few other makers. I made a collection of Jewellery with Emma from Olive Rose Jewellery for a collaborative exhibition at Unit Twelve Gallery. Emma is a textiles jeweller so we combined her textiles with silver and resin to make a small collection of pieces. I have also worked with another textiles based maker who used escape and evade maps to make a range of homeware items, I made a collection of jewellery including earrings, cuff links and pendants. I would certainly be happy to work with more makers in the future to form collaborative pieces. I quite often tailor a collection around a stockist if they have a set colour palette in mind or their space would suit a certain collection of my designs.

clairelowejewellery.bigcartel.com

Work Matters: Vicki Smith

Tell us about yourself

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.

for the love of mum

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…

Work Matters: Emma Paton

Emma Paton is a London based blogger at Finlay Fox, a kids and mums fashion and lifestyle blog. She also works alongside Ashlyn Gibson as Website Partner for creative family lifestyle store Olive Loves Alfie.

Why does work matter to you?

I had worked in fashion since leaving university (many moons ago) and have always loved the challenge of ‘working it all out’ in buying roles where often the training wasn’t very good and it was all about learning on the job. Plus I have always liked to be kept busy and I’ve always been a committed hard worker. Since having my second child I left my 9-5 buying role to seek more flexible working through my blog and as an online web partner with Olive Loves Alfie. Work still matters as I enjoy the creativity and stimulation it brings and I think its important that my children see a strong work ethic from both parents.

Describe in three words what professional success means to you…

It used to be money, happiness and career development but I would now say (post kids) it is flexibility, working with decent people who have a similar work ethic and creativity (sorry more than three words!).

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

I’ve always wanted to do my own kidswear range of Finlay Fox unisex clothing (…watch this space!). I’d also love to work with someone like Anna from Mother Pukka. There are so many fab brands I would love to collaborate with too – too many to list!

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

Probably working in a bar in Corfu, Greece in the summer holiday during university.

What did that experience teach you?

Aside from how to drink Long Island Ice Teas every night (!) – to try and have fun at work and some basic marketing skills but also that I’m not cut out to work in a bar!

What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?

Probably being promoted to Senior Buyer quite quickly after coming back from maternity leave after having Finn. But also starting my blog whilst still holding a full-time job.

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

I would loved to have had some career advice for my blog when I started a couple of years ago as I really went in completely blind. I got some fab advice from blogger Susie Verill more recently and only wish I had had advice from other bloggers before I started. I’m now trying to host monthly blogger meet ups so we can all support and advise each other.

Who is your present day career heroine and why?

I love what The Step Up Club are doing at the moment – instilling confidence and self belief. I am really keen to attend some of their networking events soon. I also admire Johanna from Raising Women who shares stories of like-minded women and I also really respect blogger Alison Perry who has just bought out a fab range of Podcasts with some interesting and inspiring mums – always good to listen to when you’re after some inspiration and motivation!

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

Work hard, get as much work experience and make as many contacts as you can. You never know what it may lead to. Also lean in to those promotions! I hope flexible working will be more standard practice for the next generation.

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

I would love to be a photographer or a stylist. At least my blog allows me to dabble in some of this at a very basic level! I’ve also loved the idea of doing some more interiors based work.


finlayfox.com
instagram.com/finlay_fox

Work Matters: Anna Cascarina

Anna is the founder of Little Flea, a website dedicated to profiling cool kids brands and shops. Anna also produces the unique Little Flea Magazine, a online showcase for these brands that includes photographic shoots, trend pages and interviews.

Why does work matter to you?

I suppose it’s down to needing a creative outlet and wanting to work. I worked intermittently when the kids were young but when they were both full-time at school, it was important for me to start earning again. Plus I think it’s important for my girls to see that their mum can do other things other than be their slave!

Describe in three words what professional success means to you

Flexibility, happiness, money!

What would be your dream job or project?

I don’t think I could go back to working for someone else now but I’d love to collaborate with a high-end photographer/videographer to create and style kids fashion films.

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

Working in a box packing factory.

What did that experience teach you?

To work hard to achieve my goals and nothing is beneath you!

What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?

My 10 issues of Little Flea Magazine as its a massive achievement for a one man band.

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

I would probably listen a bit more to my lecturers at The London College of Fashion as they knew what they were talking about.

Who is your present day career heroine and why?

I do love Sophia Amoruso founder of Nasty Gal and also Michelle Obama – she’s incredible.

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

Try not to compare to others. It’s tough not to but everyone is on their own journey.

