Oh my goodness, I can’t quite believe I am writing this post. Earlier this year I mentioned that I would appreciate nominations for the Inspire category in The Brilliance in Blogging (The BiBs) Awards this year, but knew it was a bit of a long shot. The BiBs, run by BritMums, celebrate the best Parent Lifestyle Bloggers and Influencers through a range of categories, including the Inspire category for which I’ve been shortlisted. Over the years I have seen many amazing bloggers celebrated in The BiBs, and I know just how talented and passionate my fellow bloggers are. So it is a huge honour to have my little blog recognised in this way, especially at a time when I am still learning how to live well within my limitations.
I Need Your vote!
The next stage is, of course, voting for your favourites. Every vote counts, especially to bloggers with smaller audiences like mine, so please do pop along to the BritMums website and vote for me here. It’s a simple form, you just need to fill in your details and then scroll down and click the button next to The Family Patch in the Inspire category (and cast votes in other categories if you so wish), and then hit the submit button. That’s it, less than 2 minutes of your time. And let me know if you’ve voted, so I can thank you personally. Because I truly do appreciate every single one of you who support my little blog.
Why Should You Vote for Me?
Well, I’m going to give you both a long and short version of my answer to this, because there is so much I want to say but I appreciate that time is limited for most of us, and for many of my readers health issues may also make reading large swathes of text challenging. So here’s the short version:
Despite being incredibly ill with multiple health conditions, I continue to use my voice and writing skills to raise awareness of many issues and offer support to others. I write from my bed, often taking days (if not weeks) to put together my posts, because it is important to me that they offer value to my readers. I research things thoroughly, provide links to other resources, and make complex issues accessible.
Over the past few years I have become increasingly more debilitated by my health issues, and have barely left my house other than for medical appointments for the past 6 months. Many days I have been completely bed-bound, fighting such incredible fatigue and pain that I can’t even put it into words. There is so much I cannot do, but one thing I can do is use my voice to make a difference. This nomination feels like not just a recognition of my work but also the efforts of every single person in the chronic illness community that uses up valuable spoons (energy) to connect with others and let them know they are not alone. It says, to me at least, that we are visible, we are valued, and we are worth celebrating.
Every time I sit down to write a new post, I have the reader in mind. I want to make sure that I provide a friendly voice that knows what it’s like to struggle and is on your side. I want to provide resources that equip others with the tools they need to advocate for themselves, or a link they can share when they simply don’t have the words themselves. Because as I said before, words are my thing. I may be stuck in bed, it may take me several days (if not weeks) to find the energy and strength to put a post together, but I’ll never stop using my voice to try and make the world a better place for all of us.
“Alone We Can Do So Much, Together We Can Do So Much more”
And here’s the thing, everyone has the power to create change, no matter how small their contributions may feel. I have never had the biggest audience, and I certainly don’t have the energy to do as much as many other bloggers do, but look at me – my blog has been shortlisted in a national blogging award! I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking you have nothing to give, or what you do doesn’t matter. I’ve been there many times before, and have no doubt I will be many times again in the future. But when I look back over the years and see how much I have achieved, despite going through some of the hardest years imaginable, I feel so proud. And if I can do it, anybody can!
Don’t forget To Vote For Me!
Of course, I still need your votes to give me a chance of winning the Inspire category in the awards. I’m up against some amazing bloggers, and it really is such an honour to be a finalist. And last night when I first saw I had been shortlisted, my initial thought was, “I haven’t got a chance of actually winning!” But then I realised how wrong I was. I have every chance of winning, because what I do makes a difference. It’s time for me to stop down-playing my achievements, once and for all. And as I said before, it feels like showing the world that those of us with chronic illnesses can have a voice that is heard and makes a difference. So please, vote for me here. Thank you.
I wanted to take a few moments today to reflect on the changes that have been happening in my life over the past few years. I don’t mean the external changes, although there have been plenty of those! I mean the internal changes that have helped me to look at my life from a whole new perspective, leading me to redefine my own sense of self-worth.
It feels almost impossible to know where to begin with this, because the way I view my life has changed in so many ways over the past few years. But I think the most logical place to start is in my teen years, when I first began to develop a warped sense of self-worth
Self-Worth from a High-Achiever’s Perspective
I’ve spent the vast majority of my life believing that my value came from the things I did, rather than simply who I am. As a naturally high-achiever at school, it seemed almost inevitable that this would happen. I got consistently good grades (often the highest in the class), and then I went on to study at one of the UK’s top universities. By the time I graduated, aged 22, my entire life had been about academic achievement. And yet, despite this, I never felt “good enough”.
It doesn’t make much sense, does it? I achieved so much as a teenager and in my early twenties, academically at least. You’d think that this would provide a solid foundation for confidence in my skills and abilities, but in reality the exact opposite was my experience.
I actually really struggled with self-worth a lot whilst at university, and when my dad asked me if I was finally proud of myself on my graduation day I honestly said that I wasn’t. I felt like I had completely bluffed my way through, and was a fraud.
And the thought of moving into employment terrified me, because I couldn’t ever see myself feeling confident enough to cope in the workplace. You see, for me, my self-worth had become so intrinsically linked with my achievements, I felt huge amounts of anxiety and fear over maintaining that high level of accomplishment. Anything less than “the best” felt like failure to me.
the ongoing impact of low self-worth
As a result, I did everything to avoid going into roles that might really challenge me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time working in childcare, retail, and student support. I’m a sociable person, and working in roles that involved meeting lots of people was lovely. But I never stayed anywhere long enough to advance up the career ladder. It didn’t matter that my employers could see my potential, giving me greater responsibility than my role actually required, I couldn’t see my worth.
And for most of my 20s I felt like I was just biding my time until I got married and had kids. The one thing I had always been sure about in my life was that I adored children and couldn’t wait to be a mother. I convinced myself that I wasn’t career driven or ambitious, I was just holding down a job until my real role in life would begin. So I was overjoyed when I fell pregnant in 2011, just a few months after our wedding. But my joy was short-lived.
when life throws you a curveball, it’s easy to doubt yourself
As you may know, I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancy. It was, quite honestly, sheer hell. I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t possibly face another pregnancy, because my first one almost broke me. But so did the decision never to have another child. I have never been so angry with God than I was during that time.
I remember crying through angry tears, asking why I had been made so maternally driven if I were only ever to be allowed one child. The one thing I had always felt so sure about, that I would devote years of my life to raising a young family, was suddenly snatched from me. And it broke my heart. I absolutely adored being a mother, it was everything I had ever dreamed of. But in my grief and confusion, my lack of self-worth started to seep into this area of my life too.
Any parent will tell you that having a baby is exhausting beyond belief. It feels relentless and scary, to be solely responsible for the welfare of this tiny being. And that’s before you even begin to look at other things that can make it even harder. We all have things we struggle with when we become parents. For me it was the combination of trying to recover from the trauma of my pregnancy whilst: caring for a baby who never slept; trying to deal with terrible issues with oversupply (which felt like my body was letting me down yet again); and supporting a husband who was beginning to suffer from depression. So, it’s not all that surprising that my thought process turned to beating myself up.
the destructive power of doubting yourself
I knew and trusted myself enough to know that I needed help to avoid spiralling out of control into a pit of despair, so I asked my doctor at my 6 week post-natal check for a referral for mental health support. I ended up having 7 months of CBT, and honestly I credit that with keeping my head above the water. But even with that, I still lacked the self-worth to follow my instincts and allow myself time to heal and process what had happened.
My inner chatter began to say things like, “why would you even believe you deserve to have more children when you’re already struggling with one?” and “what gives you the right to stay home and enjoy being with your child, when your husband is struggling so much at work?” I began to question everything, and whilst I look back on that first year with happy memories of sitting for hours just cherishing being home with my boy, I can see how I ended up taking the next steps that I did. Because I didn’t believe I deserved to enjoy being a stay-at-home-mum, nor did I feel like I was doing enough in my life. I felt like I needed to do more.
In a series of what I can now see were misguided, if well-intentioned, choices, I found myself pushed beyond my limit and close to a complete breakdown by the end of 2014. I returned to work when my son was just 15 months old, far sooner than I ever thought I would, and whilst I enjoyed the work immensely I also missed being with him more than I can say. At one point I ended up working two separate part-time jobs, and when one offered full-time hours I took it as it seemed easier than balancing two roles. But it was a role in which I felt incredibly isolated and which, due to the nature of the work tapping into my own personal trauma, almost broke me.
To any outside observer, 2014 should have been a high point in my career. My book was published and hit the top 10 for books in its genre on Amazon. I was interviewed live on national television. And I was working in a role that enabled me to support women all around the country. But I was falling apart inside in ways I had never, ever experienced before. And it was all because I hadn’t trusted myself enough to follow my instincts when they had repeatedly said, “this isn’t what you’re meant to be doing”.
sometimes the best lessons in life are the hardest to learn (because we resist them so much)
Near the end of 2014 I wrote a post called Warrior, because I felt like fighting was what I needed to do. But a few weeks later, in a moment of sheer desperation, I prayed to God in a way I’d never done before. I said, “I’ve tried everything, and I don’t know what I need to do any more. Please, you have to show me the way. It’s your turn now!” And I truly meant it.
I had spent so much time trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life, to give my life meaning, if I wasn’t meant to spend this part of my life raising babies. And I had found a purpose, no doubt about that. I had thrown myself wholeheartedly into campaigning for better awareness and care of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, so that one day no woman would have to make the same heart-wrenching choice never to have another baby as I had. But that wasn’t my purpose. That wasn’t what I was here for, and I was finally beginning to accept that.
But I was still very much caught up in the movement in a way that was deeply damaging for me, as well as for those I worked with. And I couldn’t see a way out. But, do you know what? Within moments of passing control over to God, I received the most overwhelming feeling of peace. It just washed right over me, and I heard the word, “Surrender“. And I knew that was what I was being asked to do. I wasn’t being asked to fight for (or against) anything, I simply had to surrender into it. And boy, did I surrender!
answered prayers often take us to places we could never have imagined
Within weeks of my prayer, I had been made redundant; been turned down at three separate interviews for being “over qualified”; and battled with a letting agency after our house move fell through unexpectedly. And yet, I felt nothing but quiet assurance that all would be well. I even began to think about trying to go it alone, finally finding the courage to look at my blog as a business opportunity, a chance to do what I was best at (communicate), rather than simply a hobby.
But in the end, I still didn’t trust myself enough to do that. I still felt as if that was something other people got to do, and it was silly of me to even contemplate the idea. Which is crazy, because it was around this time that one of my blog posts was chosen as one of the Blogger Keynotes at a blogging conference, and I got to read it in front of a room full of bloggers in June 2015. But still, I felt as if I wasn’t “good enough”.
So I eventually ended up in a part-time role, which I loved, but which was physically exhausting. My body had never really recovered from my pregnancy, all the symptoms connected to my EDS had increased, and my fatigue was at an all time high. I began to spend 3 days a week working, and the other 4 feeling like I had the flu. I could barely move, and began to get sick regularly on top. At the time I was gutted. I had thought I had finally said goodbye to the stress that had taken such a toll on my body.
But it was like my body was doing everything it could to make it impossible for me to continue ignoring the fact that I still wasn’t listening to my intuition. Every time I tried to find a purpose, things seemed to get immeasurably harder. I spent most of 2016 seeing multiple specialists to try and figure out what was wrong with me, and in the end I was given a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.
life will keep sending you the same lesson until you get it
Even with this diagnosis, I still refused to stop and look at what I really needed to learn – self-worth. I left employment after 6 months on sick leave, but set myself up as a freelance VA and web support. I wouldn’t have dared dream of doing that until my sister-in-law asked me to do some work for her and suggested my skill-set was actually really valuable to other businesses. But with enough encouragement from her, along with two coaches I was lucky enough to work with (Pippa from Story of Mum, and Michelle Reeves), I took the plunge and set up Shortman Media.
My aim for the business was to build it up enough so that I could train Tim in the work I did, so that he could start working from home too. We knew his days in regular employment were numbered, and really wanted to avoid the UK Benefits System, which we knew was notoriously bad for supporting people like us. And for a while, it seemed as if this would work. During 2017 I managed to work with 6 different clients, and gained two amazing testimonials that boosted my confidence a bit.
But it wasn’t to last. By the end of 2017 I was working the absolute minimum hours (less than 10 per month), and even then I was struggling. And yet, despite knowing my health was in a rapid decline, I still had the most ridiculously ambitious plans for 2018.
when you “get it”, you really get it
I was still trying to “fix” my life, to find some purpose within the madness, so I didn’t have to face the fact that I needed help. So my body continued to send me messages I could not possibly ignore. I began suffering with migraines that lasted for 2 weeks every single month. I caught every virus going. I became practically housebound, barely leaving my house for the first quarter of 2018. I was literally reliant on others for pretty much everything.
And it was hard. Oh, boy, was it hard. I fought with feelings of guilt, and failure, as it just seemed to be one battle after another. The last 6 months of my life have felt like the darkest pit. And yet, once again, as I began to hit rock bottom I found my faith growing. I clung on to the hope that we would, one day, find our way out of this mess. And I began to realise that the only thing I could really do was focus on looking after myself.
I realised I couldn’t change what was happening to us externally, but I could change how I felt about it internally. I began trying to do things that eased my soul, and chose to trust that the Universe had my back. But it was hard. For instance, there were 3 weeks in which we were unable to bid on any council properties. This was then followed by several weeks when the only option were flats, which I knew without a doubt would be a terrible move for us.
There was one week when I really began to doubt myself and wonder if we should bid on a flat, just to get out of the house that had become almost prison-like to me. But I held faith, and lo and behold the very next week our dream bungalow became available. And even though it felt too risky to even dream we might get it, I just knew it was ours and felt like I was simply waiting for confirmation of what I already knew. And a week later, it really was ours!
letting go of the ego to find a true sense of self-worth
Of course, moving when you’re as ill as we are is far from easy. I had to swallow my pride over and over again, asking publicly for help with everything from decorating to doing tip runs. But do you know what I learned from this? I learned that people were more than happy to help, because they valued me for who I am, rather than what I could do. And it was a real revelation!
The more I asked, the more I received, and I began to see how truly blessed I am. In the moments when I felt like the biggest failure, I reached out for help instead of trying to hide my shame, and received so much support it was incredible. And it reminded me that, all along, I’ve been supported, I just didn’t want to believe it. Because I didn’t feel worthy. I felt like I hadn’t earned it.
