BritMums Live 2014: The Emotional Aftermath

10449147_1431191563820666_523169491_nBlogger dining: with Katie, Becky and Charlotte. Photo by Becky.

Every time Monday morning comes around I want to kick myself. I swear I could be a kick-arse lifestyle blogger if only I had the wherewithal to take my camera out on my funtime weekend jaunts, or even record half of it on my iPhone. But I always forget to record the day for prosperity – through living in the moment (my musings on mindfulness to come in a couple of weeks, prepare yourselves) or through focussing too much on craft beers and prosecco.

So you’ll just have to use my lovingly written words to imagine your own version of my weekend, which I promise you was as kick-arse as it sounds.

If you’re living under a rock, or you know, you’re not a blogger, you might not have realised that this weekend was BritMums Live 2014. The biggest blogging conference in the UK, this weekend London played host to 700 of the country’s finest parent bloggers and boy, were we all excited to see each other.

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Morgana and Jenny… the angels of the north

There’s something about the relationships we form online in this community we’ve created that’s difficult to explain to the outside world. Unless you’re a part of it is really difficult to describe the bonds, the emotions, the lives we share with one another. It’s such a powerful thing and it’s never more palpable than at the times you get all those bloggers in a room with each other.

I’ve never been to a blogging conference without it being a thoroughly emotional experience for me and this year was no different. It started with Karin, who I’ve watched go on a difficult journey these past couple of years, and being able to give her a hug just got me in the gut (or the tear ducts) and that was when the weeping began. Then there was the fact I was able to sit next to Charlotte at dinner, hold her hands and truly speak honestly and candidly about the last couple of years to someone who had lived it with me. That was so very special.

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Baby Charlotte

Then there was the love, support and friendship from those I hadn’t seen in a little while: Steph and Bryony as always, lovely Katie, Fritha, my northern soulsisters Morgana and Jenny who are total sunshines, Alison, new friends like Becky, Lizzie and Emma, and ones I wish I’d seen more of: Chloe, Sarah, Alice and Alice, Emma (I did get a gorgeous cuddle with baby Charlotte though! And got to give her back when she cried ;), Vicki and many more…

These people are some of the most important in my life and I hold very dear to my heart the fact I would never have met them if it wasn’t for my blog. Thank-you, wonderful ladies, for inspiring me every day and for your friendship, acceptance and love. I am lucky to have you all in my life!

Emo bit over.

I didn’t over-stretch myself this year by making mad plans to go to all the sessions and events. I know I’d have a tough week at work, so I booked a couple of meetings with some fantastic ladies to talk all things IKEA (holla B, Emma and Fritha), confirmed my attendance at a dinner that evening, sat back and waited for the fun to happen. And happen it did! From a lunch at the Hoxton to drinks at All Bar One and a wonderful dinner at Pizza East… it was a great evening with some great women.

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Look! Lizzie took a photo of me that I don’t hate!

Saturday was much the same in that I was totally laid-back about the day. I sacked off the sessions in favour of socialising with my favourite ladies, and you know what? I had a ball. I probably could have done with learning a bit (can’t we all do with learning sometimes?) but this weekend it was all about the sisterhood.

I trotted off early to get ready for my friend Caoimhe’s BBQ (remember her?). In the most grown-up step ever taken she has just bought her first (BEAUTIFUL) apartment and I was very excited to help Christen her balcony. Though it was more a terrace than a balcony, an amazing space that you’d never expect to find in central London. We had a fun-filled evening toasting her mortgage over chicken wings and organic burgers.

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Sunday was the perfect tonic to a busy weekend: a walk down to Spitalfields (the quest for the perfect leather jacket continues and there are some contenders in All Saints), a burger, a nap and a lazy afternoon at the park. And a reunion with my babies! Perfection.

It’s ironic that I’ve never had less time on my hands than I do right now but I feel I have so much to say. I feel like I’ve learned so much about life in these last six months and spending the weekend talking about anything and everything made me realise that. For the first time I am enjoying taking life by the balls and sharing it with this fabulous group of people… it’s going to be quite the ride, ladies.