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

Yes, I would love my own fashion line. I know exactly what it would be like. Maybe one day, who knows.


Photo credit: Sharon Copper (sharoncooper.co.uk).

Finding a work-life balance

Luisa Sanders is a social media manager and blogger who is passionate about giving mums the confidence to forge new careers or go it alone after having children. Having taken a career break of over 18 months after having her first son, Luisa took the plunge into the world of freelance, working for a variety of organisations including Netmums and English Heritage. Since 2013, Luisa has worked for Aardman Animations as a social media manager. She also writes a blog, Bristol Bargainista. Here she shares her story and explains why she feels becoming a mother has given her more confidence and made her more productive.

Tell us about yourself

I’ve never followed what you’d call a ‘solid’ career path! I had literally no idea what I was going to do with my life when I left university and in all honesty I felt pretty overwhelmed by the idea of navigating the world of work. I’ve worked in everything from publishing to gaming, but my career before kids didn’t really fulfil me. I can see with hindsight that I was often marking time in work – just filling the days and looking forward to the next pay cheque without really pushing out for more. I knew that writing was the thing I loved best about my job but I often felt frustrated by the creative limitations of working for a big organisation. By the time I’d become pregnant with my first child, I’d started doing a little bit of freelance writing on the side and realised that this was ‘my thing’.

That was almost 14 years ago and today I’m in a much better place professionally. Having children has without doubt focused me in terms of career. It hasn’t been easy – I took a break of over 18 months after having my first child, plus we moved from London to Bristol in that time, but becoming a mother gave me a new-found confidence and determination to carve out a freelance career. I never wanted to be the mother who was out at work from dawn till dusk, missing the nativity play and never seeing her children, so I become absolutely focused on making an income in a way that suited our new family dynamic.

luisa sanders family

How to you balance the demands of children and work?

I’m one of those annoying people who has managed to find a lovely employer who does their best to offer family-friendly, flexible hours. I’m constantly astounded by the lack of value society places on mothers and that organisations can’t see that they’re missing out on a huge talent pool by not offering flexible working. Personally, having children has made me much more productive at work – I fit in what I used to do in a five-day week into much less time. I think there’s a lot of time wasted in unnecessary meetings, hanging around the water cooler or simply faffing about when you have more time at your disposal. I don’t mean to denigrate those full-timers without kids but I do think you value a good employer much more when you’re a working parent; I never take sick days, am always punctual and pack as much into my days as possible as I know how lucky I am – it’s a deal that works in everyone’s favour.

In the early days, I had moments of wondering how I was going to make it all work – there were a lot of early morning starts, working at 6am before the kids woke up and then picking things up again when they were in bed. I’ve worked many weekends and have taken my lap-top on family holidays, but that’s the deal you make when you go freelance – I was happy to do those unorthodox hours to be around for my children when they were little.

What are your tips for mums trying to get back into work?

I won’t lie to you – I found the journey back to work challenging, exhausting and bewildering. I felt as if the landscape had totally changed in the time I was away, plus I only returned back to ‘proper’ work when I was on the cusp of turning 40. Rocking up to Aardman for my first day at work, I’ll admit I had a wobble; how was I, a middle aged mum, going to bring any relevance and insight to my new social media job?

But you’ve got to shut down that inner monologue and remember all the things you do, as a mum, bring to the table: resilience, patience, problem solving, time management and real life experience, to name just a few. I became a much more competent person after having children, something I reminded myself of frequently when I was feeling unsure of my abilities. That and the fact that I’d pushed a baby out and that no job interview or stressful work situation could ever be as life changing or important as that.

Writing my blog helped me to learn some great digital skills and help me find my voice – I wholeheartedly recommend this as a way to explore your creativity or hone your writing skills if writing is something you love. While I’m not a natural networker and suffer with anxiety, I learnt to put myself out there. I connected with numerous people and companies in Bristol; some I never heard from again, but some become clients I’ve enjoyed a long-standing relationship with.

I’ve also always been honest about the fact that being a mum comes first with me. Interestingly, in the interview for my first job post having children, I was asked what my proudest achievement was to date. I answered ‘having my son’ and immediately wondered if I’d just committed career suicide. But I got the job and it was – I was informed by employer afterwards – my honesty and obvious dedication to my family that got me the job. Those employers DO exist but you need to work hard to find them. So do your research, send out those emails and keep going – you can make motherhood and work work for you – good luck.

Career journey: Lydia Mansi

Meet Lydia Mansi, a digital marketing consultant and mother of two young boys, on a journey to make a career out of her love of writing. Lydia started out working as a magazine editor and now runs her own consultancy business.

