Jessica Pardoe podcast interview – starting your marketing career correctly, and avoiding burnout

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The brilliant Jessica Pardoe joins me on the show to discuss how best newcomers can start their marketing career, and how to avoid burnout too – as well as a few more tips thrown in!

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Jessica is a PR Account Manager at Source PR in Cheshire, and you’ll regularly find her on social media sharing her knowledge, and helping others.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Thinking of her own career, what the one thing is that she wishes she could go back and do differently when she started.
  • What she thinks some of the common misconceptions are that people have when starting their marketing careers.
  • One piece of advice she could give someone who is brand new to the industry.
  • Tips for newcomers to the industry who are often keen to progress quickly and preventing overwork.
  • What people can do to prevent burnout.
  • How has the pandemic changed PR?
  • Advice from Jess on how to settle into a new job when on-boarding is purely remote.

…and much more!

Useful Links:

Episode sponsored by Absolute Digital, check them out here: https://absolute.digital/

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Jessica Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessicapardoePR

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello. And welcome back to another episode of the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. Super excited. I have a brilliant guest with me today and she’s making her podcasting debut. So please listen to this episode. And when you finished, rewind it back to start and listen to it again 10 times, because she’ll love that. We’re talking all about starting your marketing career the right way and avoiding burnout with Jessica Pardoe.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before we begin, a quick word from the sponsor. This episode is sponsored by Absolute Digital media, a leading UK based digital marketing agency, specializing in search paper click and digital PR. With seven award wins under their belt already this year, they understand what it takes to make a business stand out from its competitors and generate greater visibility in return. Check them out. And I will drop a link to them in the show notes. Right, Jessica, welcome to the show.

Jessica Pardoe:
Hello. Thank you.

Azeem Ahmad:
How are you doing?

Jessica Pardoe:
I’m okay. Thank you. Yeah. Good.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’m very excited to be able to facilitate your podcasting debut. I’m excited to learn more from you. So let’s start right from the very beginning and give the listeners an introduction to yourself.

Jessica Pardoe:
Okay. Hello, I’m Jess. And I’m an account manager at Source PR, which is a lovely little PR and social media agency just based down in Cheshire.

Azeem Ahmad:
Awesome. Right. So we’re talking all about how you can start your marketing career the right way and how to avoid burnout. So let’s start from the very beginning then, Jessica. Do you prefer Jessica or do you prefer Jess?

Jessica Pardoe:
Either’s fine. But normally Jess.

Azeem Ahmad:
Okay. I’ll go with Jess. So Jess, thinking of your own career, what is one thing you wish you could go back and do differently when you started?

Jessica Pardoe:
I think if I was to say one thing, it would definitely be to look out for any red flags very much at the beginning of my career. It’s something I actually wrote about recently on my blog and it seemed to resonate with quite a lot of people. I wish that at the time I was better educated on them and that’s something that I am trying to help people with now too. And I say this because I had a bit of a bumpy start to my career with a few knocks to my confidence, unfortunately.

Jessica Pardoe:
And I think looking back, I wish that I’d just had ample training from the get go that could have helped me identify things that were potentially wrong and the things where I should have been getting help where I wasn’t. I don’t necessarily regret anything in my career, because I do think that you shouldn’t ever have any solid regrets. And ultimately, all of my experience has led me to where I am today. But I think if I could do things differently, I’d have done research into the industry a little bit more and knowing kind of what makes a good and bad employer from the beginning.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah. That’s brilliant. I couldn’t agree with you any more. I’d love to dig into that a little bit further then. So you mentioned it briefly there, but what would you say are some of the most common misconceptions that people have when they start their marketing careers?

Jessica Pardoe:
Well, I don’t know if this is just me thinking of my own career, my own experiences, but there seems to be a misconception that those starting out should know what to do straight away. I mean, certainly people I’ve spoken to privately on Twitter seem to have been thrown in very much to deep ends in their first roles in the industry.

Jessica Pardoe:
But in reality, PR isn’t really taught in schools and in universities, and definitely digital PR isn’t. So I think that some form of training should come a standard for all graduates and anyone coming into junior careers in marketing. I mean, even in other disciplines, such as general marketing. Although it’s as subject that a lot do study at university, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to come into a role straight away and exactly know how things work.

