Nikki Cochrane (45 – left) and Kathryn Tyler (40 – right) 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 also recognised that maternal unemployment is a huge issue; recent research that Digital Mums conducted shows almost seven in 10 stay-at-home mums would go back to work if flexible working was an option.
They knew they needed to take on more people and realised that mums offered the perfect solution. Mums are seasoned experts in many of the skills needed for social media; empathy; multi-tasking; communication; time-management; sometimes peacekeepers – not to mention life experience, which is a much-needed skill when trying to work out what makes different audiences tick. 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.
We caught up with Nikki to talk all things Digital and Mums.
Workingmums.co.uk: How do you feel about your recent success in the Startups 100?
Nikki: It’s amazing to be recognised alongside all these fantastic companies and we’re really excited to have climbed 43 places to number 17 in a year. Next year we want to be number one!
WM: You have been recognised for growth potential and indeed have grown fast. Has this been a challenge and how have you sought to manage it?
N: Our business has grown 600% in the last three years and we’ve 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. Our team has grown with us and with the majority of our employees working remotely and part time, this can have its challenges but we have an amazingly talented and committed team (that’s what you open yourself up to when you’re willing to offer flexible working!) and fantastic technology such as Trello, Slack and Touchcast that helps overcome some of the challenges you inevitably face when you’re not all in the same office, city or even country!
WM: How many mums have had social media training through Digital Mums now?
N: We now have over 1,000 Digital Mums, of which around 542 are graduates and 470 are currently in training and and I still get the same buzz from hearing a student success story now as I did when our first mum graduated. We literally have hundreds of incredible mums who pre-children have had these amazing careers and have either lost their confidence having been out of the working world for even just a few months; lost their previous roles while on maternity leave or are stuck in a 9-5 job and want to find more of balance between career and children. Our training not only upskills them with in-demand social media and digital skills, it gives them their confidence back. Our case studies are extremely moving and motivating. You can read some of the stories here.
WM: How many staff do you employ?
N: We’re growing every day, but we now have around 33 employees – the majority of whom are mums who work flexibly and remotely. Only 14% of our employees are full-time and office based; 86% work part time and remotely; and 17% never step foot in the office.
WM: Have you had to keep adapting the training as social media has evolved?
N: We’re constantly evolving our training – not only to keep up with the changing world of social, but to keep it as fresh and relevant to the working world as possible. Our training may be 100% online, but everything learned on our courses is hands-on and applied immediately in the real world. Our innovative ‘R.E.A.L. Learning’ approach is about learning by doing, giving mums the confidence to get out there and start working with clients on graduation. Our training modules are all created in-house and include guest content from experts like YouTube’s Mamalina, Hootsuite and Buffer to keep content relevant. Additionally, each mum is put in a peer group of six mums to encourage people to share experiences and learning.
WM: What do you see as the next wave of social media innovation?
N: Facebook Messenger bots will get even more capable – think Alexa-style help for the user, transforming Messenger from a place where you chat to friends to a place where you do everything from ordering pizza to banking. Further down the line, I think we’re going to see Virtual and / or Augmented Reality start to infiltrate social media more and more.
WM: How does Digital Mums work? After the training do you allocate work to your graduates on a freelance basis?
N: Throughout our training, we encourage all mums to ‘Do The Hustle’ – to know their worth and get out there and secure business on the terms, hours and money that works for them. This year we launched our ‘Do The Hustle’ course as an added extra FREE bonus four-week course for graduates of both our Social Media Marketing: Associate Programme and the Social Media Management Course. We know that taking the leap into the freelance world can be a daunting prospect and are committed to making it as seamless as possible for our graduates to find #WorkThatWorks. So, this is our answer to addressing the uncertainty and risk of taking the freelance plunge. We’ve mapped out every step of the freelance journey from setting up on your own to where to find work, how to dress for it (thanks to a guest appearance from Dress Like a Mum!) and how to secure it.
Additionally, all graduates join our incredibly active, supportive and exclusive Facebook community – the #DMCollective. Think of it as a virtual office of buddies to brainstorm an idea with (amazing what the hive mind of hundreds of awesome women can come up with), share work opportunities, water cooler moments and virtual hugs with. As well as the online Facebook community there is also the fun of countrywide face to face meetings!
WM: Do you have any plans to go into other tech areas outside of social media?
N: When we set up Digital Mums it was to solve two issues: The digital skills gap: 12.6 million adults currently lack basic digital skills. And, maternal unemployment: discrimination forces 54,000 new mothers and pregnant women out of their jobs every year.
A big part of our teaching at Digital Mums is to ‘test, measure and reflect’ and we apply this to our own business. We genuinely listen to student feedback and look at the barriers our audience face finding flexible work to understand how we can empower even more women with #WorkThatWorks. I can’t share any plans with you at the minute, but let’s just say we’re definitely not standing still!
WM: Are you involved in women in STEM activities?
N: My brilliant co-fo Kathryn Tyler is an ambassador for a charity called Your Life. Their mission is to get more young people to choose STEM subjects at GCSE level and there’s a big focus on supporting girls in this decision- making process.
WM: What do you view as your greatest achievement to date?
N: As well as building a company that has made a difference to so many women’s lives, we’re also really proud of building a passionate team and creating a supportive and nurturing culture despite the majority of our team working remotely. One of our 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.
WM: You did the flexible working campaign recently – is this something you plan to do more on?
N: Absolutely! We launched our #WorkThatWorks Movement last September and won’t stop until flexible working is seen as the norm and not the reserve of a ‘lucky’ few. This year, we’re calling on everyone to sign our ‘Clean Up The F-Word’ petition to change the Government’s current definition of flexible working from something that focuses solely on ‘a way of working that suits an employee’s needs’ to ‘work that works for employees and businesses’.
Recent research we commissioned shows seven in 10 UK employees would like to have flexible working hours, but only 12% have asked their current employer for it, with over half believing that it would be viewed negatively by their employer. The Government’s ‘right to request’ law (introduced in 2014 to give everyone the right to ask for flexible working) will never make an impact while flex is seen as a dirty word and an employee perk. We need employers to wake up to fact that flexible working is about attracting and retaining a generation of workers – not just mums – who are being failed by a rigid and restrictive ‘9 to 5 coat-on-chair’ culture.
We’ve reached over 2,500 signatures on our petition now and secured the support of the London Mayor’s Office as well as a number of MPs, but we still need thousands more to make the government listen. If you believe flexible working should be more readily available to everyone, then please, please, please sign and share our petition. It takes two minutes to do!
WM: What other plans do you have for the next year?
N: We want to empower even more mums with #WorkThatWorks and educate businesses on the benefits that flexible working can bring. This is not only relevant for mums but for millennials too, who have grown up in an entrepreneurial environment where technology is 24-7. Most businesses, however, are still wedded to the 9-5. As a 100% flexible working business, we think we’re in a good place to help make that change!
We’re also piloting a new course this year for mums who work full time to take part in the training. Because of the intense nature of our training, to date it’s not been compatible for those working full time, but we realise this audience perhaps need #WorkThatWorks more than most!
Sign Digital Mums’ petition to #CleanUpTheFWord here.