Welcome to my new feature, each week I will interview a woman in business to give you a little insight into her busy life and hopefully inspire you with her experiences. I have had a wonderful response both on Twitter and Facebook from women who want to be involved in this feature and share their stories with you. I hope you find this feature motivating and uplifting, it has certainly been fascinating for me having the opportunity to interview women from a variety of careers. So, without further ado I’d like to introduce you to Annabelle Spender.
Annabelle is originally from Bournemouth and studied design on the UK’s leading Design course at Brunel University. While studying design, she worked with companies such as BBC, Hasbros, M&S and P&G (Gillette) on various projects. It was during this time that Facebook entered the UK and Annabelle started one, if not the first, Facebook account on behalf of an organisation in the UK. Since then she has managed social media campaigns for big, small and well-known brands.
Annabelle has had to manage highly anticipated launches for international brands, deal with a sex tape scandal, meet random celebrities (and take their photo with a stuffed elephant…), to pulling a publication 30 minutes before it was to be sent to the printers as someone featured in it had passed away only moments prior!
What’s your business-what product or service do you provide?
I’m a holistic social media consultant – this means that I create creative yet successful campaigns, including all the photography, design and writing. Professionally trained in design at the leading course, over 9 years of experience in social media and photography, my service is to provide a complete service.
What career did you want to go into when you were at school/university?
I studied design at Brunel University, the leading course for it, because I wanted to make a difference. At the time I felt like if I could be a designer, I could design the items needed by many throughout the world. Working with Brunel Raise and Give as well as working at Medical Engineering Resource Unit (MERU) designing bespoke medical equipment for children with disabilities, I found out that I could use my skills in social media to help more people than as a designer. By working with MERU I had the opportunity to have my dream job and change so many young people’s lives for the best. While my career direction changed, from product design to digital marketing using my design skills, the goal to make a positive difference stayed the same.
You have worked in the field of social media for some time. How has the world of social media evolved over the years and how important would you say social media is for building a profile online?
Since 2006 the world of social media has changed, in fact the world has changed because of social media. I remember a time when Facebook automatically had an “is” at the beginning of every single status, as well as waiting for your university to finally be registered so that you could create an account.
No longer can you set up a Facebook page and expect it to be successful – with Facebook’s algorithm your pages posts will now struggle to reach even 5% of your following without paying to do so. Social media marketing is now a complex yet respected industry where you can really help make a difference.
That is why I love social media as it is constantly evolving so you have to constantly learn new things and new skills. With the need to constantly test everything you are doing, it is one of the few industries that allows you to mix highly creative and analytical skills together.
I hear you’ve mixed in regal circles by photgraphing royalty? Tell me more.
While working at Hospiscare, a hospice based in Devon, I was lucky to be working there just as it opened a new centre in Tiverton as well as the charity’s 30th year.
With the charity’s connection with local nobility, as well as having recently won the Queen’s Award for volunteering, they were able to have Princess Sophie officially open the centre. After a summer of photographing all of their events, I was asked to cover the opening. Ironically this was the second time I was asked to cover a royal visit but as I was unable to cover when HRH The Queen was visiting Brunel University in 2006 due to an existing event booked elsewhere.
Following Princess Sophie’s visit I did have the pleasure of shopping with Baroness for work related reasons, and photographing another Baroness’s visit to a Hospiscare event. Compared to my family’s history of meeting royalty though, I have a lot to catch up!
You’ve also worked with the Scouts association and photographed Bear Grylls. How did that come about and what’s he like?
Due to my history of social media to raise money for charities, I was offered the chance to manage the marketing for Scout Shops – the official shop for The Scouts Association, while another staff was on maternity leave.
As Gilwell Reunion, a yearly event at the Scouts UK headquarters, is the highlight of the year for Scout Leaders, I attended the event to manage the Scout Shops coverage of the whole weekend and the highly anticipated launch of the i.SCOUT onesie. For the first time, Chief Scout Bear Grylls was attending the event – as part of his tour around the site he was going to be walking past Scout Shops stall. Working with various staff we were able to plan how to hi-jack his tour for less than 10 seconds for a photo opportunity of Bear Grylls by the Scout Shops sign.
Working with celebrities is always different from one to another. With Bear, I had 1 minute to set him up how I wanted him and 6 seconds to take the photo. When I have worked with others, such as the Irish Tenners, Slyvester McCoy, Tom Baker and Simon Tiofield (creator of Simon’s Cat), I have had up to 30 minutes to sort out the best photo to 5 seconds.
