Maidenhead MUm

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Wanted: Freelance Blogger for immediate start.

Pick me, Pick me!
Lets face it, its not every day that you see an advert like this in the paper or online, but for some talented people, or 'Pro Bloggers', this is exactly what they have managed to create for themselves as a lifestyle and career. Pretty impressive stuff eh?!

I started blogging a year or so ago, and although I wouldn't be bold enough to declare myself an expert and I'm clearly not a millionaire (yet!), I can honestly say that its been a brilliant learning curve. I'll confess that I was a bit shy sharing my posts with people that knew me to begin with in case they thought I'd gone a bit crazy. But, since I've gone public on Facebook with friends and family, I've had a few people confide in me that they'd quite like to start a blog too, but don't know where to start.

So I thought that it would help if I shared some of the things I've learned over the last year, and in particular to share some of the insights from the Tots 100 'Blog Camp' event that I went to recently. 

Getting ready for Blog Camp felt a bit like the first day at school!
'This one time, at Blog Camp'

Blog Camp is a free networking and workshop event organised by Tots 100. In case you've not heard of them before, Tots100 are a UK network for Mum and Dad bloggers, and have more than 8,000 members. They help bloggers and brands work with each other on outreach campaigns and provide great learning resources and networking opportunities for bloggers too. 

Held in The Studio Meeting Centre in Birmingham, the event was a chance to mingle with other bloggers and also to hear from the Pro’s about how they were managing to generate income and value for themselves and their family from their blog. 

Blog Camp is a free event organised by Tots 100. 

One of the first rules of Blog Camp should be that ‘What happens at Blog Camp doesn’t have to stay at Blog Camp.'

There isn’t a closed door policy in the blogging community - its all about sharing the knowledge, so here’s 5 key things I’ve learned on my blogging journey that you’ll hopefully find useful if you’re thinking of starting a blog.

1. Whats in a name?

If you want to start a blog you’re going to need to give your blog a name. 

Remember how hard it was to choose the kid’s names? Well, choosing a blog name is waaaaay harder!

It doesn’t have to be related to what you blog about. But it should be memorable and easy to type into the web. As well as being able to find a domain name thats unique to you, you should also bag the Twitter and Instagram name at the same time. And if you’re reading this thinking ‘I don’t really do Twitter’, you need to man-up (lady-up?!) and learn how to use it, pronto. It will be invaluable for you for promoting your blog and finding other bloggers and inspiration, tips and tricks. A blogging lifeline.
At Blog Camp I didn’t go round handing out business cards, I asked people what their Twitter handle was. (I’m @PhotoJodie if you’d like to follow me. I do 'own' Maidenhead Mum on Twitter, but I already had lots of followers as PhotoJodie, so I haven't changed yet. But at least no-one else can start tweeting as Maidenhead Mum now! )

When I started blogging I wasn’t really sure what I would write about. Being a first time mum, I was reading a lot of other parenting blogs and felt that writing about the highs and lows of parenting would mean I always had something to write about, and that I could be a part of the ‘Mummy Bloggers’ community. Seeing as I’d recently moved from London to Maidenhead I thought I could use that as inspiration too. It was a simple as that - I’d write about Maidenhead and about being a Mum. (Rocket science!) Thus Maidenhead Mum was born. It seemed easy to remember, tripped off the tongue and I felt confident that if I wanted to, I could approach local companies and network easily.

There's no right or wrong name for the your blog, but in case you'd like some inspiration, here are some of the other bloggers that went to Blog Camp. 

(If you click on the links you can read their thoughts on Blog Camp too!)

2. Choose a blogging platform

You might get addicted to gadgets that help you blog... just saying
OK, so technically, there are lots of ways you can start to get yourself published, and there are people that have successful blogs whichever platform they’re using, but there are three main ways that you can get your wisely written words online: - software that you download and ‘host’ with an internet provider like TSO Host (a ‘self-hosted’ blog). - a commercial site where you can host a blog for free (with limitations) or pay an annual fee to upgrade to remove the limitations.
Blogger - a free blogging platform provided by Google.

When I was starting out I didn’t realise that and were two different things, and as I perused the website I noticed that it seemed quite prohibitive on things you could/couldn’t do. They don’t like you to have adverts on there for example, and to be able to use my own domain name I needed to upgrade to an annual fee. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to shell out lots of money upfront. 