Tell us about yourself

I’ve always been single-minded (bar a brief flirtation with wanting to be fashion designer, aged 14) I have always wanted to be a writer. Age eight, growing up by the sea in Devon, I asked my head teacher to borrow the school photocopier and proceeded to create a ‘school magazine’. I drew all my own pictures (and made up most of my own stories) and sold each weekly edition in the playgroup for 20p. And so the obsession was born.

Fast-forward 10 years and I was still hell-bent on a media career. I did an intern stint at Glamour (shadowing the beauty editor and fashion team) although I spent most of my time sorting coat hangers in the fashion cupboard and fact checking the shopping pages, it just cemented for me how magical print media is.

So, with sights now set on not only media but London too, I solely applied to Goldsmiths College to do a Media and Communications degree. Call it teenage arrogance, or simply that I was driven, but my parents and teachers desperately tried to suggest a ‘Plan B’. Thankfully, due to my bloody mindedness and genuine fear of being told ‘I told you so,’ I got in.

The Goldsmith years

Early Noughties was pre-gentrification of Goldsmiths College, there were no minor Royals, no Curzon cinema – just a lot of asymmetrical hair cuts and a fair bit of pretentious art-student fashion. Those black and white chequered halls literally vibrated with creativity. Just being a part of it made me feel like anything I wanted to be was in my grasp. I wrote, studied photography, painted – it was the most expressive and creative I have ever been. It’s weird when I think I studied media at a time when there was no social media, no smartphones or apps. I had to trek to the library if I wanted to check my emails – now my whole livelihood is built on digital media.

So, my single-mindedness took a little kink in the road age 21. I had graduated, wanted to stay in London and needed a job. I was heartbroken and despondent so, for a reason that is still unclear to me now, I applied to be a recruitment consultant at an investment-banking agency in the city. I was hilariously hopeless. I knew nothing about the industry but I had a blast – drinking champagne at the top of the gherkin and flouncing about in power suits and a bold lippie. I remember walking across London Bridge every morning amidst a sea of grey suits in my emerald green coat and thinking ‘I really don’t fit in here’.

Move into publishing

Thankfully, just as I could feel my soul (and creativity) slowly dying a uni friend mentioned she might be able to get me a role in the publishing house she was working at. Bingo. I started off on the ad-sales desk but was soon making myself indispensable to the editorial team – as my mother always reassured me at the time ‘be helpful, polite and eager, it will pay off’. I remember sourcing ice tongs on the King’s Road one winter’s night at 7pm for one editor and thinking ‘it better pay off soon’. One editorial assistant opening later and I was in. My first genuine editorial, paid role. I still feel really fortunate that my editor, Kate Crockett was incredible. Forget The Devil Wears Prada, I have worked with some of the most empowering, supportive, inspiring women in my media career – she took time to make me a better writer, gave me interesting, meaty commissions (not just the shopping pages) and really nurtured my career.

Over five years I gradually worked my way up through the ranks to assistant editor, health and beauty editor and then magazine editor at 26. I launched a new title in a recession and went on to relaunch a failing title in the publishing house’s stable. Although a challenging time, I think it made me more business savvy and rather than being ‘all about the art’, I now really love getting my teeth into the budgets, pagination and the business end of the industry, which has surprised me.

The future is digital

With marriage and motherhood came a move back to Devon, I had no immediate plans to carve out a media career back in the south-west but after 18 months I got the itch and began working for a digital health brand start-up in Bristol as their content director.

Digital was a whole new game for me. I was overseeing marketing and editorial content for both the corporate and consumer sides of the brand and it was a steep learning curve, as was juggling motherhood and a challenging new career. I’m not sure we can ever get the balance right as working mums (or feel like we have!). But I am immensely proud of the fact that I am raising my two boys with the example of a strong, working mother who does something she is passionate about to provide for them.

Starting my own consultancy this year has been my biggest learning curve yet. It finally felt like the right time, after 15 years in the media industry. I felt comfortable that I had something to offer and that what I do is of value. This was a massive milestone for me, to feel confident enough to go it alone and be a one-woman brand. In marketing, especially digital, there are a lot of people using a lot of technical terms to try and hoodwink businesses and brands into thinking they need to pay big bucks to ‘make their mark online’. They don’t. I want to simplify digital marketing and work with independent brands to help them build their customer relationships in a natural, authentic way and stand out in a crowded marketplace, creatively.

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

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