Grab a cuppa and join us, as we chat about the power of communication and social media, the importance of aligning your values with your work, the joy of working in a creative environment, and magic oil lamps in London…
You undoubtedly have the best job title of all of us! Can you explain all the useful things you do for us in your role as Wholegrain Team Genie? (Please tell me there’s an oil lamp involved!)
Once upon a time, an awesome WordPress agency in the heart of London stumbled across an old oil lamp and… Haha! No lamp involved I’m afraid, although I do believe there’s a little magic in all of us…
As Team Genie, I’m responsible for a range of things – I do all of the accounts administration, so invoicing, credit control (although I don’t like calling it that! It sounds sort of heartless don’t you think?), keeping an eye on internal budgets and so on. I am also the ‘Communications Genie’ for the team, which includes taking care of all of our social media, writing any newsletters and making sure all of the great work we do is showcased in our portfolio.
Can you share a little about your background and what enticed you to join the Wholegrain team?
Sure! Well, my immediate background was in corporate (internal) communications and before that I had several years’ experience of being a PA.
When I first got in touch with Wholegrain, I had not long started freelancing (copywriting and coaching) after having been made redundant from my previous role. I love the freedom of freelancing but I wasn’t yet in a position to go full-time and was looking for a fulfilling part-time role with a company that matched my values. A friend who had worked with Tom and Vineeta on a project mentioned that they were looking for some team support, so I got in touch. I was part of the Wholegrain team within a week of meeting them, even joining a team day before I officially started!
How has your role developed since joining our team and where do you see it headed in the future?
The role has definitely changed. The team has more than doubled since I started so that’s made a difference to the needs of the business. When I started, my main role was to take over the accounts admin, do some HR admin, provide general team support and do a little social media.
Although the accounts administration is still the main part of my role, it has now changed a lot! Chris, our People & Office Manager, is the HR expert so she deals with all of this – which is a much bigger job now! – and also leads on most of the team admin, although we work together on things like team events. Because of my background, the communications part of my role has since expanded (partly because of our growth and partly by design!).
I like the balance between the administrative and creative, but what I love most about working at Wholegrain is the team. It’s a really amazing group of people, who are passionate about what they do. As for the future, perhaps there will be more opportunities to get stuck into communications projects, but for now I am happy with how it’s developed over the past two years.
You’re a woman of many talents – writing, communication, social media, and numbers/accounts. Do you see yourself as being stronger in any particular area and do you have a favourite task or role?
Ha! I think I may have sort of answered the ‘favourite’ part above… My strongest area is communications. Just about everything I do – not just at work but across all areas of life – is underpinned by a value of connection. So the writing, communication and social media are all about connecting with our audience. As for accounts, well for each accounts department I speak to, there is always someone with whom I can make a connection/build a relationship. Even the numbers are representative of our relationship with each client.
Of the projects you’ve worked on for Wholegrain, which has been your favourite and why?
My favourite projects are definitely those that allow me to bring together my coaching and communications skills. I facilitated a session on communication a while ago, with a focus on ways in which we can build (even more!) effective relationships (with clients, and with each other) remotely. And more recently, I led a session on our values, which was great fun! It was lovely to see the team open up and share our personal values, and talk about how these feed into who we are as a business. This session now makes up part of the induction process and it’s a great way to get to know new team members.
I also loved writing a short poem for team members to celebrate our 10th anniversary last year. When it comes to writing, poetry has always been my first love and it was a sweet way to celebrate the team’s contribution to Wholegrain’s success.
What are the most important values you like to see reflected in your work?
Well, I do identify with our company values: Open, Caring, Positive and Brave. Although I could be braver in some areas but then couldn’t we all? I really do care about my work and being able to feel that I am part of something that in some way can have a positive impact, so I was really pleased that we achieved B Corporation status this year.
Personally, I also feel that it’s important to connect with those we work with to build a stronger team, and stronger client relationships. To do this, I believe we need to be able to show up as ourselves at work. These values really support that.
