Why doing the Digital Mums course is like having a baby

‘What the hecky thump am I going to do?’

That was my despondent but all-too-predictable realisation when I had my second baby and thought about where my career would fit into the mix. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to return to my role as a magazine sub editor in London after my maternity leave was over. I really enjoyed my job, but the flexibility I needed to make work and family co-exist happily just wasn’t there. On top of that was the prohibitive cost of commuting and a doubled childcare bill that made me want to weep/faint/have a hissy fit depending on what my hormones were doing on that particular day. The decision was pretty much made for me.

I needed a plan, and maternity leave was the time I was going to nail it — necessity is the mother of invention, after all. So I thought about my motivations: I didn’t want my career and my sense of self to disappear into the ether simply because I was a mum. I was adamant that I didn’t want my life to be dictated by the old-fashioned 9–5, bums-on-seat office culture any more. And most of all, I wanted to set a strong example to my two daughters that you can be a mum, have a career and not lose perspective on your own identity.

Me with Elise and Imogen

My nappy-centric ‘career break’ was the logical time to make the leap into something new. And that’s when Digital Mums popped up on my radar. I found out about their Social Media Marketing Associate Programme shortly after my second daughter Imogen was born (my elder daughter Elise was two and a half at the time), and was soon distracting myself during sleep-deprived night feeds by reading up about the course. I knew immediately that this was the solution I’d been looking for, and the whole #workthatworks ethos really resonated with me. Not only was this giving me the opportunity to be with my kids more, it also didn’t feel like a step down the career ladder – in fact, I would actively be able to upskill my media knowledge at a time when the print industry was fast declining.

By the time Imogen was five months old, I’d been accepted onto the programme, and I started the course when she was seven months old. This gave me enough time to get into something that resembled a routine, but also overlapped with the end of my year-long maternity leave so I had the security of knowing something was on the career horizon when I officially quit my magazine job.

I can’t lie – doing the programme at the same time as being on maternity leave was pretty full-on. But that’s when it occurred to me – the Digital Mums programme is a bit like having a baby. Here’s why…

1. Do your research – but learn on the job
When you have your first baby, you can read all the books and blogs in the world in preparation, but once that little person arrives, you realise that you really do have to learn and adapt as you go along because each tiny human has its own unique requirements. Likewise, if you’re accepted onto the Digital Mums Social Media Marketing Associate Programme, you’ll already have some media, marketing or PR knowledge under your belt, which is a great grounding for what’s to come. But Digital Mums is innovative in that it’s a ‘live learning’ programme, so you’re assigned a client who you’ll run a proper real-life campaign for alongside your studying. There are weekly tutorials to guide you, then it’s a case of using that knowledge and applying it to your own special project.

2. ‘You mean, I’m the one in charge of this thing?’
Remember that feeling when the initial euphoria of meeting your newborn wore off, and you were back at home and it suddenly struck you that you were completely responsible for your precious bundle? Well, it feels a bit like that when you get your programme client and design a social campaign for them. There are loads of unknowns and the learning curve can feel pretty steep at times. The whole process can be all–consuming (I lost count of the number of times I dreamt about compiling Twitter lists, or had the hashtag symbol flickering in front of my eyes as I stared in the middle distance) but, bit by bit, your hopes and ideas start to fall into place and make sense. And as you make baby steps of progress and your campaign launches, you look on proudly and think: ‘I made that! Well done me!’

3. The weaning process – or ‘test, measure, reflect, refine’
Boob or bottle? Purées or baby-led weaning? Smashed avocado or the odd illicit Pom-Bear? Every mum knows that the feeding journey from milk to solids is a case of trial and error and finding out what works for you and your little one. That’s the way the ‘test, measure, reflect, refine’ process works during the Digital Mums course – you try out lots of ideas and tactics during your campaign, realise that some things just aren’t going to go down well, and instead fill up on what’s popular. Think of it as the social media equivalent of tomato sauce all over your little one’s face and a few contented burps (with the odd occasion where your lovingly created recipe will end up on the floor).

