Lightbulb Moment

This article was originally published on It's Nice That.

I’ll be honest: when I initially wrote and self-published Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women just under a year ago, I had no idea what I was doing. Surrounded by DIY zine culture, and looking for a way to make Women Who – the creative community I was about to launch – stand out, playing to my strengths by writing something seemed like the obvious thing to do. So I did, creating a travel-sized career guide for working women with an initial print run of 250 copies, which to my astonishment sold out in two days. Fears of being left with piles of unsold books abated, I eventually produced another run – yet even when a kind stranger DM-ed me on Instagram saying she had a friend in publishing she thought I “ought to meet”, the penny didn’t drop that I was onto something.

Fast-forward a few months, and said friend is now my editor (Michelle Kane, publishing and PR director at 4th Estate), and I have the luxury of one of the world’s best publishing imprints in my corner. In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it feels like testament to the power of community – and social media – that my scrappy self-published endeavour landed me a proper book deal (and a new lick of paint in the process). For version 2.0, as well as adding a few additional chapters, I decided to cast my net a little wider when it came to advice. Contributors to the book now include fellow 4th Estate authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Anna Jones, as well as The Gentlewoman’s editor-in-chief Penny Martin and artist Quentin Jones (to name a few) – essentially a wish-list of women I’ve long admired from afar, and was lucky enough to persuade to share their career insights with me.

Over the past 12 months, Women Who has gone from a one-woman machine to… well, it’s still a one-woman machine, although the generosity and warmth of the community that’s sprung up around it often makes it feel like it’s much bigger than just me. Since it’s launch last July, I’ve hosted events and workshops with the likes of Kate Moross, Camille Walala, and Pip Jamieson, where we’ve covered everything from how to set your rates as a freelancer, to how to protect your creative work. I’ve thrown huge parties, such as the 170-strong International Women’s Day social I hosted with print designer Kelly Anna, and more intimate gatherings, like a recent ten-person field trip to the V&A Museum’s new Balenciaga retrospective. Hundreds of emails, conversations, late nights, book edits, and design tweaks later, here’s what I’ve learned about work, creativity, and making your ideas happen.



After a talk I gave about Women Who a while back, a woman in the audience asked me whether I’d encountered any common traits among the women I’ve met and worked with over the past year. I often think when people ask this question (or at least when I do) it’s in the vague hope of a Da Vinci-esque code that once cracked, will fast-track their careers and put them on the road to riches – but the truth is there is literally no secret route to success, besides working really bloody hard. The main trait the creative women I’ve met through Women Who have in common is simply that they’ve put in the hours – and not over a few days or weeks, but for months and years on end. Real sustained success doesn’t happen as a result of stunting on Instagram. In order to succeed, you need to do the work. Sorry about that!



I’m very independent and tend to want to figure things out on my own, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Recently, I was suffering from a serious mental block on an ostensibly simple task, and it had gotten to the point where I wasn’t able to focus on anything else because I was so obsessed with this one problem. Eventually I had the good sense to email a few friends to get their opinions, and ended up exchanging a few emails with one friend in particular. She didn’t deliver the answer on a plate per se, but our conversation gave me a fresh perspective on my problem that definitely led me there. My advice? Don’t be afraid to open up your creative process to others – you don’t always have to go it alone.



Every single time I’ve gone against my gut instinct when it comes to decision-making, I’ve regretted it. Your intuition is a powerful thing – don’t ignore it, ever.



If you always endeavour to do the thing that you think is of genuine value to yourself and to others – whether creatively, professionally or socially – you can’t go wrong. For me, the politically explosive events of the past 18 months have highlighted just how important values are in a world that increasingly seems to be run by people who are devoid of any, and have reminded me of how indivisible wider social and political issues are from the day-to-day hustle of being a working woman.


This article was originally published on Guardian Careers.

When it comes to getting ahead at work, your ability to argue your corner and defend your ideas can be as important as the ideas themselves. Don’t let an inability to advocate for yourself be the reason your hard work and talent goes unappreciated. Here’s how to hold your own in any work scenario.



Whether you’re suggesting a new social media strategy or hustling for a pay rise, put your commercial hat on and gather evidence that supports your point of view. This could range from effective strategies you have observed elsewhere or recent successes you’ve had at work. If you present an argument that’s backed up with relevant data – such as statistics or examples of quantifiable contributions you have made to the company – you will find it easier to convince people of your ideas.



Find out who the people you need to convince are and what their agendas might be. Put yourself in their shoes – is the person who has the final say in signing off on your idea trying to meet a target? Are they dealing with a sudden change in management? Or worried about the safety of their job? An obvious but often overlooked truth is that the success of your ideas will depend on your ability to understand other peoples’ needs. I started my career working in ad agencies, and every boss reiterated the importance of being aware of the environment in which our clients were operating.

On a related note: make sure you’re talking to the right person. If you are in a relatively junior position, there might be a few levels between you and the decision-makers in your company. If that’s the case, make it as easy as possible for whoever is acting as a go-between to sell your idea further up the chain. Put together a PowerPoint presentation or a case study, and try to pre-empt and address any pushback they might face. Make their life easier and they are more likely to look favourably on your idea.



