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Happy Freelance Birthday to me!

birthday_freelance

I can’t believe I’ve just written that, it’s been six months

The decision I made to go it alone was not a light one, I deliberated, agonised and catastrophised but given my unhappiness, feeling of being trapped and desire to be more creative, it was worth a go.

Luckily, I can say it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Here are some things I’ve felt and encountered along the way.

Imposter syndrome

There have been times when I have felt like a stranger in my own body, like I’m not who I say am, unable to do any of the things I say I can and out of my depth. This can be truly terrifying but in a strange way it almost keeps you grounded.

Encouragement

Thank you to lovely family and friends who continue to support me, give me the kind words I can’t find for myself sometimes and bought me a coffee or lunch – you’re amazing. I wouldn’t be here without you.

The ‘concerned’ look

Some people just won’t get what you do or why you do it and some of the aghast expressions have made me laugh. It’s hard to rise above concern or judgement sometimes but stick in there, you know yourself better than anyone.

Time reclamation

Setting my own hours has been joyous and I no longer feel bound by the clock. In the summer during the hottest days I went to the beach in the morning and worked in the evening and it was heaven. Being able to manage your own time is an absolute gift.

The fear

It can creep over you when you least expect it, wake you up in the morning and make you hide indoors. I’ve had total fear moments about money, that I will have to eat out of bins and that I’ll fail. Fear can be all encompassing but I’m better at keeping it at bay, sometimes you have to tell it to ‘shove off’.

Nothing you do is wasted

I’ve had many jobs and done lots of volunteering and it has all paid off. I think it makes you a better problem solver, less of a lateral thinker and gives you experience of dealing with all sorts of environments and people.

Taxes are the antichrist, or are they?

I was terrified of receipts, tax returns, invoices and anything to do with money for the first two months and pretended I didn’t have to do it. Luckily, I just decided one day to tackle it and with the help of the brilliant Taxdoctor I am on track, recording my money and being an adult.

Fun

I’m meeting lots of new people and I love it, many are now friends and clients and people I can bounce ideas off, it’s awesome. I attend fun openings, launches, parties and events and being the extrovert I am, it suits me well.

Mantra

“I work 60 hours for myself, so I don’t have to work 37 for someone else”

Amen and thanks to Dan Slee, @comms2point0 for tweeting this.

Awesome illustration by The Meekshall.

The sugarless diary.

no_sugar_diet

Sugar sugar? Nuh uh honey. I participated in a seven day sugar free diet for research purposes, this includes no natural occurring sugars or sweeteners – fruit is OUT.

Why you ask? I wanted to see if I could do it, plus it’s excellent blog material.

Pre sugar free diet

I am terror struck at thought of no sugar and panic buy lactose free milk, two Kinder Buenos and a Twix. I take 30 minutes to eat the Bueno and wonder why on earth I have decided to do this?!

Day 1 

Take lactose milk to work and porridge oats, realise I’m having salty porridge for breakfast and die a little inside.

Tell everyone in sight that I’m doing a seven day sugar free diet, many give me sympathy but talk about cakes anyway. One colleague tells me “you’re going to withdraw like a heroin addict” – I imagine myself like an extra from Trainspotting sat in a dirty flat, groaning in agony.

Can’t bother to Google ‘sugar in pasta’ so I panic eat another bowl of salty porridge for lunch and my hope slides further away.

Have tea but go to bed absolutely starving.

Day 2

Wake up absolutely starving, make scrambled egg for breakfast and realise I have nothing to put it with. Burn eggs to bottom of pan and leave it ‘soaking’ so boyfriend will clean it up.

Go to gym and do really hard class, cycle home and feel like I’ve been dragged through a field by a tractor.

Meet friend in town for a drink, the cafe doesn’t stock unsweetened milk and goes to check on loose leaf tea situation. Massive queue forms behind me because I’m clearly ‘that knobhead’. Spend £3.50 on green tea which is vile.

Buy unsweetened peanut butter for £3.60 and feel deeply ashamed and annoyed at Tesco.

