THE MAKINGS OF A MODERN CAREER GUIDE
 
 
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When it comes to career guidance, there’s certainly no shortage of books on the subject on offer. Rummage through the ‘careers’ section of any bookstore, and you’ll undoubtedly be confronted by an array of workplace manifestos urging you to ‘lean in’ and simply ‘think yourself rich’, perched next to volumes promising a 4-hour week, whilst exhorting you to ‘fail better’.

As a young woman trying to make my way in a creative field (advertising), I quickly found that these sorts of books contained little in the way of guidance for those who, like me, were just starting out – and crucially, they made few allowances for anyone whose definition of success didn’t align with their rather corporate narrative of corner offices and company credit cards. Nothing I found reflected the workplaces I was encountering, or career choices I was being faced with.

So, with Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, I set out to create something entirely different – specifically, a modern career guide that actually reflects the way workplaces are evolving, and could speak to a generation of women who are shunning traditional career paths, and rewriting the rules of the workplace as they do so. According to the Financial Times, 80% of the newly self-employed during the last UK recession were women, and nowhere more so than within the creative industries. But scan the bookshelves – or indeed the Internet – and you’ll find little to reflect this cultural and economic shift. There’s not much in the way of practical guidance for the generation of fiercely ambitious, entrepreneurial and creative women that I’m part of. So I decided to change that.

Unusually for a book of its sort, Little Black Book is devoid of personal commentary, which was a very deliberate decision. Most career guides tend to be full of commentary about the writer’s own lives and experiences, but more often than not those anecdotes pertain to a very specific set of circumstances and reading them can feel a bit like sifting for treasure, as you look for the pearls of wisdom directly relevant to your own experience. To be clear, my personal experiences are definitely still nestled within the pages of the book (trust me), but ultimately, Little Black Book isn’t about me – it’s about you, the reader. Containing only practical advice from start to finish, over the course of 128 short pages I cover everything creative women need to build successful and fulfilling self-made careers in the 21st century: from how to build a killer personal brand to negotiating payrises, via a crash course in networking like a pro, and tips for overcoming creative block.

How do I know it’ll connect? Simple – this is the book I wish I’d been given five years ago, and I’ve filled it with the things I wish I’d known when I was starting out: lessons I learned the hard way, and which I’m desperately hoping other women won’t have to. Then there’s everything I’ve learned from Women Who, the platform I created to support and inspire creative working women, which has mushroomed into a community encompassing thousands of women around the world. And of course, there’s the fact that Little Black Book features contributions from a host of trailblazing creative women sharing insights on how they approach their work, including acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adchie, Refinery29 cofounder Piera Gelardi, and The Gentlewoman’s Editor-in-Chief Penny Martin (to name just a few). My goal is for this compendium of essential wisdom and hard-won career insights to become an indispensable companion to women everywhere – because being a working woman is hard enough without going it alone.

 

This article was originally published on Indie Thinking.

 
EVENT RECAP: TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
 

Two of the most important areas to get right when you’re starting a business are the legal and accounting side of things, but knowing where to start can be pretty tricky – so I was delighted to host a Taking Care of Business masterclass at Vice UK’s London office a few weeks ago. Something of a ‘business 101 for creatives’, we were joined by experienced accountant Kate Levy (Head of Creative Businesses at Wilson Wright LLP) and intellectual property lawyer Amanda McDowall (Trademark Attorney at Olswang LLP), who each gave presentations on how to make sure your business is set up for success from the get-go, before hosting private one-on-one advice sessions. We covered everything from the importance of protecting your brand through trademarking (and how to do that), to how to put the right structures in place to make sure your business is ‘investor-friendly’, and of course, how to keep HMRC happy.

Huge thanks to my old stomping ground Vice UK for hosting us, and to Kate and Amanda for sharing their expertise with us. A heads-up for those of you who weren’t able to join us: I cover the basics of how to protect your creative work, and managing your finances extensively in Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, which you can pre-order here. In the meantime, I’ve summarised a few of their top tips below. Enjoy!

Boring but necessary disclaimer: these notes have been summarised to the best of my ability, and were correct as of March 21st. They are meant to give general guidance of the various legal and financial mechanisms referred to therein, and do not constitute formal legal or accounting advice either from myself, or from Kate Levy and Amanda McDowall. If in doubt – speak to a professional!