But all that was changing. When I felt like I truly had nothing left to lose, I realised I had gained so much more than I could ever have imagined. And slowly, but surely, I began to redefine self-worth. I began to truly understand what it meant to honour yourself as worthy, just as you are. To “stop playing small” and fully embrace the beauty of who you are. I began to accept what I had written a few years ago, about us all being made to shine. And I began to trust myself again (or maybe, even, for the first time ever!)
when you trust yourself, you begin to find your way
This all brings me to the past few weeks, in which a huge amount of inner healing work has taken place. It all started with Rebecca Campbell’s new Work Your Light Oracle Deck, which I kept seeing on instagram.
I have several oracle decks already, and used to use them quite a lot. But in recent years I just haven’t felt connected to them at all. So it surprised me to be so attracted to this new deck, especially as the artwork was so different to what I would usually be drawn towards. After seeing it multiple times, and feeling a gut reaction to it every single time, I decided to trust my instinct and order it. And, wow, was that the best decision I have made in a very long time!
The deck itself is so incredibly beautiful, and the emphasis on the idea that You Are The Oracle really spoke to me. You can read about my first experience with the deck here, which in and of itself is incredible. I’d never shared anything quite so “New Age-y” so publicly before, and it felt really scary to open up that part of my life and express how much it means to me, especially as someone who also describes herself as a Progressive Christian.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve touched on this in the past, but I’ve never authentically shared how it fits into my own personal life, nor how important it is to me. And that felt like a terrifying thing to do. But it also felt so right. As I wrote in my instagram post, “I’m finding the courage to share all the aspects of my faith and spirituality. Because I do connect with both “New Age Spirituality” and Progressive Christianity. I truly believe they complement each other and do not have to be an “either, or” option when it comes to faith. This is my path, and I don’t want to hide it any more.”
finding the worth in your own, unique story
Thankfully, several people liked and commented on my post, giving me the added reassurance that it was safe to share my story in this way. And it opened up so many doors for me. Because, for the first time ever, I began to see the worth in my story and the power in sharing it openly.
I’ve been blogging since 2006, and right from the beginning I wanted to write about faith and spirituality and how beautiful it can be when it is truly inclusive. But as a 22 year old, I felt like I had no right to be writing about such things – what did I know about life?
So I began writing about things that seemed “blog-worthy”, based on the types of topics other bloggers were writing about. Things like homemaking, crafts, and parenting. But the truth is, that wasn’t what I needed to write about. I needed to write about faith. And I needed to write about it in the context of life itself.
By that, I mean, I didn’t need to have it all figured out, I simply needed to write authentically as life happened. Because there is power in being open and raw and vulnerable, especially in a world that is so hell-bent on aiming for perfection. My beauty lies in the unfiltered parts of my life. And my worth is based on who I am, not who the world wants me to be.
changing “only” to “Amazing”
And so, I began to simply write what was on my mind, rather than worrying about whether it was share-worthy. And I began to trust that it would find those who needed to read it. Because a few weeks ago, in what I can only describe as an inspired moment of clarity, I suddenly realised I had been looking at my blogging journey all wrong.
For many years, I’ve felt like a failure for blogging for so many years and still only having a fraction of the reach that other bloggers have. I felt bad that I get “only” 2,000 visits to my blog per month, that “only” 147 people follow me on Facebook, and that “only” 660 people follow me on instagram. But in that moment of clarity, I changed my “only” to “amazing”.
I realised that it is truly amazing that my blog is viewed 2,000 times per month, despite me doing pretty much no social media promotion whatsoever. And it is beyond amazing that people not only follow me on Facebook and instagram, but they also encourage and connect with me whenever I post, despite my posts being irregular and likely to be lost in such a fast-paced environment.
just share your story, that’s all that matters
I couldn’t possibly reach as many as I do people without my blog or social media. So it is a true blessing to be able to share my story in this way. And I’m beginning to see the true value in sharing it, no matter how many people read it.
Funnily enough, the Universe was determined to help me remember this, as I suddenly came across a video series by Gabby Bernstein, in which she encourages you to simply get out there and share your story. In her first video she even mentions someone who arranged a public talk and only one person turned up. And yet, after her talk that one person thanked her for such an incredible experience. If we simply share our story, the rest falls into place.
And so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to share my story. I’m not going to worry about how long this post is, or whether it’s “of value” to anyone else. It’s of huge value to me, and reminds me that I’ve been sharing my story all along. It’s just, now I’m doing so with intention. Now I’m sharing it because I understand that it has value simply because it is true and authentic. And because of that, it is also healing.
Welcome back to Share The Joy! Each month I shall be helping Christina to host this linky, and we’re both looking forward to reading all your joy-filled and positive posts. This month, I am focusing on the joy of receiving, which is something I have long struggled with…
Like many of you, I am a giver by nature. I love to give to others, whether that is time, money, or attention. But whilst that means that I naturally expect others to be okay with receiving my gifts to them, I have a hard time receiving things myself.
I don’t just mean I struggle to receive gifts (although this is a major challenge for me!) I actually really struggle to receive love and care, especially when I need it the most. Over the past few years I have become increasingly dependent on the support of others, as my health has plummeted dramatically. But the guilt and shame I feel over being unable to care for myself and those I love has caused me to feel unworthy of receiving. Do you ever feel like that?
a skewed perception of worth
I know that this comes from a skewed perception of my worth, and I’ve been working on this recently (as you can see in my previous post). I have this crazy idea that in order to receive something, I have to first give something of equal or greater value. And it’s crazy because I don’t expect that same kind of give and take when I give to others. So why do I feel it when someone wants to give to me?
I know, it makes no sense. But how often do our personal hang-ups make sense? Of course, none of this is made any easier by the fact that I have become so ill lately that I am reliant upon receiving help in most areas of my life. Whether it’s support from a listening ear, help keeping Little Man occupied on my worst days, or financial support to help make ends meet, I am learning how to receive with grace in abundance right now. And, wow, it is so hard!
re-framing the idea of receiving
We are taught, from a very young age, that we should be self-reliant, aren’t we? We’re told that if we only put our mind and energy into something, we can achieve it. We hear this very message from everyone: at school we’re told to “reach for the stars”; adverts urge us to aspire to “living a better life”; and social media is awash with people telling us how they got success and we can too!
And yet all of these messages forget to mention the one thing that always makes a difference – support from others. We might think we’re completely self-reliant and we can create whatever life we wish for, but the truth is that we all need something to help us get there. For some, like me, it might be help meeting very basic needs. But for others, it might be the support of a mentor, the meals cooked by a partner whilst they work late into the night on a new project, or even the word-of-mouth advertising from previous customers.
We all receive things from others every day. It might be as simple as a kind word, a piece of advice, or a pat on the back, but it’s all part of that act of receiving. And re-framing it within that context is really helping me to feel okay with receiving, even when it is something I feel totally unworthy of. After all, I might not be giving a lot back, but what I am giving (in my love for my family and friends, for instance) is all part of the give and take nature of life itself.
the joy of receiving with love and gratitude
Which is why, this month, I am focusing on receiving with both love and gratitude. I am incredibly blessed in my life, truly I am. I might struggle on a daily basis with my health and very basic things, but I have never felt unloved. In fact the exact opposite is what I feel – loved beyond measure. And instead of trying to justify why I get to be so loved when others aren’t so lucky, I am trying to be more grateful for what I receive.
And this includes the most beautiful gifts that keep coming my way from an anonymous sender. You may remember that last year I wrote about my Gifts from the Goddess (as I called them). Ever since January 2015, I have been receiving regular gifts without any kind of note as to who they are from.
I feel like this photo simply doesn’t do the painting justice. It is so beautiful in person, with the colours and highlights changing depending on the light source and your position in relation to it. But as you can see even in the photo, the painting is simply gorgeous.
the healing power in receiving
This painting, which stands at around 3ft in height, arrived just like all my other gifts. It was completely unexpected and had no message within it to tell me who it was from. It also arrived at the most perfect moment, as I was sitting in bed sobbing at how ill and weak I am right now. And in an instant my whole energy changed…
As we peeled back the protective packaging, my breath was taken away by the beauty within. I have seen prints of paintings by Tiana on our trips to Glastonbury, and even admired the large pieces of artwork within the Goddess Temple and Goddess House. But never could I have dreamed of having a piece of my own to hang in my home and gaze at every single day.
This past month I have been trying to sit and meditate with healing mantras every day. My experience has been that even if I cannot physically do more, simply sitting and focusing my energy on the breathwork, mudra (hand positions) and mantra is powerful. I feel the energy building up and can visualise it healing both myself and those around me. And this has only become even more powerful since being able to do so whilst sitting in the presence of this beautiful painting.
the gift of inspiration
Green is a healing colour, and when I shared the photo of the painting with friends online, everyone saw something slightly different. Some saw an Angel (Archangel Raphael in particular) – this is what Little Man sees in it too. Others saw a Goddess, Green Tara, Mother Mary, and even Eve.
This experience has shown me, more than anything else, just how powerful creative works can be in speaking to different people in different ways. It reminded me that one of my greatest gifts is my ability to create experiences and evoke emotions by weaving words in my own way.
By accepting the gift of another artist, I am inspired to go out and create my own works – they say it is in giving that we receive, but sometimes it is in receiving that we can finally give…
So this month I am celebrating the joy of receiving. And I’d love to hear from you about what gifts you have received and the impact they have had on your life. Do share your experiences in the comments below, I receive them all with love!
join in with share the joy
If you want to join in, it couldn’t be easier. Just follow the simple steps below:
1) Link up a creation that has brought you JOY – all genres are welcome, new or old favourites and as many links as you like!
2) Include the Share the Joy badge (below) or a text link back to this page in your own post.
3) Please comment on one of your hosts’ posts and a few others. Let’s Share the JOY through commenting as well as through our posts!
The linky will remain open for the entire month of February, and Christina and I will read and comment on them all. Don’t forget to tweet me @thefamilypatch with the URL to your post using the hashtag #sharethejoylinky so I can retweet it. You can also tag Christina at @LadybugHome1.
Feel free to invite your friends to join in – JOY is always better when it’s shared!
Welcome to this new series – WordPress for Beginners. The idea for it came when I realised that I personally knew several people who are struggling to get to grips with WordPress. Some are fellow bloggers who wish to switch from another platform (such as Blogger), others are business owners who have outgrown the free sites offered by Weebly and Wix. All of them are finding the steep learning curve that comes when you first start with WordPress challenging, and so I decided to create a series for them.
wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide
I remember my own feeling of overwhelm when I first started using this platform, even though I’d been blogging for around 8 years by that point. It isn’t that WordPress is overly complicated – once you know how it works, it’s really very simple to use. No, the problem is that there is just so much to it. WordPress is such a powerful platform – there really are no limits to what you can achieve with it. But first, you have to find your way around.
Which is why I’ve decided to create this series with annotated screenshots and step-by-step instructions to help you get to grips with WordPress as quickly as possible. I hope to take the frustration away and replace it with a sense of satisfaction as you begin to discover the joys of using WordPress.
A series of 10 tutorials
As there is so much to learn when you first start using WordPress, I have broken it down into 10 easy to follow tutorials. This is the first, and the others will follow shortly.
The Dashboard – Finding Your Way Around WordPress
Themes – How to Choose and Customise A Theme
The Page & Post Editor – Creating Your Content
Plugins – How to Choose and Install Plugins
Back-Ups and Updates – Keep Your Site Secure
SEO and Yoast – Optimise Your Site with Help
Widgets & Menus – Create Your Sidebar and Footer
Settings – Fine Tune Your WordPress Experience
Jetpack – Advantages of this WordPress Plugin
Troubleshooting – Finding Support When You Need It
So, are you ready to get started with WordPress?
first things first…
This post relates to using the self-hosted wordpress.org rather than the free wordpress.com platform. It also assumes that you have already sorted out hosting and installed WordPress. If you haven’t already done this, you might like to try Salt and Light Solutions for your web hosting. They helped me to switch to WordPress back in 2014 and I have been very happy with their service ever since.
why start with the dashboard?
When I started to plan this series I realised that many of the WordPress for Beginner posts available on the web assume that you already know your way around WordPress. But unless you are familiar with the layout of the dashboard, telling you to “create a new post” will leave you wasting valuable time trying to find the right place. So I decided to start right at the beginning.
how to access the dashboard
To access the dashboard (which is the name given to the back end of your website), you need to log in first. To do this you need to visit yourURL/wp-admin or yourURL/login. You will see the following screen.
You will have chosen (or been sent) your username and password when WordPress was first installed on your web host. It is likely that this will have been emailed to you, however if not you can access it by logging into your web host, or contacting them for help finding it. Once you have it, I suggest using a system such as LastPass to securely save and remember your username and password, avoiding the need to re-enter it each time.
the three parts of the dashboard
Once you have logged in, you will see the dashboard. It is split into three distinct parts – the main screen, the sidebar, and the notification bar at the top of the screen. These are highlighted below.
The simplest way to describe this is that the main screen is where most of your work happens, whilst the sidebar acts like a menu allowing you to choose what shows in the main screen. The notification bar is pretty much what it says – a bar where you get notified of updates and comments that may need your attention. Let’s look at all three sections in turn.
the main screen
When you log in to WordPress for the very first time, you will most likely be welcomed by a section on the main screen helping you to create your first pieces of content and start setting your preferences, as shown below.
You could, simply work your way through those links and create the beginnings of your website. However, I’ve always preferred to understand where everything is right from the start (which probably explains why the welcome message is still showing on my screen years after I started using WordPress – I’ve ignored it so much that I’ve never thought to remove it!)
If you’re like me and want to find everything on the dashboard itself, rather than following the quick links offered on this front page, then keep reading. I’ll cover each section shortly.
But before we move completely from this main screen, I want to point out a few helpful shortcuts that you can find on this first page when you log in…
at a glance
This section highlighted here shows you a snapshot of your website as it currently stands. It’s a helpful little “at a glance” view of how many posts, pages, and comments you currently have published, as well as how many comments are currently waiting in moderation.
Another helpful little section is this one, which allows you to quickly type in a post title and ideas for a post and save it as a draft. I’ve never actually used this, as I tend to go straight to the post editor, but if you’ve logged in just to make some quick notes for future posts then this could be quite useful.
updates and messages
Finally, as you begin adding more content and plugins to your site, you will begin to see updates and messages on the main screen when you first log in. These are often from plugin creators asking for access to something, feedback from you as a user, or even offering you the chance to sign up to their newsletter.