On walk home see a little girl with a choc dip and really want to steal it from her – realise this is bad, plus I don’t have energy to run away. Lethargy sets in and I’m almost asleep by 4.30pm, go to bed ravenous.

Day 3

Add unsweetened peanut butter to porridge and conclude it’s worth its weight in gold and could cry at how happy it makes my mouth.

Lethargy is quite bad today and spend a lot of time in bed.

Boyfriend makes me a steak dinner and it is fantastic; the peas are super sweet and are like little balls of joy, is there a vegetable of the year award? He also buys me carnations and I wonder what on earth I have done to deserve him.

Go to a gig in the evening and feel very sad that my only drink choice is water, although being hydrated is excellent, as is not spending ANYTHING. Downside is my tiny bladder which means I have to go to the toilet all the time.

Day 4

Wake up cranky and irritable and go in to a teenage mood mode.

Decide I hate everyone and everything even after delicious avocado and eggs.

Am meant to be doing multiple things today but can’t face people or people drinking beer in front of me so decide not to go out and watch rugby after all and hide in bed. The second half of the rugby is shockingly bad and adds an extra layer of sour to my mood.

Meet a friend in the evening and very sad not to have a cocktail but the cappuccino is oddly delightful, as is her company – decide I like people again and shouldn’t hide away from them.

Go to bed feeling kinder towards the human race and not like I could eat a mound of marzipan.

Day 5

Don’t feel as fatigued which is great and eat my porridge joyfully.

Go to spin class and it’s very hard but enjoyable, feel accomplished, not too tired. Enjoying porridge so much I have a second bowl for lunch and realise that if peanut butter was a person I would marry it.

Day develops and the headache starts, not too bad at first but after watching Thor: Ragnarok not even Chris Hemsworth’s beefy arms can distract me from the thumping pain in my head. Go to bed with huge headache.

Day 6

The huge headache is still there and feel like drilling in to my own head. Force feed porridge to myself but this time I can barely stomach it and would kill for jam on toast.

Tell more colleagues about sugar free diet and they are sympathetic. I am asked if I want a piece of lemon curd Victoria sponge and doughnuts and to overcome this I eat two packets of ready salted crisps, I am health personified – take that Joe Wicks.

My mother made flapjacks and they smell like heaven and I can almost taste them. She gives me a boiled egg and I could kiss her, getting energy from protein is so much more gratifying somehow.

Look in mirror and realise my skin is looking pretty good, clear and less dull. My bloaty ridge below my stomach is flatter and I no longer have that Sideshow Bob paunch.

Day 7

Last day of sugar free life and I feel weirdly sad. Realise I am terrified of eating sugar and not being a slave to it has been liberating.

My mind feels clearer and I feel more alert, able to process things quicker which is refreshing after feeling like I was in a fog. Work is so full on that I barely remember that I can’t have sugar and take solace in another boiled egg and chicken.

End my evening by watching my boyfriend eat the cupcake I brought home from work and realise this is my porn.

Life after sugar

I tentatively eat some flapjack and it’s like an explosion in my mouth – the sugar is overwhelming and delicious. I could cartwheel but would end up in A&E.

I have decided to try and stick with this but introduce fruit back in as life is too short to not eat a pomegranate. I will do my best to keep sugar free as much as possible because even with the initial headaches, mood swings and fatigue I feel better in myself, less bloated and healthier.

Sugar is ridiculously addictive and I hadn’t comprehended how impactful it is, I would seriously recommend trying this but be planned, get in food to give you energy – nuts and seeds are your friend.

 

 

 

 

How to run a great campaign

campaign

My recent role to assist Cowshed with campaign work gave me a great insight in how to run successful campaigns for a broad range of clients from start to finish.

I worked mainly with Wales Co-operative to deliver the Social Saturday campaign, a day to champion social enterprises and it was a great experience. Thanks to Vicki and team for the warm welcome and fondness for afternoon snacks.

