I had been working as a Sales and Marketing Manager for 19 years when I was made redundant. Fourteen of those years, I had been working from home, and my husband worked long hours with a big commute and was unable to help with any of the mayhem of after-school evenings, so I wasn’t keen to go back to an inflexible office situation.
My children are 14 and 11 now, and I thought that by this point they would need me less — my youngest has just started secondary school for goodness sake! But this hasn’t come to pass. I am a chauffeur 4 nights a week for the various rounds of kickboxing, football, netball and karate, and between that and work and making meals and cleaning the miraculously self-dirtying house and the three dogs I barely have time to breathe. Yes, you did read that right, I have 3 cocker spaniels and two of them are still puppies so I am even more bonkers than you are already thinking I am. One of them has just discovered he can open not only baby gates but doors too, so life has become even more interesting and if I am going to start a Google hangout or a conference call I need to make sure Harry the nuttiest one has been walked and has something really good to chew, something that doesn’t involve cables or my leg. Or knickers from the washing basket that may, just possibly, end up strewn around the garden for the neighbours to shake their heads at. They are another reason why flexible working, #workthatworks, is so important for me. I don’t want to leave the dogs home alone all day but even if I did I would likely be coming back to a house that had been puppy-trashed BIG time.
We really needed the money though. We moved house to cut the mortgage in half, and I started the freelance grind. After 19 years working for the same company, it was hard to start selling myself. You start to doubt what you can actually do. I have a Masters in Japanese but having not used it for so many years a job in that field was just not going to happen. Or at least, if it did happen I’d be so far out of my depth I’d be drowning.
I can write fairly well, so I tried to find content writing jobs on the big freelancing channels, but without any reviews under my belt I was competing with people who were willing to work for literally pennies. I even did it for a while, but the proofreading in particular was like grating your teeth — correcting assignments that were barely recognisable as English let alone sensible sentences, paid by the word count rather than the hours it took trying to reconstruct them. There are also some rather odd men on these sites who seem a bit obsessed about whether you have a web cam or not…
So let’s just say I was feeling a little frazzled and disheartened when I saw a Facebook ad for the Digital Mums course. I was already doing some social media management on a freelance basis, and I needed to know that it was worth a) the not insubstantial course fees and b) less paying work for 6 months. I was attracted to the course because I felt a little out of my depth, and despite working in Marketing for so long I had very little experience of measuring metrics, as this was all done by a separate department (in another country). Digital Mums persuaded me that it would be worth it, and I joined for the May intake of new trainees. They were right, it was!
The world of online learning was new to me so I don’t have much to measure it against, but I think the peer group set up of the Digital Mums course is fabulous. It’s great to have people who understand what you’re raving about to bounce ideas off or even have a little rant. Although our peer group — the Betsey Johnsons — have not met up in real life yet as we are geographically quite far apart, we do plan to. Weekly Google hangouts and daily Whatsapp messaging brings you closer together and we were all able to help each other out. I’m sure that will continue.
Once we had ‘met’ our peer group, it was time to introduce ourselves to the clients we would be crafting campaigns with for the next 6 months. I was very lucky to be matched with Grassmarket Community Project, a charity and social enterprise in Edinburgh. While it was challenging to work with them because they had such a broad spectrum of businesses, it was also really interesting and fulfilling. We focused on one particular area — weddings in their award-winning event space — and built a social marketing campaign around community engagement which would introduce everyone in Edinburgh and the surrounding area to Grassmarket Centre as a wedding venue, not just a café or a community cinema.
The campaign proved to be a challenge, because the existing audience on Facebook and Twitter were interested in Grassmarket Community Project as a worthy local social enterprise, working with homeless people and vulnerable adults. They had no interest in getting married, or in weddings. So I had to not only engage them and persuade them that weddings were a vital part of GCP’s fundraising, but attract new followers interested in weddings (but not in combating homelessness). I learned lots and lots along the way, not only about social media marketing and the dreaded analytics (and although I understand it more now, I still dread it!), but about Edinburgh, about social enterprise and about lots of ethical ventures and campaigns.
I realised I actually knew what I was doing when I started to join Tweet chats and get quite a lot of interaction. They are so fast moving it can be quite exhilarating, particularly when taking part in 2 or 3 at once! With the likes and retweets building up, and some new follows under my belt, I felt like I was finally making a difference to my Programme Partner.
I would love to be able to tell you that the Project got a wedding booking during my campaign. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and in a short six week window it was perhaps too much to expect. However there have been plenty of phone calls enquiring about weddings which didn’t happen before so that feels like my biggest success. Grassmarket Centre is now listed in wedding directories and has a wedding website page and I’m pretty confident that those bookings will come, because it’s a great venue in central Edinburgh with a view of Edinburgh Castle, and an opportunity to have an ethical wedding. I am staying on to work for them, so watch this space.
Would I recommend the Digital Mums course? Emphatically yes. The peer support system is a great structure, the way you work from the beginning with an actual client is unparalleled and it has given me the confidence to #dothehustle for the work I know is out there. I am also looking forward to the support of the awesome Digital Mums Collective on Facebook.
What will the future bring? Well, as I said, I am continuing to work with my Programme Partner on a monthly rolling contract. I am also launching my own Social Media Marketing agency, Socially Contented. I am at the early stages of website building and logo designing but it is definitely happening and while I don’t enjoy the networking that #doingthehustle brings I know that I CAN do it. There’s also a lot of teenage tantrums, wet muddy dog walks and figuring out how to stop Harry the Houdini Cocker Spaniel opening doors, stealing knickers and eating the Beef Wellington meant for a special dinner in my future. But there’s room for all of that in a future where your job involves #workthatworks.