I was able to secure an official photo shoot with Bear Grylls next to Scout Shops signage months later but while I was spearheading the look and feel of the photo shoot, I was unable to attend in person due to another meeting. Shame as I would have had a couple of hours otherwise to work with him.
While it may sounds exciting to go and take photos of well-known people but more often it can be stressful as you have to sort out so much before they arrive, you sometimes don’t know the exact time that they will arrive or how long you might have them. It is great afterwards when you get some amazing photos but often you don’t get to enjoy these celebrities and you never get a photo of you with them! Over the years I have photographed and met a lot of famous people, and while Bear Grylls is the person most people know, my favourite celebrity meet will be before I picked up the camera and met Sir Paul – I got 20 minutes to talk a Beatle.
What has been your biggest professional achievement so far?
For me the biggest achievement would be working at MERU. There were so many projects that helped changed these young people’s lives. I was able to design and make a communication aid with another member of staff so that a young CBBC’s star could communicate for the first time, design a rocking horse, which was hand painted, that a young girl could use with her special seating system as well as collaborating on a life-saving adaptation for a young man.
While the pay was minimal, I had the incredible opportunity to help real people with my designs.
Seeing the joy on someone’s face after they have been able to communicate properly for the first time because of something that you have done is one of my proudest moments ever – both personally and professionally.
What’s the best thing about taking the plunge and going freelance? And the hardest?
The best thing is being able to work how and when I want. I can go and sit in a café and work for hours, or curl up under a cover rather have to wake up at 6am to get ready for the commute to work. While I do miss the office talk and banter, the opportunities to work how and when I like means that I can work as early and late as I would like. I also get to meet so many more people these days rather than the same few over and over again – it keeps you on your toes.
For me, the hardest thing is making the decision to finally go freelance. It is a completely different life to working for someone else and so much to consider. I do miss the company but I can have my office at the temperature I like – everything has its ups and downs. I am a sociable person so I have made sure that I go to lots of networking events for not just business but also to have a chance to meet and talk with others.
How many hours do you put in a week?
For me it changes each week – one week it was 40 and another it was 5! My work does fluctuate, and that is one of the things I had to consider when I was thinking about going freelance.
One of the reasons I wanted to go freelance was so that I could help charities in my spare time. By working 40 hours one week to earn money, I can spend a lot of the following week volunteering my time.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Still working freelance – I don’t think I could go back now as I have the bug! As social media is constantly changing I don’t think it will ever get boring but more cemented into marketing must-haves.
While there are some things I miss about having a job, such as a constant wage, work colleagues and office politics, I love the freedom and the ability to help make a difference in lots of companies rather than just one. One goal though that I would like to have accomplished is doing a talk at BrightonSEO!
Now then, you’ve met Bear Grylls so this should be an easy question..I want to know, if you were marooned on a desert island and could only take three survival items what would they be?
Working with some incredible people at the Scouts I have picked up a lot about survival so it would have to be Swiss army knife, DD tarp and a water bottle. Water, knife and shelter are three key things for survival. Though it would be tempting to get a sleeping bag instead of a tarp!
Lastly, if you could share a few words of wisdom about becoming a woman in business what advice would you give?
It can always be nerve-racking when you start out in the world of business or in a new job, I know that confidence can vanish in the blink of an eye so my advice, as scary as it may seem is to speak up and to ask questions. Too often I have seen the damage that someone not asking a simple question has caused – don’t be afraid to ask as we all have different knowledge and experience. Sometimes people have been hired above their knowledge and experience so it may seem scary and daunting but there is always someone in or out of work that you can ask questions to.
For all I have seen, talking to others in your field or asking questions about everything are highly useful for everyone. I have been able to get more exposure and opportunities because I have asked the question – I have a signed one of a kind drawing by Simon’s Cat creator just because I asked a question!
One of the things that was hammered into me when I was at University was to ask, ask and ask some more as the more information you have the better your design and work will be.
Thank you so much for talking to me today, Annabelle. You have so many exciting and interesting tales to tell!
I think everyone would agree that Annabelle is a true inspiration and the perfect first interviewee! You can find Annabelle over on:
If you would like to share your story and be a part of my ‘Women in Business’ feature then please do contact me by email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you!