These last few months flexibility in the workplace has been a real hot potato in mothering circles not only in the capital but also close to home in the Shire. So many Mums have failed to make work work for them whether that be post maternity leave, when the children start school or even later in their little lives when the time to go back just feels right. Digital Mums have come up with a solution and in 2014 established a remote learning programme uniquely tailored towards the busy Mum giving them the skills and experience necessary to become Social Media managers and work flexibly from home around their families.
Digital Mums introduced CheltenhamMaman HQ to two recent Gloucestershire graduates who she was lucky enough to chat with over a drink to talk about the programme, how they managed it all and now, as Digital Mum graduates, what they intend to do with their qualification.
CMHQ: So I’m here with Fiona Beckett and Paula Cole; both Mums, both residents of pretty Cotswold villages and both with a lot to offer in the workplace. Thanks for meeting with me ladies. Perhaps we could start out by asking you a little about your professions pre children and then most importantly about where abouts family life finds you today?
Paula: Of course! I always worked in the PR industry, initially in London prior to having my family (a boy and a girl now aged 14 and 16) but when I fell pregnant I went freelance which immediately afforded me a greater degree of flexibility. After returning to my Gloucestershire roots, my contacts gradually dried up and I started to look for other PR work. I found that I was being pipped to the post in interviews as I had no social media management experience. The Flexible Resource Company, a flexible working friendly recruiter, took a leap of faith and gave me the chance to learn on the job on their channels. I also started volunteering in digital comms for a few hours a week at Winston’s Wish which helped to build my work experience.
CMHQ: And you Fiona?
Fiona: A similar story, I also have three boys, aged thirteen and twins at ten, and my career before having them had all been in direct marketing, mainly in Gloucestershire though I had done a small stint in London before settling down. It took us a really long time to conceive and it was during that period that I was made redundant and my Mum passed away so quite a difficult year for me. Thankfully I fell pregnant not long after and it was such a blessing to me that the fact that I was out of work became irrelevant and I turned my attention entirely to raising the family I had at times wondered if I would ever have. So I really fell off the career ladder quite abruptly and at the time I never worried too much about how I would get back on. Much the same as Paula when I was ready to get back into the world of work I found that the nature of the game professionally had changed so much; social media had become a huge part of the industry but my time away from work coinciding with this evolution meant I had a black hole in my CV.
CMHQ: And during the time that you were both stay at home Mums, were you content to be at home? Or was it a case of not really having any other option?
Paula: I wasn’t a stay at home Mum exclusively as I worked freelance on and off throughout but it’s amazing what a difference working sporadically and at home has on your confidence and your career as you don’t get training and you don’t benefit from the knowledge you get organically from just chatting with colleagues and bouncing ideas off other people. Loss of confidence is a huge issue for Mums.
Fiona: By the time I’d had the twins it was logistically and financially impossible for me to go back to work but I was quite frustrated by that. I ended up finding ways to engage my brain in a semi professional way by doing stints as pre school communications officer! I happened to bump into a like minded Mum at a Cotswold playgroup and she went on to set up her own company and offered me some very flexible work, which I still do to this date. What I really wanted however was to be less reliant on her business stream so that when there were lulls in activity I wasn’t left high and dry. Digital Mums offered a fantastic solution – the means to upskill in all aspects of social media and enable me to source my own work that could still fit around the family.
CMHQ: So tell me about the programme?
Fiona: There are two programmes – The Social Media Marketing: Associate Programme which is for people with marketing, communications, journalism or PR experience. This is the programme we did. The admissions process is an online application and telephone interview. You are matched with a business to run a live social media campaign during training so it’s important to check you’re the right fit. It’s a big investment in time and money from the applicant’s end too so it’s worth making sure it’s going to be the right thing for you.
Paula: The second programme is called the Social Media Management Course and is for those new to marketing. The main difference is that where the Associate Programme involves a live client, the Social Media Marketing Course involves running a bespoke campaign. Both focus on getting students practical, hands-on experience of using social media.
CMHQ: And how long does it last?
Paula: They are both six month courses. It’s all online via a Moodle portal. Each week of learning is locked so you can’t race ahead of the pack.
Fiona: Each week you cover a different theoretical aspect of the syllabus so you learn a new skill and have the opportunity to practically apply it with your case study. Digital Mums call it ‘Live Learning’.
Paula: They advertise the course as fifteen hours per week and it is achievable in this time. If you’re really committed and want to do a great job it’s inevitable that you invest a little more. They recommend for instance that if you are using Twitter you do between 8 and 10 tweets a day – that can take a good chunk of time.
Paula: You are placed in a group of 5-6 Mums, quite spread out geographically but we were lucky to be placed in the same group which was a stroke of luck. We started a WhatsApp group so we could provide peer support to one another and this became essential through the highs and lows of learning new skills!
CMHQ: And when did you start?
Paula: We started in March 2016. Our cohort included the 300th Digital Mum but they are up t0 over 50o now so you can see the popularity of the programme. The co-founders have won a lot of awards recently for empowering flexible working opportunities for Mums including ones from Red Magazine and Marie-Claire.
Fiona: There is so much work out there though, so many businesses haven’t even dipped their toes in the social media water yet, there really are ample opportunities to find work when you graduate.
CMHQ: And what about your live studies. Do you have any influence over what type of organisation you are assigned to?
Fiona: No, the Digital Mums team give some thought to who gets what but as a student you are just assigned your organisation. That’s one of the hardest bits; getting to know your organisation and an industry that could be completely foreign to you.
Paula: The type of business you are assigned will dictate which social media channels you use (though you are trained in all of them). So for instance, I worked for a business that produced a digital communications tool for organisations and communities; Twitter and Facebook were the most appropriate channels for this.
Fiona: And I worked with an online software developer so I used Linkedin and Twitter. The time that you spend online researching who your target audience is and who the influencers are in their industry is significant; you really need to get under the skin of your business.
Paula: Often the businesses you are dealing with are start ups too so they are constantly evolving. It can really test your skills in business development and client management too!
CMHQ: Now you’ve graduated from the programme, what next?
Paula: I’ve been lucky enough to move from a voluntary position with Winston’s Wish to a paid one – three days a week as interim digital comms manager – and I’m thrilled to remain with such a great local organisation. I’m still involved with social media and PR projects for the Flexible Resource Company too.
Fiona: And I still work with SHCommunications in Aldsworth but we’ve also very recently made the really exciting decision to set up a business together. We get on really well and with Paula’s experience in PR and mine in marketing it just seemed like a great opportunity.
Paula: We’ve named our business Truly Social and we’ll be opening our virtual doors in the next few weeks. It’s frightening and wonderful all at the same time but we have a lot to offer as a team to businesses.
Fiona: Digital Mums gave us the knowledge and the platform to launch this next step, it’s up to us now to put that knowledge into action and make a success of this. You never know in a few years time we might be in a position to expand our team which is a real blue sky dream, but there is no escaping the fact that social media is embedded in the future of marketing. Businesses should be embracing it and we hope to help out those who need a hand or simply just don’t have the time or understanding.
CMHQ: Well both, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you. I’m so excited by the work of Digital Mums, the #flexappeal campaign and the #WorkThatWorks report. Please do keep in touch, we would love to hear from you on the blog again and wish you both all the very best with Truly Social.
Fiona and Paula can be followed on twitter via @trulysocialuk. Their business website will shortly be launching at TrulySocial.co.uk. To find out more about Digital Mums visit their website, you can also read about Mother Pukka’s #flexappeal campaign and read about the Work that Works Report.