Jessica Pardoe:
The industry changes so often that really we need to nip that misconception in the bud right away and make sure that new starters are settled into their roles with the right support. As like I mentioned, things do change so often in marketing, in PR and SEO and all those other industries, I think we need to stop assuming that graduates are going to be able to come into a role and be able to do it from the get go. And I think that’s where a lot of problems can arise very early on.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah. Again, the listeners can’t see, but I’m nodding my head away. A lot of what you’re saying is resonating massively. Thank you for sharing. I’m temporarily going to side step and ask you a question that I haven’t prepared you for. Sorry.

Jessica Pardoe:
Okay.

Azeem Ahmad:
How much of that, so you mentioned there about people starting jobs, their first jobs, being expected to basically hit the ground running, how much of that do you think lies in the job descriptions that people see before they apply? Do you think the job descriptions are incorrect or correct and there’s misconceptions? How much of it do you think lies there?

Jessica Pardoe:
I think that with job descriptions, a lot of them are very detailed. And as a graduate and just speaking from experiences myself, I was willing to just kind of go into anything to get that experience that I knew I needed, because there’s always that real struggle of getting that experience under your belt initially, because a lot of places do want experience. So job descriptions themselves, they can be quite difficult to navigate and to know what you’re going into. Because often, and especially marketing, they have a lot of different responsibilities.

Jessica Pardoe:
But I think again, speaking from personal experience and what happened to me in my career, it would’ve been great to have initial training, even though that isn’t particularly specified. Because like I say, you can’t expect somebody to walk into a graduate role and know exactly what to do. Even though they might have applied for a role that says you need to be able to do this and that, I think if you’re applying for a junior role or something that’s postgraduate, there is a certain level of expectation there that you would be showing how to do that. And it wouldn’t be assumed that you’d know how to do it straight away, because that’s just simply not the case. You’ve just come out of university and you’re not going to know how to do certain things. That’s just the standard.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah. Another fantastic answer. I’m really glad this conversation is happening. So thank you again for sharing that. I think that leads me quite nicely onto my next question for you then. So if there was one piece of advice that you could give to somebody who is brand new to the industry or who is about to take their first steps into the industry, what would that be?

Jessica Pardoe:
I would say definitely, definitely, definitely do your research and make sure that you’re committing to a role that will treat you fairly and that holds all the right progression and training opportunities in place. I think as we’re beginning to speak about this a little bit more and certainly over the past year or so, I’ve really noticed that employers are beginning to talk more about what they’re doing for their employees mental health and how they’re training good people and offering ongoing training as well, which is really, really important because the industry is always changing.

Jessica Pardoe:
So I would say definitely, definitely do research and look out for that. And remember that your notice period as well is just as much for you as it is for your employer. So if you are on a three month probation, for example, that gives you ample time to make sure that you’re in the right role before you commit to anything long term. And I think that’s really important for new graduates and people who are just starting out in the industry to know.

Azeem Ahmad:
Oh, this is 24 carat solid gold. This is brilliant. Thanks for sharing. So let’s move on and let’s talk about burnout and using newcomers as an example. So certainly in my experience, what I’ve seen is that many newcomers to the industry, pandemic aside for a moment, they’re quite keen to progress really quickly. And some will even overwork, which does often lead to burnout. So in terms of time management, what advice would you give to somebody in new to the industry in how best to manage their time?

Jessica Pardoe:
Let me just start by saying that I totally get that. And I totally get wanting to get ahead in your career. I’ve very much been like that myself. But what I would say is you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot. So if you start off by overworking yourself, coming in early, leaving late, that’s very much showing that that will be expected from you moving forward. And as you kind of get into your career a little bit more, if you’re staying at the same place, you’re going to realize that you don’t want that to become the norm for you.

Jessica Pardoe:
But to go back to your question, I would a hundred percent say, learn how to switch off. I would never endorse having your work emails or Slack on your personal phone, because I think you need that down time to think about personal life. And spend time with your friends and family as well, which is really important for mental health. But one thing I do always think, and this might be a little bit controversial, but here we go, is that if you’re having to work late every night, then you’re either not good at managing your time or you’re being given too much to do. And often with people who are new into the industry, it’s often the latter.

Jessica Pardoe:
So both of those are fundamental problems and something that should be nipped in the bud. And it is the responsibility of your employer or your manager to identify that and to help you so you don’t feel that pressure to be starting early and working late. Nobody should have to do that, despite what the PR industry might have you believe. So if you’re finding that’s the case, I would definitely advise reaching out to someone within your place of work or indeed someone without… Outside of your work as well. My DMS are always open to anyone who thinks their situation might not be quite right and wants to talk to somebody about it. But I would always advise reaching out to somebody if you feel that something’s not right.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah. Again, I find myself agreeing furiously. Absolutely brilliant. I wanted to pick on something that you just said there. Pick on is probably the wrong phrase, but one of the things you mentioned there was either not managing time correctly or being given too much work to do.