 

THE LEGAL STUFF

Choosing a trademark…

When choosing a brand name, make sure you pick something unique and interesting that one that no-one else has used before - You could even make it up! Don’t pick something that is descriptive of the goods or services to which the trademark relates. In laywoman's terms, that means if you're a sofa seller, don't expect to be able to trademark something like 'Sofas.com'

Do your research to make sure that there’s no-one else (ideally at all, but certainly within the same territory as you) using a similar trademark, that might be deemed as confusing to potential consumers. As a first step, you should conduct a search via the IPO (UK) and EUIPO (EU) trademark databases, as well as conducting a general Internet and social media search for anyone already operating under the name under an unregistered right.

 

If you’re on a budget…

It is possible to file a trademark yourself within the UK without assistance from a lawyer (the USA is a totally different kettle of fish..) and both the IPO/EUIPO offices offer a wealth of free information and guidance on their websites. The British Library Business and IP Centre also has a (very helpful!) resident IP expert who can give you pointers. If in doubt however – get a lawyer to do the application for you.

 

On commissioning work…

If you commission someone to do creative work on your behalf, there is no legal presumption that you automatically own the copyright to the work they create – even if you pay them – unless you have an ‘assignment’ (i.e. buy the rights from the person in question) and including wording to the effect of “I hereby assign…” as part of your contract. This is especially relevant if, for example, you’re getting a friend to do some work for you as a favour.

FYI – a license isn’t an assignment. It’s just a permission to use, which means you don’t own the work in question.

 

If you’re employed by someone else…

The presumption is that your employer owns the work you create ‘in the course of employment’. So if, for example, you work for a magazine and blog in your spare time – you need to make sure those two outputs are clearly delineated, and there’s no way that it could be assumed the magazine you work for owns the copyright to your blog content. Got it?

 

THE ACCOUNTING STUFF: A Q&A

Do I need a separate bank account for my business?

Yes.

 

Which bank is the best?

High street banks are all pretty similar, so go to the bank you already hold personal accounts with – they’ll already have all your details on file, which will speed up the account opening process.

 

Should I form a limited company?

A complicated question! Generally if your main reason for setting up a company is the perceived tax advantage, setting up as limited company isn’t really worth it in light recent changes to the tax system by the government. Any tax savings you do make will, in most cases, be wiped out by the accountancy fees required to fulfil your obligations as a company director. That’s the short answer.

Having said that, there are other reasons you might want to consider forming a limited company, including the benefits of separating your personal assets, interests – and liabilities – from those of your company. Not to mention that being a limited company adds an air of professionalism when working with other companies and clients.

 

How do I pay myself, and how much do I pay myself?

As long as you leave enough money in your account to pay your tax bill, you can take the rest of it. How do you do that? You transfer the money from your business account to your personal account. Easy!

 

What taxes will I be liable for?

If you decide to operate as a sole trader, you’re liable for income tax on the profits of your business. For the unaware: profits = revenue – business expenses.

If you have a company, the company pays corporation tax, which is a flat 20% on company profits. What’s left over after company tax has been paid is called ‘company reserves’ and if you send those company reserves to yourself as a shareholder/director (i.e. draw a salary), you may well have to pay income tax on that as well.

 

How do I pay other people who work for me?

If the person in question is an employee (as defined by the rules issued by HMRC), they’ll need to be paid under PAYE, and you’ll need to set up a payroll scheme with HMRC. If they’re self-employed, they simply invoice you an agreed fee, and are responsible for their own tax and NI contributions.

 

Do I need to register for VAT?

If you have sales or turnover of £83,000 or more, you have to register for VAT under the law. Even if your sales fall below that threshold, if you’re a small creative business, there may still be some financial benefits to registering under the flat rate VAT scheme – ask your accountant to find out if those apply to you.

 

What paperwork do I need to keep?

By law you need to keep records – i.e. receipts, proof of your expenses, sales etc. for 6 years.

 

Is there software I can use to make my life easier?

Yes! Xero, Sage or Quickbooks. Xero is pretty user-friendly for those unfamiliar with book-keeping.

 

Can an accountant help me raise finance?

Again, yes! Get in touch with Kate if that’s something you’re interested in.

 
NEW SEASON, WHO DIS?
Spring Flowers
 

Blossoms blooming, sun shining, and finally being able to ditch the heavy jumpers and ankle boots – there’s a reason why spring is my favourite season of them all. If the warmer weather and longer days have given you a fresh burst of energy, why not channel some of that energy into spring cleaning your life, and set yourself up for a new phase of mental clarity and productive working?

Read on for some easy ways to streamline your life inside and outside of the office.

 

Environment

Pay attention to the environments you’re in, and the spaces you create.

