Why is it that being a working parent can often feel like a constant race against time. Rushing to get to the office, rushing to get to the nursery, or if you’re lucky enough school gates, rushing to get back to the laptop once the kids are in bed….the list goes on. This was certainly the experience of Digital Mum Michelle Chandler who recently graduated from our Advanced Diploma in Social Media Marketing. In this blog she shares her transformation from senior marketing manager at Asda to freelance social media superstar…
“As I carried my screaming toddler, Tom, now 5, to the school gate to drop off his big sister, Lucy, now 7, at breakfast club, him screaming and kicking, me worrying about the meeting I was going to be late for (again), I knew something had to change.
I enjoyed my job as Senior Online & Marketing Manager for Asda - heading up a team of 15 Digital Marketers and managing the online marketing for Ambient Grocery - and my boss had tried her best to accommodate my requests for flexible working. But the juggling act of holding down a senior leadership role in a large corporation, as well as having full responsibility for managing all the childcare and the household, was just becoming too stressful. With Tom due to start school, it seemed like a good time to re-evaluate my work/life balance, and to look for a job which fitted better around school hours.
So, when the Digital Mums ad kept popping up in my Facebook feed, it felt like fate (as opposed to a well targeted marketing campaign)! The promise of flexible work that I could fit around my family was too tempting to ignore, and social media was an area I was already keen to learn more about, to complement my digital marketing experience.
The more I found out about the Digital Mums course, the more it just ‘felt right’. So, after an honest chat with my boss, I applied for a career break and signed up for the Advanced Diploma in Social Media Marketing
After working my notice, the buzz I felt when it was finally time to start my training was immense. In week one, I was introduced to the four other mums in my ‘peer group’ and told that they would be my support network during the course.
What an understatement that turned out to be! The only thing I can equate it to is NCT classes, where you’re thrown in with a group of complete strangers and end up becoming really close friends because of what you go through together. It was the same with my #DigitalMumsToBe — as we learned and developed together, we formed an incredible bond and friendship. Although we’ve never actually met ‘in real life’, our weekly ‘Hangouts’ and daily WhatsApp chats kept me going when the going got tough. I knew they were my kind of people when they suggested in our first Chat that we should arrange a spa weekend to meet up — and this is now firmly booked in the diary as an end of course celebration!
The next milestone was being allocated our ‘Programme Partner’ — the client we would be paired with, to manage their social media campaign. When I found out that I would be working with The Return Hub, who help women return to work after a career break, I couldn’t have been happier! As a passionate feminist and huge advocate of diversity and women’s rights, it was a perfect fit.
For the next 6 months, I learned all about social media strategy (and the gender pay gap), and crafted my campaign as I went along. Although I had several years’ marketing experience, it was great to be able to apply this to a different medium, and I quickly realised that there is a lot more to running a successful social media campaign than doing a few posts on Facebook!
My campaign #ReturnStronger focused on giving women who’d been on a career break the tools & confidence to relaunch their career. Identifying with my target audience wasn’t too difficult, as I was in the process of doing the same myself. I loved running the campaign, even if it meant I was glued to my phone for a few weeks, and particular highlights were getting a Retweet from Dermot Murnaghan of Sky News and a ‘Like’ from Martha Lane Fox!
Working from home was a complete gamechanger after working in an office environment for 20 years. I was worried I’d be lonely, but I loved being able to get on with my assignments without any interruptions, and it was a real luxury being able to pop out to the local shops at lunchtime, or meet up with a friend for coffee. In my old job, I was lucky to see daylight from one day to the next, so it actually felt like I’d rejoined the land of the living! I had been surviving on autopilot for so long, I’d forgotten what it felt like to interact with other people and notice the things around me. This was a lesson which would prove to be useful for my social media skills too, where engaging with others is a key part of a successful campaign.
There were times when the coursework felt never-ending, or when I felt out of my depth (my first Tweetchat definitely fell into this category), however the support and encouragement from my peer group and the Digital Mums Captains gave me the confidence to try new things, and the sense of achievement when I beat my KPIs made it all worthwhile. My client was also happy, as they asked me to carry on working for them.
As I embark on a new career as a freelance social media manager, my life feels very different from this time last year. I walk the kids to school every day, accompany them on school trips and I can go to school assemblies without feeling guilty about leaving work early, or worrying about looking like a part-timer. Being able to take my 5-year-old into his classroom every morning and answer the ‘Question of the Day’ with him is priceless.
Work wise I’m currently working 2 days a week managing the Marketing and Social Media strategy for Mini First Aid who train parents and carers in paediatric first aid. I've also been kept on by my Programme Partner, The Return Hub, and am doing 1-1.5 days every week for them, managing their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Finally, I'm also running some training sessions for a marketing agency and just setting up my social media consultancy Rocket Social so it’s busy times!
Our life is by no means Instagram-perfect; I still have mornings where I’m shouting at the kids to get their shoes on, but they are much less frequent now that I don’t have to contend with a race against the clock to get to the office by 9am. There are some evenings when I’m back on my laptop after the kids are in bed, but it’s a trade-off I’m happy to make to have the flexibility when I need it.
Thanks to Digital Mums, I really have found #workthatworks for me and I couldn’t be happier.”