Most of them I simply dismiss, but it’s always worth reading them properly before dismissing, as sometimes they are really important – such as when WordPress rolls out an update (more on this in part 5 of this series).
You may have noticed that in the image above there is a little blue box around the bottom part of the sidebar. This is because, as I was mentioning plugins in that image, I wanted to show you where access to most of the plugins you install will show up.
But what else is in the sidebar?
access to pages, posts, comments, and feedback
Near the top of the sidebar is a section which provides access to the main content on your site. This is how you access the page and post editors, which allow you to create new content or edit content already published or in drafts. You can also access the comments left by your audience and, if you have a contact form installed, you can access submissions using the “feedback” link.
You’ll notice that my sidebar has lots of orange circles with numbers in them – this is how WordPress lets you know that there is something which needs your attention. When I took this screenshot I had 4 comments which needed moderating and a submission to my contact form.
access to site settings and tools
Slightly further down the sidebar is a section with links to you site’s appearance, plugins, users, tools, and settings. Appearance is where you change theme and customise your chosen theme. Plugins are additional bits of software which enhance your experience of WordPress (more on this in part 4 of this series). And users is where you can add people as authors and editors to the site, if you want others to be able to access your site and upload content.
Tools and settings are both really important in helping you to get your site to run exactly as you want it to. We’ll cover these more in part 7 of this series. For now, just have a look – a lot of it is self-explanatory.
The notification bar
Finally we have the notification bar at the top of the screen. It is a really helpful overview of the key things within WordPress.
From left to right you have:
The W sign – click on this to access WordPress support Your Site Name – click on this to view your site Arrows + Number – this is the number of updates you need to do, click on it to access them Comment + Number – this is the number of comments awaiting moderation, click to access them + New – this is a shortcut to create a new page or post
(When you are in the page or post editor, you will also see a “view post” option, which you can click to see a preview of the post. Certain plugins, such as Yoast, will also show notifications on this bar).
Front End View
If you click to view your site, you’ll notice that the notification bar will still be visible, as shown below.
Click on your website name again to go back to the dashboard. Or click on the paintbrush and “customise” link to go directly to the theme customiser (more on this in part 2 of this series).
Finally, on the right hand side of the notification bar you’ll see your name and another comment box. Clicking on your name enables you to edit your profile or log out. The comment box let’s you know when someone has replied to a comment you have left on their site, if you have done so using your WordPress login (usually via having a WordPress.com account and linking it to your WordPress.org account via Jetpack – more on this in part 9 of this series).
To be perfectly honest with you, I tend to ignore the right hand side of the notification bar, so don’t worry too much about this.
and that’s it…
Congratulations – you now know your way around the WordPress dashboard. I hope that this has been a helpful introduction, and that you’ve had chance to click on different sections to explore them a bit. I’ll cover each of the main sections in more detail in the rest of the WordPress for Beginners series. If you’d like to be notified when a new post is published, you can subscribe to the blog via email using the link in my sidebar (to the right) or by adding my URL to your blog reader.
And if you’ve found this post helpful, please do help others to find it by sharing using the buttons below,. I’m always particularly grateful for shares on Pinterest. Thanks.
Welcome to Share The Joy – your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration! Since September this year, I have been co-hosting the linky with three other wonderful bloggers (Carol, Christina, and Lizzie) over on my other blog. However earlier this month I decided to bring everything here to The Family Patch, and it’s wonderful to welcome you to the linky here for the very first time!
what is share the joy?
If you’ve never taken part in Share The Joy, then you’re in for a real treat. Bloggers from across the world and spanning all genres join in by sharing posts that have made them smile. It really is a lovely linky, with several bloggers linking up week after week, and new faces joining in as we begin to spread the word. If you’ve never taken part in a linky before, it’s really very simple – you simply add the URL to your chosen post (new, or old) in the link up at the bottom of this post, and then visit and comment on at least one other link added by another blogger. The aim is to share the joy far and wide, and find new blogs to enjoy along the way.
what has made me joyful this week?
This week has been a really challenging one for us in so many ways – Tim and I have both been very ill, jobs we needed to get done have been postponed (leading to an ever-growing to-do list), and life has just felt hard.
However this weekend reminded me of the wonderful community we are a part of, and what a difference that truly makes in our lives. We spent Saturday at our church’s Christmas Fair, and had a wonderful time chatting to friends whilst Little Man did his Christmas shopping. Oh, how it filled my heart with joy to watch him eagerly write out a list of people he wanted to buy presents for, and then choose presents and pay for them with his own money.
And then, today, we went to Cafe Church and had a wonderful time chatting with friends about our plans for the coming weeks, how we’re planning on going to the Advent Study, and whether we might make the Folk Carol Service on Christmas Eve and even the service on Christmas Morning. This time last year was a turning point in my faith journey, as I began to realise I could fit in here. And this year Tim really wants to take part too, so we really do feel like we have become a true part of the community, and that is so exciting to me.
My favourite post from last week’s linky
Of course, there’s another community I love as much as the one in my local area, and that’s the online community! One of the greatest joys of co-hosting this linky is reading through all the posts each week. When it is my turn to host I try to choose one which really stood out for me, even though it is really hard to choose just one sometimes.
Last week there was a post which really spoke to me, and that was the one by Rachel from Rachel Ridler: Mum on a Mission, about the app for her local council. Reading how Rachel is using the app to report issues to the council, providing the “eyes and ears” that they may not have in the local community, made me realise just how often we feel out of touch with those who run our towns, cities, and countries. How often do we feel like our voices do not matter, or there’s nothing we can do to change the situations where we live? Not very often, it seems, these days.
And so to see a local council trying to change that, and a local resident taking it on board and really running with it, made me smile. Do go have a look at Rachel’s post from last week if you can, to find out more about it and how she’s using it to try and support her local community.
And so, to this week’s linky…
If you want to join in, it couldn’t be easier. Just follow the simple steps below:
1) Link up a creation that has brought you JOY – all genres are welcome, new or old favourites and as many links as you like!
2) Include the Share the Joy badge (below) or a text link back to this page in your own post.
3) Please comment on one of your hosts’ posts and a few others. Let’s Share the JOY through commenting as well as through our posts!
Well, hello there! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have the new look Family Patch back up and running. Once I had made the decision to rebrand the site and integrate all the stuff from Spirit Kid Network into this single blog, I felt the creative flow suddenly burst open and I couldn’t wait to get writing again. But of course I had to do all the behind the scenes preparation first, and as I’m not in the best of health right now it has taken me near on two weeks to sort out the new look.
But it’s finally done and I am so happy to welcome you back to my little corner of the internet. What do you think to the new look? Do you like the logo? What about the choice of fonts and colours? And the layout? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it… I personally love it, but does it work for you? I love the clean design, the clear sections, and the fact it is all set up ready to let the content I create shine. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? I’m a writer and a creator and I want that to be the main focus here, not some fancy design that takes me forever to create and distracts me from what I love the most.
So what’s new?
Well, Tim and I are about to start recording the daily poems for my Advent at The North Pole series. This is something I created way back in 2009, but the videos I created then were terrible. They were recorded on my laptop webcam, so you can imagine the quality! I’ve wanted to redo them for years, and now I finally am. We’ve got the gorgeous characters below, a Christmassy backdrop, some festive music, and a better camera. The plan is to post a new video every day during Advent over on YouTube and we’d love to see you there.
what else is new?
I’ve also got a free Activity Advent Calendar the whole family can enjoy. This is something I created last year for Spirit Kid Network, and we loved doing the activities within it. There are 24 colourful activity cards to print out and each one has a whole A4 page of supporting material to help you make the most of them. There are even blog posts and Pinterest boards to give you even more ideas for some of them. Oh, I am so excited about Christmas this year.
You can download the Advent Activity Calendar over on my new and improved Freebies page. There you’ll find 5 different freebies that you can download directly from the website. There’s no need to sign up to any mailing list in order to download your copy – just click and enjoy!
it’s all about the love of blogging
All of these changes reflect the fact that I am finally rediscovering my love of blogging. I first discovered blogging way back in 2006, long before it became the big business it can be today. Back then it was all about sharing your heart, and nobody worried about social media strategies and marketing. Over the past few years I’ve allowed myself to feel like I wasn’t doing a very good job as a blogger because I wasn’t investing the same time on those things as other bloggers do.
And all of it has done nothing more than make me feel like a failure. It stifled my creativity, made me think that I had to separate my content into different sites, and even made me consider giving it all up. So to find myself back at this place where I am simply enjoying blogging for the sheer love of it is so amazing. I can feel the passion for it running through my veins as I type this, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.
But for now I’m going to end this post so I can get cracking with the videos. Have a wonderful week, everyone!
I’m linking up with my Share The Joy Co-Host Christina this week, as this post has certainly brought me a lot of joy! Do check out the #sharethejoylinky for your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration.
You’ve probably noticed it’s been rather quiet here at The Patch lately, and there’s a reason for that. I’ve been really struggling health-wise, and in an attempt to keep going through everything that has been going on, I decided to focus on other areas such as Shortman Media and Spirit Kid Network. However I really, really missed writing here and so I am finally making the time and space to come back to this wonderful little blog of mine.
Last week we headed down to Glastonbury (my favourite place on earth) for an impromptu holiday, and for the first time in so very long, I knew what I needed to let go of in order to begin creating the life I want. The things I want have changed so much over the past few years, and it all started when I went from wanting to have a big family to trying to force my grief over my pregnancy (and loss of more children) into something positive. I poured all I had out into campaigning for others and trying to make the most of a situation I found so incredibly challenging, and in doing so I failed to recognise what I needed most – to embrace all the parts of who I am.
Years ago I wrote constantly. I’d scribble things on napkins in cafes as inspiration hit, I’d spend hours reading and writing about the things I found most exciting or intriguing, and my whole life revolved around communicating (I was a language student, after all). And for a while there I completely lost that side of myself. I got caught up in trying to “be a good blogger”, following advice from others rather than simply writing from the heart. And I did this because I felt I had lost who I was, and so I couldn’t identify myself without turning to other people’s interpretations of what it meant to write a blog.
And in my life as a whole the same thing happened, as I tried to figure out what it meant to be a mother, a successful employee (and then freelancer), a wife, a friend… I didn’t allow myself to be sick, even when I was sick, because I didn’t think that was what I was meant to be. I tried to keep up with people far healthier than I am, hoping to somehow redeem myself and my worth through being something other than who I am. And I never allowed myself to feel the grief and the pain and the anger over where I found myself, because I didn’t want to accept them as a part of who I am.
And all of that led to an intense loss of self, a situation where I forgot that as humans we are beautiful, multi-faceted beings, who sometimes fall so very low and need to stay in that darkness for a while before climbing back out into the light. By trying to lighten my situation constantly, I ignored a whole part of my soul, and ended up splitting myself in so many different directions I had no idea where my centre lay anymore. And the more I did this, the harder I fought to keep up the charade.
My time in Glastonbury changed that, however. I had some wonderful Soul Healing at the Goddess House, where a wonderful lady called Mandi Thorne explained how she could feel my resistance to let go. I have been clinging on to a false sense of control for so long that I am terrified of letting go and allowing all the emotions to bubble up to the surface. They scare me. And that needs to change.
So I’m taking tiny steps towards embracing the whole of who I am, rather than trying to be who I think I should be. And a large part of this involves closing down my other site (Spirit Kid Network) and bringing the spiritual resources I was trying to create over there to The Family Patch. When I set up SKN I did so because I didn’t think the resources fit here. And that was a mistake, because they are a huge part of who I am.
You only have to look at my posts over the past year to see I have written far more about my faith here at The Family Patch than I ever did over on my spiritual site. And that is because I pigeon-holed that site too, making myself believe that if it was about me and not a resource for kids it didn’t really belong there. I ended up losing my voice completely by splitting the parts of who I am so strictly.
So over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be rebranding The Family Patch to reflect this new integration of all that I am. No longer will I worry about whether it’s a craft blog or a health blog or a spiritual blog or whatever else I think it should be in order to fit in. It is a beautiful, complex, and disorganised place where I can share my heart as I journey towards better health and healing through honouring all that I am. And I am so delighted to be moving in this direction.
I chose the name “Instagram Queen” for the amazing Harriet from Toby and Roo, because it just fits her perfectly. With over 80 thousand followers on instagram, it is clear that she really is the bees knees. Her hilarious accounts of what it’s like to be a parent of young kids (the “I just wanted a bath” video being a classic example of this) have captured the hearts of so many. But as Harriet herself said, “if content is queen, then engagement is her king”.
I’ve been lucky enough to know Harriet for several years now, having first met her at another conference way back in 2014 (that’s a long time in the blogosphere, don’t you know!) And it has been a joy to watch her passion and skills lead to great success in her online work. So it was absolutely no surprise to me that her session at the Blog On Conference this past weekend was packed to brimming
There was so much information given out during the short 45 minute session – it’s been a long time since I have needed to write as fast as I did to get it all down (I really must learn shorthand one day!) I kid you not, I have 4 pages worth of notes to share with you, and even with all of that Harriet was still gutted that she couldn’t fit more in. That’s why she’s the Instagram Queen, and that’s why I’m sharing my notes from her session with you all – because they are awesome.
Instagram is keyword searchable – make sure that both your profile and your images take this into account.
600 Million people use instagram every month. It is estimated that 68% of those are female, and 90% of them are under 35.
Analytics will tell you when most of your followers are online – use them to help you connect with others more efficiently. You can access analytics if you have a business account. If you don’t have a business account, you can try third party apps like Squarelovin.
Post consistently – if you have under 10k followers, post 2-3 times per day; if you have more than 10k followers aim for 1-3 times per day.
If you post more frequently than this, your engagement will drop. Instagram no longer works like a timeline – it shows your posts to those you are most engaged with you, so if they see multiple posts from you it will come across as spammy and they will stop engaging.
Equally, if you don’t post consistently, you won’t give your followers a chance to engage with your content and they will become less likely to see it in future.
Put your niche before your name in your profile (e.g. Harriet’s says, “Parent Blogger. Harriet” not “Harriet. Parent Blogger”). This means that when people search for parent bloggers to follow, you will come up in a search easier than if your name was first.
Add an email address to your profile – make it easy for people to contact you.
Also make sure your website is in your profile – it is the only place on instagram where you can add a clickable link, so use it!
Your profile image should be on brand – that means either a photo of you or of your logo. People want to see who you are.
Have 3 things that you are known for and stick with them (Harriet used the example of two of hers, which are always using emojis, and swearing!)