You’re our social media expert here at Wholegrain. How important is social media for design companies and which is your favourite platform?
Social media is great for building relationships, which I think is key for any business. As a design company, your audience is online and expects you to be too so it’s important to have at least some presence, although it’s not necessary to be everywhere, all of the time! It’s a case of working out where your audience hangs out, and ‘hanging out’ with them. To grow an engaged audience, you need to build rapport and (I believe) this needs to be genuine. You may notice that we don’t really ‘sell’ anything on social media, and most of our posts are around our values as a business wanting to make a difference in the world.
I love how social media offers access to connect with people who would have been much more elusive otherwise (we recently tweeted Naomi Klein, author of ‘No is Not Enough’, and she replied with a virtual hug!) and allows you to build a loyal community of people who care about the same things you do (and are therefore more likely to want to work with you).
My favourite platform is Twitter – I love the informality of it – but LinkedIn is also becoming more laid-back, which I am happy to see. We haven’t been sharing so much there as yet, but will do (and I have said this publicly now so I had better make sure we do!).
It’s really easy for a small business or one-man band to get overwhelmed by social media. What advice do you have for keeping people on track without disappearing down the rabbit hole of social networking?
Oh yes it can definitely be overwhelming! The best advice I have is to limit the time you spend on social networking sites. I work for Wholegrain part-time and manage my own (and occasionally others’) social media the rest of the week, so need to be especially mindful of this. Using a scheduling tool like Buffer (my personal favourite) saves time and makes sure posts go out at regular times across the week. Then having set times to check in to respond and search for relevant posts can reduce the overwhelm. If I had notifications on all day I would find it hard to focus on anything else properly.
What’s your favourite thing about working in a creative environment and where do you turn for inspiration?
The energy. I love the energy of being around other creative people, seeing the excitement for a new project and watching ideas bounce around.
When it comes to inspiration to live my best life, I admire people who follow their dreams and this inspires me to keep following mine. I also take inspiration from friends and family (especially my mum, who passed away 10 years ago this month) in so many ways. My son, who is 6, often inspires me to look at the world through a different lens.
When it comes to getting creative though, anything that elicits emotion inspires me. So this could be a book, music, poetry, seeing someone perform a random act of kindness, watching someone stand up for what’s right or a desire to advocate for those who cannot speak effectively for themselves. I also find inspiration in the everyday and have even written poetry about watching water boil (it’s meditative)!
What’s the most useful thing anybody has ever told you?
I have so many answers for this! Specifically relating to work, a long time ago someone asked me to list my strengths as a personal development exercise. When I asked about my weaknesses, she said (something like) ‘Why spend time dwelling on those when you can play to and further develop your strengths?’ That helped me to redefine my ‘weaknesses’ and focus on finding work that played to my strengths. It also sparked my interest in coaching.
Relating to life in general, the message that keeps returning in various ways is that ‘Everything passes’.
How do you find the all-important work–life balance, and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Ah the work–life balance question! I’ve been asked this a few times – working part-time, freelancing part-time, having a young son – where’s the balance? Well I think the work–life balance issue often comes from separating work from life. If we see work as a part of life, and can find work that fulfils us and aligns with our personal values, therein lies the balance. That, and finding at least a little time to myself and getting enough sleep! Some weeks are better than others. ;)
As for what I like doing in my free time, I actually enjoy spending a lot of my free time with my son. He loves to go to new places and explore museums so we love that most of the museums in London are free to visit. I love creating too, so we enjoy making things together – I like exploring new ways of getting creative with him – I’m not very artistic (apart from with words) but I find it a great way to relax.
Thank you so much, Rachael! This has been such a fun chat, and you’ve definitely inspired me to revisit my own social media and communications strategies. I also love the concept of playing to your strengths rather than worrying about your weaknesses. These are useful words of wisdom indeed!
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