My Day: Julie Thompson Dredge
Julie Thompson Dredge is the founder of Frame PR – a small PR agency for dynamic start-ups across Europe, in sectors from technology to lifestyle. At 35, she found herself frustrated in her 9-5 job, but nervous of going it alone as she wanted to start a family. 5 years later, she has both a thriving business, and a growing family. Here’s how Julie took the plunge, and why.
Motherhood and working for yourself: How I took the plunge to start a PR agency, and make it work for me.
Back in 2014 I was dying to leave my old PR job where I felt trapped and unhappy, but I kept putting the idea off of going it alone as although I found it a hugely appealing prospect and believed in my potential, I could only see huge barriers in my way. I would always say ‘But I have a mortgage, and I want to start a family.’ And last but not least I was rubbish at financial admin and understood nothing whatsoever about tax.
I don’t know which part scared me the most, but it was the family part that weighed heaviest on me as, aged 35, I lay awake at night for what was about a year tossing and turning, at times really excited at the possibilities of what I might be able to achieve on my own, but the next minute sure that my circumstances wouldn’t allow it. I couldn’t fathom how motherhood could possibly be compatible with working for yourself. I knew no-one at all who had done it. How would I be able to have maternity leave? And wouldn’t childcare be prohibitively expensive if I couldn’t? And would I even want someone else to look after my much-longed-for babies? It was a vast field of unknowns.
The only examples of working women with children I knew were the salaried working women who took a lengthy maternity leave to make it work. I presumed, therefore, that this was the only feasible way of doing it.
I was eventually talked into taking the plunge in 2014 by my much bolder and less risk-averse brother (it really did feel like diving off a cliff), and quit my job with just an overdraft to get me started – and no clients. I found my first client on LinkedIn, and quickly built up a lot more, through one that I did some good work for, who was in a tech co-workspace and ended up providing a chain of recommendations and a new biz pipeline. It was so liberating to finally, in my late thirties, be doing everything under my own steam, and the thought of being able to scale it up was so exciting! I realised that I was ambitious, results-driven and passionate about what I was doing, whereas in my last job I had become a frustrated shadow of my former self. After a year I became pregnant, in summer 2015, just when I had about 8 clients and things were really flying. I’ve not taken maternity leave, but, four years later I still have a business that’s exciting me more than ever. Here’s some things I learned that might provide others with the confidence to give it a go.
Maybe Maternity Leave (in its current form) isn’t necessary
Hear me out on this. We live in a digitally enabled world – we can, many of us, especially in the creative industries, fulfil our jobs from home. If you’re really experienced at what you do, you might be able to do it in a few hours a day, when the baby sleeps. If you’re lucky, you’ll have family who can help look after the child. If you’re doing well financially or have savings, you could afford a day or so a week of childcare. When my baby was 4 months old, I got someone to look after her one full day a week. That meant I could go to meetings, and focus a little. The other days I got by when she napped, and used the support of other freelancers I trusted to take over on the heavier workload when I was too tired or otherwise occupied to do everything.
Of course, it’s been an emotional struggle at times. Especially with a first child when you feel like you ‘should’ be doing a lot of things. I couldn’t, for instance, make it to many baby sensory or massage classes, or many coffees with my NCT friends. And of course you have to accept that you aren’t doing either work or motherhood to your utmost abilities, because neither can have your full attention, but I did both things to 70 or 80 percent of my abilities, and actually that felt pretty good. On the baby front, I still managed to breastfeed to 12 months, and puree her food, and take her to the park rather than put her in front of Cbeebies (for the most part!). And on the work front, I saw projects through, and even won new business in those early months. And on the days when I wasn’t totally knackered, I was really buzzing, and I felt proud and fulfilled. And since I was earning money all the way through my ‘maternity leave’, I was able to buy my baby a smart cot and lovely clothes, and everything I was able to buy her felt all the more precious and hard-won.
Use your adrenaline wisely
Survival mode kicks in the moment you go into labour. And then as a parent to a new baby, you’re living on limited sleep and endorphins for months (even years, ugh!). In fact, you’re probably still living on your nerves well into their uni days. Survival mode, and stress hormones actually help with running your own business. They give you impetus and energy when you have very few actual reserves. You do have to learn when to stop though, and when you’re going to crash with tiredness. As the saying goes, ‘naps save lives.’ In those early days, sleep when the baby sleeps for a couple of hours a day and all sorts of things then seem doable. Just make sure your to-do list is small and achievable.
On the baby side, although not someone who readily asks for help, I used a mix of friends, family, and paid childcare. It was scrappy and haphazard at times, but it worked out OK for me. I just had to be on top of the diary a bit. Of course, in 2016, your diary is on your phone and as I fed the baby I could pretty easily ping in a few appointments. And in my case, I had people in my network – ex-clients, old bosses, lovely people I’d met along the way, ‘passing’ me new business. So I wasn’t out networking or prospecting ever, I was at home with the baby 90 percent of the time, yet business was still coming in. I’m sure most people have these ‘enablers’ – those good people, who trust in you and want to help you out (based on your merit as a brilliant person remember!). Use them, and reward them. One of mine got a great Fortnum and Mason hamper for Christmas!
Eradicate the guilt
It’s been said before, but men tend not to feel guilt too much when it comes to parenting. This seems exclusively the preserve of the (usually) high-achieving mother. There is no point at all to guilt. There is no perfect template on how to parent, and even more importantly, people aren’t judging you half as much as you think they are. Other parents are undoubtably obsessing about the bits they don’t feel they’re getting right too. You have to remember, you’re doing it all for the good of your children. In the words of the great philosopher Bryan Adams, ‘everything I do, I do it for you.’
Find a good partner
Helena Morrissy, fund manager and mum of 9, in her recent book says you should ‘marry well.’ Not in the Jane Austen sense, but more in the sense of having someone who enables, and supports your endeavours. Her husband is a Buddhist monk stay-at-home dad, so she knows what she’s saying. I don’t think you have to have someone amazingly supportive at home – in this day and age, a partner might be having a stressful time at work, and they aren’t necessarily going to be this calm, god-like stay-at-home dad…But having any kind of partner, be it business mentor, business partner or life partner, really helps with the mental and emotional support. You’ll certainly need someone to bounce things off.
Bio – Julie Thompson Dredge
Julie provides big brand experience and consultation with a flexible approach to fit today’s dynamic business environment. Frame PR works with a range of experienced PR consultants, cherry-picked to suit each project.
Find out more at frame.agency.