In former jobs, running a campaign came alongside a huge amount of other work, often felt a momentous and uphill task, but having enjoyed the freedom to focus gave me some clarity on what it takes to run a great campaign.

Here’s my advice:

  1. Be organised – planning is your friend, it’s the thing you need to come back to over and over again and keeps you on track.
  2. Budget – know what you’ve got from the start then you can look at what each element of the campaign will need, having a little extra without allocation at the start won’t hurt either.
  3. What’s your ask? Do you want people to sign up? Donate? Attend? Give? Whatever it is, that should drive your campaign.
  4. Be realistic – setting unachievable targets and aims is only going to demotivate you, have realistic goals and if you do better than that’s great. You can learn for next time.
  5. Free is your friend – don’t have lots of budget? Remember that a lot of digital media is free to use and can reach a lot of people for not too much work.
  6. Stories – they should be at the heart of the campaign and will ultimately drive your intended audience to act. It’s what the media love too, always have them.
  7. Media contact – Let them know what you’re planning in advance – if they aren’t interested ask them what would make them interested and think if you can accommodate them.
  8. Pick up the phone – emails get lost, piled up, deleted, unread and having an actual conversation is a great way of starting a relationship.
  9. Communicate – it’s so important to communicate with your colleagues so you’re on the same page, updates are good so everyone is clued in.
  10. Have fun – campaigns are great and there’s plenty of opportunity to do things differently, whether that be with graphics, pictures, events or stories.

If you need any support with campaigns then please get in touch.

Awesome illustration by The Meekshall

10 things I love about you

the-ledge

My friend told me a story about an acquaintance sending a list to someone during an argument entitled ’10 things I hate about you’.

Three things came to mind,  I was reminded of the incredible film of the same name with Heath Ledger in it (he went too soon), how horrible it would be to receive that letter, and on what planet do you do that? Even if you thought it, don’t send it. Words as weapons alert.

It stuck with me the entire day and I decided to flip it and sent her a ’10 things I love about you’ text and realised it was not only a lovely process, recalling memories and really thinking about that person, but it’s a nice thing to do. She was chuffed and said it made her day.

Similarly, to my blog about the Power of Testimonial, it’s a reminder to be nice to others, find the good and I actually think it’s good to do with yourself so in the name of self esteem boosts I’m going to have a go and try not to cringe throughout the entire process.

I could write 100 things I hate about myself but why be that negative? Here we go:

  1. I am loyal to the bitter end, if you’re in my pack I will lioness for you
  2. My hair – thanks to Slunks, I’m living my dream as the flame emoji/ budget Ginger Spice
  3. I say hello to animals alot, cats on the road, dogs in the park, they all get a hello
  4. Dancing, I dance for joy, in my pants at home, in the club (ha ha ha rarely) in the street, it makes me feel good so I do it
  5. I care, a blessing and a curse for me but I do, deeply, passionately and honestly
  6. Laughing – I like cackling and giggling in equal measure and do it alot
  7. Photos are a thing for me – my friends and family groan but I take a lot of photos and yeh I Instagram them…
  8. I swim upstream, I rarely do something I really don’t want to, time is important and I try and do things that make me happy
  9. Admitting my faults – It takes bravery and strength to really look at yourself and recognise the crappier bits and I do that and am willing to work on them
  10. I am different, this is the hardest thing to love about myself but I do
Awesome illustration by The Meekshall

Let’s talk about brand, baby.

love hate

Brand.

The word can strike fear in many, those who don’t like asking themselves questions and those who think it is just a logo.

Brand is more, far more. It’s experience, reputation, feeling, behaviour and communication to name a few.

One of my favourite exercises with clients during my brand workshop is to ask these simple questions.

“What brands do you love? What brands do you hate? and why?”

The why is the kicker, I’ve seen a few directors crumble at the why and look like I’ve asked them to choose their favourite child.

If you’re pondering your brand, I suggest you ask yourself these questions too. Here’s my answers for inspiration.

Brand I love = John Lewis.

The minute I walk in to the shop I feel like a better person, someone that has goals in life, got their $hit together and likes quality. I feel safe, homely and warm, like I’m being hugged by a middle class blanket.