Don’t try to copy others or worry about how successful they are – build your own style and success.
It is possible to be too niche – don’t worry about doing something slightly different from time to time, as long as you can make them relatable to your core niche. Brands will look at your feed, and it is if too narrow, it may result in you losing potential opportunities.
Harriet used the example of how she worked with a Nails Inc and created an image of how she found time to pamper herself as a busy mum, as that would speak more to her audience than a photo of her painted nails alone – see below.
A post shared by Parenting Blogger Harriet (@tobyandroo) on
HOW TO GROW YOUR INSTAGRAM Account
This is where Harriet’s brilliant phrase, “If content is queen, then engagement is her king” comes in…
Follow other Instagrammers within your niche.
Comment on other photos within your niche.
However much you comment, comment more! People will see these comments and come to your profile to find out about you – this can (and does) lead to new followers.
Like things, a lot. However, don’t do it all at once as you may get blocked by instagram. You will usually get a warning from instagram, followed by a “soft block”, which can last anywhere between 12 hours and a week. Finally, if you keep doing it, you could have your account deleted.
If you see the hashtag #ad, comment to support your fellow bloggers and instagrammers.
But remember that your niche is not other bloggers (support them, but remember your niche is not “blogger”).
Unfollow people if you’re not engaging with them – you aren’t helping them by being an unengaged follower.
THE BIG NO-NOS
Never buy followers or likes – it is obvious when you have done so.
Avoid follow for follow opportunities – they’re aren’t supportive. Instagram is ratio sensitive and so they will know. You are actually capped at following a maximum of 7,500 accounts, and some brands will ask that you follow less than 2,000.
Don’t play the follow/unfollow game with your fellow bloggers – this is popular in the US and a lot of businesses do it on instagram, but whilst it works it really annoys a lot of bloggers.
Don’t use automated systems for commenting and liking – instagram is slowly shutting them down and they don’t help with engagement anyway (plus they annoy people and are often really obvious).
hashtags and keywords
People won’t find you unless you market yourself, so hashtags and keywords are vital.
Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags on a post, so use them all! Think of them like flyers – you wouldn’t print out a load of flyers and only hand out a third of them, so why only use a third of the hashtags you’re allowed to use.
Always place hashtags in the first comment rather than the caption – this avoids making people scroll down incessantly.
Research relevant hashtags and keywords using the instagram search function, and aim to get into the top 9 results (i.e. those that show first on the search results screen).
The number below a hashtag or keyword on the results page shows you how many people are using it. You will have far more luck getting into the top 9 results if you use a less popular hashtag, rather than one which has 100k+ people using it.
The top placements in the search results are worked out based on the speed of engagement in ratio to the followers someone has, rather than the total number of likes per post. This means that smaller accounts have a better chance of showing up in results.
Have presaved lists of various hashtags and keywords you can use for different types of posts. This makes it much quicker and easier to use them when posting.
Be aware that instagram is moving away from using hashtags to keywords, so make sure you use carefully selected keywords in your caption to compensate for this.
This change in the use of keywords instead of relying on hashtags alone has led to various speculation over “shadow banning”. Shadow banning is not a thing – The Social Media Posse have done some research which shows this change towards using keywords for SEO functions, rather than hashtags.
HOW TO BOOST ENGAGEMENT
Instagram’s algorithm is based on speed – it’s all about how many people engage with your content within a certain time frame.
Join in with like for like threads (i.e. those where instagrammers share an image they would like engagement on in return for engagement on one of your own posts).
Use hashtags and then comment and/or like the top 9 results for each hashtag used straight after you post your image. They are likely to return the favour.
You should be making use of this feature.
Aim for between 5 and 30 stories per day.
Do one just after you post, so followers know you are on the app.
They are ideal for supporting other things you have done, to direct people to a blog post or specific instagram share etc.
If they are sponsored, they must include the #ad hashtag.
MAKING MONEY FROM INSTAGRAM
Instagram is second only to YouTube in terms of monetary value.
The standard rate is 1-10% of the number of instagram followers, if you engagement is good (e.g. 10k followers = £100 per post).
Engagement rates for standard users is around 1% – to work with brands you want yours to be between 2-5%. If it is higher than this, make sure you say so when talking with brands. However it’s important to note that some niches will always have a higher engagement rate than others.
Your overall theme is what matters – numbers aren’t enough if your feed isn’t well curated.
When pitching to a brand, show them examples of previous posts that had a good engagement, and make them relevant to your idea for the work you want to do with the brand. This helps them to see your vision and know that it will lead to good engagement.
PITCHING TO BRANDS
Brands will often contact you with information regarding current campaigns – if you want to be involved with a brand try contacting them and asking if they have a campaign you could collaborate with them on.
Look at what other bloggers are working on – which brands are actively seeking collaborations with bloggers and instagrammers.
Check the hashtags #ad, #spon# #sponsored, #advert, and #collaborative to find current campaigns.
Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find the name of the person you should contact at the brand you wish to work with. Sending an email to the right person will make a big difference.
Utilise contacts from previous campaigns you’ve worked on.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Check with your apps can do – some apps have access to your account and can like things for you. Not all of them do this, but some do, so it’s important to monitor your account.
Phew… can you believe Harriet managed to fit all that into 45 minutes? It has taken me longer than that to type it all up! I do hope that it has helped you feel more confident with growing your own instagram account – I know I have got a lot of action points to follow myself.
If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you’ll know that I love nothing more than a blogging conference! I love the opportunity to get together with like-minded people, actually have a chat over a cuppa with people I usually only ever speak to online, and attend sessions from some of the most inspirational bloggers around. So it’s no surprise that I jumped at the chance to attend another conference this year.
My biggest concern this year is not nerves, but rather a hope that I will be well enough to enjoy the event as much as possible. Last year was the first year I didn’t attend a conference since 2012, and it really upset me. This year I’m determined to make it to at least one, so keep your fingers crossed for me that I’m having a “good day” on 21st May!
I’ve never been to BlogOn before (despite hearing amazing things about it), so it’s doubly exciting for me to be preparing to attend it. Which is why I decided to take part in the Linky, to try and “get to know” some people before I get there. Blogging conferences are always quite a blur of names and faces, and so it’s always handy to have a vague idea of who you might meet (to save you staring at another person’s chest, trying to make out their name and where they blog).
So, without further ado, here are my answers to the BlogOn Linky…
Share a recent picture of you:
Um, okay, most of my recent photos are selfies from my bed, so here you go… I promise I won’t be wearing PJs on the day!!
Describe yourself in three words
Determined, Passionate, Stubborn
How long have you been blogging and what made you start?
Over a decade now… I started in 2006 as I was coming to the end of my final year at uni. I was looking towards the future – what did I want to do, what were my dreams, how might that happen etc? Blogging just seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me, as a linguist and a writer…
What was the inspiration behind your blog name?
My very first blog was called “Dream of Living” (based on my above questions!). When I met my husband, I changed to “Me and You at 22” (we lived at number 22, it wasn’t a play on our age). Then in 2010 I left my full-time job to explore other options, as I knew I wouldn’t be well enough to start a family and work full-time.
At that point I upped my game a bit with blogging, posting 5 times a week (I still wasn’t big on using social media though) and changed the blog to “Amanda’s Patch”, so it became my patch of the internet, and was a play on the fact I wrote about gardening and crafts.
When Little Man was born in 2011 I realised I wanted the blog to reflect the changed nature of my life, and so I changed it to “The Family Patch”. I sometimes wonder if it still reflects what I write about, but I can’t imagine being anything else now.
What is the best thing to come from your blog so far?
Friendships. I have some blogging friends I made way back in my early years as a blogger, people I have never even met, and yet they are still people I truly care about and who genuinely care about me too. I’ve also made some amazing friendships with people I have met at conferences, which is even more exciting as they become IRL friends as well.
That, to me, is the greatest gift blogging gives anyone!
Your most remembered thing from your childhood
Oh gosh, I’m not sure I can choose just one thing. Can I share a few?
Holidays at the caravan with my Grandparents Having free access to the sewing kit and being able to create whatever I wanted Getting up before anyone else at the weekend and writing stories Spending my pocket money at the Church Bazaar to buy Christmas presents Reading books under the covers when I should have been asleep!
Something interesting you might not know about me is . . .
Oh this is a tough one – I am such an open book I’m pretty sure I’ve shared most things on here at some point or another…
I suffer terribly with Imposter Syndrome and low self-esteem, and am constantly expecting people to rumble me and find out I haven’t got a clue and have been winging it this whole time. I undervalue my skills, feel like the smallest fish in the very big pond that is blogging, feel completely blessed that people actually like me, and am more likely to think, “I can’t do that” than “I can”.
I think this may actually surprise quite a few people, because despite battling these feelings every single day, I’m very determined and refuse to let it beat me. Sometimes I think I’d quite like a quiet life where I don’t feel sick to my stomach with worry before doing something like trying to grow my blog, walking into a crowded room, taking part in an interview etc, but then I remember how good it feels to have come out the other side and I keep going. (And, actually, once I’m doing it I usually enjoy it, it’s the worrying beforehand that gets me).
So, if you see me and think I’m a confident social butterfly, know that I’m actually just too stubborn to let nerves and shyness beat me!
Which social media platform best describes your personality and why?
Instagram. I love the intimacy that comes from sharing snapshots of your life, and am inspired by the more staged shots too. I think my life and personality is very much reflected in the delicate balance between real-life and what we show to the world on a daily basis!
What is your happy song?
Oooh good question… at the moment I think it would have to be Cleveland by Jewel. I absolutely adore this part of the song:
From the air things look so ridiculous Our fears so small, our fights so vain I wanna pilot a plane with you So all our problems look small, too It’s only an inch from me to you Depending on what map you use
What is your favourite alcoholic drink
I don’t really drink alcohol – even the smallest amount makes my head spin, my stomach churn, and my body feel all antsy.
That being said, I do quite like a sip of my husband’s whiskey, or coffee Baileys at Christmas!
What is your favourite cake?
Chocolate… anything chocolatey will do fine, thank you very much! Preferably without icing/frosting… I find that too sweet for me.
I’m quite suspicious of takeaway food… My husband was sick after Chinese food at the beginning of my awful pregnancy, and the first time I had a gluten free pizza delivered I was sick all night too (although that was more likely due to working late and eating too fast and getting terrible heartburn, but still, we don’t have a good track record with takeaway food!)
Where is your dream holiday destination and why?
In the UK, it will always be Glastonbury. That feels like home to me.
Abroad it would probably be Sweden. My aunt comes from Sweden and whenever she describes it I think, “wow, I really want to go there and experience that!”
What would your superhero name be?
Haha, I’m serious… you remember I said I am always waiting for people to figure out I’m just winging it? Well, I’m actually pretty good at it… I once led a 2 hour seminar at uni on the railway motif in Dr Zhivago and I hadn’t even finished reading the book at that point!
If you had a magical power, what would you want to have and why?
The power to heal… because I know how truly awful it is to both suffer and see those you love suffer, and not be able to do anything about it.
What one weapon would help you survive a zombie apocalypse?
I would most likely die in a zombie apocalypse… partly because I get everything going, so if a virus turned half the world’s population into zombies I’d be one of the first to catch it, and partly because I haven’t watched enough zombie movies to educate myself on the best kind of defense!
If you could send something into space, what would it be?
A copy of all the space themed books, films, and tv series I could think of… wouldn’t it be funny for someone to come across our visions of space exploration from things as far ranging as Star Trek, Star Wars, Galaxy Quest, Babylon 5, Firefly, 2001: A Space Odyssey… (I could go on, but that would just be ridiculous!)
What would you have on your gravestone?
Other than my name? Probably that I lived my life as well as I could, brought more joy than despair to the world, and am heading off on a great adventure into the unknown.
You make headline news around the world in 2 years time… but for what reason?
I’d like it to be for some kind of social reason – e.g. I was part of an initiative to change something like housing, healthcare, justice, religious tolerance etc which is having a deep impact on the health and wellbeing of many.
If an EMP wiped out all mechanical forms of transport, how would you get to BlogOn?
I’d walk… I’m assuming social media still exists, right? So I’d blog and tweet and instagram my way there, asking for suggestions of campsites and places to eat as I went. I’m not sure how many days it would take (with the state of my health right now I’d probably have to leave in February haha) but I’d try to make an adventure out of it (plus it would be great blogging fodder, wouldn’t it?)
Well that was certainly an interesting series of questions… If you’re going to BlogOn too, why not check out the Linky and join in with it too?
I’m going to begin this post with a little disclaimer; I have been registered as self-employed since Spring 2010 and have, during the years since, done the odd bit of freelance work here and there. I’ll be even more honest with you, when I first registered as self-employed in 2010 I had every desire to go 100% freelance as soon as possible. However, back then I was far more naive about what it would take to succeed as a freelancer, and I had all but given up on the idea of earning more than an extra bit on the side by the time 2011 rolled around.
So when my sister-in-law approached me about redesigning her company’s website last year, I must admit I was slightly dubious about the idea of turning my side hustle into an actual business. After all, when your self-employed earnings are simply an added bonus on the side, it doesn’t really matter if it succeeds or not, you’ve still got your employed earnings to fall back on. And, being the “responsible” adult I always try to be, it seemed rather too risky to put all my eggs into one basket and simply go for it when I actually had a job which paid the rent and which I utlimately enjoyed.
However, following my sister-in-law’s advice and encouragement, I set up Shortman Media as a way of bringing all my online media and communications experience under one roof. It meant that I could invoice her for the work I did more professionally, and I had the basis from which to expand my services as and when I wanted to. At that point the idea was still to run the business as a side hustle, rather than my main income provider, taking on work as and when I had the time. But it seems that life had different plans for me after all…
What followed were several months of increasingly challenging health issues. At my worst, I could barely get out of bed, and I spent the vast majority of 2016 being tested for one thing after another. I was signed off work in July 2016 and never made it back, because my symptoms were simply too complicated and erratic to enable even a phased return to work. And throughout it all I began to see everything slip away – my health, my financial freedom, and my ability to do work which gave me a sense of both satisfaction and accomplishment.
Which brought me to the very end of last year, when I gained a certain amount of clarity regarding my future. Instead of seeing freelance work as the riskier option, I needed to look at it as the more flexible option, which would enable me to return to work far sooner. You see, the work I do is mostly based on the computer – I can do that in my office on good days or from my sick bed on bad days. Being freelance also means I can work at 7 o’clock in the evening if that is when I feel at my best, rather than being tied down to standard office hours.
