Two freelancers who felt fed up with relentlessly pitching for work in any free time they had, decided to supercharge their success by writing their own story and setting up a Women in Business Magazine to champion the work and lives of other flexible workers, business owners, content creators, and enterprises.
Sparkle Up North Magazine & Community, founded by multi-platform freelance journalist Sophie Mei Lan and Social Media expert Amy Downes, shines a spotlight on female-run businesses, brands, and content creators across the North of England through celebrating success stories, creating a collaborative community, and championing thriving northern enterprises.
Now the Yorkshire mums are celebrating their own community success story as their online launch has already led to a publication deal for their thriving Sparkle Up North Magazine.
Magazine co-founder, editor, and media consultant Sophie Mei Lan said that she was ‘chuffed’ by the success of the launch deal but most of all it means that they can reach and support more women: “Whilst pitching for work has always been part of freelancing and running a business, after a decade of spending most of my spare moments of competing for work. I started to feel depleted, by spending so much of my time doing this and not focusing on my skills of writing other people’s stories and creating content.
“Then like a lot of women I have struggled with confidence in an increasingly competitive world with so many people working from home, I wanted to make sure that I utilised some of that time to be proactive and help others too.
“It can be lonely freelancing or running a business and blogs without a team around you… but rather than complain as I love what I do, I decided to help carve for change in our own way.”
Whilst Sophie freelances by choice to suit her business. Her co-Editor and fellow founder Amy Downes was, however, initially forced into freelancing after being made redundant.
Amy said: “Like Sophie, support networks seem to dwindle when you’re working so much online, without the security of being part of a team at work and you’re over the age bracket of young entrepreneurial support services!
“You can feel left in limbo.”
Sophie agreed: “You get to a point where you feel over-qualified and are told you are ‘too experienced’ or expensive and you’re stuck in a catch 22.
“But we have that northern grit, where we can just create our own community to develop our confidence and to also invest and learn from one another’s skillset.”
She added that it’s an ‘honour’ to be writing brand stories and supporting prosperity for northern people.
“That’s not to mention the need to support inclusivity in all ‘new ways of working’ which we hope to do.
“I know as a mixed-race woman, a single mum who has been brought up in an impoverished area as well as being someone who transforms her hidden disabilities into superpower skills in her journalism work as a columnist, feature writer, digital trainer and video creator, just how challenging it can be when you are facing stigma in life and applying for work!
“But that is beginning to transform which is great to see and I am optimistic for my young entrepreneurial daughters.”
Whilst Sophie has a positive mindset and wants to help others a few steps behind in their journey. She too sees reaching out for support as strength.
The Blogger of The Year 2020 and PR Week Campaign of the Year winner 2019, 33-year-old Sophie, said: “Whilst working for a number of other wonderful publications I always dreamed that alongside these collaborations I could create my own magazine as it was actually online blogs and magazines that helped me break the glass ceiling into the professional media world.”
And after late-night WhatsApp Voice memos with a friend and fellow female campaigner Amy, the duo decided to develop one of the content creator communities Sophie had created into a magazine to reach more people as well as reach new audiences for those involved.
Amy said: “I never imagined that I’d be made redundant later on in life, and it was a huge knock to my self-esteem after achieving so much success in my media and corporate career.
“So I started a blog to document my journey as a new mum with mental health challenges who still had lots of dreams ‘a Mum Full of Dreams.”
Mum-of-two Amy Downes who now runs The Content Planning Wizard met Sophie at a northern bloggers event in Leeds where the pair hit off with a shared love of flexible working, football, and bossing not fitting the ‘norm.’
Sophie said: “As Amy like me had worked in radio journalism and sports reporting too, we had a lot in common even though we are from different backgrounds, we love that!
“Having someone with aligned values in women, business and loving life are what is important.
“After all the pillars of wealth include wellbeing in mind, community, and managing a thriving life, not just financial aspirations.”
Amy later accompanied Sophie to speak at BBC Radio 5 Live’s Mental Health event in Blackpool before attending and speaking at more conferences across the north together.