The products they stock are of high quality, trusted, good brands, aspirational and somewhat affordable.

Their customer service is fantastic, I have experienced this and I was treated like a queen when I had to return something that ended up being troublesome.

They treat staff well, the staff are lovely, I like their café, toilets and price promise, I like them.

Volvo

My Grampa had many a Volvo car, like him, I have always thought they are reliable, safe and sturdy. Their lights are constantly on. Whenever I stepped in the car it was time for adventure and feeling loved.

The Volvo took me to exciting places, the beach, on holidays, for ice cream and I loved it. Even when a car drove in to the back of us once, we were all safe, my whole family.

This is more nostalgia than anything else, I have never owned a Volvo, I just resonate with their brand on a personal level. My Grampa’s trust in them has made me also trust them. Endorsement from someone you trust and admire is often the highest form of accolade a brand can get.

Brand I hate = Primark

I used to shop here and am ashamed. Fast, affordable, throw away fashion at the price of who or what?

Mass produced, inferior quality clothing and accessories that mean your bargain is someone else’s terrible wage, working condition and lifeline in equal measures. Don’t believe me, look at what happened in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh.

Yuck, I can’t even… cheap does not mean good. This is mainly about reputation and being conscious of choice and how it impacts others.

Hertz

The rent a car company without a soul. Last year we took a trip to Italy and were meant to drive from Milan to Lake Como.

On picking up the car, the credit card we used to make the booking was declined and according to them, that was that. I wasn’t able to use mine because my name wasn’t on the booking.

Their customer service was appalling, the front desk staff uncaring, unkind and their phone staff even more so. Luckily, we took public transport and a sympathetic lift from our Air BnB host. We complained, asked for money back and told everyone we know not to use them.

Think about your customers/audience/user needs and experiences – their recommendations are powerful.

Need help with your brand? I’d be happy to work with you on strategy, direction or whatever you need.

Awesome illustration by The Meekshall

I got bullied at 31.

I listened to a great talk on equality last Friday and want to thank Lyanna and all those who have already read this blog for giving me the courage and support to post it. Without action, nothing will change and I hope that my words resonate and make a difference, even if it’s tiny.

I sat there motionless, I knew exactly what was going on but felt utterly powerless to stop it. My brain was processing each word but my mouth barely opened and I was frozen to the spot.

Every fibre in me knew it was wrong and that no one should have to experience this but I could feel myself shut down. Any words that I wanted to respond with got stuck in my throat, I began feeling smaller and smaller and wishing there was an eject button.

Have I painted an uncomfortable picture? It was, truly, and not one I want to experience again.

What hurt me as much as the complete verbal undressing was the fact another woman was sat opposite me delivering this character annihilation. Hello? Aren’t women supposed to empower and support each other? This person missed the memo, or read it and shoved it in the bin.

Yes, I had a made a mistake, for which I apologised and was upset about but apparently that was never going to be good enough. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.

It got personal and ugly, words and experiences I had said in confidence got taken and repurposed as weapons and threats.

What this person saw was someone vulnerable, upset and an apparent ‘easy target’ so they used that to their advantage and went on the attack. I felt the low self esteem and paranoia roll off her in waves but it didn’t make me feel better, it made me feel worse.

When I walked out of the room I felt disconnected from my body, a shell of a person and the realisation that I had been bullied came only later when I had completely broken down. Through the negative thoughts conjured by the vitriolic words used I suddenly realised it. A part of me felt ashamed.

I remember being teased when I was younger, it’s a tough gig being 5ft, having a ‘weird’ name and feeling different to others. Some people would rhyme my name with Ribena, others would call me short and weird and someone even told me ‘go back to wherever you come from’. The latter really hurt me and my friend laughed at that comment and that hurt more.

I was lucky, I don’t think I ever truly experienced bullying that was prolonged or that cruel, words have always hurt me but underneath tears I was a resilient kid and pretty proud of who I was. I saw others around me experience that, daily, and the look on their face – beaten, dejected and self aware – I wish I had done more to help them.