And let’s not forget that freelance work pays me at least double, if not more than the hourly wage I had been bringing in through employed roles. Even taking on board the need to save up for NICs, tax, quiet periods with little work, and unpaid holidays, this difference in pay means I wouldn’t have to work as many hours to still make ends meet. That’s got to be a bonus for anybody, but especially somebody who is chronically ill.
Now I don’t want to paint a perfect picture here – the decision to go 100% freelance was not an easy one. I am well aware that most businesses fail within the first 5 years (often sooner), and that there is a huge risk in trying to start up at the best of times. I’m under no illusions that this is going to be easy and I’m not going to worry about where the work is going to come from.
But the fact remains that going freelance is still my best option right now – the alternative would be relying on my employer to keep my position open beyond the 6 months they already have (which I am incredibly grateful for!) and hoping to qualify for ESA as my SSP entitlement runs out. Out of those two options, I’d much prefer to take things into my own hands and try to make this freelance thing work, wouldn’t you?
So, it was with a heavy heart that I approached my employer about ending my contract due to ill health and made the leap of going 100% freelance last month. I shall remain connected with my employer on a voluntary basis, because I really did love the work itself, but the time had come when it was in all our best interests for me to leave. And as shocking as it may sound, I am actually starting my freelance journey with not one but three clients on my books.
If you’d told me this is how I would start 2017 I wouldn’t have believed you. But the truth is that when you put your mind to it you can make this happen, even when you’re feeling beaten to the core (I have spent the vast majority of December and January very sick and yet I’ve still managed to get this sorted). All it takes is courage to face the unknown, reach out for support, do your research, and then just go for it.
But what’s different now to where I was in 2010 when I first tried to go freelance? Why did it fail to kick off then but is doing so well now? Well, age and experience have a lot to do with it.
In 2010 I’d been blogging for 4 years, but blogging was still relatively unknown and social media still hadn’t taken off in the way it has done in recent years, so the idea of making money from online media as an unqualified (but experienced) blogger just didn’t seem doable to me back then. In the almost 7 years since, I have developed this blog, launched a second one, assisted employers with their social media, taken part in charity campaigns, co-authored a book, attended multiple conferences, spoken at a blogging conference, and become active in blogging groups. All of that combined is a huge amount of experience that I simply didn’t have in 2010.
I’ve also had the wonderful experience of being supported through one-to-one coaching sessions both personally with Pippa at Story of Mum and professionally with Michelle of Michelle Reeves Coaching. Between the sessions with these two wonderfully inspiring women, I came to realise the potential of what I had to offer and that I can do this, even when I am struggling healthwise. In fact, my health issues even make me more aware of my strengths and abilities, because I have had to learn to adapt and grow at every stage.
I’ve learnt about the importance of developing multiple income streams, so that the work I do with clients via Shortman Media isn’t my only source of income. Those quiet moments between clients need some kind of passive or alternative income stream, and so working on both this blog and Spirit Kid Network enables me to focus on ways to boost my income when needed. But because I have chosen to work with clients as my main income, I feel less stressed about making my blogs as profitable as possible, which is something that I know would cause me more stress than necessary.
And that’s the biggest lesson I have learned throughout my freelance journey so far – you have to do what you love, otherwise you simply won’t get up and do it. Because let’s be fair – it’s hard enough to motivate yourself to go to work when you’re being paid a salary, so forcing yourself to do something you really dislike to secure that next contract, really isn’t going to work, is it?
So that’s where I’m at – after years of being self-employed with the odd bit of work on the side, I have finally taken the biggest leap of my life and decided to go 100% freelance. I know it won’t be easy at times, and I know that what I do will change over time (already my services on my website don’t truly reflect the work I’ve ended up doing), but I have confidence that this time it really will work. Because it has to. And, because I know I have the support I need to make it work this time.
I’m going to be updating my freelance journey on here, if there is interest in hearing about it, so please do leave me a comment below and let me know what you think. I’d also love to hear from you if you do any freelance work – how did you choose to go down that path, and is it what you expected?
Have you tried Livestreaming yet? Do you even know what it is? Livestreaming is a big thing right now… it began a few years back with Google Hangouts and developed further with Periscope and now Facebook Live (my Crochet Chats are done using Facebook Live). Snapchat and Instagram Stories bring even more ways of connecting with your audience, and so it’s clear to see that “going live” is where it’s at right now.
Each of the different platforms mentioned above bring their own unique ways of connecting with others in real time, and choosing the right platform for you will depend on what you want to get out of it and where your “tribe” (those people you instantly connect with) are. It’s like any kind of social media, really, some will suit you better than others.
But it can be overwhelming when you first start out, with so many options to choose from, which is why it’s beneficial to connect with others to discuss what they’re doing, how they’re finding it, and why you should really give it a go! And that’s exactly what the Live Broadcasting Support Group on Facebook is all about, and why we’ve recently started holding a weekly Twitter Chat (#321LiveChat) in order to connect with others across multiple platforms.
I haven’t used Twitter very much this year at all, so getting involved with the Twitter Chat has brought me back to the platform I once loved and used so often. And today I discovered the new feature of Twitter Moments, which I am already starting to fall in love with! So, I decided to make the most of it and pull together my Top Moments from the #321LiveChat last night and embed them in a blog post here at The Patch. I’ve chosen tweets that provide a varied view of Livestreaming and I hope they prove interesting and helpful to you.
Why not give Livestreaming a go, or connect with us on the Facebook Group for daily chat and support. The group is a very friendly place where you can give Livestreaming a go without doing so publicly (a great way to build up confidence and get hints and tips from fellow Livestreamers). And don’t forget you can join in the Twitter Chat every Tuesday between 8:30 and 9:30pm. We’d love to see you there!
Well hello there – welcome to our new look! What do you think? Do you like it? I certainly do. I’ve been wanting to redesign this blog for quite some time, but I kept putting it off and putting it off, and then suddenly this week I just decided to go for it. And oh how glad I am.
It feels great to have a crisp, clean look to the blog, and it is really inspiring me to get back on here and write, write, write. There wasn’t really anything wrong with the old look, it just didn’t inspire me anymore. It felt outdated, like it reflected who I was two years ago when I first migrated my blog over from Typepad to WordPress, and I’m just not the same person I was back then.
I felt trapped by the old design, and constrained by the themes that I had written about so heavily since having Little Man. It’s been a tough few years and whilst I have appreciated having a place to share all of that and raise awareness of certain things, I felt the need to step away from my past and focus on where I am right now – moving forward with hope and positivity. Life is still hard, believe me, but my mindset has changed completely over the past few months and I want to share more of that with you.
I thought long and hard about how to structure the new design, what categories to include, and even whether I should rename the blog itself! But in the end I realised that this blog will always be a place to talk about life, and that includes life as a family. I still felt it needed a better theme though, something that expressed what I hope to gain from continuing to blog here, and so I came up with the “like coffee with a good friend” tagline.
I’ve benefitted so much lately from chats with friends (either in person or over the internet) and love the support and encouragement that comes from being able to talk about everything from the big, life changing stuff right down to the most mundane of moments. And that’s what I want from this space, a chance to connect with you all and talk openly and honestly about everything, both big and small.
I also want this space to retain its friendly and encouraging style, sharing with you all the things that are helping me and my family get through some of the toughest times in our life with grace and gratitude. So you’ll see that I’ve added a new page to the site – Resources We Love – where I will be sharing some of my favourite people, places, and organisations that have had a positive impact on my life. I have more links to add, however I am awaiting permission to use logos for some of them, so please bear with me on this one!
I think that’s everything I need to share with you right now – I’m looking forward to connecting with you more over the coming days, weeks, and months. Let’s try and really embrace the “like coffee with a good friend” feel to The Family Patch and get to know each other some more. I’d love it if you could pop a comment below and let me know who you are (or if you’re a long time reader, let me know what you think to the new look!) and what you’d like to see here at The Patch so that I can be sure what I write really does encourage and support you.
And if you want to chat some more, you can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram if you’d like to connect off the blog – I’m just getting to grips with Facebook Live videos and absolutely love the community over on Instagram. Perhaps I’ll see you there?
Today hundreds of bloggers are meeting together in London for the annual conference run by BritMums, rebranded this year as #BML16 for their 5th year. I have been to BritMums Live (as it was previously named) every year since 2012 and, as always, I initially purchased my ticket as soon as they became available last year.
I had every intention of attending this year too, even writing a post about it for the BritMums blog, because the thought of not being there never even crossed my mind. Walking into The Brewery each year feels like returning home. Meeting up with old friends and making new ones is such a wonderful experience when you spend the vast majority of your time connecting online (if I ever doubted I was a people person then BritMums Live certainly confirmed it for me!) and I never, ever wanted to miss it.
But then I got sick. Or rather, the underlying illness and exhaustion I’ve been experiencing for years now took a massive turn for the worse, and despite ending 2015 with hopes that we were getting on track with my treatment, 2016 has brought more questions than ever. I’ve spent the vast majority of the year desperately hoping to feel better, but a couple of months ago I realised that I simply had to accept the fact I could not guarantee I’d be well enough to attend #BML16.
So I sold my ticket. And it turned out to be a really sound decision, as I have spent the past week pretty much confined to my bed with flu-like symptoms, yet again. Unlike the trip we have to London next week, which will be an easy day trip and possible to manage even if feeling under the weather, I knew that the full schedule of #BML16 would be impossible to manage if I weren’t 100%. Being so sick this week has reassured me that I made the right choice.
And yet, my heart is breaking. I’m seeing all these updates on Twitter and Instagram from people I know at an event that has been an integral part of my calendar for the past 4 years, and I’m not there. It is yet another blow to my already fragile heart, making it clear just how sick I am. And as much as I already know this, for some reason today it feels harder than ever.
I guess it’s because this is where my passion lies – blogging, networking, communicating, socialising, it’s what I do best. This past year has been a little bit crazy, with setting up a new blog and a new business (admittedly both of these have been very slow to grow because of my current health, but growing they are) and I actually took several months away from The Family Patch, my online home of more than 5 years.
But coming back to it has been an absolute delight, a homecoming of sorts, and quite a revelation as well that I have an awful lot of evergreen content on here that has kept my stats steady despite no updates or promotion for well over 3 months of the year! It’s another reminder that this is what I do, this is what I am good at, and this is what I love the most. So to miss out on #BML16 because of my health is like a punch in the gut.
I know that I can follow it all online, and I know that the conversation continues long after the event itself. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s posts and sharing in their joy… but I wish I had been able to be there too. And that is where the greatest motivation lies for this healing journey I am on, to regain my health so that this time next year I’m right back there with everyone, enjoying every single moment.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other motivations to get well, because there truly are. I want to be well because, quite frankly, being this sick sucks. Big time. I don’t think I’ve ever been this ill in my entire life, and that’s saying something! I want to be well for myself, and for TJ and Little Man. I want to be well so that I can work without exhausting myself entirely. And I want to be well so that I can finally step onto this path of writing and networking that has always been my destiny but which I have shied away from making my career for such a long time.
Which is why being well enough to attend #BML17 is my greatest motivation yet – if I can find myself heading to London this time next year, with a smile on my face and the courage to say “this is who I am, this is what I want my life to be, and this is how I’m doing it”, then I shall know that I have made an incredible, life-affirming change in my life.
So thanks #BML16 for showing me all that I am missing this year – it’s the heartache of missing you that makes me so determined to change my life so I can see you again!
Well, hello there! It seems like such a long time since we spoke, and I have missed you on so many occasions. How have you been?
I kind of disappeared all of a sudden, without very much warning, didn’t I? I hadn’t realised just quite how confusing that would be until several of you mentioned wondering where I had disappeared too. The truth is that I had an epiphany moment one day when I realised I needed to step away for the sake of my own well-being and I wasn’t even sure I’d come back.
Have you ever had a moment like that, when out of nowhere you just know you need to step away for a while in order to find your feet once more? Looking back I can see that I had known deep in my heart I needed to do it for such a long time but, as is so often the case, I resisted it for far too long. So when that moment of clarity arrived I acted upon it swiftly and surely and I didn’t look back.
I cannot tell you how good it has been for my soul to put that distance between myself and what I had been doing here at The Patch. The past 5 years have been such a massive challenge for my little family in so many ways and by blogging so openly and honestly about it I found that every time I came online I was reminded of each battle, each wound, each pain. I wasn’t able to give my heart, soul, mind, or body chance to heal and that was what I so desperately needed to do.
So you can imagine how amazing it felt to get away, put some distance between myself and the past, and allow myself the chance to begin finding out who I am now and what I want from life. It’s an ongoing process but I finally feel like I have reached a place where I am able to see the scars healing where there were only open wounds a few months ago. I think the best way to sum this up is in a thought that came to me just the other day…
If you want to add value to the lives of others, you have to first add value to your own
It’s akin to the old saying “Healer, Heal Thyself” really isn’t it? For too long now I have been trying to help inspire, encourage, and support others when I desperately needed to do that for myself first. Over the past few weeks I have started taking great strides in that direction and I have to say it is really making things flow in such a different way than they were before.
Words are suddenly pouring out of my heart and onto the page where once the fear within me kept them locked up. And opportunities to make life-long dreams come true are starting to appear, making me wonder how on earth I ever missed the connection that seems so obvious now (more on this later, it is a whole new direction for me which I’m currently working on behind the scenes).
Even more amazing, for me, is that now that I have started to value my own well-being enough to ask for help I am finding that support is coming from so many different directions I can hardly believe it . Just this past week an unexpected package arrived in the post which came at exactly the moment I was beginning to question things that only a gift like that could answer. And suddenly I find that I have the overwhelming urge to reopen The Family Patch and start reconnecting with you all with a lighter heart and a happier mind.
I’ve given it all a bit of a freshen up, to mark the occasion as I come back to blogging here, but don’t be surprised if it continues to change over the coming weeks. For the first time in far too long I actually feel like it doesn’t matter what I write or how I write it here at The Patch – this space is my own and it is a place for me to do what matters to me. That freedom is something that has been lacking for far too long here and I am so happy to change it.
So, all I have left to say is that I am so very glad to welcome you back here to my little online home. I do so love having you here and I cannot wait to catch up with you all.
I’m sharing this post with the #sharethejoy linky over at The Joy Chaser as being back here at The Family Patch really does bring me a lot of joy!
Today marks The Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the point at which the light begins to return to the world once more. This time last year I wrote a post called Solstice Reflections and reading back over it I am reminded of both major similarities and differences between this time last year and where I am today (it’s like a spiral dance).
