Monday 27 January 2020

'I can work anywhere in the world, it's liberating' - meet the self-made Irish women making a living online

Kristen Stavridis (23) is a nutritionist and social marketer from Dublin but living in London, who recently left her 9-5 in innovation for her side hustle.
Kristen Stavridis (23) is a nutritionist and social marketer from Dublin but living in London, who recently left her 9-5 in innovation for her side hustle.
Jane Asple (32) from Dublin is the owner of jewellery brand Emma by Jane.
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

If you could work from your bedroom and choose your own working hours – no boss, no 9-5, no office - would you do so, given the chance?

For mother-of-two Lindsay Hamilton (32), co-host of the popular IT GALZ podcast, it was a definite yes – and she says that working from home has been “hugely beneficial” while raising her children.

“We record in my apartment so I can make the most of my free time when my kids are in school which has not only given us structure to our working week, but given me freedom to work my own hours when their needs or schedules change,” she says.

An increasing number of Irish women are choosing to design their own working lives, paving a new career path that not all guidance teachers would’ve encouraged as long as five years ago.

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But now, 44pc of workers say that greater flexibility is a primary motivator for working remotely, according to a report from the Department of Business.

There are 75,400 self-employed women in Ireland as of November 2019 - an increase of 2,200 women from this time last year, according to the latest Labour Force Survey by the CSO.

For many women, their remote careers begin with a hobby or a “side hustle”, with no financial gain in mind. 

One example is 22-year-old Grace Beverley in the UK, who began selling fitness guides and sharing her gym tips on Instagram while studying at Oxford University. 

She now runs an estimated six-figure digital fitness empire through her online store, app and social media – with one million Instagram followers on her personal page alone.

We spoke to six Irish women on how they turned their side hustle into their dream job, the benefits of being self-employed and the challenges they face in an online world.

The digital marketer on the go: 'My entrepreneurial journey really began when I was 13 years old, at a time when I was off school recovering from ill-health'

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Hannah Hawkshaw (22) from Dublin
 

Hannah Kathleen Hawkshaw (22) from Dublin is an entrepreneur and singer-songwriter.

She currently “lives in a suitcase” and divides her time between Germany and Ireland, working as a self-employed brand designer and marketing strategist through her company iGen Creative.

She says she’s always had a business mindset – from selling milkshakes in her front garden as a child, to walking her neighbours' dogs part-time.

Her online career began when she was recovering from swine flu and chronic fatigue syndrome at the age of 13.

“I stumbled across blogging and decided to create a blog of my own to share my passion for fashion, and that was the catalyst for what I do now,” she told Independent.ie.

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“I sub-consciously began to learn about the art of personal branding and attraction marketing, and how to present and articulate a message in a way that attracts a relevant audience.

“I soon found myself invited to prestigious fashion events and collaborating with big brands, and was also approached by small business owners who wanted my help with web design and other marketing assets. 

“That process taught me so much, but when I was 16, my health got quite bad again, and so I needed to take some time off to recover.

“During that time, I became obsessed with marketing and the idea of growing a real business from my laptop, and I committed myself to that vision. Subsequently, I ended up starting and developing the business I now run and never looked back.”

The podcasting duo: 'We thought something audio based would give people a bit of relief from refreshing their Instagram feed during peak influencer culture'

Jenny Claffey (30) and Lindsay Hamilton (32) began the IT GALZ podcast in 2017 and decided to pursue it full-time this year.

“At the time we felt completely unrepresented within the Irish media; it was peak influencer culture and we felt what was celebrated was overly curated and unrelatable,” they said.

For the Dubliners, the freedom to work from home and choose their own hours was something that attracted them to turning their hobby, a podcast constantly in the Irish Apple charts, into their job.

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IT GALZ hosts Jenny Claffey (30) and Lindsay Hamilton (32). Photo: Evan Doherty

“I came from a more corporate background so choosing my own work hours always seemed like the holy grail of a work week,” Jenny said.

“Apart from the work we have to do together like recording, I can do a huge amount of my work from anywhere in the world once I have a laptop, that sense of freedom is really liberating.”

Their income is mainly sourced from Patreon, where subscribers can donate a small monthly fee for their content. The women also sell merchandise on their website, and have two live shows lined up for Valentine’s Day next year.

