Jo Middleton, 37, aka the Slummy Single Mummy blogger has two children Bee, 20, and Belle, 12, plus 59K Twitter followers! She is a huge believer in the importance of flexible working and finding the right job to fit into family life. Digital Mums talks to Jo about life as one of Britain’s most successful bloggers.
Can you tell us about what you were doing work wise before you launched Slummy Single Mummy?
Gosh, I can, but I will keep it brief as I've had a bit of a mixed bag career wise! I did economics at university and then trained as an actuary. After my youngest daughter was born, I went back to work in the voluntary sector doing fundraising and marketing. It was 2009 when I decided I wanted to work for myself as a freelance journalist. I didn't really have any qualifications or contacts, so I set up my blog so potential clients could see I could string a sentence together.
How long was it before you could focus solely on the blog?
As I originally didn’t intend it to be a source of income, it was a slow burner. But within a couple of years I was getting regular approaches from people. A lot of these were things like; 'will you review this jar of coffee?’ which at the time was very exciting! Over the last few years blogs have become much more commercial. Brands are cottoning on to the power of online influencers like me. I now get loads of emails every day from companies, big and small, who are keen to work with me.
Was blogging a good flexible option when your children were growing up?
My first daughter, Bee, was born when I was just 17, so all my adult life has been a work and childcare juggle! Luckily my family have been really supportive. I had two years off when Belle was born and that’s when my love of writing blossomed. A new magazine called The Green Parent was launching and they put a shout out for writers. I stuck my hand up, and ended up writing for them for about 50 issues!
How would you say blogging and your career fits into the concept of #workthatworks?
For me, work always ultimately has to come second to family life, so it's brilliant to have found something that I can do around that. Running your own blog is the ultimate in flexible working - you get to pick and choose what you write and when, who you work with, where you work. I definitely couldn't go back to working in an office 9 to 5!
What would you say to other Mums out there that want flexible work but don't quite know how to get it?
Without wanting to be responsible for anyone ending up not being able to pay the rent, I'd say just go for it! I left my job in 2009 with just determination and a desk I'd bought on eBay for a tenner. I emailed loads of editors asking if they had anything I could write. It's a bit embarrassing to think about now, and most of them ignored me, but a few didn't and I actually got some work. You have to be driven and open to rejection, but that's how life is when you work for yourself.
What's the best thing about your #workthatworks situation?
Aside from the flexibility, it's having no one to answer to and no one to share my earnings with! That might sound greedy, and it's not that I earn masses, but it’s hugely satisfying pitching for work, doing a great job, and getting paid. It sounds simple, but you don't often get that as an employee. As a freelancer it's much easier to see the fruits of your labour and that's really motivating. As a parent too, especially of girls, I feel like I'm setting a good example. Bee already has her own blog and works really hard to support herself at university. I'm really proud of her.
What are the challenges of working flexibly?
Motivation is probably a big thing, as is getting that boundary between work and home life. I rent an office in town, to try to make that line clearer, but it's still hard sometimes to resist the urge to get my laptop out as soon as I get home. I struggle too sometimes with guilt and feel bad about taking holidays. In an office job you’d let yourself off if you had an occasional unproductive day. As a freelancer though you feel pressure to be super productive all the time so it can be hard to switch off.
Finally, you've been freelance for a long time - what are your tips for making this work around family life?
Hmmm... I'd say you have to strike that balance between showing your family respect but also making them understand the unique demands of working for yourself. My children hate it when I don't give them my full attention, or they get that satellite delay in conversations because I'm checking emails at the same time. But I can’t just switch off, especially when a lot of our trips and outings are blog related. I try to be honest and clear about what I'm going to need to do while we're out. That way they know what to expect and when to nag me. I wouldn’t change it for the world though!