Happy National Apprenticeship Week guys! During this week I will be personally reflecting on my journey from college dropout to apprentice to freelance strategist. It’s not been anywhere near as easy as I sometimes make it look on social media, and it took a lot of graft for me to get where I am as quickly as I did, especially with some of the setbacks I have faced along the way. I am so fortunate that I get to share my story with the new generation of marketers at my training provider, and now with all of you as well!
To start my story I need to go all the way back to February 2014. I was in a sixth form college studying Psychology, Performance Studies and English Language, I had dropped History in the previous September. I was working towards my A Level exams in the May when my mental health took a major turn; I needed to take some time off and get back to my usual self. The college promised me support and told me I would have work sent home so I could still complete my exams and hopefully get good grades. At this point I was determined to complete my exams as I have received offers from a handful of universities and I was planning on either studying Linguistics at Newcastle University, or Journalism at Staffordshire University; either way I was going to be using the English Language to a high standard in my career.
A few weeks went past and I got no better, the work from the college had dried up and they had essentially forgotten about me. I also found out I was at the top of the college’s ‘hit list’ of students they wanted to kick out. They told me I was in second, but they had gotten rid of one of my good friends who was one place above me whilst I was away. After a few months of lies and even further deterioration in my mental health, I left the college 2 weeks before my A Level exams with no plan, no work experience and no idea on how to go about getting a career if I had not been to university. I was a top set high school with very high GCSE grades, so it had always been assumed that I was going to go to university and I had never really looked into another option.
In July, whilst looking for jobs in sandwich shops and bars, I found a glimmer of hope in a social media apprenticeship at a charity in Knutsford. I had always been told apprenticeships were for ‘thick kids’ or the kids who were not as academic; I’d be ruining my chances by doing one, however, I had no prospects or experience, so I applied. I was forwarded to a company called The Juice Academy, who ran quarterly boot camps where 15-20 apprentices were hired by employers on the day to start pretty much immediately. I was so excited to be offered a place on the July boot camp to hopefully work for an amazing charity. When I got to the boot camp, I was so intimidated. My anxiety made it almost impossible for me to talk about myself, and the one-on-one 3-minute speed interviews ruined me. I didn’t get offered the job, but I did get offered a place on the September boot camp.
In the meantime, I carried on applying for jobs in my home town that required no previous experience and offered no progression. It came to the point where the job centre told me I wasn’t applying for enough jobs because I really did have my heart set on working in social media. I was told in early September that I needed to apply for an apprentice sandwich maker role at Knutsford services or face losing my income (which was helping me get to all my interviews in Manchester). I held off on applying as the closing date was only a few days after my second boot camp, and I was convinced I could get a job this time around.
September’s boot camp came around quickly, and I had researched all the amazing employers who attended. I was pretty pleased that I didn’t get a place at the July boot camp as the employers were amazing: B2C and B2B marketing agencies, nurseries, branding agencies with global clients, SEO agencies. My eyes were seriously opened to where I could be in the future. After another tough day, I accepted a role with The E Word, a Manchester-based SEO company, where I worked as a junior social media executive, but dealing mostly with blogger outreach and copy writing. I attended the Juice Academy for half a day a week and picked up skills including PPC, SEO, social media crisis management, and I even learned about social media law.
Unfortunately 8 months into my apprenticeship, I was signed off with stress for a month. My mentor from Total People, Dave, was incredibly supportive and helped me get back into work. I lasted a week before I was signed off again. I spoke to Dave regularly and he helped me find a new role closer to home which would provide me with the work I needed to complete my coursework. However, at this point I was so far behind as I legally wasn’t allowed to attend the Juice Academy sessions or have access to my coursework while I was signed off – it looked highly unlikely that I was going to be able to graduate at the same time as my cohort, who had become really great friends of mine. I was determined to get to that graduation, so I spent every evening and weekend teaching myself what I had missed from print-outs of presentations and a LOT of Googling. My determination paid off and I graduated alongside my peers at a lovely ceremony.
Being away from the Juice Academy and leaving the support network threw up its own problems as I was only on a temporary contract at the company closer to home. Whilst I was good at what I did, I didn’t really know how to apply for the roles in the industry which I felt I could do. Luckily, I was contacted by a recruiter at The Candidate with a freelance role at the then social media agency MEC, working with their client, Compare the Market. I was so excited to be working with such a huge national brand and jumped on the opportunity. There were 10 of us working on the same project at the same time. Most were university graduates who were a few years older than me, and I felt pretty smug when I was asked to return after the work was completed to edit the 9 other freelancers’ work before it was submitted to the client. 6 days’ work turned into a full 6 weeks and it provided me with the confidence to work with amazing companies.
In September 2016, I started work at one of the UK’s most celebrated social media agencies, who I believed has a great stance on the mental health of their staff. It was my dram job at the time and I was heartbroken to find that everything you see on the outside definitely isn’t the case on the inside. I was sacked in the January for my mental health, and found rather disturbing clauses in my contract, which have now (apparently) been discarded. However, from this grief, I was able to write for a handful of national and international publications about my experience, and it really did light a fire under me – I wanted to prove that I could forge a successful marketing career with a mental illness.
Since then I worked for a record label; negotiating influencer deals with some of the biggest influencers in the world, and nurturing raw talent. It was here that I caught the bug for influencer marketing and knew that it was what I wanted to do full time. Once I left that role, I understood that if I wanted to play by my rules and break barriers in the industry that I needed to be a lone wolf. Working freelance has provided me with a newly found confidence I never thought I had and has enabled me to done some incredible things with my spare time. I am currently gearing up for my second guest speaker slot at The Juice Academy, with the first being a great success.
National Apprenticeship Week allows me to look back and appreciate where I learned my craft, and the people who helped me carry on and not give up during the adversities I have faced. Some of you may be reading this and you will know who you are, so thank you very much for taking a chance on a young girl who had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, your support to this day is so appreciated.