So I chose Blogger, and although its quite basic it allowed me to start writing and get published. After using it for a year though, I’m frustrated with some of the design limitations and I wish it could help me display my photos in my blog posts a lot better so I’m about to make the switch become self hosted with a site instead. 

If I was starting a blog now, I'd probably go with from the beginning as there are lots of really helpful resources out there to help you get started. 

Tots 100 has some great 'Blog School' resources online if you fancy reading a bit more.

3. Don’t be a perfectionist

Only when you have a tidy desk can you begin to write....NOT!
If you’re the type of person that thinks, plans, dreams and then thinks a bit more before you start anything, you might find you get yourself a little bit stuck. Yes, its good to read about blogging and explore your options. Yes, it’s good to write a draft post, sleep on it and then re-read it for typos and grammatical errors. But that’s enough. At some point you have to hit ‘Publish'! Chatting to the lovely Victoria from 'Darlings and Daydreams' at Blog Camp we noted that we’re both guilty of spending ages thinking about a blog post, but then never actually getting around to publishing it. The only way you’ll really get to figure out your own voice is to start writing and start sharing. 

A year into blogging I realised that although I like the lifestyle angle of my Maidenhead Mum blog, I’m such a photography geek that I’d like to write about that too. It’s not always the same audience, so I’m now the proud owner of two blogs: 'Maidenhead Mum' and ‘PhotoJodie'. It’s early days for PhotoJodie yet, but its the start of a whole new blogging adventure!

4. Find virtual friends, and hopefully some real ones too.

Love meeting new blogging buddies!
By far, one of the best things about being a ‘Mummy Blogger’ is the community that lives out there in Twittersphere and other parts of the web. It’s incredibly inspiring to read about other people just like you, that have a passion and are choosing to pursue it. And everyone shares their learning curve with you. Plus, being a blogger has helped me make links with my local community and meet other business owners, a lot of them mums too.

Attending events like Blog Camp also gives you the chance to meet other bloggers in real life, instead of just chatting on social media. There are moments where you’ll question your sanity - using your hard earned ‘me time’ away from the family duties on a Saturday to walk into a room full of 'strangers' and then get chatting and learning. It’s a bit like a giant first date and can feel a bit daunting at times.

Blog Camp was the second Blogger event I’d been to (you can read about my experiences at Mumsnet Blogfest here). Second time around I’d learned that even though you’re meeting bloggers who are more established than you, there’s no need to feel shy or to worry about what you do or write about - everyone is keen to hear and exchange ideas and make friends. You could just go down the easy route and make yourself a badge saying ‘newbie, please talk to me’, but I decided to post a photo telling people that I was the one wearing the shiny Dr Marten boots and that they were welcome to come and talk to me (as you do!). And it worked. I bumped into Victoria over coffee and we found we had lots to talk about!

Doesn't everyone tweet about their shoes??

5. Because you’re worth it

Yes, the little one thinks you're fab, but you need to have some self belief too.

If I’ve come away from Blog Camp with one resounding thought its this: Be proud of yourself and your voice, your blog has value. 

As you start to publish posts regularly and your blog develops an audience, you should feel confident in the ‘brand’ that you’ve created. People reading your blog do so because they trust you and like to hear what you have to say. How many people do you know that would say they trust the adverts that they watch on TV? Not Many! Companies are wising up to the fact that bloggers are a great way of getting their products and services talked about in a believable and plausible way and you’re a key part to them reaching their target audience.

But the opportunities don’t just land at your door. You need to be able to ‘pitch’ your blog to companies to be able to create the opportunities you want for you and your family. So in the same way that Gok Wan would tell us ladies to 'learn to love our bodies', you need to learn to love your blog. Be confident in what you've created. Get clued up about your readers, look at your blog and social media stats, stand proud, adopt a professional email voice (even if you’re in your pyjamas at home with the kids), and go for it! Don’t Pitch, Don’t Get. 

So there you have it, the gift of my hard earned knowledge and hopefully enough to inspire you to get you started on your own blogging adventure. 

I would love to hear from you if you'd like to start a blog. Feel free to add a comment below, or even better, come and join me at the next Blog Camp!