PS: Cybermummy 2011 (glad to see I was sneaking off to All Bar One even then), Britmums Live 2012, Britmums Live 2013.

Ramblings On Tiredness And Work That May Or May Not Make Sense

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When you become a mum, you learn how to be tired. There are the different sorts of tired; that hazy newborn stage when you’re up all night and are urged to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ so end up zoned out in front of Jeremy Kyle while you feed the baby. The tiredness in these weeks meant I don’t remember those days save for lots of sofa and TV, but at least there was minimal pressure to get out of my pyjamas all day.

Then there’s the tiredness you get with a slightly older baby who just doesn’t want to sleep through the night. The incessant nights of never sleeping more than two hours in a row, resulting in a mama who can get up, comfort her baby back to sleep and crawl back in her own bed without even realising she’s woken up.

Next you’re presented with the toddler who considers 5.30am a lie-in. Yet you can’t go to bed when she does because, you know, those box sets won’t watch themselves and if you don’t keep those eyes open til at least 9pm you won’t get any alone time whatsoever.

But these days, oh these days I have the single-working-mum tiredness. And that my friends is something else altogether.

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We’re out of the house and on our way to my mum/nursery by 7.15am so I’m required to be out of bed and on my way to dressed by 6am. That, my friends, still hurts like a punch in the face each and every day. As one who has never been a morning person I spend the first fifteen minutes of each day practicing my sailor swearing and wondering how much it would hurt to break a bone. Because at least then I’d get to go back to bed.

The upshot of this is that by the time I get to the train station at 8am I am pretty much fully awake and with a full face of make-up on feeling ready to take on the world with a cup of tea that may or may not end up on a stranger (sorry, man on the 8.22 to Euston on Monday). This feeling of world conqueror would never come to me until at least 10am in the old days, so there you go – I now have two more hours each day to make a difference. Boom!

This doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes enjoy a little sleep on the train though. Never underestimate the restorative qualities of a 30 minute upright power nap. Unless you end up in a town fifty miles away from yours on a Sunday evening because you fell asleep on a kind stranger’s shoulder… never again.

Once I’m at work I’m surprised to find out that my job requires a fair bit of thought; deep thinking about strategies, statistics, results, proposals. I can’t zone out, can’t sleep with my eyes open, can’t watch Millionaire Matchmaker. Welcome to the real world. There are meetings and presentations that require intelligent input and by the time 5.30pm rolls around (HOMETIME!) my brain is quite literally spent, devoid of any conversation or leftover intelligence.

All that thinking, it wipes you out. And yesterday I was so knackered from just being ON and THINKING and DOING that I got home, took my bra off (the first thing I do as soon as I walk through the front door at 7.30pm) and had a good productive weep. This single-working-mum thing, it’s so hard. It drains you mentally, physically, even emotionally, until you’re not sure there’s anything left.

But then I thought – who am I doing this for?

I’m doing this because my career is super important to my family; my children rely on me as the breadwinner in the house so it’s crucial I work hard. I’m doing this to show them how important it is to work hard so they can do a job you love and get paid well for it. And I’m doing it to show them that while life is not a walk in the park you can find happiness in hard graft and success.

I might be falling over from tiredness but for those little people I am setting the best example I know how. And you know what? I’ve never been happier than now: I’m doing it, I’m making a difference.

Now can someone tweet me at 11pm and tell me to turn off Orange Is The New Black?

In Lieu Of A Big Long Blog Post

Because – who knew? – commuting into the big city five days a week is kicking my arse in twelve different ways. Getting in at 7.30pm means that all my (limited) remaining creative juices are being sent in the way of my evening freelance work and I’m literally so tired that when I sit down to blog the words just don’t come.