It’s all very well doing your homework and being prepared, but the way you present your ideas is almost as important as the ideas themselves. Whether you do it consciously or unwittingly, littering your sentences with caveats and apologies in an effort to seem more agreeable is a sure-fire way to undermine your credibility. Qualifiers like ‘I might be wrong on this but …’, or ‘… does that make sense?’ don’t scream confidence. The same goes for using the word “just” as a way to soften the impact of your words. Instead of saying ‘I just feel like’, say ‘I think’; instead of ‘I was just wondering …’ ask ‘Can you let me know?’. Notice the difference? Stop apologising for having the audacity to have an opinion.



A useful trick if you’re shy about speaking up in meetings is to “say something at the start, even if that’s simply a matter of joining in the pre-meeting small talk”, says Pilar Peace, creative director at ad agency Mother. Often, the longer a meeting goes on without you having said anything, the more pressure you feel to dazzle with whatever you do eventually say, which can make you clam up even more. So break the ice early on. It’s a figurative and literal throat-clearing, so the sound of your voice doesn’t come as a surprise, either to you or to the rest of the room. Try it – it’s a game-changer.

  Photo by Gray Malin

Photo by Gray Malin

This article was originally published on SUITCASE Magazine.

One of the main joys of being self-employed is that – provided I have my laptop, a strong cup of coffee and a speedy wi-fi connection to hand – I can get my work done from wherever I choose. Case in point: when I was working on Women Who (the platform for creative working women I set up in 2016) I impulsively took a trip to Provence a few days before its launch, safe in the knowledge that I could get most of what I needed done without actually needing to be in London, where I’m based. It’s a similar story with the modern career guide I’ve recently written, Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, which I eked out in coffee shops and libraries around the world. As I was writing it, I had in mind the many ambitious and entrepreneurial women I know who – like me – are increasingly drawn to careers they can make work from (pretty much) any corner of the globe.

So far so good – but it’s important to remember that combining work and travel does come with its fair share of challenges – making it work requires a bit of upfront planning if you want to stay organised (and sane). With that in mind, here are some practical tips on how to stay productive when you’re on the go.



  • First things first – make sure you’ve got a decent data roaming plan in place. Without one, you’ll be at the mercy of unreliable wi-fi hotspots – or worse, end up being stung with an eye-watering bill for the sake of a few emails and tweets. Three’s Feel at Home tariff is great for UK-dwellers, whilst T-Mobile provides a similarly affordable data plan for US-based frequent flyers.
  • Consider investing in an iPad and keyboard combo instead of lugging a heavy laptop around with you for the duration of your trip. Downsizing to a tablet can take a little getting used to at first, but you’ll quickly realise you can get just as much done as you would on a laptop, and lighten your load in the process.
  • Check the small print on your travel insurance to make sure it covers any expensive equipment you’ll be taking with you, and that the excess on them isn’t ridiculously high. If you’re travelling on the company dime you’re (probably) covered anyway, but otherwise make sure that loss, theft or accidental damage – all of which are far more likely to happen when you’re in transit – don’t end up spoiling your trip.



    • Clothing wise, stick to clothes made from fabrics that won’t wrinkle easily – so cashmere and wool during the winter, and jersey and polyester-blend cottons when the weather warms up. One-pieces in particular are your friend when travelling as they mean less time spent planning outfits or trying to co-ordinate separates, so opt for jumpsuits and dresses if you can.
    • Being smart about your luggage situation can make all the difference, so keep things straightforward and stick to the following three items:
      • A suitcase (duh). Opt for a 4-wheeled model for maximum ease, ideally in a carry-on size.
      • A work bag for day-to-day use. This should be large enough to carry your laptop and notebooks around town, and sturdy enough not to fall apart on you mid-trip.
      • A small pouch (or two) for storing the important stuff: passports, travel documents, ear plugs, phone chargers – basically anything you’ll repeatedly be reaching for whilst en route, and don’t want hidden in the depths of your luggage.
    • If you can bear to travel with carry-on luggage only, do so – you’ll be glad of it when you’ve just landed and get to skip baggage reclaim purgatory, especially if you’re heading straight to a meeting. Turning up sweaty and dishevelled because you’ve been wrestling a 30kg suitcase from airport to Uber is not a good look. On that note – if you are getting off a long flight and heading straight to work, make sure you pack a toothbrush, mini toothpaste and spare top near the top of your hand luggage, so you can freshen up quickly before landing.



    • As much as possible, try to maintain some semblance of the routine you usually adhere to at home. If (for example) Wednesdays are usually your designated day for sorting out your finances, make that a priority when you’re away for work too. Sticking to your regular routine will make trips away feel much less disruptive, and you’ll spend less time scrambling to catch up once you’re back in the office.
    • Make use of any communal lobby areas in your hotel to work from (or if you’re AirBnb-ing it, find a local coffee spot you can decamp to for a few hours). Staying cooped up in your room your entire trip can make for a fairly claustrophobic experience, which isn’t exactly conducive to productivity – plus, the chance to absorb the local atmosphere is one of the perks of getting to travel for work, so get outside and soak it up!
    Little Black Book Otegha Uwagba

    This article was originally published on Indie Thinking.

    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.


    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!



    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?



    Do I need a separate bank account for my business?



    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.


    Finally - if you missed out on one of Kate's handouts breaking down the different tax structures for the self-employed, I've got ya. Download it here.

    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.



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




    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!



    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.



    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.



    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.



    The most important piece of the puzzle.




    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.



    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.



    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.



    Get your affairs in order.




    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.



    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.



    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!