 

 

REFINE YOUR AESTHETIC

It’s no secret that the human brain responds well to aesthetically pleasing visuals - if your surroundings are looking tired or drab, that’s bound to have an impact on your day-to-day mood. To refocus your aesthetic in a way that's conducive to clarity, try creating a moodboard full of the sorts of visuals that reflect the vibe you want to recreate in your everyday life. If you're pressed for time (or space) then Pinterest is obviously perfect for creating virtual moodboards, but if you can, hang up a corkboard somewhere you’ll see it every day for maximum impact. Then get creative!

 

DECLUTTER YOUR WORKSPACE

I'm all about the easy wins, and I guarantee you tidying up your desk is a quick and easy task with a disproportionately powerful gains when it comes to improving your mental clarity. That giant stack of papers you haven’t picked up in months? Go through it right now, filing the important things, and chucking the rest (preferably in a recycling bin). Feel better? Thought so.

 

FLORA AND FAUNA

At this time of year everything’s in bloom, and there’s no reason why your indoor spaces shouldn’t be too. Add some greenery to your work and living spaces to give them – and you – an instant boost: snake plants, bromeliads, and rubber plants are all aesthetically pleasing choices that also thrive indoors. Or (if you’re feeling fancy) treat yourself to some fresh flowers for your desktop once a week – I’m currently obsessed with ranunculus blooms, pictured above.

 

DRESS THE PART

If you dress like a slob, you’ll feel like one too – and that way unproductivity lies, so treat yourself to one or two key pieces to refresh your look for the months ahead. Never underestimate the power of the clothes you wear on a day-to-day basis to impact your mindset, and the way you feel about your work.

 

Self

The most important piece of the puzzle.

 

 

PROGRESS CHECK

Why not check in with the New Year’s resolutions you made back in January, to remind yourself of the goals you’ve set yourself for 2017 and renew your efforts on any you’ve let slip by the wayside? Here’s a reminder of how to set yourself up for success when it comes to making (and keeping) resolutions.

 

STRETCH YOUR LEGS

With the warmer weather and longer days, now’s the perfect time to take your workout outdoors, so swap the fluorescent gym lights for fresh air and sunshine for an instant mood boost. Why not keep things interesting by taking up a sport instead of exercising solo – join a local netball or football team, and enjoy the added bonus of keeping your mind stimulated at the same time as getting fit.

 

EAT YOUR GREENS

Warmer weather also means lighter, fresher meals, so try to incorporate more fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet to keep your energy levels up. Chef and food writer Anna Jones is an excellent source of delicious veg-based recipes that steer clear of Ottolenghi-esque levels of complication.

 

Business

Get your affairs in order.

 

 

REVIEW YOUR INCOME SOURCES

If you’re self-employed, now's the time to assess your clients and projects carefully to determine which ones are the money-makers - and which ones are the money pits.Which clients, projects, or strategies are profitable, and which ones require you to spend more time on them than really makes sense? Examine and evaluate where you’ve been expending your energies thus far this year, and think about what you need to do more – and less – of to grow your income as the year progresses.

 

DECLUTTER YOUR DIGITAL LIFE

There’s a lot of talk about the benefits of ‘digital detoxing’ these days – but how do you actually do that? Start by unfollowing any social media accounts that don’t actually add any value to your life (you know the ones), and unsubscribing from all those newsletters and email alerts you don’t even remember signing up for – Unroll.Me is hands-down the quickest and easiest way out there to streamline your inbox.

 

SAVE MONEY

Review your bank statement for subscriptions or accounts you’d forgotten you’re signed up for. Chances are there’ll be at least one or two you never actually use, which means you can make some easy savings with minimal effort.

 

Happy spring cleaning!

 
EVENT RECAP: A WOMEN'S DAY PARTY
 

To celebrate International Women’s Day last Wednesday, Women Who teamed up with multi-talented artist and print designer Kelly Anna to host a Women’s Day Party at Mother London – and what a night it was. 170 (!) of London’s creative women descended on Redchurch St (just a stone’s throw from where we hosted our launch event) for an evening of crafts, cocktails, and bonding over our mutual inability to colour within the lines (or was that just me?). It was the perfect way to spend International Women’s Day, and a reminder of the magic that happens when you get a bunch of women – and a couple of drinks – in a room together.

Huge thanks to all of the wonderful people who made it possible, including cocktail maestro Missy Flynn and the crew from Rita’s Dining, who whipped up those delicious Tanqueray-based cocktails using Jamu Kitchen’s zingy tonics; Zezi Ifore and Kim and Pia for the tunes; Winsor and Newton for all those marker pens; Blackwater Studios for the tshirts; and NikeWomen for those gorgeous (Kelly Anna-designed) tote bags!

And finally - given that the cocktails were such a hit, Missy has very kindly provided us with the recipe for both (below) - so you can recreate them in the comfort of your own home.. I'll drink to that!