I have a million and one thoughts on the world of work from the eyes of a single mother which I’m sure I will regale you with very soon (try to contain your excitement, OK?), but for now here’s what I’ve been up to, told through the medium of Instagram filters, starting with last weekend…

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My current favourite late-night destination: Duck & Waffle. Food, views and a Portugese white to die for. There is seriously nothing better than a midnight dinner date up here taking in the glittering lights of London below. I like to order the Duck and Waffle, obvs. 

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…late nights followed by new favourite hangover cure, a (not too) spicy Bloody Mary. Sipped at Broadway Market before a sunny stroll along Regent’s Canal. Pretty blissful, right? 

10369324_1414091762206189_1633602909_n 10387857_847019188660419_371299732_nYet MORE socialising. First it was my lovely cousin’s birthday party in Camden then on to a fancy dinner and tequila with these two lovely ladies: Hannah from Mum’s Days and our friend Alex. We danced our socks off at The Kensington Roof Gardens and it was awesome. 

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Sunday rooftop times with Jamie, McNulty and the boys. Coppa Bar & BBQ is a fab sunny day destination just on London Fields; we whiled away a good few hours here. 

10401640_323510991137253_1283417362_n 10358208_675898035815850_280049950_n 10369498_250131868509683_1821598017_nOh, did you know? I’m a commuter now #zzzzzz. Had some painful moments leaving Hux at his new nursery last week “MUMMY! NOOOO! GO BACK IN CAR”… weep. He’ll settle in soon enough but it makes me feel sad that he misses his mama so much. 

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 Burger date! Current favourite London burger joints: Byron (Brick Lane… the MK restaurant just isn’t as good) and Meat Mission. MM’s monkey fingers are INCREDIBLE. Still want to try Patty & Bun. 

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It’s beautiful Bryony‘s birthday today and to celebrate Steph came to stay! We had a boozy blast on Saturday night and I woke up the next morning snuggled up to Steph in my bed. Her husband’s a lucky man, I’ll tell you that.  

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Most importantly – getting in some quality time with these two. I have missed them like you wouldn’t believe and seeing their faces when I come home from a busy day is the biggest treat. I’m working hard to make our evenings together count and it’s going to kill me when they’re with their Dad all next weekend. The transition has been tough for them – Hux with his new nursery and Elfie asking where mummy is and why does she have to go to London all day? – but we’re getting there. 

So, tell me: what have I missed?

 

Blogging As A Business: How I Turned My Blog Into My Career

When people ask me what my job is I never know what to say. “Erm, well, I have this website, and I write about stuff and people read it and yep thats it.” Reactions range from “ah, you blog for a living? That’s cool!” to “what’s a blog?”. And I mean really, if you can explain what a blog is to someone who isn’t computer savvy without tearing your hair out then you’re a better woman than I.

Increasingly I’ve been receiving emails asking me how to go about the business of blogging as a career, and I love that people are feeling inspired by this online world we’ve created. I am thankful every day that I’m able to do this for a job and that as a community we’ve been able to build something this influential. I’ve worked with some truly magnificent brands in the last couple of years, and really, how lucky am I to be making money from something that started as a much-loved hobby?

So I’ve put together a short (long) guide that I hope will help some of you who are thinking about blogging or a wondering how to build their blog into a career: here’s how I’ve done it (and thank-you to all the questions that came via Twitter and Facebook!). It really is long, you might want to take a loo break before you sit down to this one…

Blogging Professionally: How I Made Blogging My Career

Why do you blog? 

My first blog as an angsty teenager was started back in 2001 (thankfully there is no trace of it any more) and I started blogging about pregnancy nearly five years ago. Back then the blogging community was totally different; there weren’t that many of us and we were really just writing for ourselves and each other. But my motive for blogging has remained the same, and I think this is something that has been so important to the integrity of what I write. I do it for the love of creating a story out of what is going on in my life, to sort through issues in my life in a way that I know how – words have always been so powerful in that way for me – and to connect with other people.