What I’ve learnt is bullying transcends age and will never be ok, it speaks more about the person doing it than it does about you. You aren’t the weak one and speak up about it if you can. I didn’t pursue or formally report it for a variety of reasons but a big part of me wishes I had.

To the person that bullied me, I thank you. You made feel like shit but in being that low I realised how proud I am of myself, how much support I have around me, people that love and care about me.

When I look in the mirror I am happy, truly, I treat people well, I live, laugh and love.

What do you see when you look in yours? Look closer, it might help you.

If you are experiencing bullying or inequality, then you aren’t alone, I promise. Contact organisations like The Samaritans who can help you and please tell someone, you can even just tell me.

Internal communications done digitally: it doesn’t have to be crap.

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I’ve worked for many an organisation with varying degrees of digital internal communications, some I’ve been responsible for and others I’ve been the recipient of and pretty much seen it all.

From slick, stylised templates delivered like clockwork to a shoddy email not using the BCC function when it should have and red faces all around. Yuck.

There are fundamental components to doing it well, and here’s what I think they are:

Pick your platform

What is going to be easiest for you to use and for people to read? Using your email as a template isn’t advisable, unless you want to spend hours formatting. How about WordPress? Mailchimp? Think about the content, layout, ease and evaluation (analytics/opens/clicks).

Be consistent

People in a work setting tend to like routine, so don’t send five communications one week, one the next and then nothing for two months. That’s highly annoying for everyone concerned and remember quality, trust and reputation = consistency. That goes for templates and layouts too, try and stick to one.

 

Plan

To be consistent you need to plan – the classic who/what/where/when/how is and oldy but a goody, use a spreadsheet and don’t forget deadlines. It’s always better to have too much content than too little. As a communications person, you have (should have) the knowledge of what events, projects, launches are happening, tie them in too.

 

 

Be human

Your colleagues and/or employees are human, as are you, communicate with them like that. Don’t feel the need to be overly formal all the time. Some communications have to be, others can be a touch lighter. Giving someone a laugh from a YouTube video or a meme can brighten a Friday.

 

Content, content, content

You cannot know everything that’s happening with the organisation all the time, it’s impossible unless you have a super power/ are Professor X (cool). Ask for content, get some of your key people – the ones that reliably communicate with you to get in to the habit of sending you content.

Pictures/Video

Smart phones have good cameras on them and the quality will likely be enough for a digital communication, ask people to get pictures. I won’t go in to the complicated issue of consent, but pictures and videos really bring information to life.

Say ‘thank you’

If someone/a team have done a good thing, say thanks and tell others – it goes a long way. It doesn’t have to accompanied by a gift, the gift can be the acknowledgement and recognition that the person has done a good job.

 

Test

Send out your draft communication to a trusted few from different departments and a trustee/board member and get their feedback. The higher cross departmental spread you can get, the better.

Listen

If you get asked for more or less of something then try and accommodate it, nothing was ever achieved with a linear vision (nothing good anyway) it’s Ben and Jerry’s, H&M and Kenan and Kel, remember?

Be prepared for criticism

It’s highly unlikely that when you send out internal communications that you will a) always get feedback b) get positive feedback c) like the feedback you get. What you can do is take it on board, empathise with the person and see if you can change anything.

Evaluate

How can you know what does and doesn’t work if you don’t ask? Send out evaluation tied to objectives of the communication and see what you get in return. Realise that you can’t please everyone at every time but that you can do your best to reach compromise. No one wants to evaluate? Offer an incentive.

Finally….

Go back to brand

Everyone that works for the organisation does so for a reason, what is the purpose? Mission? Vision? Values? Tailor content that reminds people why they chose to work with there in the first place, use your heart and your head.

If you need someone to help with your communications, internal or external then please contact me, I like a chat, biscuit and problem solving.

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The Power of the Testimonial

wheat field

As I’ve embarked on content writing for my website it has struck me that the one section I struggled with the most was the testimonial.  This isn’t because I didn’t have people to ask, I certainly did (as you can see).