Like last year, I have been very sick lately, pushing myself further and further until breaking point at the beginning of December. What is it about me and refusing to stop until something (usually my body) forces me to? But unlike last year, I am in a much better place both mentally and spiritually, if not necessarily physically.
I remember writing about how 2014 had been a year so tough that I felt like my soul had shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Whilst that sounds horrendous, and it was in many ways, it was also a total blessing in disguise. It led me to choosing “Surrender” as my word for 2015 and surrender I have.
These past 12 months I lost my job, moved home, watched a loved one suffer greatly, found two new jobs, supported my husband in a new job as well, helped Little Man adjust to a new home and nursery, and begun to really find my feet with blogging again (two major highlights of which were reading this poem as part of the BritMums Live Bloggers’ Keynote and my recent post on the BritMums Blog about Endometriosis).
I could never have coped with all of these changes without first surrendering to the natural flow of life, which has taught me that no matter how dark things may seem, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in my life, I learnt to accept what is and go with the flow rather than fighting a losing battle. And it has been great.
But I still have a long way to go – this journey is far from over! Whilst I have moved with the flow, this year has moved at such great speed (how can it be December already?!) that my heart, body and soul all need time to adjust. Physically I am beat, and despite my best efforts, pushing onwards regardless has left me very weak. Which leads me to only one conclusion – my focus for 2016 needs to be that of Healing.
If you follow me on instagram, you may have seen that recently I started reading a fascinating book called The Healing Power of The Sacred Woman by Christine Page. Within its pages I have discovered the need to really embrace that which fills me with joy, making time to express myself creatively rather than stifling that great spring of inspiration whilst putting everything and everyone else first. As the author states, it’s often those who are “too nice” who get ill… I feel very much like this is a message I needed to hear (from someone other than my mother – sorry, mum, I know you’ve been telling me this for a long time now!)
Whilst it feels totally against my nature to do so, I have decided it is crucial that I do it. Putting myself first doesn’t mean that I no longer care about others, but rather that I am beginning to understand that only through self nurture can I have the strength needed to truly nurture others (without burning myself out entirely).
So, how am I going to do that?
Well, my thinking is this – I need to take a serious amount of time “out” to focus on the healing power within me, which for me comes very much through the time and space to create and write. I am a writer, it’s what I do. My teachers knew it at school. My friends and family have known it for years. My blog readers have often commented on it, and so have colleagues from time to time. And when I think about it, I realise that I know it too and always have – writing brings me complete joy (regardless of the subject) and when I write I tap into a powerful force of nature, that flows through me, easing my soul.
Looking back over the year I can see that I have started to do this, sharing poems such as Yet Still We Stand and How Long Must We Wait this year, but would you believe there was a time, around 10 years ago, when I wrote something new almost every day? And that year I was happier and healthier than I think I have ever been!
So, for the next few months I want to focus specifically on this – finding time to write and be inspired by the world around me. There is a novel I wrote a first draft of in 2010 which I am longing to rework and expand, and there are opportunities to write stories and poems that reflect all that is happening in our lives. There is also Spirit Kid Network to begin building, a process which I hope to turn into a creative rather than business one. Already I know the way to release the blocks I created through trying to make it “fit” rather than allowing it to be what it is meant to be.
And in order to do this, I need to really make the time and space for it. In recent months I have chosen to sit in bed and read, rather than staying up late watching TV, but I still struggle for time. There are things I have to do – work, cook, clean, look after Little Man etc – but equally there are things I can cut back on. And social media is one of these things.
For years now I have been saying I need to step away, but it seems so much like “social suicide” to do so, especially as a blogger. But you know what, blogging began long before the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and I do think a break from those will do me good. I spend so much time scrolling through them, time which could be spent creating something or actually reading someone else’s blog posts and commenting on them! So that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to focus on the reading and writing and less on the sharing and tweeting, at least for a while. I want to find the “gifts within”, rather than relying on the outside world to feed my soul!
I’ve decided I want to be as symbolic as possible with this – today is 21st December and the Winter Solstice, in 3 months’ time we’ll reach 21st March and the Spring Equinox, or first day of Spring. That feels like a beautiful metaphor for this journey I wish to take – a hibernation of sorts, through the dark winter months, turning inward to find the source of my spark ready to burst forth with life once the Spring appears.
Today is Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox, a time in the year when the day and night are of equal length. The long summer days are behind us now and we’re heading into the dark of winter. It’s a time for celebrating your successes (it falls in the middle of the harvest) and bringing things to a close. If there’s one lesson that I think this day brings, it’s that all things must end, but life still brings beauty with it – after all, Autumn may mark the end of Summer but its rich colours are a new kind of beauty to enjoy!
It’s a slower time of year, a time when we begin to draw within ourselves a bit more and snuggle up close to the ones we love. But just because things slow down, it doesn’t mean that they stop altogether. For me, September has always been a time of new beginnings. I imagine this is partly because the new school year always starts this month. But it isn’t only that, I think Autumn brings a sense of inner reflection, a time for seeing where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be and it is the perfect time to start laying down roots for the coming year.
Which is why it feels perfectly timed that this Autumn I am heading into a whole new project which has been gradually growing in my heart for many, many years and has finally reached the point of realisation. I am starting a new blog…
Now, before I go any further I want to say that this new blog is not a replacement for The Family Patch. I love this little space of mine and I will continue to use it for personal updates and sharing all my craft and home based posts. However there is an aspect of my life that has never really fitted well here, an area that is far too expansive to be just a part of this blog. And that’s what the new blog is for.
I don’t want to share too much with you right now, as I am still putting it all together. But today seems like the perfect time to share this new beginning with you. I’d also like to invite you to join me in this new venture, because this new blog is going to be different. It’s not going to be so personal, but rather a gathering of ideas and (I hope) a community of people interested in “raising spiritual kids in a modern world”. It is far bigger than anything I have done before, and I sometimes wonder whether I am getting in over my head, but I just know that I need to try this.
It all began when a name popped into my head during one of my morning Kundalini Yoga sessions. I don’t know where the name came from, but it just felt right. I’ve enjoyed letting the idea blossom and despite often questioning the name and how it will work, nothing else seems to fit. So, I’m trusting in it and going with it and will see where it leads.
It is an absolute joy to be working on and it fills me with so much excitement for the future. But I need your help. I’ve reached a point where no amount of self-reflection or research is going to complete the plans. This new blog is about community, and for that to work I need to know what others want and how they may like to be involved. So, if you have an interest in spirituality, particularly if you have children (of any age), and are happy to help me with this next stage of development please do fill in the form below so that I can get in touch with you.
As a blogger, I am very aware of the importance that Pinterest can play in connecting people and driving traffic to your blog. I have seen the connections that other bloggers have made, and regularly use Pinterest for finding inspiration and ideas. More often than not, the links connected to the pins lead you straight to a blog rather than a website run by a large company. It’s easy to see how helpful that can be for a blogger, right?
But just because you can see the importance of using Pinterest, doesn’t mean you know how to use it effectively, does it? I use Pinterest almost daily, yet I rarely pin my own blog posts. And I rarely use the few collaborative boards I am actually a member of. So imagine my relief when I discovered BritMums Live had arranged a sesson with some of the UK’s top pinners from within the parent blogger niche.
Jen from Love Chic Living, Jennifer from Jennifer’s Little World, and Helen from Kiddy Charts all happily shared their thoughts and experiences with a room jam-packed with interested bloggers. The session was incredibly interactive, with lots of questions being fired out from the audience throughout, and so I hope I managed to capture all the key points in my notes.
Pinterest now uses smart feed, which means that when you log in you’ll see pins of “related content” that are based on things you have previously pinned
Pins can either be pinned from their source or repinned from within Pinterest itself
It’s important to check the pin links directly to the post you want and not the homepage
Always check and edit the description so that it includes key words (e.g. ingredients used in a recipe)
Do not use hashtags – these are not used on Pinterest and are seen as spam
Making the most of your account
Set up a business account – this is important if you plan to make money via your blog. It also gives you access to analytics within Pinterest. It is easy to switch from a personal account to a business one (NB: I did it yesterday and it really was very simple!)
Once you’ve changed to a business account, you’ll be able to verify your account.
Apply for rich pins – these are pins which have a bold title and provide space for a lot more information than standard pins. Using these will give your pins more weight in searches and they also stand out more in a feed. Pinterest are also adding “call to action” buttons to rich pins.
When people first see your profile, they will only see the first 8 boards, so make these count. You can change the order regularly, so consider making these seasonal.
Remember that we are naturally drawn to the top left of the screen, so make your first board the one you want to be seen first. This is a good place to create a blog board to pin your own blog posts to.
You can pin to your blog board first, and then repin your own content within Pinterest to other more specific boards or collaborative boards. Just make sure that you don’t do this too much in quick succession, otherwise you will be seen as spamming.
Make use of secret boards for pinning ideas and projects you are planning for a future date. You can then publish them when you are ready to go live.
Use sensible keywords for board names and include them in your profile as well.
Make sure your boards are all in the right category, to make sure they are easy to search for.
Pin regularly, but keep it natural by making sure that the pins are relevant to you. Mix things up and pin other people’s content, this is how Pinterest works!
Understanding Pinterest and how it equates to blog traffic
Pinterest works like a search engine and discovery tool rather than a social media platform. You don’t need a lot of followers to be successful, and the number of followers does not always equate to traffic.
Pins are evergreen – don’t delete pins, they will continue to grow organically over time. Seasonal posts, in particular, will be more popular at certain times of year.
Talking of seasonal posts, remember to pin them in a timely manner. For instance, Christmas-themed posts will start to gain interest in October when peple start searching for inspiration. If you pin something in December, it may not gather much interest this year, but could be much more successful the following year.
What makes a good pin?
Always use portrait images with a ratio of 2:3, and never post a landscape image.
Make sure the image is engaging, beautiful, and high quality.
Give it a searchable title
Make sure that the description includes keywords, but that it is also written naturally. The longer the description, the better.
Add teaser text over the image if you think that it adds to it, but remember this won’t always work and some images will be better without it.
Collaborative boards are good for extra exposure and offer more pinning opportunities
PinGroupie is a great way to find collaborative boards and get involved
As part of my BritMums Live journey this year, I have been writing up the notes that I took throughout the conference, a series I have called Lessons from #britmumslive. I feel like I took so much away from the various sessions I attended, that I wanted to share my notes with others so that they could benefit from them too. I spoke to several bloggers over the weekend about how there is sometimes a culture of “non-sharing” within blogging and social media circles, as if keeping our best tips to ourselves will somehow ensure we get “the edge” and remain one step ahead of the rest. But the whole beauty of events like BritMums Live is that we break down those barriers and share, share, share…
One of my favourite sessions throughout the entire weekend was the one held by Kate Hardcastle called Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion. Kate personifies the very nature of sharing success with others, as shown by just how much she gives back through her work. However she also doesn’t mince her words, and was more than happy to lay it on the line and make sure we knew exactly what it takes to make our dreams a reality.
Only get involved with something if you can make a difference
If you’re setting up a business, pitch it to the person most unlikely to accept your idea. If they show interest, then you know it has a chance. Don’t accept responses from friends and family, as they will always support your ideas.
Face your fear factor at the start, plan your journey and discover what you are most scared of. Don’t put it off, as this could become the mountain you cannot climb further down the line. Face it now, and you know you can face anything.
Know your destination – running a business may be like a journey, but you need to know the end result so that you know what you are aiming for (e.g. in 5 years time I’d like to be…)
Finding balance in business
Most businesses that are struggling are focusing too much on one area rather than having a balanced approach (e.g. too much focus on budget and not enough on consumer relations). Kate described this as being like one of those toy mazes you get in Christmas crackers, or on the top of bottles of bubbles, where you need to get the ball bearing into the centre. To do so, you need to hold the maze flat, otherwise you have no chance of getting it into the middle.
Passion – you need this to make sure you keep going even through the hardest days
Persuasion – it isn’t about how good you are at promoting yourself, but rather how good you are at understanding what someone wants/needs and how you can provide this
Persistence – this will help you stick it out and have patience along the way
Politeness – the more your brand is out there, the more people will talk about you. The impression you give is really important, so always be polite.
Beyond the basics
Business can, and should, be attainable for everyone. However it is often clouded in language we are unfamiliar with.
Add the word “respect” to all your literature. It is key word that is universally understood and gives a great feeling of trust. Independent businesses are doing so well because of this.
Listening provides you with all the answers. As Kate mentions, you have two ears and only one mouth, so you should remember this and use them in that ratio.
If you don’t like the word “sell”, change the language. Selling yourself (or your product) simply means you are “serving” a solution to a problem.
Think outside in, not inside out. Do your research and know that business is selfish – you need to tell people about themselves and how you will serve them, not about who you are and what you have done.
Have heart – consumers want real people to deal with. This is especially crucial in today’s climate.
Know your limitations
You’ll always have to make sacrifices, so you need to know what is most important to you.
Say no when you need to, so that when you say yes you mean it (and it means something to you)
Be very honest with your friends and family – it is so easy to feel bound to them and guilty when you can’t meet up all the time. Make the time you can spend with them count.
Make sure that whatever you do, you are there 100% – this makes all the difference!
Accept help when you need it and know your own faults and limitations
Use technology to help you organise yourself.
There is always help available
Access for All is a free business helping hand provided by Insight with Passion. There is a waiting list for this, but it is worth trying if you have a burning business idea.
Customer at the Heart awards celebrate independent businesses throughout the UK who put their customers first. Often award nominations can be challenging as you have to write about yourself, but with these awards the customers can nominate you themselves.
Charity Dreamgirls support smaller, lesser known charities and help them spread their message further.
I’m sure there is plenty more help available, however these are the points that Kate brought up in her session. I do hope that these notes help, they sure have inspired me. I had a lovely chat with Kate following the session and she reminded me to be realistic, knowing when I can change something and when I can’t, and looking for new ways of working when necessary.
This post is part of my series Lessons from #britmumslive. You can find my other session notes below:
As I mentioned in my first Lessons from #britmumslive post, I went to BritMums Live this year hoping to gain as much insight and inspiration for taking my blog to the next level as possible. This included learning how to use social media in a much more efficient way, and so I was very excited when the session “Social Media Optimisation – Doing It All, Yes You Must” appeared on the agenda.