4. Learn how to deal with a new person
Part of the skill of becoming a social media consultant is knowing how to manage your client. There are going to be times when you need to push them gently but firmly in a certain direction, or you need to be there to encourage and reassure them. And that’s just how it is with parenting. You get to understand the personality of your baby, how to make them content, how to make them giggle, building trust and confidence as you go. There may be occasions when you’re up in the wee small hours swearing about how bl**dy unco-operative they are being, then all is forgiven within 24 hours. Yep, the baby/client management comparisons are endless!

5. Rely on your gal pals
Anyone who is a Digital Mum will tell you that one of the best things about the course is the new friends you make. As part of the course structure, you’ll be put into a small peer group with four or five other mums who are on the course too. You have a weekly video ‘hangout’ together to discuss each other’s campaigns, and you’ll most likely set up your own WhatsApp group too. These ladies are your lifeline! My peer group was so flipping brilliant and supportive and hilarious that it made all the hard work and moments of self-doubt worth it. It’s like having an NCT group of buddies, except that instead of talking about breast pads and episiotomies, you talk about Buffer versus Hootsuite. My girls were always there to talk through project problems – but more than that, they became genuine friends who I can’t imagine not having in my life now.

6. Seek feedback and support along the way
Throughout the course, the ‘mothership’ at Digital Mums HQ is available if you get stuck. And you also have a course tutor who oversees your project and offers constructive advice at various stages. It’s a bit like those health visitor appointments where your baby gets given the once-over, and you get patted on the hand and told what a lovely job you’ve done. You get the reassurance that yes, you are doing fine, and the opportunity to take on board extra advice in areas you don’t feel so confident about. You also know there’s someone there if you need to have a little cry due to exhaustion, or just feeling like you’re having a week where everything is conspiring against you.

7. Multitask like a mother
OK, dudes, I’m putting it out there – the Digital Mums course is intensive. There is so much information to take on board and you’ll be working on several different tactics and tasks at the same time. But motherhood teaches you this skill. You realise that certain things on your to-do list can be squeezed into 10-minute slots, that you can quickly check your social media accounts on your phone while you have a wee. There are times when ideally you’d like a sofa siesta while the baby naps, but that you can use that time to get a load of studying done. You have to get organised and some things become less of a priority (goodbye, well-ironed clothes), but you can do it. Just remember to factor in time for you too – it’s amazing how stepping away from the social media rabbit hole and having a manicure or a glass of wine can help you to refocus.

8. Lean on your other half
Last time I checked, men still couldn’t breastfeed – it’s one of those jobs which is pointless getting resentful about because only you can do it. So approach your course in the same vein – this is your commitment, and your partner or husband just needs to be understanding and supportive. They might not get quite as much of your undivided attention for a while. But they will definitely be helping by supplying you with endless cups of tea, making sure your mobile phone is within reach at all times and giving you a hug when it gets a bit overwhelming. Bonus advice: book a mini-break for just the two of you as soon as you’re done. Nuff said.

9. Monitor your progress and reap the rewards
When your campaign is underway, you’ll track the important numbers in your weekly progress report to see how well you’re doing. It’s a bit like your baby’s developmental checks, when you get to look at those weird percentile charts for weight gain and head circumference. These figures and graphs are important – but so are the day-to-day interactions. Remember how the relentless newborn routine of eat-sleep-feed suddenly felt worth it when you got that first precious smile? Or when strangers stopped you in the street to coo over your darling little bundle? Your social media campaign is your digital baby. You’ll start getting likes on Instagram and retweets on Twitter. Someone you don’t know will make a positive comment on Facebook and then it’s fist-pumps all round. Suddenly, you’ll think: ‘OK, so this is what it’s about! I am owning this!’

10. ‘Doesn’t time go fast?’
While your campaign runs, I guarantee you’ll be checking up on notifications compulsively – it’s the social media equivalent of popping into your baby’s room at night and watching them sleep. But before you know it, the course will draw to an end and the campaign will be over. Just like that first time you drop off your toddler at nursery, you’ll wonder how that point has arrived so suddenly, and you might not want to let go. But be proud of what you’ve achieved, and how your fledgling project has flourished. And remind yourself that you know what you’re doing with one client now – so maybe it’s time you had another one or two?!