Sophie said: “It was great to get that support from a non-judgemental friend and collaborative colleague.
“And I am acutely aware of the importance of such support as it was a local business community which helped me to carve one of my other media company’s Evoke Media Group Ltd start-up success.
“AD:VENTURE, which supports start-ups based in the Leeds City Region, helped me to officially set up Evoke, a video production, digital training, and content writing business which had been slowly evolving with my best friend and film-maker Daria Nitsche.”
After commissions with Channel 4 News, training and working for global brands, they were advised to develop a structured enterprise but as creatives didn’t know the best framework or have time with also freelancing to focus on it.
“But when I attended their workshop I was relieved it was tailor-made as I had already spent years working for myself or other businesses and found a lot of support to basic.
“They helped us to set up, get funding for broadcast equipment and signpost us to places that helped us to level up.
“We didn’t have a lot of time because as freelancers you’re either pitching, carrying out the work, or you’re showcasing your work to sow seeds with prospective clients, all whilst running a home, family, and office.”
AD:VENTURE helped Sophie and Daria accelerate their growth and they have kept connected ever since.
Sophie said: “As they assisted us so amazingly and supported us with creating a business and income streams, we have kept in touch ever since as I am a keen ambassador for their free support!
“Then when our new women in business magazine launched in lockdown alongside my Sparkle Communications Media Consultancy business, I have been in regular contact through our shared passion to use these turning-point times to support people from all walks of life start-up and accelerate their business but also to champion diversity.
“I know from personal experience how not ‘fitting in’ can help boost your work but it can take its toll on your confidence when you’re judged or held back because of your ‘diversity.’ Even speaking up for some on zoom can be challenging let alone pitching your business in a boardroom or promoting yourself as a personal brand and asking for fair pay.”
Sophie said that even though she blogs, vlogs and has delivered speeches at global conferences, she has struggled to have the confidence for her ‘last hurdle’ and demand the fees she deserves.
“As someone who now embraces and loves my diversity, I can see how it aids and informs the work I do, and yet I too have a room for growth.
“But as Sparkle Up North is championing a range of women of all backgrounds across the north and I am particularly passionate about those seldom-heard voices who have been stifled.
“It has given me more power to help them make a profit too although I can understand they may be a few steps behind me. With the right support, we can use are disadvantages to foster deeper connections and champion one another.
“And I find it easier to grow the magazine as a truly supportive collaborative which fosters finance, promotes passionate people, and includes everybody.”
And Sophie has faced her own fears early on as she aspired to make the magazine in the same glossy style as some of the top publications she works for but to do that she needed to raise finance to grow it from an online platform blog-style to being published as an online magazine site and download.
She said: “I am all about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and took it on myself to grow the magazine as we wanted to accelerate our audience and accessibility is close to our heart.
“Plus you can’t beat a good glossy mag!”
At this point, AD:VENTURE stepped in to sponsor, enabling us to develop a website and make it look the part of the journalistic professional style of content it creates. It’s so important to share these inspiring stories and in a desirable format.
Programme Manager Sarah Carling said “At AD:VENTURE we are always seeking new ways to reach diverse audiences, and we are passionate about encouraging more women to have the confidence to start their own businesses. Working with Sparkle Up North and supporting their storytelling to inspire and help future female entrepreneurs is a great way to do that.”
Sophie added: “I was ecstatic that they opted to support us to transform our online offering and once that is slick and built my next step is to find money to print the magazine so it can virtually and physically pop-up region and nationwide.
“I want to champion our sparkly northern brand stories, reach all communities to support but also to make an impact on changing the face of the north which is blossoming with business success, we just don’t always know how to shout about what we do!”
The magazine is booming even before its ‘full-face lift’ with a strong social following, readership, and engaged community.
“It was just what was needed for us all! Let’s join together to celebrate and accelerate our success in our own enterprises and those of others!”
The full magazine transformation will be revealed in September!
Read or to apply to be featured, go to sparkleupnorth.com @sparkleupnorth
Fancy finding out more about AD:VENTURE? Go to: www.ad-venture.org.uk