Feel like it’s an impossible mountain to secure rewarding work where you can excel and have balance in your life? I hope my story can inspire you to find a way forward.
My career in marketing and business development was always both a joy and a challenge. I made it to marketing director level, yet as a single mother for the latter half of it, work life balance was often an issue and the glass ceiling and wall were ever-present.
Redundancy three years ago was a shock and a blow to my self-esteem. As the sole breadwinner in my household, finances soon became a concern. Yet on the flipside, I could spend precious time with my daughter as she finished school and there was time to reflect and experiment.
So, I did some consultancy work and considered going back into employment. I also found myself asking myself a lot questions. What did I truly enjoy? What was I really good at? Was being freelance sustainable? Which skills were in demand? And in darker moments, despite my experience and infamous energy, was I past it? I realized I was a little stuck and the only way out was to take action.
I decided that a no-brainer would be to enhance my digital skills. So I signed up to a six-month advanced social media marketing associate course. A unique aspect of this programme is that you work with a real client on a live campaign. I also began digital certifications with edX, Hubspot and Google.
I then stumbled upon the Back2Businessship Programme (‘B2B’) by accident. My mother told me she had heard a segment on Woman’s Hour about Women Returners; this led to a Google search and before I could blink I was being offered a place on the 2016 course by the lovely Amanda Fone, the founder.
Last October, I found myself immersed in the B2B training programme with brilliant presenters, generous hosting by Golin and the chance to hang out with a fabulous and formidable network of peers who are now a lovely support network. I also had mentoring style catch-ups with two of the amazing presenters, Sue Unerman and Neil Kleiner who passed on very sage, practical and encouraging advice.
Within a few weeks, I was interviewed by one of the world’s top sports clubs, one of the employers supporting B2B. I was offered a three-month part-time ‘returnship’ placement in the communications team. I was given a free reign on projects including designing a social media strategy and organizing a content refresh. I also worked on a variety of assignments including making videos, working with a diversity consultancy and the national media and organizing live events. I also gained valuable insights into the inner sanctum of a global brand’s world class communications operation.
My placement has now come to an end and my social media training is in its final stages. I have decided that I work best with clients in a consultancy capacity. I love to create change, empower others and facilitate conversations. I enjoy the buzz of “doing the hustle” and the variety, the creativity, the objectivity and independence of freelance life. The frenetic pace of social media suits me. It’s exciting and never dull.
I am in a positive and exciting place. My www.clarejoneslondon.com is live and without much fanfare I already have a range of new clients. I am working with talented peers, judging on a branding award panel and delivering training and keynote speeches on social media and personal brand (something I’ve always done) in the UK and in Europe. It’s early days, but it is thrilling so far.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, I was already a CIM-qualified marketer with 20 years of experience. However, looking back I lost my mojo after the redundancy and B2B was most certainly the catalyst for change.
What about everyone else on my course? We have a lively and frank What’s App group (what would you expect from a group of communications professionals?!). Being able to share our journeys has been fun and insightful. As we’ve got to know each other it’s clear we are professionals and parents with very different, very real, and sometimes very difficult, lives. Yet we have so much in common. We all adore our families. We all fend off ‘imposter syndrome’. We all face challenges inside and outside of ‘the office’. And we all enjoy the purpose and rewards of doing good work, whatever that is. Some have found placements, some have work – permanent or freelance – and others are concentrating on their home lives for various reasons. Our stories are so rich and varied, you could write a great book… now there’s a project!
So, what about you? Here are my three top tips for your unique way forward. None are rocket science, but they’ve worked for me:
- Take action! You are the creator of your luck. The only thing required is to do something about it! Even if you do things that don’t seem relevant or turn out not to have been the best use of your time, I am sure it is all learning. Trust me, I am a course junkie and nuggets always emerge at some point! I recommend you #justdoit as if your life depended on it!
- Leverage your experience. Your track record is gold-dust. I have reinvented myself. Or have I? The more I learn about social media, the more I realize no one has a crystal ball. Digital platforms are just channels. Keep your mind on the objective, the audience, the message and a process of testing and refining and you could be the most valuable mind at the table. Strategic thinking can get overlooked in the rush to embrace the latest trend and brands put inexperienced, junior people on the frontline to their peril. Returners have valuable experience and perspective. Keep current and be confident that you can add significant value.
- Network, network, network. Your network is your most valuable asset. You know where they are. Optimise your presence on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever they are. Engage. Be visible. Ask questions. Ask for a mentor. Offer help in return. Doing the hustle doesn’t mean you can’t be authentic and graceful too. What’s the worst thing that can happen?
I can’t say I’ve got all the answers, but if I can help anyone else who may feel stuck, please get in touch. And if you have any comments or ideas or are interested in collaborating, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you all the best in your returnship journey.