Meet the entrepreneurs building an army of digital mums

Digital Mums wants to help small firms have better access to talent and tackle maternal employment all in one go.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 25 May 2016

Around 54,000 new mothers in Britain lose their jobs every year, according to an EHRC report from last year – nearly twice the number found in similar research back in 2005. It’s stats like that which partly prompted the 2014 launch of Digital Mums – a start-up aiming to help get mothers back into work while bridging the digital skills gaps for small businesses.

Nikki Cochrane and Kathryn Tyler train mums to become social media managers over six month courses, giving them the foundations to find flexible work afterwards. Cochrane says that so far ‘every mum that’s wanted to find work has done so’ after completing a programme.

The co-founders initially looked into setting up a PR business which would help small firms with digital skills (both having digital background themselves). ‘What we realised was that we couldn’t help them all,’ Cochrane explains. ‘We needed an army to help us. So we thought what does this person look like? The work can be done remotely, they’d need to be really good at nurturing communities, a good listener, stay calm in a crisis, and the more we thought about it the more we realised we’re describing a mum.’

They developed a prototype training scheme for eight mums and eight local businesses based in Hackney. Initially it was just a six week course. ‘Very quickly we realised they were like headless chickens,’ Cochrane explains. The courses needed to be longer and the business model they initially explored – an agency, wasn’t going to work.

The entire Digital Mums team works flexibly

They developed a longer programme (lasting six months) that functions a bit like an apprenticeship; students are matched with businesses from day one. Then a business strategy session is run by one of Digital Mums’ experts to hear the aims of the business, ‘the mum then understands the target audience and their goals and designs a campaign for the company, runs it on all the social channels and does a client report’, explains Tyler.

It was also while running the pilot that they became aware of the scale of the problem. ‘We’d looked at the Fawcett Society’s research and said wow that’s shocking, but it wasn’t until we did the pilot and realised of those eight mums, four had been made redundant while on maternity leave,’ Tyler says. ‘Suddenly we’re seeing the actual problems from the mums’ perspectives and it’s really tragic.’

A second programme has been rolled out for less confident individuals. It takes clients out of the equation and focuses on students choosing to run ‘a passion led campaign’ on anything they feel particularly strongly about from gender equality to the environment, and then compile a final report for Digital Mums.

It’s not a cheap service - courses range from £999 to £1999 per person. Businesses that work with a trainee from the apprenticeship model pay £500. Those looking for a Digital Mums graduate pay a finder’s fee of between £500 and £1,000 depending on the size of the business. 10% of all profits made by the firm do go towards low income mothers to try and make the courses accessible to more people - Digital Mums has provided seven bursaries to date. Still, many who may want to do the course - and could benefit from it the most - could be priced out by that barrier.

Faye Curtis-Kay of Walton on Thames Surrey completed a course in July last year and now works as a freelance social media manager for two companies. Prior to giving birth she worked at Sony for 14 years. ‘Although I loved the company, a full-time sales role didn’t fit with having a young family,’ she explains. She left Sony and went on to have another child, but then decided she wanted to start a part-time role. Curtis-Kay completed a Digital Mums course and now works ‘three mornings a week and some evenings’.

While still in its early stages – turnover for the year to 31 March 2016 was £285,000 – Digital Mums has found funding fairly easily. First £50,000 from The Big Issue’s social investment arm and more recently £285,000 from four investors who have 15% equity between them: M&C Saatchi co-founders David Kershaw and Jeremy Sinclair (Cochrane used to be their PA), digital entrepreneur Martin Leuw and start-up consultant Danielle Andersen.

The co-founders’ personal goal was to get 1,000 digital mums trained by 2018 and Cochrane says at the rate they’re going it’ll be surpassed by next year. They’re currently training their 300th and with the army of social media manager mums building in numbers, the next step will be branching out across the UK before potentially exploring the US and Australian markets in 2018.

And the courses have also been a handy source of recruitment for Digital Mums – which currently has a team of 21, with 12 full-time and the rest part-time employees. All new hires come from their talent pool. ‘We have social media managers coming out of our eyes!’ Tyler jokes.

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