Wonderful Women Interview with Co-Founders of Digital Mums, Nikki Cochrane and Kathryn Tyler
Nikki Cochrane (45) and Kathryn Tyler (40) are co-founders of Digital Mums, which they launched in 2014 to empower mums to find #WorkThatWorks through upskilling them with in-demand social media and digital skills so they can find flexible roles that sync with family life.
Kathryn has worked with some of the most innovative schools around the world, including the Innovation Unit, where she spent four years as Head of Communications and then Head of Digital. Nikki discovered her love of social media at the most famous ad agency in the world, M&C Saatchi.
Kathryn and Nikki originally set up their own social media agency a few years ago and were overwhelmed with how many businesses needed help to build and manage their social media presence. They knew they needed to take on more people and realised that mums offered the perfect solution.
They also recognised that maternal unemployment is a huge issue; recent research that Digital Mums conducted shows almost 7 in 10 stay-at-home mums would go back to work if flexible working was an option. Social media management offers mums a third way – family life and a career – it’s just a matter of teaching them the skills. So they stopped working for clients and started training up mums in social media instead.
In under 3 years, Digital Mums is well on the way to upskilling 1000 mums and have gone from offering one training programme to 20 mums a month, to two training programmes – the Social Media Marketing: Associate Programme and the Social Media Management Course – to over 100 mums a month. 4 in 5 graduates have found work that works around their families thanks to their training.
Their pioneering work has gained them high-profile awards including Red Women of the Year, Marie Claire Future Shapers and Campaign Digital Mavericks.
Describe a typical day for you?
KT: I wake up around 07:30. The first thing I do is grab my phone and check Twitter for the morning headlines. My morning routine is minimal. I’m out the door quickly and walk my Miniature English Bull Terrier, Cooper, to the office so no rush hour commute for me. Digital Mums has a 100% flexible working policy and our staff are mostly mums working from home so on arrival at the office, the first thing I do is check in on Slack, our team communications tool, then I pop upstairs to say hello to the office based team. The day-to-day running of the business takes all morning.
I’m usually out and about after lunch, meeting anyone from our contacts at LinkedIn and Snapchat, to potential clients or MPs keen to learn more about our flexible working campaign, #WorkThatWorks. I’m always connected to my team no matter where I am, just a quick dip into Slack via my phone whenever they need me. Apart from 3pm. That’s usually reserved for Yoga, which I try to get to most days at the fab Stretch – a local yoga studio with a family-feel.
My work day doesn’t end at 6pm. Evenings are the busiest time in my day. We have hundreds of mums learning new digital careers and they are most active after 8pm so our training team are always busy during the evenings. Once I’m back from my evening dog walk I’m on the laptop until around 10pm. I always make time for a couple of Netflix episodes before bed.
NC: I’m an early riser these days, so am usually up around 6.30am. I make a cup of coffee and review my emails and our internal comms channel, Slack. I make a green smoothie every morning to take to work for me and my work wife, Kathryn, and usually a healthy salad for lunch. At around 8am I take my dog, Rolo, out for a walk and get into the office around 9.30am. I’m not in the office every day as my week is split up with calls, meetings and skypes, so I tend to do any calls and skypes from home. I try and schedule my meetings on the same day but it doesn’t always pan out! I used to try and respond to every email I received on the same day, but these days it’s impossible and I’ve accepted now that it’s fine to get back to emails after a few days. At 3.30pm every day, Kathryn and I take our dogs for a walk and this is when we catch up on the business. We come up with our best ideas when walking and talking in the park. I try and wind my day down by 7pm, but it can be busy in the evenings, particularly if we have a big campaign running.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
NC: As well as building a company that has made a difference to so many women’s lives, I’m also really proud of building a passionate team and creating a supportive and nurturing culture despite 86% of the team working remotely. One of my concerns at the start of setting up Digital Mums was how are we going to create a brilliant culture with a remote team. We’ve managed to do it by making our culture a company priority and coming up with innovative ways to ensure everyone feels included irrespective of whether they are office based or remote. We are also really transparent with the team on decision making, our failures and sharing new ideas and encourage everyone to give feedback on what we’re doing.
KT: Without a doubt my biggest achievement so far is upskilling well on our way to 1000 mums and supporting 95% of them into exciting digital careers that they can fit around their family. There are so many talented women that were previously out of the workforce because they didn’t have the option of working flexibly. The number of mums we’ve empowered with work that works will rise to 1,000 over the next year and that’s why I am so committed to my business.
On a personal level, I am very proud of what I’ve achieved having grown up in a poor Welsh mining community, surrounded by high levels of unemployment. I still can’t believe Nikki and I won Red Women of The Year, and my mother can’t believe I was on BBC Wales News!
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
KT: A personalised gold iPad, which is my favourite bit of tech and a monogrammed Liberty notebook (a gift from Nikki) to keep on the right side of analogue. Slightly less glamorous is the section full of dog toys, dog treats and dog poo bags!
NC: A Mac notebook, an iPad for meetings and a Liberty notebook embossed with my initials. I got one for the work wife and then got serious envy so bought myself one! I also always have a red MAC lipstick at hand, lip gloss and my business cards. Like Kathryn, there’s always a selection of dog treats at the bottom of my bag.
What are your ambitions in life?
KT: I’m at my happiest making the world a better place to live in. I want to see all mothers achieve their perfect work/life balance whether it’s being a stay at home mum, working part time in a fulfilling career or working full time.
NC: Until I set up Digital Mums, I wouldn’t have said I was particularly ambitious. I was always striving to be in an environment where I was continually learning and as soon as this stopped, I’d move on. The learning curve at Digital Mums is pretty much vertical, so I would say I got what I wanted! We want to grow Digital Mums into a global brand and support thousands of mums back into work on their terms so that they have #WorkThatWorks around their families.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
KT: Nothing. All the mistakes I’ve made have been brilliant learning experiences and have ultimately made my business, and my life, even better.
NC: Making mistakes has been a big part of our learning experience setting up the business and without them we wouldn’t have got to where we are today. So I would say there is nothing that I wish I’d known at the beginning of my career that would have added any value.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
KT: I’d like to see myself living in a world where work that works is the norm. I’ll still be leading the vision and strategy for Digital Mums to make sure we play a part in making that happen.
NC: I would like to have supported hundreds of thousands of mums get back into the workplace. We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the number of women we want to empower with work that works. To help make this a reality for more women, our plan is to support businesses to adopt a more flexible approach to working. This is not only relevant for mums but for millennials too, who have grown up in an entrepreneurial environment where technology is 24-7, but most businesses are still wedded to the 9-5.
What advice would you give a budding digital entrepreneur/blogger?
KT: Whether a budding entrepreneur or blogger the key thing is to understand your audience. Who is your target ‘customer’? How are you going to make them pay attention to you? Know them like you’d know a good friend.
NC: Be prepared for the highs and the lows (there will be lots!); be prepared to work your butt off to the point of exhaustion some days; be prepared for things to go wrong; but also, be prepared for the absolute best ride of your life. If you are doing something that you are really passionate about with a kick ass team, then it doesn’t get any better than this.
Finally, happiness is…
KT: Lying in bed with my dog Cooper, listening to the Today programme and defending Jess Phillips MP on Twitter from her many woman-hating trolls.
NC: Hanging out with my dog Rolo. And wine gums! I’m addicted.
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My debut book is my guide to surviving and thriving at work and at home and offers insight into how to create a digital business or return to work with confidence.
Mumboss: The Honest Mum's Guide to Surviving and Thriving at Work and at Home (UK 2nd Edition)