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

You can see more of my photography on my photography website and blog,

Friday, 17 October 2014

Perfect Friday Wine, perfect on Saturdays too.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited along to a wine tasting event organised by Jo from Perfect Friday Wine.

One of the things I’ve come to love about blogging is the way it helps you network with other people, and especially other Mums who have a passion for things above and beyond working the usual 9-5 in the office or being a stay at home Mum. Quite often blogging is a way that we can start to build the dream of the life we want to have. I think this is very true of Jo and I! 

I first met Jo when I was dropping off my daughter at nursery, her little girl is in the class above mine and she asked me if I was ‘Maidenhead Mum’! It was quite a moment for me -my first real life bit of recognition! Not used to being recognised in the street!

Jo used to juggle an office job and being a Mum, but knew that she had a passion for wine and wanted to learn more to see if her passion could lead to a career change. After studying for a qualification in wines (WSET) she set up a blog and started writing a column for 'Life etc' magazine (amazing to learn, you can study on this subject, although its not an A-Level for sixth formers!).

Although Jo has established herself as a regular highlight on the high street at the weekends on a ‘pop-up’ stall, this was the first wine tasting event that she had organised herself and she asked me to come along and to take some photos.

Seemed like the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon to me - wine, beautiful scenery and photography. Skippety-dee!

The location for the wine tasting was the rather beautiful Stanlake Park. Arriving there was a bit humbling for me. It's less than 20 minutes from home, but as an ex-Londoner, I just hadn’t explored this part of the county. And it's beautiful. Admittedly the weather was perfect - glorious sunshine, crisp shadows and lots of vibrant colours. I can’t wait to go back again.

I arrived a little bit before the start of the event and had the chance to explore the grounds. It was clear that this would make a great wedding location - not only is it beautiful but there's some great wine available in the cellar shop, too. They even make their own Stanlake Cider, I’ll be back to sample that! (And no doubt the hubby will be will be along to try out their local beers from the Rebellion and Binghams brewery!)

The location for the tasting was the Events Barn, which is actually a converted coaching house - beautiful exposed bricks and high gables and the look and feel seemed to tie in really well with the 'Perfect Friday Wine' branding.

Jo had arranged the room with three separate tables, and the guests could try any of the wines on any of the tables. All of them if they wanted!

To help them remember what they liked there was a tasting notes sheet: wine tasting homework! 

Whether it was the pull of the wine, the chance to chat to Jo and enjoy her expertise, or the lovely weather and beautiful surroundings, it was certainly a busy afternoon. Jo had a great turn out - I loved being there to see it being such a success and was happy to muck in as the queues began to form!

Some guests were very organised and were stocking up for Christmas. They placed large orders which Jo then delivers to their house for free. It was great to see how many of them wanted to stop and chat to Jo and it's clear that she has a great relationship with her customers.  

A fantastic afternoon, and in between taking photos and helping out I sampled a few wines myself, although, silly me, I put down my notes and couldn't remember which ones I liked. Guess I'll just have to pop along to another wine tasting event to remind myself. Oh dear, the chores of life, eh?

Have you tried any wine from Perfect Friday Wine? I would love to hear your favourites too. Feel free to add a comment below so I know what to put on my Christmas Wishlist!

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

You can see more of my photography on my photography website and blog,

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Saturday Night Fever? The Night Market comes to town.

There’s a quiet revolution happening in Maidenhead. 

Although on the surface you might only see small uprisings of activity on the High Street and in the Nicholson’s Centre, behind that there is a bubbling undercurrent of….

Town pride.

I kid you not.

This week I’ve been overwhelmed by the outbursts of passion from all kinds of Maidonians about last Saturday’s Night Market.

In case you weren’t aware, the Night Market was an idea that was suggested by local resident Jeff Lloyd for a competition run by the Maidenhead Advertiser for ideas to help invigorate and boost the town. Jeff’s idea was to create a night market, similar to ones that you see in Strasbourg and Barcelona, and invite people down to the High Street to shop, mingle, eat, drink and be merry.

Newspaper articles in the run up to the event said that:

“Residents can expect live music from local band Money on the Drum, stilt walkers and street entertainers, funfair rides from Traylens at either end of the High Street and a wide variety of food stalls featuring local traders and those from further afield.”

