Like many mums, faced with the costs of childcare and the juggle of career, commuting and family life, Helen desperately needed to rethink her career plans after having her second child. In this blog she shares her journey to becoming a social media manager with Digital Mums, and why there are one or two comparisons to having a baby! And she completely retrained while on maternity leave...
‘What the hecky thump am I going to do?’
That was my despondent but all-too-predictable realisation when I had my second baby and thought about where my career would fit into the mix. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to return to my role as a magazine sub editor in London after my maternity leave was over. I really enjoyed my job, but the flexibility I needed to make work and family co-exist happily just wasn’t there. On top of that was the prohibitive cost of commuting and a doubled childcare bill that made me want to weep/faint/have a hissy fit depending on what my hormones were doing on that particular day.
I needed a plan, and maternity leave was the time I was going to nail it — necessity is the mother of invention, after all. So I thought about my motivations: I didn’t want my career and my sense of self to disappear simply because I was a mum. I was adamant that I didn’t want my life to be dictated by the old-fashioned 9–5 and I wanted to set a strong example to my kids that you can be a mum and have a career.
My nappy-centric ‘career break’ was the logical time to make the leap into something new. And that’s when Digital Mums popped up on my radar. I found out about their Social Media Marketing: Associate Programme shortly after my second daughter Imogen was born (my elder daughter Elise was two and a half at the time), and was soon distracting myself during sleep-deprived night feeds by reading up about the course. I knew immediately that this was the solution I’d been looking for, and the whole #WorkThatWorks ethos really resonated with me. Not only was this giving me the opportunity to be with my kids more, it also didn’t feel like a step down the career ladder – in fact, I would actively be upskilling my media knowledge at a time when the print industry was fast declining.
By the time Imogen was five months old, I’d been accepted onto the programme, and I started the course when she was seven months old. This gave me enough time to get into something that resembled a routine, but also overlapped with the end of my year-long maternity leave so I had the security of knowing something was on the career horizon when I officially quit my magazine job.
I can’t lie – doing the programme at the same time as being on maternity leave was pretty full-on. But that’s when it occurred to me – the Digital Mums programme is a bit like having a baby. Here’s why…
1. Do your research – but learn on the job
When you have your first baby, you can read all the books and blogs in the world in preparation, but once that little person arrives, you realise that you really do have to learn and adapt as you go along because each tiny human has its own unique requirements. Likewise, if you’re accepted onto the Social Media Marketing: Associate Programme you’ll already have some media, marketing or PR knowledge under your belt which is a great grounding for what’s to come. Digital Mums is innovative in that it’s a ‘live learning’ programme, so you’re assigned a client who you’ll run a real-life campaign for alongside your studying. There are weekly tutorials to guide you, then it’s a case of using that knowledge and applying it to your own special project.
2. ‘You mean, I’m the one in charge of this thing?’
Remember that feeling when the initial euphoria of meeting your newborn wore off, and you were back at home and it suddenly struck you that you were completely responsible for your precious bundle? Well, it feels a bit like that when you get your programme client and design a social campaign for them. There are loads of unknowns and the learning curve can feel pretty steep at times. The whole process can be all–consuming (I lost count of the number of times I dreamt about compiling Twitter lists, or had the hashtag symbol flickering in front of my eyes as I stared in the middle distance) but, bit by bit, your hopes and ideas start to fall into place and make sense. And as you make baby steps of progress and your campaign launches, you look on proudly and think: ‘I made that! Well done me!’
3. The weaning process – or ‘test, measure, reflect, refine’
Boob or bottle? Purées or baby-led weaning? Smashed avocado or the odd illicit Pom-Bear? Every mum knows that the feeding journey from milk to solids is a case of trial and error and finding out what works for you and your little one. That’s the way the ‘test, measure, reflect, refine’ process works during the Digital Mums course – you try out lots of ideas and tactics during your campaign, realise that some things just aren’t going to go down well, and instead fill up on what’s popular. Think of it as the social media equivalent of tomato sauce all over your little one’s face and a few contented burps (with the odd occasion where your lovingly created recipe will end up on the floor).
4. Rely on your gal pals
Anyone who is a Digital Mum will tell you that one of the best things about the course is the new friends you make. As part of the course structure, you’ll be put into a small peer group with four or five other mums who are on the course too. You have a weekly video ‘hangout’ together to discuss each other’s campaigns, and you’ll most likely set up your own WhatsApp group too. These ladies are your lifeline! My peer group was so flipping brilliant and supportive and hilarious that it made all the hard work and moments of self-doubt worth it. It’s like having an NCT group of buddies, except that instead of talking about breast pads and episiotomies, you talk about Buffer versus Hootsuite. My girls were always there to talk through project problems – but more than that, they became genuine friends who I can’t imagine not having in my life now.
5. Multitask like a mother
OK, dudes, I’m putting it out there – the Digital Mums course is intensive. There is so much information to take on board and you’ll be working on several different tactics and tasks at the same time. But motherhood teaches you this skill. You realise that certain things on your to-do list can be squeezed into 10-minute slots, that you can quickly check your social media accounts on your phone while you have a wee. There are times when ideally you’d like a sofa siesta while the baby naps, but that you can use that time to get a load of studying done. You have to get organised and some things become less of a priority (goodbye, well-ironed clothes), but you can do it. Just remember to factor in time for you too – it’s amazing how stepping away from the social media rabbit hole and having a manicure or a glass of wine can help you to refocus.
6. Monitor your progress and reap the rewards
When your campaign is underway, you’ll track the important numbers in your weekly progress report to see how well you’re doing. It’s a bit like your baby’s developmental checks, when you get to look at those weird percentile charts for weight gain and head circumference. These figures and graphs are important – but so are the day-to-day interactions. Remember how the relentless newborn routine of eat-sleep-feed suddenly felt worth it when you got that first precious smile? Or when strangers stopped you in the street to coo over your darling little bundle? Your social media campaign is your digital baby. You’ll start getting likes on Instagram and retweets on Twitter. Someone you don’t know will make a positive comment on Facebook and then it’s fist-pumps all round. Suddenly, you’ll think: ‘OK, so this is what it’s about! I am owning this!’
Since graduating,I've been working from home and building up my freelance portfolio. My program partner during the Digital Mums training course was ProCopywriters, a copywriting network and the director Leif has kept me on, so I'm a fully fledged member of the team. I love working with words and their creative possibilities, so I have also decided to train up as a copywriter and offer that alongside my social media work, as the two disciplines compliment each other brilliantly.
Another social media project I worked on since graduating was creating a time-limited Twitter campaign for a short film ('Mum' The Film), which was screening at various festivals in 2017. My friend produced the film and introduced me to the director, and I loved being involved in the project. The crew was predominantly female which is quite an achievement in the film industry, and I really enjoyed working on it because it overlapped with my interest in promoting the value of women/mums in creative industries. I also do some editing and proofreading work on top of the social media and copywriting side of things, so it's coming together as a wordy-based work portfolio!
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