The Photos

 

(Click to enlarge)

 

The Cocktails

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RECIPE 1 - PINK GIN AND TONIC

  • Pour out your gin (we used Tanqueray No.10) into a jug and quick-infuse with dried hibiscus flowers - available online, or at plenty of Caribbean grocers as 'sorrel'. The alcohol will absorb the colour and flavour within 5-7 minutes, so don't worry about doing this too far in advance.

  • Strain off the flowers, squeezing out any excess liquid - you can keep these gin-soaked flowers to use as a garnish. The gin can be used immediately, or saved in the fridge until you need it.
  • Pour your preferred measure of gin into a glass filled with ice.
  • Add a good quality tonic water (e.g. Schweppes).
  • Garnish with a slice of lemon and some edible flowers - or the hibiscus flowers you used to infuse the gin.

 

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RECIPE 2 - GIN, JAMU AND TONIC

  • Pour a 25ml measure of Tanqueray No.10 into a glass filled with ice.
  • Add 25ml of Jamu (we got ours from Jamu Kitchen, but you can make your own at home!) 
  • Top up with good quality ginger ale (e.g. Fever Tree) - nothing too sweet, and not ginger beer as that will overpower the other flavours.
  • Garnish with a sprig of mint.
 

Aftercare

To keep your custom Women Who x Kelly Anna t-shirts looking fresh...

  • Hand-wash only (I know)
  • Don't iron the print directly
  • No tumble dryers

Over and out!

EVENT RECAP: THINKING ABOUT DESIGN
 

A few weeks ago, Women Who brought together three women who are shaping the face of design in London (and beyond!) for a design-focused panel discussion in the Ace Hotel’s gorgeous 100 Room. Covering everything from the importance of good mentors to how to self-promote effectively, our panellists Camille Walala, Sarah Boris and Jenny Brewer shared a tonne of insightful advice on how to build a successful creative career.

As always – I’ve recapped a few of the highlights for those who couldn’t join us below, alongside a couple of photos of our panellists in action – enjoy!

 

ON AVOIDING CREATIVE BURN OUT

[SARAH] There are definitely moments when work can feel a bit repetitive, so when I feel that coming on I take a step back and try to do something super-new, or I reach out to people I’ve always wanted to work with, as a way of injecting something new into my life.

 

ON SAYING ‘NO’

[JENNY] Sometimes standing your ground and saying ‘no’ can earn you more respect. My top tip is to use your integrity as an anchor and to really know what you want – don’t be afraid to say no.

 

ON MANAGING CLIENTS

[SARAH] Pick your battles and be patient. You need to be willing to educate your clients about the best way of doing things – and also remember that they’ve come to you because you’re an expert in your field.

 

ON SELF-PROMOTION

[CAMILLE] Instagram works really well for me because I’m really visual, and I love taking photos. I use it sort of as a visual diary of my day, but I am still ‘selling myself’ on Instagram – I don’t have pictures of myself drinking with my friends, for instance. It’s mostly pictures of work or related things. I always try to link my social media to what I’m trying to say about myself, like a brand. The great thing about social media is you can really sell yourself, whereas before you needed an agent to get your name out there.

 

ON SOFT POWER

[JENNY] I’ve worked under two amazing female editors who’ve taught me that you don’t necessarily have to be this bolshy, loud person in order to be assertive and get your point across.

 

ON WHAT MAKES A WINNING REBRAND

[JENNY] Clarity. A very simple idea, carried through with a clear message and purpose. You can always tell when there’ve been too many cooks. It’s all about simplicity –  the great rebrands we see at It’s Nice That have all used very simple ideas, colours and shapes, and there’s a purpose for every element – nothing’s just for show.

 

ON COMMUNICATING YOUR IDEAS

[JENNY] When writing about your work and yourself [e.g. for your personal website, or when pitching media outlets], think of what you’re writing as something you’d read in a newspaper. In the top paragraph a news story will tell you the who, what, when, and why, so consider that when writing about a project, or a biography about yourself.  When you’re emailing someone, apply the same principle – don’t write 500 words about the concept of a project, without clearly explaining what it actually is! Don’t be cryptic. You’d be surprised at how many personal websites fail to include vital information about who the person is, where they’ve studied, where they’re from, and what their inspirations are – that’s all really key information. Editors often don’t have the time to dig deep and find the answers, so you need to get all the facts in there as clearly as possible. Also: have plenty of high-quality, large images of your work on your website.

 

ON GETTING AN AGENT

[JENNY] It can be a really valuable way of connecting with bigger brands and clients – a lot of them don’t have the time, resources, or energy to spend ages finding new talent, so an agent can be a great connector.

