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.

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. 

Writing My Oscar’s Acceptance Speech

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Because you all know there’ll be as many selfies at The MADs (Mum and Dad Blogging Awards) than the Oscars.

On Sunday night I was pootling around on the internet – erm, I mean working hard – when I saw a tweet saying the finalists for the MAD Awards were out. I clicked over to have a look and see if any of my favourite bloggers had been included in the line-up.

I wasn’t really truly expecting to see myself there, though if I had made the cut I thought it would be in the ‘Best Blog Writer’ category (hi ego, nice to meet you), but I didn’t feel disappointed not to see my blog on the list.

Until. UNTIL!

I scrolled further down the page and realised I’d only gone and made the final 5 in the ‘Most Entertaining’ category!

I have been gobsmacked, I mean, totally gobsmacked, ever since I found out. Writing is my passion, it’s what I love to do, but to receive validation that people are finding my writing entertaining has just been the biggest pat on the back. Blogging can be a bit of a lonely game – your quarterly performance review is only ever carried out with yourself and let me tell you, I’m pretty hard on myself sometimes. So to have my readers and peers say they enjoy my writing, possibly as much as I enjoy it, is the best compliment I could ever have hoped for.

I’m wiping the tears away right now, Gwyneth Paltrow style.

But what happens next? It’s not just a one way street to the Oscars from here. I need to ask for your votes once more in picking me as the winner out of the five finalists in the ‘Most Entertaining’, so please hop on over here and select ‘More Than Toast’ (that’s me obvs) on the final drop-down menu. You can vote in as many or as few categories as you like, so don’t worry about leaving blank spaces. And if you drop me a line to let me know you’ve voted I’ll be sure to remember you in my Oscars speech. In between snotty sobs.

If your voting finger needs a bit more of a workout then I’d be delighted to receive your support in the BritMums Brilliant In Blogging Awards, too! By way of a thank-you please have this picture of puppies. Dressed in babygros. Hanging from a washing line. Don’t ever try to tell me I don’t know what my readers want…

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I feel like I should be saying ‘Mwah, darlings’ a lot more now. Don’t worry mum, I won’t let my new-found fame go to my head.

 

 

Good Things Come To Those Who Blog

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It’s been four years since I started this blog. Four long years. In October 2009 I wrote something extremely well thought out and literary like OH MY GOD I’M PREGNANT WHAT THE HELL DO I DO NOW?! and that decision may have changed my life a little bit.

In those four years I’ve given birth twice, started the process of divorce (just the once… for now), gone a bit mental with the pressure of kids, work and marriage, found happiness, put on and lost six stone and moved cities three times. I’ve written here about the hardest times and the happiest, births, marriages and deaths. It’s basically been the blog version of Four Weddings And A Funeral, naturally starring me as Andie MacDowell in that massive black hat (so when do I get to snog Hugh Grant? I kid… kind of).

When I started my blog I had no expectations. I did it purely for the reason that I didn’t know what else to do when I realised I was pregnant at the age of 24. Not having any friends who were pregnant or had children I desperately needed somewhere to share my experiences, ask questions and connect with people who’d know what I was going through.

But this place has become so much more than that. It’s been my lifeline at times, therapy for when I’ve wanted to share the bad and sad bits of motherhood. It’s become my job, given me some of the best friends I could have ever wished for (you know who you are and you rock). It’s offered me opportunities I never would have experienced otherwise.

One of those opportunities just happened.

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If you look closely you’ll see I’m trying to push open an automatic door. Smooth. 

Last week I had an email asking whether or not I might be interested in appearing in a feature on Woman’s Hour about Parent Blogging. WOULD I EVER!! Woman’s Hour has always been such a ‘thing’ in my family; my mum has listened to it for as long as I can remember and she still to this day emails me links to each segment she thinks I’ll enjoy. She often starts her sentences with, “I was listening to Woman’s Hour and…” before delivering a little nugget of wisdom (love your nuggets, mum).

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I had a quick chat on the phone with a producer and all was confirmed for Monday. I called my mum and she actually screamed at the news. At our family friend’s engagement party last Friday I don’t think there was anyone in the room who didn’t know that I was to be on Radio 4. She’s never been prouder and has been swearing she always knew I’d turn up on Woman’s Hour.

So this morning Mum and I were up bright and early and on a (massively delayed) train en route to BBC Broadcasting Centre on Regent Street; tired, stressed and not knowing what was ahead. We signed in and were taken up to the green room which wasn’t actually green. Or that fancy, really, the whole place kind of felt like a big office.

Jane Garvey came to greet us (my mum fangirled all over her) and was as much of a legend as she is on the radio: friendly, professional, welcoming. She showed us round the studio before mum was banished back to the green room and I was seated next to her with some ‘cans’ on. I couldn’t get over how breezy she was; she literally chatted happily with me as the news was on and stopped one second before she started speaking to three million people. She was so calm, so cool… when I grow up I want to be Jane Garvey.