However it seems quintessentially British to be a bit shy about asking for a recommendation; even when you know you have done a good job and/or had a good relationship.

We humans tend to be terrible at giving self praise but very happy to do it for others, which is utterly lovely yet a bit of self love and recognition can go a long way.

Reviews and wheat fields

My parents are absolute sticklers for using sites like Tripadvisor to help them gauge whether to grace a restaurant or visit a landmark and plough through the testimonials like Theresa May running through a wheat field #naughty.

If I suggest a new eating place I absolutely know they’ll have done their homework on it, planned their food and won’t let Glenda’s* 2011 bad review go unread… because she didn’t get sweetcorn in the side salad and that’s a cardinal sin.

I tend to use review sites for car garages and Airbnb, because honestly, no one wants to go on holiday where the place you stay ends up being a reinactment of Hostel or a replica of Mordor.

Be nice and be organised

What I’m trying to say that is wherever you go and whoever you meet, you leave an imprint and people will form opinions of you. I feel it’s so important that you treat people how you want to be treated, you never know when you’ll see them again or in my case, ask for a testimonial.

I’ve been bowled over by the words people have used in their testimonials for me and feel a sense of achievement and pride in myself and my work. It’s like a lovely cwtch when the hard work you’ve done is recognised and rewarded.

I think we should all tell each other more when we’re pleased with one another- not just when we’re self promoting.

If I had a magic wand, a la Harry Potter, I would’ve asked former colleagues at the time to do a testimonial and gathered evidence that way, alas, I didn’t. If I have one piece of advice, it’s do that, be organised with yourself as well as your work, it’s just as important.

*Glenda isn’t real, sorry, I like the name.

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Face your fear, and do it anyway

April 24th 2017 will be a date I will refer to for the rest of my life no doubt. Did I get married? Have a baby? Win the lottery? Nope, I started my first day as a freelancer.

I can’t stress upon you enough how much of a big deal this is for me, I have wanted to do this for quite some time and it’s finally more of the right moment than any other moment so far.

What stopped me before was fear, an all encompassing emotion and it had a choke hold on me, I was petrified. The time I first seriously thought about it I had undergone major life changes, a seven year relationship gone, a move from Cardiff back to Neath and my confidence had disappeared.

I considered changing careers entirely and grabbed brochures for University courses with gusto, convinced I needed a radical change. Considering the huge changes I had already undergone, I was glad I didn’t plunge in to something I would regret… go me!

Somewhere in me was this desire to work for myself, explore all options and give myself a chance to use my skills and experience differently. I started writing content for a website and then a job popped up, too good to not apply for, also a convenient ‘get out’ clause for my fear. I went for it and got it. Case closed.

I say case closed but this desire in my gut didn’t go anywhere, it flickered and sparked. Around me I had friends who were freelance and saw their struggles but also their happiness and freedom to explore new projects, relationships and use their time as they wanted to. I was very jealous but pesky fear stopped me.

A really good friend bought me a book ‘Face your fear, and do it anyway’ and I haven’t opened it, I’m sorry Nia, but I was paralysed by fear and thought freelancing was beyond me. She has remained one of my biggest supporters and inspirations, diolch cariad.

The last few years this desire has become stronger and when I took on a maternity cover contract for a job that I knew would elevate my skills and experience, I already had one eye on becoming a freelancer. So I worked really hard, pushed myself and I’m so proud of what I achieved. The finality of the contract was the catalyst I needed to do this.

Some of my closest friends have started their own creative co-working space called ‘The Sustainable Studio’ and I have been on their journey with them so far, but never had the chance to properly work with them and now I do, a couple days of week and I’m ecstatic. Thank you Julia and Sarah, you’re amazing.

So here I am, finalising content for my website with George the cat leaning on me, in a house that I share with a man who is the best person I have ever met. He loves me just as I am, encourages and supports me and I couldn’t be happier, still fearful but with the passion and determination to succeed.