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.

The authentic face of PR

Kelly Pike is an arts and culture PR Consultant based in Bristol, and owner of Folk Public Relations. The phenomenal rise of digital and social media has changed the landscape of public relations. With that in mind we asked Kelly to share her thoughts on the industry, the age of the social media influencer, and how best to promote your business online.

Tell us about yourself

A lot of things can lead a girl into PR and for me it was books and a love of talking to people. Non stop. I spent most of my career working in London publishing houses looking after household names and award winners of all kinds. I loved it. Big time. But children and London’s crazy property ladder saw a move to the south-west and Folk Public Relations was born. Slowly and on the back of very little sleep. I specialise in arts and culture PR but am excitingly branching out into some mama-brands such as This Mum Runs.

How has digital technology and social media changed the PR landscape?

Recently I’ve found myself thinking back to the start of my career, in the early noughties. Back then we used to joke about bloggers asking for review copies and how really they were for their nan or a present. Not for promotion. Publicity was very traditional then. It probably hadn’t changed for decades. Digital technology and the social media revolution have changed my industry more than many. It’s not enough to get great coverage in a women’s glossy or a TV show. Now a campaign needs to feel holistic and organic. And it needs to feel real.

Social media is a key part of this. We’ve seen the traditionally fairly separate disciplines of marketing and publicity merge so that quite often now publicity includes social media marketing and all my plans will include social media influencers now in the way they used to include celebrities.

It’s actually quite nice because I think it all feels a bit more authentic. Influencers are already your target demographic so what you end up with is publicity which feels much more authentic and real. And PR which feels like that is much more likely to end up creating the much courted and incredibly elusive word of mouth affect.

What are your top PR tips for women wanting to promote themselves and their businesses online?

What social media has also done, of course, is make promoting yourself much more accessible. Social media influencers should be the core part of anyone’s campaign; sometimes the only part of your campaign. And because you can usually contact them directly through Instagram or twitter, there’s no excuse.

Make it authentic
You need to get to know the influencers and treat them as people. Chat to them, make friends. It’s social media after all. Then they are much more likely to want to help you by featuring your product. And you gain some new friends. Win, win. It all makes sense really. Call it PR karma if you will.

Stories
If a career in book publishing has taught me anything it’s the power of the story. Stories sell; stories get under the skin; stories help people connect with a product. Everyone has a story and the key to a great PR campaign is finding its story. I will always ask my clients if there are any personal stories behind what they are selling. And there is always something – be it that eureka moment, a journey through adversity or a family member who inspired them.

Read the papers
Whilst social media adds depth and voice to your campaign and many great brands have started out there, you lose nothing by knowing the media. I keep a reference collection of newspapers to remind myself of columns and writers and headlines which work well. And I read as much as I can. You then start to get a sense of where your story will work best – life and style sections for example, or first person columns. Keep and eye on the news to see if you can use it as a launch pad for an opinion piece.

And don’t be afraid to pick up the phone
I’ve noticed that fewer people like to do this. It feels almost rude but it’s still the best way to make sure things happen. At least you know they’ve heard you when you speak to them.

Don’t give up. Keep being you. Making friends. You’ll get there in the end.


Kelly’s is following…

This Mum Runs: I recently started running. I never ran. Ever. I would stand in the cold and laugh in people’s faces weekly at the park run as I waited yet again at Park Run. I would never run. But then I came across This Mum Runs and it’s ethos has been a total game changer for me. Mel Bound is an incredibly inspiring woman who has made it her mission to empower women who felt like they had lost themselves, or felt lonely, isolated, depressed or just lacking in me-time and give them headspace through free social runs and a hugely supportive, welcoming and active Facebook community. She also runs a totally parent friendly business and she recently was picked as a figurehead for a huge Facebook campaign #SheMeansBusiness and was picked by the Sunday Times as one of their 100 disrupters.  They have done incredible things in the south-west but are expanding to London in April. I urge all mums everywhere to check her out.

Doing It For The Kids: One day when I was felling a bit worried about where my next project was coming from I came across Frankie and her blogline Doing It For The Kids. We got chatting and before I knew it I was writing for her. It has hugely increased my love and engagement with Instagram because the community of freelance parents there are so supportive. We’re all going through the same issues. It’s great to not feel alone. Plus I got some projects out of it


Kelly’s work

folkpublicrelations.co.uk
twitter.com/publicistkelly
instagram.com/bristol_mama