Emma Paton is a London based blogger at Finlay Fox, a kids and mums fashion and lifestyle blog. She also works alongside Ashlyn Gibson as Website Partner for creative family lifestyle store Olive Loves Alfie.
Why does work matter to you?
I had worked in fashion since leaving university (many moons ago) and have always loved the challenge of ‘working it all out’ in buying roles where often the training wasn’t very good and it was all about learning on the job. Plus I have always liked to be kept busy and I’ve always been a committed hard worker. Since having my second child I left my 9-5 buying role to seek more flexible working through my blog and as an online web partner with Olive Loves Alfie. Work still matters as I enjoy the creativity and stimulation it brings and I think its important that my children see a strong work ethic from both parents.
Describe in three words what professional success means to you…
It used to be money, happiness and career development but I would now say (post kids) it is flexibility, working with decent people who have a similar work ethic and creativity (sorry more than three words!).
What would be your dream job/project/company you’d like to work for?
I’ve always wanted to do my own kidswear range of Finlay Fox unisex clothing (…watch this space!). I’d also love to work with someone like Anna from Mother Pukka. There are so many fab brands I would love to collaborate with too – too many to list!
What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
Probably working in a bar in Corfu, Greece in the summer holiday during university.
What did that experience teach you?
Aside from how to drink Long Island Ice Teas every night (!) – to try and have fun at work and some basic marketing skills but also that I’m not cut out to work in a bar!
What’s your proudest professional achievement to date?
Probably being promoted to Senior Buyer quite quickly after coming back from maternity leave after having Finn. But also starting my blog whilst still holding a full-time job.
If you could go back in time who would you seek career advice from and why?
I would loved to have had some career advice for my blog when I started a couple of years ago as I really went in completely blind. I got some fab advice from blogger Susie Verill more recently and only wish I had had advice from other bloggers before I started. I’m now trying to host monthly blogger meet ups so we can all support and advise each other.
Who is your present day career heroine and why?
I love what The Step Up Club are doing at the moment – instilling confidence and self belief. I am really keen to attend some of their networking events soon. I also admire Johanna from Raising Women who shares stories of like-minded women and I also really respect blogger Alison Perry who has just bought out a fab range of Podcasts with some interesting and inspiring mums – always good to listen to when you’re after some inspiration and motivation!
What words of professional wisdom would you impart to the next generation of women
Work hard, get as much work experience and make as many contacts as you can. You never know what it may lead to. Also lean in to those promotions! I hope flexible working will be more standard practice for the next generation.
Have you ever considered trying something completely different career wise, if so what?
I would love to be a photographer or a stylist. At least my blog allows me to dabble in some of this at a very basic level! I’ve also loved the idea of doing some more interiors based work.
Meet Vanessa Dennett, owner of The Simpson Sisters, a small business which runs creative workshops in relaxed and collaborative settings in Bristol and North Somerset. Like many women, Vanessa put her career ambitions on hold whilst raising her children, but now she is finally able to pursue her passion and showcase her creative talent through her blog and the workshops she runs.
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in a small village in North Somerset and had a pretty idyllic early childhood. I went to the village primary school and then onto the local comprehensive where the idyll ended. I became pretty unmotivated and much more interested in horses and boys than anything academic. I was however considered bright enough to be studying the sciences at O-level and consequently wasn’t allowed to continue with the more creative subjects which I enjoyed.
Suffice to say that I was not successful at O-level, and after an unhappy start at a new school for A-levels I persuaded my parents to let me leave and go to secretarial college instead. I never particularly wanted to become a secretary, rather it seemed a good escape route. A couple of years temping and travelling persuaded me that office life was not for me and I applied for nurse training because I liked people and didn’t have sufficient qualifications to do anything else medical. It’s fair to say I could have given these decisions a little more consideration!
