My Year as a Startup Business Owner & Digital Mums Student

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How It All Began

One year ago, almost to the day, an opportunity caught my eye that would completely change my year to come! On 12th December 2016, Digital Mums launched a competition to win the gift of #workthatworks. That gift being a free place on their Social Media Management Digital Mums Course.

Having been an avid follower of Digital Mums I was already considering signing up to their course. I’d heard good things about the course from a mum friend who I had met when we were both on Maternity Leave a few years before. At that point she was studying with Digital Mums and loving it. I was sold.

The competition couldn’t have come at a better time after the year I’d had. I knew I had to go for it! Reading my entry back now, I realise how totally fed up I sounded. Fed up of all the stress and anxiety of commuting into London and rushing to/from nursery. Fed up of the feeling of failure trying to juggle a full-time job and being a mum. And ultimately, fed up of the uncertainty surrounding the role I was being made redundant from, whilst also trying to mentally deal with another recent miscarriage, our 3rd in twelve months at that point

How I Found Out I Actually Can Win Competitions

Wind the clock to 21st December and I was ready to finish off my Christmas shopping with my mum.  My phone had been buzzing throughout the journey to Bluewater, so I checked it before we got out of the car. Now I should say, I never win anything! I’ve played the lottery since I can remember and never won more than £20. I can’t bring myself to work out how much I’ve spent on tickets over the years only to have won maybe £100 or so in my lifetime! My Nan wins EVERYTHING, the pools, bets on the Grand National, Premium Bonds, trips to the bingo, but not me, that luck never rubbed off on me!

But there it was, a DM on Instagram from Digital Mums! Or rather Cat Davies, who was their Social Media Manager at the time, telling me I’d won! I had to send them a video message and keep quiet about it until the next day! So I filmed a little clip that they wanted to share on Social Media, total novice on video that I was, and Cat managed to edit my cobbled together filming into a fabulous video that was posted on their pages (cue much embarrassment at seeing myself back on film and a few swift kicks to the shins that I needed to smile more on camera!).

Becoming a Student Again

After the news had sunk in, I had to decide when to start on my course. I settled on February, the next available intake. And then I waited. I attended a welcome webinar with Co-Fo Kathryn Tyler and received an email confirming who the other members of my Peer Group were to be. Six other mums, all keen to get started and not yet realising how important we would all become to each other.  All with different backgrounds, all with different experience on social media, all with different jobs & careers, all about to juggle student life around being a mum! Thankfully without any need to enter a classroom or even study outside of our own homes if we didn’t want to.

We came up with ideas for our Community Campaigns, and with the excitement of a wider range of themes being launched for our cohort, I had the first bite of the cherry at a Flexible Working campaign. Mama Do The Flex was born (don’t ask me how long it took to brainstorm the campaign name, it took forever!). My chosen platforms for the campaign were set and all our peer group worked hard to come up with campaigns that would be interesting & engaging and went through the various lessons about tone of voice planning, content pie charts and influencer research.

Startup Business & Student Life

For my sins, and as a result of my redundancy, I had the bright idea of launching my first business at the same time as studying to become a Digital Mum… looking back, I was probably mad. At that point, I was on garden leave from my job, but in reality I was still struggling to process emotions surrounding the miscarriages. I have a tendency to bottle stuff up and throw myself into things like work or volunteering as a way of blocking things out. I was doing it again. I’m proud of everything I’ve managed to achieve in my business, how I’ve made the transition to employee to a Virtual Assistant & business owner but it certainly hasn’t been easy. And so, all the while I was studying and launching my Mama Do The Flex channels, I was also trying to launch a business.

Another Bump In The Road

In May of this year we suffered our 4th miscarriage, this one required an operation and although it has now given us more answers that we needed to understand what was causing the losses, it was of small comfort. I was devastated all over again. At that point I was roughly half way through my original Digital Mums course. My fantastic peer group rallied around me and my Digital Mums Tutor & Captains were amazingly supportive, giving me various options to help me resume my studies once I felt up to it.

