Hello - I don’t usually write up an event in such detail, however there were a few women who couldn’t make it so I asked Helen at @instrunctionaldesignbyhl to take notes - you’re amazing Helen!
Annie was a self employed copy editor on a long term contract who expected to go back to work after the birth of her first baby. It didn’t work out, and she launched her digital magazine The Early Hour, making money through sponsored content. Annie used The Early Hour as her pitch when meeting people, and pitched a book idea to a friend she met through play group. She set up a column called The Freelance Mum - and the book deal came through that. Annie’s book features many of my favourite business women (Cherry Healy, Scummy Mummies, Steph, Zoë de Pass, Candice, Sarah Turner) as she wanted to include other peoples experience and include as much diversity as possible.
Steph hadn’t thought about the reality of motherhood before it happened, and has really retained that feeling (it’s her secret talent) and the emotional side of what it’s like to have a baby - feeling lonely, isolated, angry. She started a blog as the more people she talked to about the shock of motherhood, the more she found people agreed, and she wanted to make sure others felt the same before she started her business.
Lots of people think Steph used her maternity leave to start a business - she said she didn’t - she may have had the idea but it’s taken four years to get to this point.
So let’s dig into some of the big topics the audience were interested in:
Go easy on yourself. Steph said she didn’t with her first two babies, so she learnt to pull up the drawbridge with Frank, her third. You will lose your identity, but it will come back to you. It’s ok to concentrate on your baby. Annie’s advice is to find your tribe. Don’t be with people who make you feel rubbish, find honest friends.
Where do you start if you want to go freelance?
1. Try working part-time and building up freelance clients on the side. 2. Mat leave can be a good time if you’re able to, as legally you’re allowed to earn money from a new side hustle. 3. Have enough money coming in to pay the bills 4. Be laser focussed on the finance side, look at the margins if it’s a product business.
Confidence comes from experience. Confidence is like happiness, it needs to be worked at. The confidence session on the Clementine app was recommended by Annie. Annie also has a “Special” folder in her emails, where she puts all her good and nice emails so she can reflect on them. Steph said her confidence has also come from experience, and that things will go wrong but it’s how you deal with those things - try not to take everything persnonally. It’s really important to reflect on what you have achieved so you can acknowledge what you have done. Confidence can be knocked by looking at what others are doing - stay in your lane and do you.
Be realistic about what is possible. Endless lists are overwhelming - take one step at a time. Steph said she does take on too much, and that means some things have to be culled. We can’t do everything we were doing, and start a business or go freelance. Delegate what you can afford to, and cull social lives, cleaning, cooking “you might have cereal for tea, and that’s ok.”
Annie’s advice was to be really organised. Secure repeat work (this means you’re not always pitching). Try to get childcare if you can, and know what you’re doing in that time. Annie will get urgent last minute jobs, and will use the Bubble Babysitting app to help. We do have Bubble on a small scale in Norwich at the moment.
Work doesn’t fit nicely into childcare hours all the time - how do you manage the overspill?
Steph said to start with, she worked all hours (which was fun and hard in equal measure), and had to get to a certain point before it got easier. Annie isn’t allowing the overspill at the moment as she’s pregnant, but advised to adjust it when you can.
Do you switch off from work when you’re with your kids?
Annie said definitely not - she will finish an email, or a phone call but tries to do the thoughtful stuff without the kids. She said she tried to do a podcast but that didn’t work too well! She doesn’t think it’s a bad thing as she is with her kids - if they need her, she is there. She said her dad was home a lot when she was young, and he was always thinking about the next thing at work, and it didn’t bother her - he was there. Steph thinks it is easy to beat ourselves up and she leaves her phone downstairs at night to charge. Also, Steph is so right - none of us have it right, because we don’t really know what ‘right’ is - this is all new! Which is why we are gathering on a Weds Feb night to see how others do it.
How do you avoid burn out?
Steph, of course believes in the 30 min nap. Sleep is major - when you haven’t got time to stop, is when you need to stop. Sometimes she disappears for a bit, comes down and Doug is like “did you just have a nap?” - didn’t even notice. Like a stealth nap.
It would be difficult to work in any capacity without the support of your partner - are you specific about what help you need at home?
Steph - the mental load is half the work. Big recommendation to ask our partners to listen to Dear Sugars podcast on Emotional Labor: The Invisible Work (Most) Women Do. In the nicest possible way, back off a bit and let your partner figure stuff out - it doesn’t need to be done your way. Annie even tried a reward chart for jobs round the home and it turned out her partner did more than she thought.
Social media - how important is it really?
For freelancers, assuming a Linkedin profile is already in use - instagram is good for community and building a platform, but not great to referring people to your website. Twitter and Facebook are better for referrals.
For product based businesses, instagram is essential - make sure to build your story around your brand, not just product. For example, Steph has a separate brand account, and has various themes such as motherhood, which she has a social media manager working on (the excellent Nicola).
Tips for building an audience:
Annie: Create a good feed, have a viewpoint, by creating good content you have more chance of someone sharing it. Annie thinks the best way of growing your audience is by other people sharing your account. Don’t do the follow, unfollow thing. Create good enough content so people want to mention you.