I write about the bad times and the good, and nothing makes me feel happier than knowing I’ve helped someone who’s going through a shitty situation feel not so alone. This motivation to touch people, to make them laugh and to get my words out there is what keeps me going. I would still blog if I wasn’t getting paid for it and I think it’s important to keep that love of what you do evident. I try to be as enthusiastic about my sponsored posts as I am about the posts that come straight from my head and I think (hope) that’s appreciated by the people who read here.

I also feel so inspired by other bloggers out there and that’s a great motivator too. I love A Cup Of Jo, Hey Natalie Jean, Little Green Notebook and Liberty London Girl; mostly American blogs, but then their blogging market is a couple of years ahead of ours. I see aspects of these blogs that I enjoy and try to incorporate what I love about them into my work. There’s no use trying to emulate another blogger, though.. when it comes to creating a space people will want to visit your own personality and originality is key. You are the only person in the whole world with your outlook and experiences and it’s important to remember that.

When it comes to inspiration I look to every single aspect of day-to-day life - the experiences you go through, your kids, the clothes you like to wear, the news you watch on TV. And every time you see something that gives you a lightbulb moment, write it down… I have a list on my phone where I store most of those middle-of-the-night ideas

How do you start a blog? 

For me it was as easy as creating a WordPress account and just letting all my thoughts, feelings and concerns about pregnancy come out into a text box. I had no filter and just wrote and wrote and wrote until I found my ‘voice’. As the years have gone on and I’ve wanted to diversify my content I’ve been a bit more measured in my approach, brainstorming how I’d like my blog to be and working out how I can get there. I write lists weekly about things I want to post on… if I get to a third of them it’s been a good week ;)

It takes courage to write and publish that first post, I get that. There’s no right way or wrong way to do it, but my advice would be to just stay true to yourself. Write about something you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, whether that’s beauty or babies or goldfish. Don’t get bogged down in the technical stuff at the start and enjoy yourself with it.

How much money can you make from blogging? 

If you want to make a quick buck from blogging then it’s probably not for you. It took me two and a half years to start making money and even then it was only drips and drabs of pocket money, certainly not enough to live off. Through my advertising and sponsored posts I now earn about half my income from my blog with the other half being through Freelance Digital Marketing-related activities, most of which have come about because of my blog. It helps that I was a Digital Marketing Manager before Elfie was born and the fact I have a really active online presence definitely drives my freelance gigs. There are other bloggers out there doing the same when it comes to Freelancing: check out Tweet Pin Share from lovely Katie at Mummy Daddy Me and if your blog needs a re-design then look no further than Bryony.

I work about 32 hours a week between the blog and my Freelance work and annoyingly 40% of that time is probably spent on admin: invoicing, chasing invoicing, keeping track of invoices (I hate invoices), tax rubbish, answering queries, sending out my media kit. As my business has grown so has the finance side of things and I keep track of everything using spreadsheets.

With my hours I make enough money to keep us all ticking over – we aren’t millionaires (YET) but it’s more than I’d be able to make at a part time admin job that would fit around the kids and let’s face it, blogging still doesn’t feel like work. It ain’t easy though, I’m ‘on’ all the time and spend all my evenings at my computer. When the school holidays come round it is HARD to fit work in around the kids, ditto sickness (mine or the children’s).

How did you start making money from your blog?

There are a few ways you can make money from your blog. You can look into ad programmes, like Google Adsense, join an ad network (I’m a member of Handpicked Future and I love them) or work with affiliate networks. I use SkimLinks as it’s an automated service and as I’m not blogging much about fashion, which I think is where you can make the big bucks through affiliates such as RewardStyle. Saying that, I earn about 7 quid a month through them so it’s not exactly a big money spinner ;)

There are plenty of agencies offering sponsored posts out there. My favourites are Collective Bias (lovely Jo Middleton is in charge of CB in the UK – you can apply here), TAN Media and iProspect and I’d say it’s definitely worth reaching out to them if you’re interested in hosting sponsored content on your blog.