 

ON LEAVING A FULL TIME JOB TO GO FREELANCE

[SARAH] I started telling people I was leaving soon, and that if they had anything coming up to let me know – and they did! My network came in really handy, and I think that shows the importance of networking. It’s also important not to be shy about telling people what you’re doing. I get a lot of my projects through word-of-mouth.

 
REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS
 

The reality of the modern creative economy is that it’s harder and harder to be a ‘full-time’ creative, and to make a living exclusively from whatever happens to be your chosen craft. A perfect storm of factors (including but not limited to: an increase in the cost of living, the arrival of the Internet, and a general devaluation of creative work) means that at least initially, you’ll likely have to balance pursuing your creative passions – the work that fulfils you and feels like the reason you get out of bed in the morning – with the work that actually pays the bills.

Whilst that might seem far from ideal, having to fit your creative work around your 9 - 5 doesn’t have to be a bad thing: for starters, it’ll force you to be far more efficient than if you had the perceived holy grail of 24/7 free time to dedicate to your craft. I can tell you from experience that having to balance a side project with a 9 - 5 makes you far more ruthless with your time and quicker with your decisions, both of which are invaluable skills to cultivate. Plus, there's the advantage of being able to experiment with different creative projects and goals whilst still having the safety net of a steady paycheck to keep you afloat. Having the breathing room to test the waters without jumping headfirst into self-employment, or putting pressure on your creative work to pay the bills straight away can be invaluable for the quality of your output.

Whether your goal is finding more time for creativity around your day job just for fun, or you’re trying to pivot your career to a point where your side hustle is your day job – here’s some useful guidance on how to balance the two.

 

DON’T SLACK OFF

Resist the urge to put in time on your personal projects whilst you’re on someone else’s clock. If every time your boss walks past your desk, you’re on the landing page of myhotidea.com, that’s not a good look (and no matter how discreet you think you’re being, your colleagues will notice). At best, it’s unprofessional – at worst you’re leaving yourself open to disciplinary action, or worse. Remember too that most contracts (particularly within the creative industries) tend to include a clause whereby anything created on work premises, or using work resources is by law the property of your employer. Your day job is presumably the part of your working life that pays the bills, so don’t do anything to jeopardise that.

 

GO PART TIME

Try to find out whether there’s scope for you to scale back to a 3 or 4 day week. That extra day or two could be the boost you need to make genuine headway on your personal projects, as you’ll spend less time ‘getting into the swing of things’ and picking up on where you left off. Of course, depending on your current salary and financial situation, the pay cut involved may or may not be feasible – but if you do go down this route, make sure the arrangement is mutually beneficial. That means (gently) enforcing the boundaries of your ‘off’ days with full-time colleagues, who might take a while to get used to your new routine. You don’t want to take a pay cut only to end up doing pretty much the same amount of work, but for less pay.

 

FIND A BUDDY

Ask around – are any of your creative friends also working on side projects? Finding a like-minded person to bounce ideas off or go to talks with (even if you’re not working together directly) can be hugely motivating.

 

SET SOME TARGETS

These could be anything from landing a new freelance client to getting your personal website up and running. Having some concrete goals and deadlines to aim towards will help give you a sense of direction, and keep you on track.

 

START EARLIER

Instead of returning home from a long day at the office to spend your evenings working, why not try clocking in a few hours before you go to work, whilst your brain is still fresh? Something that really worked for me in the run up to the launch of Women Who (when I also happened to be working a full-time freelance contract) was waking up early a couple of mornings a week, so I could squeeze in a few hours of work before heading to, um, work. To say that I’m not a morning person would be an understatement, so that definitely wasn’t easy at first – but realising how much I could accomplish before I’d even done my morning commute meant that the potential of those early starts quickly became pretty addictive. Plus, flipping my schedule also meant I still had my evenings free to wind down or see friends (as long as I was home by a reasonable hour), so I rarely felt as though I was sacrificing my personal life for work.

 

START SMALL

Don’t subject yourself to unnecessary pressure by setting overly ambitious goals – vowing to dedicate every single one of your evenings and weekends to your side project straight off the bat is pretty unrealistic, and commitments like that are only going to set you up for disappointment. Instead start small – aim to put in an hour or two a week, and gradually build up to a level that’s sustainable alongside all the other demands in your personal and professional life.

 

SCHEDULE IT IN

No matter when you decide to make extra time for your side hustle, schedule the time into your diary as you would any other meeting, and treat it with the same level of seriousness. Uphold the commitment as though it were an arrangement with a friend, or a meeting with your boss. Don’t schedule over it, don’t re-arrange it. Just do it.