The following years were spent nursing and, following a knee injury, in various medically oriented sales and admin jobs – I recruited Australian nurses for the UK and sold plaster casts amongst other things! During this time I met my husband and we have lived and travelled around the world as he has pursued his career. Australia, Germany, South Africa, Belgium and Sweden have all been home at various times.
Since the birth of our two daughters I have explored a number of potential careers, largely based upon what I could fit around the demands of caring for children while living overseas without any established network and a husband who travelled. I drew upon my secretarial skills typing at home in the evenings, my knowledge of anatomy as a massage therapist and my sewing skills as a technician in a school’s textiles department, but nothing left me feeling very fulfilled or enthusiastic.
How did the idea for your business come about?
While living in Belgium I was offered the opportunity to participate in a pilot online coaching programme by a friend establishing her business. I finally spent a bit of time thinking about who I am, my skills and my interests and concluded that what I would really like to do would be ‘something creative with other people’. At this point we moved again twice in short succession and I put these thoughts on hold. We returned to the UK and I found a job almost next door at St Peter’s Hospice where I helped manage their hospice based volunteers on a short-term contract. At the end of this contract I again felt the frustration and entrapment that I have so often experienced in office environments, and much as I love the hospice I looked again at the outcome of the coaching programme and thought “I just have to try something, anything, more creative”. It was at this point that several threads began to weave together.
While overseas we had bought a small disused barn from my parents when they downsized from our family home and I had begun to blog very sporadically about the project, simply as a personal record and a way of family seeing what was going on. I had great intentions but too many moves got in the way and I never really got going.
While at the hospice I undertook a Digital Mums social media management course in order to up-skill a bit and with the notion that this type of flexible working might suit me. During the course I attended an Instagram workshop at The Forge with Emily Quinton and was introduced to Makelight and the online world of creatives which had somehow been a secret to me until then.
Originally a Simpson, I thought that The Simpson Sisters would make a great name for a business. Though I wasn’t sure what business I could possibly run I had bought the domain name a few years ago.
Attending creative workshops of all sorts, from cake decorating to pottery, watercolours and stage make-up has been how I have met some of my best friends in various locations over the years and I have spent many happy hours learning new skills in this way.
It suddenly occurred to me that workshops were just exactly doing something creative with other people and that I could either keep attending them, or I could start running them. Being interested in so many different creative pursuits it seemed to me that collaborating with others would be a really great way to do this.
It has taken me a while to nail exactly what it is that I’ve been creating, but I’ve loved finding my way over the last year and can now confidently tell people that The Simpson Sisters is a small creative business whose aims are to encourage and enable creativity by offering a variety of creative workshops in a warm, friendly and relaxed environment, and by providing a small attractive venue for other creatives to use for similar purposes. I love sharing my home with people and workshop days are my absolute favourites. In fact, I’m teaching my first sewing workshop in September and have often wondered how different my life might have been if I had pursued textiles as a subject at school!
How are you embracing social media?
Social media has been a huge learning curve for me over the last 18 months, I didn’t even have an Instagram account until last year and had never tweeted until then either! However, it has proved a wonderful resource and I have benefitted enormously from so many of the lovely people I have met online. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are where I’m found regularly and although I sometimes find three platforms challenging I believe that they each offer something quite different to me. I would love to grow my audiences and have worked hard to improve my photography to this end.
Who said you had to stick to one field of expertise in your career? Certainly not Helen Farmer, a freelance writer, editor, voice over artist and family celebrant. Originally from the UK, Helen lives in Dubai with her family and writes an award-winning blog called The Mothership. She writes about the highs (and lows) of being a working parent living abroad. Helen shares her career story and proves that being a mum needn’t restrict your career options.