At that time Digital Mums had just launched a pilot for Entrepreneurs and business owners. It seemed perfect. In reality I was furiously juggling the business whilst running my community campaign. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d make it to the end of the course without burning out. So, with the idea that by changing to the new pilot, I could apply my learning immediately to my own business, I decided to make the switch. I hated the thought of leaving my old peer group though as we’d formed a really close bond. I remained part of the WhatsApp group though, and continued to cheer them on from the wings and cheered loudly when they all passed with flying colours!

Double the Peer Group, Double the Luck

When June arrived, I resumed my studies. This time, with a smaller peer group made up of two other fabulous Virtual Assistants, a Project Manager for magazine publishers and a Bespoke Curtains & Blinds Designer. We were all madly trying to juggle our studies around running our businesses. However, our WhatsApp group was still busy and we supported each other through each week.

For me, even though the two courses were similar, the syllabus for the new course was different enough that I was still kept on my toes! Once the campaign was almost up and running, I was in unchartered territory! The dynamics of having three Virtual Assistants in the same group could have spelt a recipe for disaster! However, we’ve worked so well together, as we all have different strengths and offer different services. We even collaborated with each other to run and co-host a Twitter Chat in our final campaign week called #VAPowerHour.

The Warts And All

I know that I was extremely lucky to have won a free place on the course. That said, things didn’t always go swimmingly and I shared the same frustrations as other students at various points within the course.

The structure of the course meant that some weeks we had little to do, whilst in others we felt like we were drowning in lessons and videos to watch. Things change quickly on social media too, often quicker than Digital Mums could keep up with when updating course materials (I challenge anyone else to do better though as things change weekly these days!). Typos and some inconsistencies in course material, often as a result of trying to keep material up to date were also frustrating. But, I don’t think that detracts from everything that we learnt. Digital Mums acknowledge that things aren’t perfect but ultimately, if I hadn’t won the place on my course, I still would’ve made the investment.

Course Highlights

I would certainly say that the course has given me the Social Media Marketing theory & the broader strategic understanding that I was lacking. Everything I had picked up to that point was self-taught as a result of running social media accounts for my local branch of a national charity as a volunteer. The course is extremely comprehensive and the Real Learning Programme means that you don’t just learn the theory, you are putting everything you learn in to practice immediately, reflecting and refining as you go.

For me, course highlights certainly have to include collaborating with some great people both in my recent competition and during our #VAPowerHour Twitter Chat. I smashed all my original KPIs and have grown my followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram way beyond my initial expectations. Most of all I’m pleased with how much I’ve learnt and my persistence and hard work that I put into completing the course.

Without doubt, the biggest highlight of the course comes from being part of two amazing peer groups. The ladies on my course supported me in more ways than they’ll ever know. From random questions & chats at all hours of the day to virtual hangouts with wine in hand, I owe both groups a great deal in making it to the end of the course in one piece!

Key Learns

During the course, I built a Social Media Content Strategy & Campaign from the ground up, considering things like:

  • Understanding the needs of your client
  • Developing a consistent brand through tone of voice planning & brand values
  • Researching and engaging with key influencers
  • Optimum posting levels, keywords and hashtags
  • Development of user personas to highlight
    • What channels you should be on
    • The types of content that will engage your audience
    • What times of day you should be posting to maximise your reach
  • Developing a content pie chart to ensure you post the right balance & mix of content
  • How to run competitions without breaking the rules
  • How to run & test ads to find out what works best and stretch our budget for maximum results

Throughout all this I have learnt the importance of planning and time management in ensuring that a business is seen to be present on social media and engages with its followers rather than just broadcasting or selling to people.

What Next?

The real highlight of my studies, though not related to my campaign, was being shortlisted for ‘Digital Mum of the Year’ at the inaugural #DMCollective Awards. Even though I didn’t win my category, it was a massive achievement just to be shortlisted and I was in great company with my fellow finalists. Huge congratulations to Cat Davies who was crowned Digital Mum of the Year, and deservedly so. bringing us back full circle to the first time we spoke almost exactly a year ago! Cat is an amazing lady and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store for us both in business! Now the only thing left is to find out if I passed as I can’t wait to join Cat, and all the other graduates in the #DMCollective group!

Now that my studies are over, I’m looking forward to taking on more social media clients in 2018 and helping them to grow their online presence on social media. To coin the phrase adopted by the #DMCollective, time to #GoWithThePro!

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