Steph: Be consistent, don’t over think it. Don’t become so focused on the numbers - if you need 50 regular customers, and you have 70 engaged people following you - that’s perfect. Like Vickie at @inpolife said - imagine all those people lined up in your house ready to listen to you, or buy from you. It really changes your perspective.
What boundaries do you have in place to protect you from the dark side of social media?
Both Annie and Steph take a different approach to showing their children on social media - I wanted to touch on this as many of us have kids and it’s a big topic that’s fairly new:
Annie - started off blogging about parenting, so used to use photos of her children. Her husband didn’t want her to, and she decided to stop showing their faces. She thinks she definitely saw a drop off in followers and engagement, as people do want to see the family. However she’s now talking about freelancing and from a mum’s perspective so feels ok about that.
Steph’s space is about motherhood, she is in it with Frank and feels it would be strange not to show her reality when she’s known for honesty and support.
Basically - it’s up to you. I read a really good article by Mother Pukka about this last year, it is here.
Creative process in a product business
Gemma at Mutha.Hood came to Norwich last year, and shared her approach, which is that she views her range in seasons, plans the products so she has these kinds of waves of concentration - similar to a fashion business (she used to be a fashion buyer). I think Emma at Little Hotdog Watson has a similar approach, as she has just launched Spring.
Steph said the beauty of being digital is that she is much more off the cuff - she has an idea by talking and listening to customers, and can turn round a new product very, very quickly. She starts with the customer, and how she wants them to feel. Then it’s about product selection - the products have to be good quality and British. Her biggest advice is start small, and start focussed.
Both Annie and Steph have secured incredible PR. Annie did a Princes Trust Business Course (which is for under 30 year olds, the link is here) and the biggest tip from her mentor was to ‘find your story’.
1. Find the right person at the publication - research the actual person, don’t send to a generic email address
2. Follow the #journorequest hashtag on Twitter and be fast to respond
3. Make relationships with journalists - they are real people. Send an email pitch, not an attachment.
4. Make sure you proof read.
I asked Steph what was the biggest thing that she can remember that drove sales, given that she has been featured in blogs, podcasts, the press, magazines. She said yes, there was one big thing early on. She started by blogging, and at that time, there were only a few big blogs about honest parenting, like Katie (Hurrah for Gin), Sarah (The Unmumsy Mum), and Steph had written a post that had gone viral. She got chatting to Sarah on Twitter and asked if she’d like to send a gift package to her friend. She did, her friend cried with gratitude (there is something wonderful about being sent one of Steph’s packages) and Sarah shared that on her Facebook page. Steph was on holiday at the time, and was happily overwhelmed with orders, getting back to her spare room as soon as she was home to dispatch.
So the key learning is that if you have a product or service, you need to really think about a personal pull through - you can’t just ask many many “influencers” ‘can I gift you a product in exchange for a post’. It’s really not as robotic or transactional as that, you need to have invested in that person in an authentic way. They are very busy just like you. Pick three people, build a relationship, like their posts, comment on their posts. See the cost of sending samples as a marketing cost - sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t.
Most interesting person you’ve met?
Steph - Ben James, owner of Graze (he just sold Graze this week for a tidy sum) - very determined and interesting
Annie - remembered a mum when she was younger who she used to babysit for. The mum would DJ was super cool - it made Annie realise she could be a cool mum
Most used apps:
Clementine app - helps with fear and confidence
Barclays app - staying on the money
Google calendar - for synching with husband (who doesn’t check it. Similar theme to the FOD event)
Slack - for linking with colleagues on workload, instead of What’s app (avoids awkward knowledge that the person has seen it but has not replied yet)
Social media apps
Hootsuite for scheduling
Annie - Think big, Start small
Steph – Think about the emotion in your business – focus on the feeling you want your customers to feel
We then invited questions from the audience:
Q1) From Muddy Norfolk - Around the topic of confidence - she reminded us that having our children is a huge achievement, and that it does get easier and better. Steph agreed saying you’re never more efficient. Annie agreed saying its very empowering.
Q2) From Sophie at The Night Feed - Any tips for managing parent rage with your partner?
Steph’s advice was to spend time together when you can. Although it’s an ongoing thing. Remember they feel pressure too, and it’s good to understand each other. She said she counselling before their third baby, which was useful. And her mums advice - remember to be kind.
Q3) Any big business disasters - Steph said at the start she over ordered stock and didn’t sell it, and didn’t understand cash flow at the start and now it’s king. Molly at Selfish Motherlaunches a product for pre-order, and then orders stock based on pre-order numbers, which minimises risk. I’ve seen Gemma at Mutha.Hood do this too.
Q4) Podcast recommendations
And then looking in Steph’s insta highlight:
Scummy Mummies, Emma Gannon, Alison Perry, Bowel Baby, Nicky Raby, Bryony Gordon, Life Coaching by Anna, Cherry Healey, Emma Guns, The High Low, Katie Piper, Dear Sugars, Power of Mum, Holly Tucker MBE, Freaking the F*ck Out, Griefcast, Cheltenham Maman
You can search people you like, like Annie and Steph and work your way through.
This is a link to all the articles Annie has written on Forbes.com
This is a link to all the articles Annie has written on Guardian
This is a link to Steph’s blog posts
GOOD LUCK to anyone reading this - you got this!!! All photos by Emily Gray Photography