The road hasn’t always been easy; with an online career comes the possibility of trolls and negative feedback.

“Backlash happens and is the dark side to an otherwise extremely cushty number, and it can be an odd feeling to have your being be not only the voice of your product, but the product yourself,” they said.

“When your work is inherently personal it's difficult to take criticism non-personally, but we are lucky to have each other as a sounding-board.”

The 23-year-old who gave up her 9-5: 'I knew that taking control of my own time and working for myself was always going to be something I strived for'

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Kristen Stavridis recently left her 9-5 job in health innovation
 

Kristen Stavridis (23) is a nutritionist and social marketer from Dublin but living in London.

“I have always had an interest in health and wellness, as well as entrepreneurship from a long age after having a mother who ran her own successful business in Ireland and also encouraged us to treat our bodies right and eat well,” she said.

Kristen recently left her 9-5 job in health innovation to pursue her online business full-time – and is learning that no day is the same for a digital entrepreneur.

“It makes it so exciting for me. My daily method of operation however always will include self-development, checking in with clients then taking calls from wherever I like.

“Working online is fantastic when it comes to flexibility as I enjoy working from different places all the time which is quite different to an office job or anything I have had before.”

Kristen agrees that there can be challenges with working online, like any job, from logistical challenges with the WiFi or service to social media criticism - but she is a firm believer that it is “so clever to have multiple streams of income nowadays”.

“I think the concept of 'job stability' is something of the past no matter what industry you are in. Having a plan B is vital for everyone, and I think for women in particular having a 'side hustle' is always great in terms of growing confidence, building skills and having the option to eventually have this as their main source of income so that they have more choice.  

“There is much more potential and reach for business owners when working mostly online in my opinion, especially since so many more businesses are moving with the times and brick and mortar is becoming a thing of the past for many industries.”

The fashion buyer turned jewellery designer: 'I took a leap of faith and figured everything else out as I went along’

Jane Asple (32) from Dublin is the owner of jewellery brand Emma by Jane. She started the brand while working as a fashion buyer for Penneys, but always had a desire to start her own business.

“I knew if I didn’t work on it full time it would never grow to be much, so I took a leap of faith and decided I’d walk off the cliff and the figure everything else out as I went along,” she told Independent.ie.

“I always had dreamed of having my own business, and every year that passed and I hadn’t taken the leap, I regretted it.”

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Jane Asple (32) from Dublin is the owner of jewellery brand Emma by Jane.

For Jane, the benefits of working for herself are “the joy of creating something from nothing and achieving things for myself”.

“I just didn’t get the same level of satisfaction when I worked for other people. It is the hardest job I have ever done and there can be a lot of financial strain, but I absolutely love designing pieces that our customers love to wear.

“It makes it all worthwhile when I see my jewellery on people and when I hear stories of who my customers are buying the jewellery for. Lots of women treat themselves to a piece from the collection and I love that!”

She says that while having a side hustle isn’t for everyone, if it’s “something you have always dreamt about then you should definitely give it a go”. 

“It is not for everyone and everyone’s situations and circumstances are different but if you’ve had a dream about starting something then you should 100pc go for it as you only regret the things you didn’t do.”

The salon owner turned brand designer: ‘I've been my own boss for 20 years – but three years ago I decided I needed a change’

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Jennifer Swaine (43) from Dublin
 

Jennifer Swaine (43) from Dublin is a digital marketer at Style Media who switched the beauty industry for an online career.

Jennifer previously owned two salons and her own tan brand before deciding to study digital marketing after discovering “the power of social media”.

“Every day is different. Sometimes I work from home, which I’m not a fan of, and I work from clients businesses on other days. Some days I might have meetings so I drag the laptop around with me and work on the run - I can regularly be found hiding in a corner of House on Leeson St.

“The main positive of working online is the flexibility. I am a single mother, my son is 9-years-old , so I get to spend a lot of time with him – but I've never had issues with people not seeing what I do as a ‘real job’.”

She said being self-employed isn’t always easy but that having friends in similar businesses is a plus. 

“You have to be tenacious and willing to adapt and change direction. The majority of my close friends are now or have been at some stage self-employed. I'd be lost without them - surround yourself with people who get it!”

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