Tell us about yourself
I knew from age 14 which degree I wanted to do, and tailored all my education options and weekend jobs to getting on it: a Broadcast Journalism course at the University of Leeds, where all of the tutors were current BBC employees, and work experience took place at the same studios where Countdown was filmed. It was competitive to get on, and even more so once I was there, with stressful projects and my fellow students frequently in tears in our ‘newsroom’ (this is back in the day when we felt lucky to have a room with internet access). I quickly realised that this wasn’t for me, and my first job was in print, working on a small magazine in Northumberland where I was both writing features and selling ads. I learnt a lot about both disciplines – fast. Afterwards came a stint in PR and marketing, working for one of my property clients. Then came a move to the Middle East age 24. In truth, it was a choice between moving abroad and moving to London – and Bahrain scared me less than the capital. Classic Northerner!
I worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency before moving to Dubai with a rather regrettable ex. Thankfully, while the relationship didn’t last, the UAE has been a fantastic place for my career. For three years I worked for a guidebook publisher, writing and editing books for expats all over the world, before launching their website. Next came three years as deputy editor on an entertainment magazine, where we worked hard, but enjoyed the best the city had to offer, from concerts to dining, plus interviewing visiting celebrities and reviewing hotels all over the world. I stayed with the same publisher and was promoted to editor of a new magazine, one I was able to be instrumental in creating, that’s all about normal life in an extraordinary place. We supported small businesses, sought out inspirational people and created a really feel-good title that I’m immensely proud of to this day.
And somewhere in there I met my husband and got pregnant with my first daughter and starting blogging, launching a website called The Mothership. I went part-time when she was a year old, then a few months later decided to go freelance, focusing on the blog, writing for other titles, working as a voiceover artist and start training as a family celebrant, allowing me to create and conduct wedding blessings and baby naming ceremonies. Something of an eclectic mix.
It’s been a year since I went freelance, and I wouldn’t change a thing (apart from the unreliability of payment). My blog has been nominated for (and won) awards, I’ve written for some of my favourite magazines, and I’m loving my work as a celebrant. It also allows me more time with my toddler and newborn baby. Yes, it’s chaotic, and there’s always something for me to be doing, but it’s working.
How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?
I’ve always written, so starting The Mothership was really just a way for me to deal with the newness and weirdness of being a mum. What has followed, however, has been fantastic, and one of my favourite parts is the social media community I’ve built – I’m all about those ‘me too’ moments in parenthood, the ones that make us feel less alone and less mad. That it’s okay to admit that you don’t love every second. Digital technology has also been really helpful for the celebrant side, from brides connecting with me on Instagram to having Skype meetings with couples from all over the world.
What are you tips for managing a multi-faceted career?
I love a routine, so after nursery drop off at 8am, the mornings are for work, then it’s pick-up, and more work during naps, and then it’s family time. I usually meet brides via Skype or in the evenings, then weddings take place in the afternoons – the first ceremony I did was a month after giving birth, and my mum was in the hotel lobby with the baby in case I needed to breastfeed her!
Helen is following…
Anna Whitehouse AKA Mother Pukka: we met in Dubai (her husband was my editor) and we all became friends. I really admire how she’s using her platform to promote flexible working in the UK, and doing it with a sense of humour. And I really respect her transparency when it comes to working with brands and doing sponsored posts. She’s a breath of fresh air – and I can’t wait to see her at a wedding in September. Mummy bloggers gone wild…
I did a yoga class with Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) last year, and it changed the way I think about exercise. She’s truly inspirational, and has made me feel less self-conscious about being the biggest girl in the gym. Her Instagram feed is full of laughter and advice, and I’ve started doing her Every Body Yoga video classes via an app called Cody.
Meet Fiona Lafon, a lawyer turned florist living in Bristol, and owner of Emerald & Jade. Her story proves it’s never too late to pursue a creative career. In fact, Fiona is also launching a new coaching programme, so it’s going to be one busy year.
Tell us about yourself
Originally from France, I have always loved the creative arts. Although born in Versailles, I am lucky to have mostly grown up in the French Alps, with a few years initially spent in Ireland. This, combined with the fact that I spent a lot of time travelling thanks to adventurous parents, lead to my love of nature and green things coming about really early on. I went to an International School in Grenoble, I then came to the UK to complete a law degree in French law and English law at University of Kent. I never intended to become a lawyer, but found myself qualifying as an employment lawyer in Bristol a decade later. There, I met my husband to be and have been living here since.