The coverage in the paper was accompanied by a quote from our local councillor:

“Cllr Natasha Airey, who is acting as Jeff's mentor and sat on last year's judging panel, said: "This is great example of the Big Society in action - giving residents the chance to come up with innovative ideas to help improve the communities where they live.”

It’s fair to say that there was a lot of anticipation for the event.

Having been at the successful fireworks night back in November which saw the high street and the town centre packed with people, it definitely seemed worth checking out. So together with our little lady and friends who have a little lady of a similar age, we headed down at around 7pm.

I’ll let the photos do some of the talking…

At 7pm the High street was already really busy
Face painting was very popular
There was a bar outside the Nicholson centre, and a stage with a band.

The stalls were grouped together in the centre of the High Street
You could be sketched...
And you could be painted.

But the kids were left with little else to do apart from window shop!
And run around, but this was actually great for tiring them about before bed!
But there weren't any rides... and no balloons! 
The Peruvian street food stand was very popular... but that meant big queues.

Looked and smelt great - all freshly cooked, but I didn't have time to queue!
The King of Churros was a very popular stand

I bumped into Rachel Cook who won second prize in the competition for her Wildflower garden at Oaken Grove
Well earned Churros. Possibly the longest queue of all!

A local stilt walker at the Market

So what did I think?

There’s no denying that it was great to bump into neighbours and familiar faces and actually talk to them, as opposed to just rushing past in town. And there was a sort of relaxed, kids pottering around freely like they would on holiday kind of feeling. But as I walked home chatting to our friends, I couldn’t help but think that we’d been a little short changed. Where was the fair? Where were the varied stalls and stands? We'd even double checked around the corner by the Town Hall before we left, just in case we'd missed something! 

After putting the little one to bed I then found myself on the internet, and on Facebook (I know, I know, I’m addicted, I can’t help it!). But what was amazing to see is that whilst the Night Market itself hadn’t quite hit the mark, it had united a large part of Maidenhead on social media as they came forward to share their views and offer suggestions. Town-pride-tastic (new word!).

By 9pm on Saturday night, a comment posted by a local mum in the popular Facebook group ‘Maidenhead Gossip Girls’ saying she had felt let down by the market, had over 70 people replying with a comment within a few hours. That’s the kind of social media engagement rates that Marketers dream of! But unfortunately that’s representing a lot of disgruntled local ladies.

People felt that the market fell short of the vision that had been painted with such a small variety of food stalls, no local craft stands, and nothing to do for the kids apart from a rather lovely volunteer lady who was doing face painting. Although McDonalds were doing a roaring trade!

Maidenhead isn’t a big place, so I’m sure that a lot of this feedback has already found its way back to the organisers and to Jeff Lloyd. But I decided to go one step further and asked the ladies of Maidenhead for any other feedback about the event so that I could share it with this blog post and hopefully it could be used proactively for future events.

I was overwhelmed by the responses.

Here’s what everyone seems to agree on:

  • We like the idea of a night market and we’d like to see it become a regular fixture, perhaps quarterly, but definitely in the run up to Christmas and in summer.
  • We would expect to see local crafts, trades and although culinary delights from all over the world are great, it would be great if the local restaurants could represent themselves with a stall.
  • Perhaps the Night Market could be combined with some of the other great local events and activities that have been organized like Art on the Street and the Craft Co-op activity.
  • There needs to be something for the kids to enjoy early doors. Carter's Steam Fair are based locally and have some great rides. Once Upon a Bus is another great local initiative that would help entertain the kids too. 
  • We’d like to see it spaced out a bit better, with varied stalls spread across the high street instead of being bunched up into one section of the street.
  • We’d like the event to be marketed a lot better, both physically around town and virtually on social media. There were a few people saying they would have loved to have a stall, but just didn’t know about it.
  • But the biggest piece of feedback…. Talk to us! Tap into the talent. Maidenhead has a whole lot of talented and skilled people that would like to help and support the town and events like these. So if there are plans to do another event, just ask for volunteers or support! Start a facebook group for the next event and let people come forward and contribute. Now that really would be the ‘Big Society’ at its best.
I hope this post has been a fair summary of the event and the passions it seemed to ignite.

Here’s hoping that we’ll see another (new and improved) night market in time for Christmas with the words ‘back by popular demand’ on the posters!

Over to you… What did you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.