I was walking along a beautiful seafront walk close to where I grew up in Dublin and I remember having this vision, just a flash vision, of me somewhere foreign with a briefcase. It was only a split second vision but it stayed with me for years and I didn’t know where it was going to take me. I wanted to be a journalist and I wanted to be an architect. I wasn’t clever enough to get into architecture and for some reason I was swayed away from journalism which was probably a pity. I was also very interested in art, but my sister was studying Visual Communications at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin so I of course had to take a different direction and decided on a more academic approach to art so I studied Art History in the University College of Dublin.
I was working part time, in the late 1990s, when folk finishes, shabby chic and mural painting were the in thing. I started off painting a fake sky in our family bathroom in Dublin which is still there, I painted a bird in my bedroom which is also still there, then I painted a couple of puffins in a friend’s bathroom and it ended up being a nice little side business. I realise now it was the start of my entrepreneurial spirit. From there I did paint effects on furniture and worked with a girl in London studying under her, and just kept developing the art side. And then I got an offer from the European Commission – which was like a posh apprenticeship for six months working somewhere in Europe which sounded so great and I imagined all of the glamorous places I could go to. So I applied to work in a media centre doing journalism and I got posted – to Dublin! It was like a cruel joke, to be posted to where I lived. I originally said no, but in the end I did it go ahead with it as it was a paid position.
Art was always a part of my life and I dabbled in all sorts of areas – I worked for a while as an assistant stylist for an Irish Interiors magazine, and then as an assistant on an Irish interiors TV show. I was 22 at this stage, and I knew I wanted to go away and work overseas (thinking back to my vision) so I went to France to teach English as a foreign language, which was a complete disaster, and then I went to Budapest. These experiences put me in the right frame of mind to travel, and I decided to visit friends of mine in Australia. I burnt my feet on my first day of Australia like a true Irish tourist! I spent the first six weeks working really hard on my tan, eating fruit salad and drinking cocktails. I was free and anonymous and it was amazing. I got my first Australian job at a restaurant, which was where I met Vinnie - who was the head chef and partner in the business, and who is now my husband! During my time in Sydney I studied at The White House – I got a half scholarship doing interior decoration – the fundamentals of design. It was a two year course and I got some work experience with Signature Prints at the start of the Florence Broadhurst phenomenon, and I joined their team after I finished studying which was a lovely experience. From there I went to Mokum working with the Design Director, becoming the International Brand Manager, and I am so grateful for that opportunity. Then I fell pregnant with Jack and then Charlie, and thought I could be a stay at home Mum - but I realised I needed to be doing something, that couldn’t sit still, so I started working with a family-oriented jewellery brand called Polli.
We moved to Hobart in 2009 when Jack was 2 and half and Charlie was nine months old. Because neither of us have any family here we knew that one of us had to be the main breadwinner while one of us stayed with the boys – but I do have ambition so I had to find a way to look after the boys and still achieve my own goals. I was keen to keep my writing going so I started a blog about boys and my experiences – and it was called The Brothers Trim. That started my online life. That experience allowed me to learn about the online world and blogging and marketing and the back-end of making things work.
Jack is now eight and Charlie nearly seven, my husband is the Executive Sous Chef at MONA and I have two businesses! I really like the boys being with me and seeing what I do so that when they grow up they will have an understanding of working life. I am working in an industry which is really flexible and that doesn’t have set hours. Once my businesses got up and running I had to make the decision to close that blog as it did take up a lot of time. But it also created contacts and job opportunities, including writing for a while for Kids Style File and I am now also working as a curator, entertaining children for the kids program at MoMa which runs from January to Easter.
A friend of mine is one of Australia’s top crafters and she had a range of fabulous bus roll scroll tea towels based on Australian suburbs, and I took on the Tasmanian designs and set up a business called ‘Dish Pig’ - which is a range of tea towels celebrating Tasmania. I design them and they are printed in Hobart and I sell them as a wholesaler and also as a retailer in local markets. It’s a huge job to do it well – and my new social media business has gone from nought to six hundred so something will have to give.
‘Digital Dandy’ developed by meeting fellow creators who liked what I did online and needed assistance. With both boys at school I was at a point where I really had to think about what kind of income I could bring into the house and I was naturally online all the time, so it made sense to work out a way to make it financially viable, turning advice into a business. With all of the knowledge I had gained throughout my experiences I decided to take the leap and it has just gone crazy. I work with small businesses and medium to large businesses, managing their social media accounts, training them or starting right at the beginning getting them to understand the purposes of social media and drafting and creating a plan. I have also recently started a series of social media workshops. I did a few larger ones with 15 or so participants, but with the Tasmanian market which is smaller I have four people in the workshop and I get in touch with them personally to see what they are struggling with. There is only one subject per workshop, because I am interested in adding value to the experience – with a half hour follow up and getting them involved in a Facebook group.
I am absolutely loving it! I’m collaborating and I’m meeting people from all walks of life in different businesses, so not only am I imparting my knowledge to them, they’re teaching me too. I love the art of storytelling, and I notice how many people are afraid to tell their story even though they are in business. I love nursing that and trying to pull out their story. Particularly individuals – when they are talking about their business they’re great, but when they are talking about themselves and what they’re good at, that’s more challenging. I do find that women are gravitating towards me, and it’s lovely.
One thing that really helped me was that I joined a mumpreneurs group that would meet occasionally and I made some contacts there. What you don’t do is start too early. Have a really good plan and have it as seamless as you can get it, so you are starting with absolute confidence that you have your back end and your anchor set. I wish I had more patience to do that, because I do like take the ball and run. I’ve learnt as I’ve got older how to just slow down and get things rock solid, and then you’ll have much more confidence to take that leap, whether it’s launching a new product or offering a new service, or even taking your business in a new direction. Talk to people and take their opinions, and don’t worry about looking stupid.
Social media is a huge part of business today. People have to remember that social media is a communication connector. It’s another form of communication, it’s another touch point, and it’s a fabulous way for you to talk to your audience. It’s a way to get feedback and to get people’s opinions, and actually have a conversation with your client base which you can’t really do via any other medium unless you work in a shop and have direct contact with your customers. Social media allows you a human connection where you can share the authenticity of your brand
Digital Dandy is a social media marketing consultancy. Jen Murnaghan is passionate about communications and works with solopreneurs, retailers and small business owners in Hobart to augment their authentic voice online.
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