The session was led by the amazing Maggy Woodley from Red Ted Art and Ali Clifford from Kids Chaos. Both are seasoned bloggers, with huge followings across various social media platforms, and it was really interesting to hear about their favourite places, how this has changed throughout the years, and how it differed from other bloggers in the audience.
Here’s what they had to say…
Why do you need to do it all?
Social media is owned by third parties, who are always changing their algorithms. This can massively affect your traffic, so you cannot afford to rely on one platform alone.
If you want to work with brands, you need to be present on all the major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as these are the big traffic drivers
However, each brand will have individual platforms which they prefer, so it is important to be visible across them all otherwise you could easily miss out on opportunities that focus on one or the other.
It looks odd if you have a massive following on one platform and hardly any followers on another. It can make people wonder how authentic you are and whether you have “bought” all those likes.
What does social media “optimisation” mean?
Prioritising one or two accounts whilst still being visible across other platforms
Having a consistent name and profile across all platforms
Grabbing your name on all social media platforms (even if you do not intend to use some of them much, you can still passively grow an audience and it also stops people from using your name for their own accounts).
Connecting all of your accounts for easy posting, but be wary of simply posting everything across all platforms when it may not be relevant to your audience in some places.
Defining Your Social Media Style
Work our what your focus is and go with it – even if people don’t like it, remember that you need to be happy with it
Watermark your images if you can so that they are still recognisable as yours even if they are shared elsewhere
Act like a brand and try to have a consistent image across all platforms
However, remember that your style may vary slightly across the different platforms – for example you may prefer to use a profile photo on instagram and your logo on Facebook.
Understanding the different platforms
Join and use blogging groups to keep up with changes in social media
Pinterest is used more like a search engine than social media platform, with pinners saving links they will come back to at a later time. Be aware that things often get mis-pinned, so it is important to check details when you repin an item.
Twitter is all about chatting with others. Remember you will need to tweet links to your posts multiple times as they will get lost very quickly on Twitter. However it is important to change the wording rather than simply tweeting the same thing over and over.
Facebook is much slower, and so you will annoy people if you simply post the same thing multiple times. Try resharing updates from bloggers with a large following.
Instagram is about connecting with people on a more personal level, and may not lead to visits to your blog. Make sure you interact with people and have conversations on there, rather than simply posting images.
Points to Remember
People like it when you post other people’s content as well as your own.
Scheduling via Hootsuite, Buffer etc can help you keep on top of your social media streams, however it is important to check for interaction rather than simply scheduling posts.
Social Media can take up a lot of time – Maggy shared how she spends more time on social media than she does on her blog!!
It’s not the number of followers you have that brands look for, but rather the engagement you have with your readers.
Work out, in a table, which platforms you focus on, which you passively use, and which you simply need to park your name on, and then use this as a guide.
I hope that these notes do the session justice and help those of you who couldn’t make this session.
Remember, I am writing up all the notes I took at BritMums Live this year, and you can find them all below:
This year, I attended BritMums Live with the intention of learning as much as I could about taking the next step on my blogging journey. I have been blogging since 2006, but apart from a couple of years freelance writing, I have never really focused on using the skills I have gained professionally. All this changed following my redundancy at the beginning of this year, so I was excited to learn that one of my favourite bloggers – Emily Leary from A Mummy Too – was leading a session called Turning Pitches into Profit.
Emily’s session was really insightful (as well as incredibly enjoyable, she really has a great presenting style!) and I thought it would be helpful to type up the notes I made for anyone who couldn’t make the session at BritMums Live last weekend.
As per Emily’s suggestion at the start of her session, try to keep in mind a brand that you’d like to work with whilst you read these notes. Consider whether they fit in with what you write about, and therefore what your audience will want to read!
The Basics of Pitching
Pitching is not blagging – it is about proposing a mutually beneficial working relationship.
A good pitch outline will include: who you are; your ideas; what you can bring to the brand; and your rates.
Who are you? – Your blog strapline (if you have one) may well give you an idea for this. Keep it simple, 1-2 sentences to describe your blog. Remember this may change depending on who you’re pitching to.
Who is it for? – Who is your imagined reader? PRs want to know about your demographics (use your stats, such as google analytics, for this). If there is a key statistic in there, use it, but don’t just rely on stats alone. You will stand out above others by knowing who your readers are. (At this point I was reminded of By Regina’s Ideal Reader Profile that I used when first developing a blog plan at the beginning of this year – you may find this useful too).
What type of content does best? – Look at your most popular posts – what kind of post are they and why do you think these are so popular? Brands and PRs will often split their target audience into several subgroups, e.g. those who love to read and those who love “how-to” posts, so knowing which kind of content does best on your blog may help you here.
At this point in the session, Emily suggested we choose three pieces of our content which shows our best work. I realised the posts I am most proud of are not necessarily ones which are most relevant to brands, so it certainly made me think about this in a whole new light!
Finding Your Best Content
You could start a Pinterest board that is dedicated to your blog and allows you to showcase what you can do. Alternatively you could create a simple list of links showing your best posts. This will then become something you can send to PRs and brands to show what you can do far more efficiently that sharing your entire blog (where you may have a lot of information that is irrelevant to that particular brand).
If you’re written something specific (in my case, this would be posts on Endometriosis and HG) they may no longer be relevant to you and what you’re writing about now. But they will always continue to be relevant to others who are facing those things in their lives right now, and so they can still be some of your best content.
Know Your “Hero Stats”
If you have received details from other brands, look at what language they use and what they are looking for. This can help you determine the best language and focus to use when pitching. You can also use social media and blogging groups to learn more about the brands you hope to pitch to.
What is your reach? – Don’t just include your blog stats, include your social media following, number of subscribers, and any other stat which might create the right impact.
Choose your “hero stats” and give the brands/PRs what they want to hear (think about how infographics and press releases only give you the key information you need to know).
Keep all your stats in a folder on your computer for easy access – this cuts down on time without having to go to each place every time you need them (and update this regularly).
Working Out Your Fees
There is no “magic number” of what to charge – someone with a smaller reach than you may still be worth more to a brand within their niche.
It can be helpful to talk to other bloggers now and again to find out what the “going rate” is. (Blogging groups can be good for this, and if anyone is mean to you, leave the group… there are lots of supportive groups out there, you don’t need to stay in one where people aren’t friendly!)
Fees will be determined by a number of factors, including: research and relevance; quality (this will vary); work involved (factor in travel, materials etc); and licensing (will it be used elsewhere).
Top Tier bloggers (i.e. those who are top of the various blogging charts) earn, on average, £250-£500 per piece of content, with £250 being a very simple piece and £500 for very specific work.
If you are relatively new to blogging, you may not get this kind of money, but remember that you are worth the time you put in and if you are working for less than the minimum wage, you need to question whether it is really worth it.
Know The Brand
Research the brand you want to pitch to thoroughly – use publications such as PR Week and Marketing Week and find out all about their latest work as well as previous campaigns. This will tell you why the brand has hired a PR company, what their advertising does, and what their key message is.
A brand’s advertising department will have their own targets that they have to meet, so you need to be aware of this. Make it easy for them to go to their bosses and explain why you would be a good choice!
Communication is Crucial
Cold pitching is like cold calling – get in touch with the brand and start a conversation. Explain why you want to work with them and this will hopefully lead to a “warm pitch”.
If you receive a press release, try pitching you idea in response (if it is relevant). For instance, you could explain that you don’t normally publish press releases, but at this time you have an idea and would like to work with the brand.
Remember that you won’t win every pitch, but take every opportunity. There aren’t many PRs who will be annoyed by a conversation, as it is their job to engage. Even if you don’t win this time, you could still have made a good impression meaning they may contact you next time an opportunity arises. Slowly, but surely, the number of contacts you create will increase.
Figure out your Terms and Conditions and make them accessible (e.g. they could be on a blog page that isn’t easily searchable but you can still link to when needed).
Know the law and regulations
Always disclose any sponsored work and be clear about this
Remember that in all creative industries, some people will steal your ideas. It happens, unfortunately, so try to trust the brand before contacting them.
Be super positive when talking to PRs
Always be polite
And always be enthusiastic
I really hope that I have done Emily’s amazing session justice in these notes and that they make as much sense to everyone else as they do to me.
I’ve written my notes from other sessions on the blog as well, as part of a new series entitled “Lessons from #britmumslive”. You can find the other posts below:
This year was my fourth time attending BritMums Live, and I did for a brief moment wonder whether there was anything else for me to learn or if I had already picked up most of the tips available in the previous years. But I shouldn’t have worried, because Jen and Susanna came up trumps (yet again) with an agenda jam-packed full of sessions I wanted to attend and I came away brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for taking my blog to the next level.
Jen and Susanna did such a fab job, yet again, by organising the best ever #britmumslive!
I have made copious notes from each of the sessions I attended, which include Turning Pitches into Profit, Social Media Optimisation, Your Child’s Digital Footprint, Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion, and Pinning Ideas. I had initially thought I could summarise all of these points into one blog post, but looking back over it all I am very aware that I cannot. So I am going to write a separate post for each and link to it here. I hope that by doing so, those of you who missed these sessions will also be able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of those who led them!
However, in the meantime, I thought I would focus on what I learned about myself during the weekend, and how that is changing the direction I am heading…
1. I’m a different person now, and that’s a good thing!
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that my life now is so very different to what it was a year ago. I wrote recently about all the changes in the past 6 months, but as one of my blogging friends Emma quite rightly mentioned, the past year has been crazy for me, not just the past 6 months.
A year ago, I was so busy with charity work and the forthcoming publication of the book that I don’t think I even knew who I was any more. The past 6 months has seen a change in this, as I have slowly begun to find who I am and who I want to be, and whilst I may not know exactly who I am, the journey of discovery and change itself is a beautiful thing.
2. I’m a real social butterfly
Last year I spent the vast majority of the conference with a small group of people. Whilst that was lovely, I came away feeling like I had missed something. During my first two BritMums Lives (can your pluralise the name like that?) I had met so many different people, that I had come to see the weekend as a chance to connect with as many bloggers as possible. So it felt strange not to do so last year.
This year I went all out. I don’t think I stopped meeting people, and whilst there is still a list of bloggers I wish I had bumped into or had longer to chat with, I feel like I didn’t miss a single opportunity to catch up or connect with someone new and that makes me happy. In fact poor Emma and Katrina must have wondered what was happening when, mid-sentence, I would suddenly shoot off to grab a hug (and a selfie) from someone I had spotted whizzing by. It’s a good job the three of us had dinner together Friday night, otherwise I don’t think we’d have had chance to catch up at all!
What you have to understand about all this is that, up until my mid-twenties, I was terribly shy and in my teen years that shyness was cripplingly strong. I fought long and hard to overcome it and promised myself that I would never, ever allow fear to hold me back again. Last year shook me a fair bit, as I wondered if I had lost the enthusiasm for social events that I had once held. So I am overjoyed to have had such a wonderful (if exhausting) time this year and cannot wait for the next one.
3. I enjoy public speaking (yes, really I do!)
Leading on quite significantly from the last point, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed being a part of the Bloggers’ Keynote. I knew, going in, what a huge honour it was and leading up to the event I had a fair few wobbles of “why on earth did I think this was a good idea?” But once I actually sat down at the table waiting to go up on stage, I began to simply feel excited to be a part of something so special.
I got to sit next to Rachel from The Ordinary Lovely during the Bloggers’ Keynote – what a weekend for Rachel, as she also won the Fresh Voice Category in The BiBs!
I got up on stage and, aside from feeling rather more emotional than I had expected to (that lump in my throat came out of nowhere, I swear!), I actually had a really good time. Looking out over the room full of bloggers was incredibly powerful, and made me realise just how privileged we are to belong to such an amazing community. I felt calmer than I’d ever imagined I would, and it has inspired me to take up opportunities of this kind whenever they present themselves. I’m a communicator, and an encourager, so this feels like the perfect way to combine two things I love which come pretty naturally to me.
4. My writing is my greatest creative skill
I love so many different creative mediums, but the truth is I am not a photographer, or an artist, I’m a writer. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to do it all, that your blog needs to be visually stunning in order to make it in the world of blogging. But here’s the thing – my blog is not one of the “big” ones, I don’t attract thousands of hits per month, and I’ll never be in the big leagues in that respect. But my poem was still chosen to be part of the Bloggers’ Keynote, and that means something. It means that my writing strikes a chord with others, and that is the way I can connect best with the world.
I have come away from the conference more enthused than ever about my writing, something which was unfortunately quashed quite a bit by my work on the HG book (yes, I published a book, but as an incredibly specific factual piece of work it wasn’t really in my natural style!) I also felt very unsure of writing anything on my blog whilst the book was in the process of being written, as I didn’t want my writing here to be in conflict with the importance of the work I was doing for charity or the book itself. It feels incredibly freeing to realise that the blog is, once again, an entirely empty page on which I can write whatever feels right for me at any given moment.
5. It’s okay to let things go, in fact it can be the best thing you could ever do
This is, perhaps, the biggest thing I learned throughout the entire weekend. My whole BritMums Live journey has focused quite significantly on the writing of the HG book. My very first year I connected with other HG survivors as I shared my plans for the book. My second year I met with a literary agent to discuss publication prospects. Last year I went with a group of fellow HG survivors and my business cards even included information on the upcoming publication of the book. This year, things were different…
The book has been published and I am looking into letting it go completely. And I no longer work for the charity I put so much time and effort into. I won’t lie, I was nervous about meeting up with people I had worked so closely with for such a long time, people who knew me just through the HG world, especially as things hadn’t ended all that well. I wondered whether it would cloud over the weekend and cast a shadow over all the changes I had been making in my life.
But the truth was, I needed have worried. I’m Amanda, not “the HG lady”, and within blogging circles in particular I’m “the one from The Family Patch”. It doesn’t matter that I am no longer defined by my work, because I don’t need to be. It is actually incredibly powerful to realise this, and I am so glad I went so that I could discover this. I’m also very grateful for my chat with Kate Hardcastle at the end of her session, for helping me see through what had happened and acknowledging that letting go didn’t automatically equate to no longer caring.
So, needless to say, I came away from BritMums Live with so much insight into who I am now and where I am heading, both personally and via the blog. And that’s going to take quite some time to digest.
This past weekend, I trotted off down to London for the fourth year running, to attend the UK’s biggest social media and blogging conference. BritMums Live has become as much a part of my year as my birthday and Christmas, and is something I look forward to greatly. Stepping into The Brewery feels like coming home, and seeing old friends again is like having a family reunion… we are, as a community, one great big family that I am so proud and honoured to be a part of.