When it comes to prospective clients I always try to keep any communication as professional as possible and so supply a Media Pack which includes a lovely little background about me, any awards I’ve been nominated for, where I can be found on Social Media and my blog statistics. Bear in mind that lots of companies will enquire about your Page Rank and Domain Authority so it’s worth popping those in too. You can find these things at the Open Site Explorer. If you’re interested in working directly with brands then this is a great resource, and here’s how to draft a great media kit.

Aren’t you selling out by hosting sponsored posts? 

Really, I don’t think so. I see the money I get paid for sponsored posts as payment for all the posts I do for the love ;) And I really do try to make sure they’re all as entertaining as possible, even if they are about supermarkets or vaginas. Plus, companies like Collective Bias are changing the way we work with brands by encouraging creativity when it comes to crafting our posts. My favourite work I’ve done for them was based on gin, obviously.

Blogging Professionally: How I Made Blogging My Career

How do you stay motivated? 

Not having any set working hours is difficult. As is working at home… it’s so easy to get distracted by the TV/washing/lunch/next door’s cat in the garden. I try to stay as focussed as I can when I’m at my computer, but oh look, a pigeon… so I try to mix it up and work from cafes on occasion. I also find that sometimes I can wake up after a bad night with the kids and just feel so uninspired. It’s really difficult to be creative and efficient when you’re running on four hours sleep and your bed is upstairs calling your name.

There are upsides to working for yourself though. On the one hand, if I’ve got a deadline to work to it’s a pain in the bum to tell my friends I can’t bring the kids to a picnic at the park today because I’ve got to write a post about mortgages, but on the other hand it’s great to be able to take a spontaneous morning off if I don’t have anything time-sensitive to deal with.

Writing-wise I find I’m pretty productive between the hours of 7-9pm so I try to get all my posts scribbled then if I can. Otherwise I try to use other empty pockets of time that would otherwise be spent staring into space; train journeys, waiting for school to finish, waking up in the middle of the night, that sort of thing. You’d be surprised how many of my blog posts began their life hastily planned out on my iPhone!

I find it really hard to motivate myself to respond to emails that aren’t urgent (SORRY!). My inbox is always drowning in messages and this is something I wish I could get better at. I also wish I had more time to reply to reader comments and comment on other blogs.

Looking at the bigger picture, it is really difficult to maintain a pace of posting. I’m happy with 3 posts a week but I know other bloggers (like the lovely Fritha) manage up to 5 posts a week. There’s a lot of time that goes into that: planning, photography, the actual writing, editing, promoting… and that’s before you take admin and factoring the running of Social Media accounts into the equation. Especially if you’re working a full time job or you have kids to look after- it can be impossible when the last thing you want to do is sit down at your computer and start writing. But I’ve always treated my blog like a business, even before it made money; it’s something I’m so proud of that I really want to be as successful as possible. I have given up things that I used to enjoy (evening Friends marathons on Comedy Central, going out to lunch) in favour of dedicating time to the blog. So far it’s paying off.

How do you keep your private life private? 

When I’m writing it’s very rare I think about oversharing. Is that weird? I write about what feels natural to me, issues I think others will benefit from reading about or times in my life I want to remember in the future. It is odd when my friends know what’s up with me before I tell them when we meet for coffee or when I’m recognised from my blog in the supermarket (hi Gemma!) (totally made me feel like a rockstar by the way). I guess there are lines I’ve unconsciously drawn; I wrote a bit about dating but won’t write about my relationship, my parents read the blog so I won’t write about sex (Mum: I’ve only done it twice, promise) and I steer away from anything to do with my ex. In the future if the children ever have a problem with anything I’m writing or have written about them then I will respect their wishes and take it down.

Basically, I just do what feels natural.

What do you think? Would you ever like to make money from blogging? Is there anything you’d like to know about my experience? Hit me up with any questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them. 