Following the birth of my two children, I started a blog: Green Loving Girl. Through this I remembered how much I loved writing, and realised how much I was craving a more creative job. I loved running this blog, but my corporate job as a lawyer took too much time for me to run it properly. At the time, my job also took over everything else, leaving me stressed, run down and generally not a very pleasant person to be around, and it seemed my partner and children got the worst of me.
Following a series of events in my personal life, my mind-set changed and I started to think that there had to be more to life than working in a stressful job which seemed to leave me with nothing good, there had to something else. I have always been a proud working mum. Going back to work after having my children was always my choice. I always enjoyed being at work, and I knew the children thrived at the nursery we chose for them so I had no guilt.
However, it got to a point where I really did not want to go to work, so I started thinking about handing in my notice. Financially we worked out that I would be better off for not working, as my salary got engulfed into childcare (crazy isn’t it!!). But I had no plan B. I was really scared but I also knew that I couldn’t carry on like that. It took my 3-year-old to have appendicitis & peritonitis whilst on holiday abroad, which forced me to be off work for 4 weeks, to think it all through and actually hand in my notice. I decided that I would take a career break for a maximum of two years. This left me time to explore my options, and the children could then go to the local preschool and school, therefore facilitating childcare options. It was terrifying, I had never envisioned being a stay at home mum and I had never not worked from choice. However, I have always trusted my gut feeling, and I knew things would be ok. I had no idea at the time what to go for. All I knew was that for my next role, I wanted to start-up my own business and follow a more creative route.
I therefore took various opportunities that presented themselves to me. I was already blogging on a monthly basis for French Wedding Style writing about my wedding planning. The editor then offered me an internship, which I started shortly after leaving my legal job. From there, I met a lot more creative entrepreneurs, and started seeing a different world and a lot more opportunities. Around this time, I was helping my sister plan her wedding, as she lives in Australia but was getting married near Bath. I found her a florist, and got chatting to her about where she’d trained etc. Before I knew it, I had attended a taster session and then was signed on to an intensive training course via the fabulous Tallulah Rose Flower School in Bath. Emerald & Jade Flowers was born, and I have since been working as a Florist, working on weddings, funerals, events and holding workshops. I love it!
I absolutely love being a florist. Going to the flower market, meeting so many creative, talented entrepreneurs in the wedding industry. It truly is a wonderful industry to be part of, and very supportive, even amongst florists. I am so happy to be part of it. A couple of years after I started my business, I started to feel as though there was something else I could be doing. I had a feeling I wanted to help others but I couldn’t quite figure it out. This took me a good few months to work out (and assistance from my own business coach) to figure out that I had a new passion which could be turned into a business. Since starting my own business, I have loved this new world I live in. I realised just how much I love talking to people about starting their own business and the journey that goes with it. I have loved my journey and am really excited about what is it still to come. I have also greatly benefitted from a business coach. Whether someone is thinking about starting their own business, fancy a change from their job, or want to make some changes to their lifestyle, I always love talking to them about this and trying to help them find how to materialise their thoughts into actions. How to make that seedling of an idea in their mind, grow and blossom into a new, beautiful way of life. In light of this, I have just set up my own coaching programme, due to be launched this month under Emerald & Jade Lifestyle.
How has digital technology and social media has changed the way you work
I’m all about my online presence. Running a blog and doing an internship for an international award-winning wedding blog has helped me gain understanding on SEO and other terminologies. It was like a foreign language at first, but it’s amazing how quickly it can be picked up with some research and good mentors. My businesses are both home-based, therefore I always knew that my online presence had to be strong and clearly represent me so that, when people saw a photo or an Instagram post, they would automatically recognise it as mine.
My online presence is effectively my shop window. This is why my website is quite different to most florists. I knew it had to reflect me and the type of work I like best, in order to attract my ideal clients. I have had brides tell me that as soon as they found my website they knew they had found their florist, and that was great feedback to hear!