But, as with all families, it isn’t always perfect. As Tim from Slouching Towards Thatcham so wisely wrote today, the men in our community are incredibly under-represented at these events. Dad bloggers may naturally be outnumbered by mum bloggers at the moment, but the disparity between mum and dad bloggers is even more pronounced when it comes to gatherings such as these. Are we doing enough to make dad bloggers feel as comfortable attending these events as the mums are?
And then, of course, we mustn’t forget that many bloggers are introverts, feeling much more comfortable expressing their hearts on the internet than they do in a room full of their peers. Let’s face it, hundreds of people meeting in one place can be pretty overwhelming for anyone, but especially so for those feeling unsure of themselves or star-struck by some of their favourite bloggers.
But here’s where we come to the thing I love most about this blogging community I’m so proud of – we are all working to make things better, for ourselves and for others. Over the years I have seen bloggers reach out to those they barely know to offer a hug and support when it all gets a bit too much. I’ve watched as those who have had a difficult time at the conference receive comment after comment from others saying “if only we had known…” and “next year, we’ll make it better”. And I’ve been stunned by the absolute generosity and grace of the biggest bloggers in our community, reaching out a hand of encouragement to others, sharing their own fears and concerns, and showing that they are just like the rest of us.
We all have our moments when we feel like small fish in a very large pond. It is so easy to see this year’s key bloggers, the ones who are up for awards or speaking at the conference, and convince ourselves that we will never be as good as they are. But you know what? Ours is a community of sharing, a family of support, and when you take that chance and step out there, you find that you do belong, you are worthy, and you’re just as important as anyone else. Your voice is valid, your voice is strong, your voice is heard.
A couple of years ago I came close to giving up blogging altogether. I couldn’t see where I fit in and I didn’t know what I was doing any more. And then I went to BritMums Live. I was surprised when somebody recognised me, told me how much they loved my writing, for I thought nobody was listening. And I was honoured when a blogger I admired so much asked me not to give up, because that meant she had read my post and cared enough to reach out and encourage me to continue. I left that year with a sense of belonging which I’d never felt before, and it is that feeling which now defines the reason behind my blog. I am part of a community, and what an amazing community it is too.
This year I stood on stage to read out a poem as part of the Bloggers’ Keynote, something I could never have imagined doing until very recently. This little fish in that very large pond finally found her voice. But as proud as I was of this opportunity, nothing could surpass how humbled I was by the entire thing. As I looked out upon the room full of bloggers, I knew each and every one had a story to tell that was just as important as mine, just as worthy of being on that stage. And I realised that, far from being little fish in a big pond, we are a formidable force when we all come together.
It is my greatest hope that every single person who attended BritMums Live this year, as well as all those who were unable to come, recognises just how strong and powerful the words and images they share are. The tagline on the back of my business cards this year was “together we can achieve great things” and this is exactly what I took away from the weekend. Every single time we post something to our blog or social media, we add to a growing collective of voices that are slowly changing the world, making it a better place for ourselves and our families. The post we write or the image we share is as equal and valid whether it touches 1 person or 10,000. We each touch the lives of others, and that is what makes this community so great.
So thank you, all of you, for everything you do. Never underestimate your worth, never forget your strength, and never feel like you don’t belong.
I can hardly believe that BritMums Live is just a few short days away. It feels like an absolute age since we last met at The Brewery, and I am so excited to get back there and meet up with friends old and new. This will be my fourth year and I know exactly what I want to get out of the weekend. However I remember the feeling of uncertainty in my first year, having no idea what to expect, and I have seen so many bloggers write of similar feelings in the #britmumslive meme lately. So I thought I would bring all my thoughts together and create a “Top Tips” style post to help ease those nerves and enjoy the best weekend you can.
1. Set Some Goals
Whilst we’re all going to BritMums Live because we’re all bloggers, everyone is going to have a slightly different set of reasons for going. Some want to go to meet other bloggers, some to network with brands, and some will be going specifically for the sessions. In fact, I imagine most of us go for a combination of these reasons (and more). And with such a varied programme, it is easy to get whatever you want from the weekend. It’s also incredibly easy not to do so too, if you get swept away by the enormity of it all.
Last year I felt like I missed out on the opportunity to meet more people. I had a fantastic time with some amazing friends, but I just didn’t balance out the in-depth chats with the opportunity to network and meet as many people as possible. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy spending the weekend with a few good friends, because I really did, it’s just that I had met so many people in previous years that it felt a bit odd not swapping business cards with more people and finding more new blogs to read. So this year one of my goals is to get out there and just say “hi” to more people.
Your goals may be completely different to mine – you may want to spend your time with a few good friends, or network with as many brands as you can, or even attend very specific sessions because of where you feel your blog is heading. Whatever your goals are, just keep them in mind throughout the conference to try and keep yourself on track and ensure you make the most of a weekend that is packed full and passes far too quickly!
2. Make a “Must-Meet” List
Whether one of your goals is to meet certain bloggers (or brands) or not, I think we all have someone we desperately want to meet. However actually finding them amongst the crowds can be more challenging than you’d realise. It can be so easy to go through the weekend thinking you’ll bump into one of your favourite bloggers, only to come away having barely spotted a glimpse of them. I have done exactly this with a couple of bloggers, people I have failed to meet even after 3 years!
So, if there is someone you really want to meet, make a list and then make an effort to find them at some point during the conference. You may find twitter helpful for this – if you can’t find them, send out a tweet and tag them in it. Ask them where they are and what sessions they are planning to attend. Make sure you find them, otherwise you’ll come home kicking yourself, with another year to wait before your next chance to meet them.
3. Pack Wisely
Do not underestimate the sheer amount of free stuff you will amass throughout the weekend. If you visit any of the brands, you’ll likely come away with samples (and looking through the Sponsors list this year, it looks like this will include some books again too). Talking of books, you may find yourself buying some if your favourite author happens to be signing copies at the conference. And then, of course, there is the big bag of goodies you will be given as you leave The Brewery at the end of it all. I cannot stress enough how much space this will take up – last year I actually took an empty suitcase so that I wasn’t trying to juggle multiple bags on the train home.
Leaving plenty of space for all this free stuff also means you need to pack wisely for your journey down. You will not need half the things you think you will (like your laptop), and probably find you’ve forgotten something you wish you’d taken (like plasters). I wrote about my Essentials List last year, which is pretty much everything I plan on taking this year too.
4. Plan Ahead
Similar to my first two points, you’ll want to look at the Agenda and plan which sessions you really do not want to miss and which ones you’re happy to skip. I always find this part the hardest, as there is usually a clash between two or three sessions at least once during the two days. This is when planning ahead can really come in handy. Know what you want to get from the conference and use it to help you decide which sessions are an absolute must.
For me, this includes opting for sessions which will help me with work rather than sessions I would like to do just for fun. Whilst I would have enjoyed some of the sessions because of the speakers, I am opting for those which will help me build and develop key skills which will help me professionally over the next 12 months. I have not done this since my very first year at BritMums Live and it feels a bit odd, but I know that if I don’t do it I will come home feeling like I wasted a fantastic opportunity to learn as much as I could.
I’m also planning on skipping a session or two so that I can wander around The Hub and meet the brands or take part in activities that I usually miss because I am so busy attending every single session possible! I have been meaning to do this for at least the past 2 years, but I just never seem to do it. But that also means that I end up coming home and seeing photos of all the things other bloggers have done with the brands that I didn’t even know were there, and I want to try and change that this year. The Hub gets very busy during the breaks, so it is easy to miss things or have a very hasty chat with a brand, rather than a more meaningful one.
5. Be Flexible
This is a big one. All my other points focus on planning ahead and making sure you get everything you want out of the conference. But you can be toospecific and miss out on some fantastic opportunities by simply going with the flow. If you’ve met someone new who is going to a session you hadn’t planned on attending but are happy to change your plans, then do it. If you planned on going back to your hotel room straight after the BiBs but are then invited out to dinner with a group of bloggers and don’t really need that early night, then go out and have fun (even if it means a hangover the next morning). Whatever happens, just go with it and enjoy yourself.
I do hope this helps some of you, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at the weekend!
Six months ago, life at The Patch was significantly different to what it is like now. Looking back, I can barely believe how far we have come in just six short months, and it feels important to mark the transition in some way. After all, six months ago I could see no answer, so it’s empowering to remember that no matter how bad things may seem to get there is always hope.
You see, six months ago I was signed off work for a month, close to a breakdown due to work related stress. I had known for some time that I was no longer right for the role, but I just couldn’t seem to break away – my passion for the cause was too great. Stress built up until it reached the point where I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I was consumed by it all. The day I sat trying to tell a doctor what was wrong through the floods of tears, only to hear “you’re not depressed, it’s your situation and you need to change that,” was the moment I began to accept this. It was, quite frankly, the first step in a huge transition that would shortly occur…
Five months ago, I returned to work and discovered I was facing redundancy. Had that happened prior to my talk with the doctor, I may well have fallen apart at this news. But instead, I had taken time out and found my peace. I had prayed for guidance, releasing the outcome to the Universe and had chosen the word “Surrender” as my focus for the year. I was ready to accept whatever came my way, rather than trying to “fix” things myself. I can’t actually explain to you how I did this, just that something had changed within my very being and for the first time I was ready to face the unknown with hope rather than fear.
Four months ago, I worked my last day in my old job and embraced the unknown fully. We had made many decisions during the previous month which we felt were leading us down a better path. We had found a house, closer to my parents, and I had decided to look for part-time work rather than chasing a full-time managerial role, so that I could provide better support for TJ and Little Man and pursue more freelance work using my writing and networking skills. And at first it all seemed to be falling into place. But then the landlord pulled the house off the market and I struggled to find a part-time admin role due to being “overqualified” and time continued to tick on with no work in sight…
Three months ago, I attended yet another interview, this time sleep-deprived and nauseous from a sickness bug that had hit me the night before. It was a job we really thought I had a chance at, but once again the response was “you’re more of a manager than an administrator”. I finally began to feel my resolve wane and took to my sick bed, searching and applying for jobs outside of my usual search. And it was in this moment that I ultimately secured my current role.
Two months ago, we relocated to my home town, safe in the knowledge that I now had a new job (and a few extra hours elsewhere which had resulted from a previously unsuccessful interview). It all seemed to be falling into place, finally. Until just 3 days before we moved when TJ had a major reaction to one of his new medications and it was terrifying! I cannot even put into words how truly awful that first night was, and how much fear we both carried around for several weeks afterwards. You don’t just experience something like that and move on, it stays with you a long time. For all the amazing changes about to happen in our life, it seemed we were to be reminded of just how fragile life can be…
One month ago I started my new job and I could not be happier. I am utterly exhausted thanks to relocating, working more hours than contracted, and working a second job, but it is all good. I go to work happy, I come home happy. I get to know that the work I am doing is, in some way, helping to fund vital research that helps save lives. And I get to meet customers, volunteers and people on work placements every day. Anyone who knows me well will know how much I enjoy meeting people! I get to be creative. I get to contact local companies about opportunities for the store. I am, quite simply, happy.
Alongside this, I have seen a massive increase in my stats for the blog. After almost 2 years of neglect, I am finally finding the chance to connect with the blogging community (both on their blogs and on social media) and the knock on effect is that my stats have increased significantly. I am no longer simply writing for myself. And that makes me happy, because blogging has always been about the community for me. Which is why I am so excited about going to BritMums Live this month and reading out this poem as part of the Bloggers’ Keynote.
But for all the changes that have happened in our lives, there have been two things that haven’t. The first is TJ’s health. We are still fighting for a better diagnosis and more support with treatment, this is an ongoing struggle and one we will continue to fight for as long as it takes. The second is TJ’s job. He has a further commute from our new home and that, along with other aspects, has taken its toll. I have often felt guilty about how much has changed for me professionally and how happy I am in my work, because it feels like I have left him behind in the trenches somehow.
So imagine our joy when yesterday he went for an interview, only to be offered the job there and then. No “we’ll be in touch”, no waiting for the phone to ring and hoping you did enough to secure the position. He went out there, showed what he can do, and secured a new job just like that. I couldn’t be any prouder than I am of him right now, and I hope that this is the boost his confidence needs to know how good he is at what he does.
Which brings me to today and the point of this post – six months ago I could never have imagined that we would be where we are today, both with new jobs, a new house, and a better life. We still have our battles, but we are stronger and happier than we have been in a very long time. We have found hope where we once only found despair. I wrote about this in February, when we were first starting to find our way out, and now we’re here I just want to rejoice.
I’ve got to be honest with you. A lot of things that happen in my life never make it onto the blog. I may be an “oversharer” in many ways, but there are just some things which are too personal to put out there. I remember sitting in a session at BritMums Live last year and hearing Her Melness Speaks, Rachael Lucas, and Cherry Menlove all agree that some things are just too sacred to share, despite being incredibly “blogworthy”, and I couldn’t agree more. My blog has always been a place where my heart is revealed over and over again, but sometimes the things in my heart never make it onto the screen.
But sometimes, this holding back, makes blogging hard. I’ve written before about how, for me, blogging is all about community and I have made some incredible friends through my journey so far. Many of those friendships have been built through mutual experiences, times when it has been so amazing to hear someone else say “me too” when you feel utterly alone. And so when facing challenging times becomes something you simply cannot write about it can feel like you’ve lost one of your biggest sources of support, encouragement and inspiration. Times when people in your close circle of friends in real life simply won’t understand what you’re going through, but you know someone online will.
This year has been one of those times. I’ve been refinding my voice over the past few months and had a really wonderful moment last week when I realised how much my blog has grown in such a short period of time. And yet one of the biggest and scariest things I have ever had to face has been shut behind a closed door. I thought I was okay with that, I knew the reason (or reasons) for keeping it that way, but suddenly it just feels like too much. I feel like I’m losing the battle and the one place I usually come to seek refuge is not an option any more.
But it’s not my story to tell. I am a part of it, but that is a long way from it being my story. One day I might share it, one day when the storm has passed. But not now, not today. All I can say is that someone I love it hurting, terribly, and there’s nothing I can do about it. The depth of their pain, the all-encompassing nature of it, is more terrifying than anything I have ever faced before. And for the first time in my life I feel truly hopeless.
Blogging isn’t going to change that. The hopeless feeling will still be there. But still, right now I wish it could. I wish someone could say, “I’ve been there too” and share their story with me. I wish there was a guidebook for this, a message of hope that all will be well. Because right now, I feel lost, and alone, and that’s the last thing any of us needs!