By the way: I was seated in the same chair Jamie Oliver sat in last week. BOOM.

cf642904193211e3b0f022000a9f1369_7I was joined remotely by Tim Atkinson of Bringing Up Charlie and it was showtime: we were on. Jane asked us questions, we gave her answers, the whole ten minute segment flashed by in the blink of an eye. I didn’t swear, forget what I wanted to say or mention any brand names (a big no-no, apparently). I was nervous but really enjoyed the whole experience; mum was shaking when I went back to meet her in the Green Room so I think the whole thing was more taxing for her. I did it without vomiting… what a bloody achievement.

We followed my media debut with brunch at The Langham (I NEEDED that Bucks Fizz) and then headed home when I was back to the daily routine of lunch, naptime, food shopping and jigsaws. I imagine this is how Gwyneth Paltrow lives her life… apart from it doesn’t rain in LA and she never has to deal with The 8.04 London Midland service from Milton Keynes being 30 minutes delayed. Not that I know of, anyway.

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You can listen to my radio voice right here – I’m first on so you don’t need to skip through the segment. Keep in mind I usually don’t sound this articulate or well spoken in real life, but that’ll be the wine.

Thanks to Radio 4 for having us: we had a blast. Do listen tomorrow and Wednesday at 10am as the special on Parent Blogging continues and best of luck to my lovely blogging friends Jennie and Hayley for their turn with Jane ‘The Legend’ Garvey.

BritMums Live Hangover 2013

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All the Alices: An Essex Wife and My Life My Son My Way

BritMums Live is undeniably the highlight of the Blogging Social Calendar. It’s a weekend where members of our community come together to share and learn, to chat and discuss. It’s not just the highlight of my Blogging Social Calendar though, it’s one of the highlights of my year.

BML 2013 was slightly different for me. I didn’t go armed with tons of business cards and a highlighted seminar schedule. I went with the simple aim of having fun with some of the most wonderful women I know, women I may not have survived the last six months without.

Oh, and the wine. I went for the wine.

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It’s Charlotte
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Gorgeous Vicki of Honest Mum and Mummy’s Got Style 97887d40da8b11e2a73f22000a9e28ad_7

My roomie Steph

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Fangirling over Cherry Menlove

I deserve a big wrist slap for only attending three seminars but I met Cherry Menlove (total writing hero) and sobbed at the keynotes section of the weekend. I gave Jennie an overdue hug (and hoped she felt the love I was giving her) and was profoundly moved by the tribute to a member of our blogging community, Multiple Mummy. We really are a magnificent group of women and though we communicate mostly via computer screen the friendships we share are really unshakeable. Feeling so much unity in a room of women (and a couple of men) belting out a song for a much loved member was an incredibly humbling experience. I will never be able to listen to ‘Firework’ without remembering Kerry, the special bond we as a community share and remembering that it’s OK to live every day of life to the absolute fullest.

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Alison was as lovely as you’d expect
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These two have got me through the last six months – Bryony and Steph

So, big thanks to those wonderful people I spent the weekend with: Bryony, Steph, Isra, Ruth, Alison, Aimee, Charlotte, Aimee, Bianca, Sarah, Jenny, Kelly (have I forgotten anyone? Probably). Had I won the BiB award – it’s probably a blessing I didn’t thanks to the evening’s wine intake – my acceptance speech was going to include something about how in the crappest year of my life this blog and the community of friends I’ve made through it have got me through in one piece. If I didn’t have you wonderful ladies in my life, you know who you are, I would be a completely different person to the one I am today.

Apologies to those I sobbed on (I’m calling wine and oestrogen overload) and I’ll see you next year! Will make it to more seminars. Promise.

Big thanks to Silentnight cot mattresses who sponsored one night of blissful solo hotel sleep for me this year!

My Best Friend’s Blog

(Sometimes our husbands get us mixed up)

I interrupt my usual programming to announce that after years of ho-humming about it one of my best friends in the whole wide world forever and ever and ever amen has started her own blog! I could not be prouder than if it were Elfie or Hux blogging: Su is an absolutely brilliant writer and I know she’s been wanting to get down and creative online for a while.

I first met Su about 10 years ago when she was a pescatarian (I used to ask her “but what about BACON?!”), saw her through her conversion to vegetarianism – she sat through a dinner of squash risotto at Gaucho on cowskin seats, the trooper – and shook my head at the thought of no cheese when she converted to veganism about a year ago. That’s what Su’s lovely blog is about: life and her journey through veganism.

It’s still well worth a read if you’re a meat eater as it’s stuffed with recipes that will satisfy even the most carnivorous palate (i.e. mine). I love reading it as it’s just like sitting next to her, hearing her chat about her allotment and penchant for heavy metal… and Twilight, shh ;) It’s a lovely way to stay abreast of what’s going on in her life as we’ve been separated far too long by the M1.

Anyway, please pay Su a visit at Honey For The Bees and say hello! She’s also just joined Instagram as Sookisu… next step, Twitter!

For another good pal who’s just started blogging please head over to TilleyBlog… for all your London-based food and cocktail needs, plus travel snippets from Elfie’s new BFF