An Ode To My Gym Memberships

At The Gym

During my lifetime I have had four gym memberships. Each and every one of these has been entered into with the purest of intentions: to exercise, swim, take classes, get fit. In fact, fitness has long been a goal of mine, ever since a shameful bus-running incident at the age of 20 when I realised I no longer could pretend I played team sports any more (school being quite some time previously) and that I literally could not sprint 20 metres without feeling like I was dying.

So off to Holmes Place in Nottingham I went, all excited at the prospect of swimming pools, weights, cross trainers. I entered into the whole gym thing with total enthusiasm, bought new kit and pencilled in diary time to work out. It lasted three weeks. The membership lasted twelve months.

My second gym experience was much the same but I had a young child tagging along with me. What a great way to get rid of the baby weight, thought I. Not if you don’t go, dear self. Again that membership lasted 12 months; I went once a month out of pure guilt and hated every second.

The third time I joined the gym was the family friendly David Lloyd, down here in Milton Keynes. I didn’t know anyone in the area so thought it would be a great place to meet people. Again, this only works if you actually GO TO THE FREAKING GYM. This membership was super special, because not only was I wasting a single person’s membership but I’d signed the whole family up in a fit of optimism. YAY. I met no-one.

I’ve worked out that, in my time of hopefulness and in the pursuit of a flat stomach and that elusive state of fitness, I’ve spent approximately £3660 on unused gym memberships. This is an absolutely terrifying amount of money to have thrown away and I’m literally mortified when I think about it. So I shan’t.

Anyway, 4th time a charm or whatever that saying is. I re-joined David Lloyd back in September and something magical happened. I’m not entirely sure if it was being single, needing a place to recharge my batteries or just a firm desire to change myself for the good but I am a different woman. For the last 8 months, apart from when myself or the kids are ill, I’ve religiously headed to the gym at least two or three times a week.  And you know what? I love it! There’s something so invigorating about that hour I have alone, just me and the fitness machines: I do my warm-up on the cross trainer (15 minutes at level 10), sprint at 10km/h for 5 minutes on the treadmill and then set to work. I use the pully-downy weight machine (I’m sure these are their official names), the pully-forward weight machine, the leg-killing weight machine (single presses with each leg… yowza!) and on to exercises with the free weights, aka where the muscle men hang out looking like testosterone might explode out of their heads at any second.

It hasn’t been about losing weight for me (though that has been a side effect), it’s more about health and how I feel about my body. As mothers we spend over 9 months growing our children and then if we choose to breastfeed then there’s an extended period being at their beck and call when they need feeding. Thats a very long time for our bodies to exist for the purpose of other people; as Hux became weaned and self-sufficient it was important for me to re-claim control of my body, to recognize that it had grown and nurtured these two people but that also it was time to take it back. For me the gym was an important part of this, a way to empower myself to become the woman I wanted to be.

I’ve grown stronger each and every week and it’s been an amazing thing to experience. I’m a long way off a six-pack but can I feel my core now, my posture is much improved and my leg muscles are rock-hard. My flabby bits are deteriorating (there’s still work to be done!) but there’s definition in my arms and I love that I no longer get breathless, well, much at all really.

It hasn’t been easy, sometimes keeping up the momentum when I’ve been flat-out with work or exhausted from an early morning with the kids has been downright torturous. But getting through a gym session at these times is all the more rewarding and leaves me with a buzz lasting all day.

And, like I said, MUSCLE MEN!

Just kidding, it’s actually terrifying how bulked up some of those guys are. If I wanted a man who looked like he could pick me up with his little finger I’d date Shrek (at least then the kids would be entertained).

So if you’re considering joining a gym post-kids I say: DO IT. Er, if you go that is. It’s seriously changed my life, being fit and healthy has become a wonderful part of my daily routine and if I go 48 hours without a workout I’m left twitchy and with a serious need to move my body. And if you get stuck for footwear I spend most of my post-gym Pinterest hours browsing interesting trainers. You’re welcome.

About all that cash I spent on unused memberships? It was kind of worth it to get me where I am today. I’ve legitimately gone from a fitness-hating lazybones to a full-on gym fan, and that feels pretty great.