My website is a great base. I also love using Facebook as I can tag in my clients and other suppliers, which makes it a great networking and sharing tool. My all time favourite though is Instagram. With my floristry business, it allows the photos of the flowers to speak for themselves, and again, it gives people and potential clients a great first insight as to what my business is about.
For my second business, Emerald & Jade Lifestyle, it will have a different feel to it, but still in a way that reflects me. I am going to focus this one more on my love of travel with almost a dreamlike, yet energising, positive feel to it. Learning to find my voice for each businesses has had a great effect, and is clearly reflected on my social media and my online presence. These are noticeably different to my personal Instagram account greenlovinggirl. Yet all three fully reflect me, and I love that.
Fiona is following…
@laurapaynestanley: I met Laura when writing for my blog Green Loving Girl. She asked me whether I would like to blog about my wedding planning journey for her website French Wedding Style. When I decided to take a career break, she offered me an internship. She has now been my business mentor for over a year. I have known her over three years now and can safely say that my life has changed since meeting her.
@victoriafarrmua: I discovered Victoria and her work about three years ago. I have seen her business grow and love seeing how she made her business her own and made it incorporate her love for travel. She is also really lovely.
Nicky King/@Bobbyrabbitkids: I met Nicky when I was looking for ideas on decorating the kids bedrooms. We realised we had a lot in common and have since become Instagram friends. When I first met Nicky, she was working on her new business. Bobby Rabbit is now a great business and I find it really inspiring seeing where she is now, knowing how hard she worked, especially as she has children similar ages to mine.
Joanne Hegarty/@stylistandthewardrobe: I have just discovered her feed, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I love her Instagram account, filled with gorgeous photos of her son, her home and her travels, it is really beautiful to look at and inspiring, reminding me that as a woman, a mother, we can still aspire to living a beautiful life and having beautiful things and travels. This is a big part in my businesses.
One day you are walking your dogs, running your own business and worrying about whether your kids eat enough veg, the next you are in hospital being told you have breast cancer at 34-years-old. My breast cancer diagnosis shook my world and took over my life for the best part of 2017. I was one of the lucky ones in that my lump was very small, just 12mm. My lumpectomy was successful and I was only in hospital for one night. I then had four rounds of chemotherapy and 19 zaps of radiotherapy. I am now on hormone therapy to bring on early menopause and stop the estrogen in my body which fed my tumour. Having cancer was the hardest challenge my little family ever faced but we got through it and in many ways we came out the other side stronger and happier.
One of my fears when I found out I had the big C was that I would end up depressed, I knew my treatment was going to give my body a battering and that my life was going to be very different. I worried that this would get too much for me mentally as well as physically. I didn’t know anyone who had been through cancer recently so I looked for ways to connect with other people like myself as I hoped this would make me feel less alone. This is when Cancer with A Smile began, I literally forced myself to look for things to smile about while I had cancer. Instagram had been my favourite social media tool for my business and I liked that it felt more anonymous than Facebook so I set up a page just after my operation which I used as little of diary of my treatment and to connect with the cancer community.
To begin with I felt very self-conscious and vulnerable about my cancer so I kept the Instagram page a secret. Then came one of my first big hurdles of treatment, the dreaded hair loss. Being a girl who gets comfort from understanding and researching I knew that the type of chemo I was getting would make my hair fall out within the first few weeks. The thought of my shoulder length blonde hair shedding like a Labrador was hanging over me like a dark cloud. It was on my mind constantly and I began to hate looking at or touching my hair. The only thing for it was to take control and try to turn a negative in to a positive so I decided to ‘brave the shave’ and raise money for my hospital, The Beatson Cancer Centre. I set up a Just Giving page and took the bold step of posting a link on my personal Facebook page. It was the best thing I did, instead of crying over my ever decreasing mop, my husband and I shaved our heads in my living room, while I wore my yellow Beatson t-shirt and a smile. What a liberating feeling it was to take cancer head on and raise over £3,000 for an amazing cause.
Embracing the ‘baldy’ was a huge turning point for my attitude and approach to coping with cancer, it gave me an unexpected confidence. I felt like if I could shave my hair and walk about with it for all to see, I could do just about anything. From there I got the guts to go public with my Cancer With A Smile Instagram account, I created a linked Facebook page and later started a WordPress blog. The encouragement, support and amazing comments have really kept me going throughout the roller coaster of cancer therapies. I have had so many messages from people telling me how my blog has helped them see that cancer doesn’t have to take away who you are and given them the courage to fight on. Hearing this makes all the days spent exhausted and ill have some purpose and meaning because if my story has given someone else hope at least some good has come from such a horrible disease.
The importance of investing in your wellbeing is a big lesson fighting cancer has shown me. Before cancer I was so busy all the time trying to be a super mum, super wife and super business owner. All the amazing little wonders of life were passing me by as my brain was either going at 100mph or was too exhausted to focus on anything. During chemotherapy I was forced to stop and stripped back down to just being me. It was a bit like taking a step back and looking in at your own life as a spectator. I realised slowing down and prioritising what needs done today and what can wait put me in a much better place mentally and emotionally.
It’s now six months since my last chemo and my life is very different. I am getting much stronger and feeling much healthier. When you are forced to face your mortality it makes you look at how you can live the best life possible. My husband and I decided it was time to make big decisions about where we want our life to go and how we can be as happy as possible. We have decided to take a huge leap and start our own property development company. We are only a month in but already our work life balance is better, we are all happier and once again something positive has come out of being dealt the cancer card.
Meet Mads Panchoo, founder and editor of The London Mother (a lifestyle and parenting magazine for Londoners).
Mads started The London Mother (formerly The London Mummy Blog) back in 2014 and its continued popularity amongst parents led to a rebrand last year. It has become a destination website to discover top tips for families living in and visiting the capital. A place to get money-saving tips and read articles by a range of professional including doctors, teachers and authors. The next big project that Mads is working on is producing a TV series about social media and parenting – something we’re equally excited about!
We asked Mads to tell us her story and share her digital tips for aspiring bloggers.
Tell us about yourself
I’ve worked in marketing and PR my whole career for brands as varied as Universal Pictures (which didn’t feel like work – we were paid to watch films and scripts – terrible pay but so much fun) to serious financial PR for a large multi-national FTSE 100 company. I’ve always loved writing so after the birth of kid 2, I decided to take the leap into freelancing. I set up the blog as a side-hustle when I was writing for HELLO! Magazine Online but never thought that it could lead to anything. Suddenly brands were wanting to work with me and a quick rebrand and relaunch later, I’m doing it full-time.
How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?
I think coming from a PR/marketing background has really helped, lots of the companies I worked for were early adopters of digital technologies so I worked from home even before I was working for myself and used social media at work so it was easy to start using them to launch and market my own brand. Digital technology means I can and do work from anywhere in the world – my living room, the beach – you name it, I’ve probably worked from there. On the ‘downside’ it gets hard to ‘switch’ off when your phone equals your living!
What are your top tips for creating a successful blog
Don’t recreate the wheel Look at the competition in your niche and who you want to be. Aim high. So if you want to be a fashion writer, look at the fashion bloggers with a similar audience to you. Then look at Anna Wintour. What do they do well, not so well? What was Anna’s journey? Be inspired, improve on what they offer and add your unique spin. The hardest part is knowing where to start. Start there.
You are your own PR Unless you can afford to appoint someone (and if you can – yay) you have to be the PR department for your brand. Don’t spend all your time writing – do the PR. Guest blog, attend events with your business card, work with bloggers in your niche, know your niche inside and out.
Learn the business of blogging (or your online brand) Everything you need to know is inside Google. Spend less time writing and more time learning sales and marketing.