Jessica Pardoe:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Azeem Ahmad:
So like I just said, complete agree. I definitely think it falls on either side of that fence. Speaking of the latter, if a newcomer to the industry, keen to impress, but has a lot of work on their plate, recognizes that they’ve got a lot of work. How do advise they bring that up with the people that they report into in a professional way, rather than just saying, “Oh, I haven’t hit this deadline because I’ve got too much work to do.” What’s the best way that somebody can approach that?

Jessica Pardoe:
Look, I don’t think it’s an easy thing. I’ll just say that from the start. I think it’s very difficult, especially if you’re new into a company. You have to expect that it’s not going to be easy to say, “Look, I think I’m doing too much or I’ve not got enough time to do what you’re asking me to do.” But I would say speak to someone you trust. And that might not be your direct manager, it might perhaps be the managing director or even somebody from another department. And I would say, “This is my experience. And I’m finding it quite difficult. Is there anything that you can advise?”

Jessica Pardoe:
You might not feel comfortable going straight to your boss straight away, because that might not be easy for you. But I would say talk to somebody. And as a manager myself as well, I would really appreciate honesty from my execs. If they are struggling to get things done, then the best thing that they can do is let me know about it. Because often it will just be the case that perhaps they’ve got a little bit too much on their plate or that things are taking longer than we initially thought. And that’s not a problem and that’s definitely not on them, but it’s something that we should look to nip in the bud straight away.

Jessica Pardoe:
So I would say talk to somebody that you trust. If you’re really finding it difficult to talk to someone within your agency, perhaps reach out to anyone else within the industry and ask if they’ve had similar experiences. And they might be able to help as well. But either way, I would say definitely talk to someone, nip it in the bud as soon as you can, and make sure that your problems are heard straight away, because your managers will normally appreciate that as well.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yes, absolutely. Open lines of communication are key. Thanks for sharing that. Let’s look at the other side of the fence then, working too hard leading into burnout. How would you suggest that people prevent this, especially when they’re starting out?

Jessica Pardoe:
Well, like I said, I’d say a thousand percent create that separation between your work life and your personal life. One of the big things for me is not having emails on your phone and that kind of thing. No Slack, no emails, not even talking about work outside of working hours. I think that’s really important because it helps create that switch off and it helps you to have time to think about anything but work. And that creates a really good balance in your life.

Jessica Pardoe:
I’d also say that if you are feeling burnt out, then like I say, talk to a manager about it because they might not even know. And from experience, talking about these things definitely does help. So yeah, I’d say my two top things would be making sure that you keep your work life separate so that you have time to switch off and talking to people. And like I say, maybe even people outside of your workplace. And my DMs are absolutely always open for anybody who wants to talk about such things.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. Thank you for sharing. And if you’re listen to this, I strongly suggest that you take Jess up on that offer and reach out to her. Being as we’ve got time, I want to pick your brains about a couple more things. I’m enjoying putting you on the spot, because I’m really enjoying this episode. You mentioned earlier on about the pandemic changing PR.

Jessica Pardoe:
Yes.

Azeem Ahmad:
What did you mean by that?

Jessica Pardoe:
I think that probably the biggest thing that the pandemic has changed, and everyone will be able to resonate with this, is everyone going to working from home. That required a lot of trust from our employees. And it also required us to give ourselves better work life balance because it’s so easy to start work early and finish late when your work is at home, where you are spending the most time. So I think from the pandemic, it’s been really important to learn how to combat that and how to create a good separation, whether that’s actively putting away your things at the end of the night or whether it’s having, if you’re fortunate enough to have an office, closing the door on that office and then not worrying about it for the rest of the night.

Jessica Pardoe:
And I’m not saying as well that you should feel worried about your job or that it should be bringing you stress outside of work. What I am saying is that it’s really important not to think about work all the time, because then it’ll consume you. And this is coming from someone who absolutely loves their job. I love what I do and I feel happy every day at work. But if I think about work all the time, then there’s every chance that I will start to stop enjoying it in the way that I do. So I think that’s really important.

Jessica Pardoe:
And as more of us continue to work from home, even post lockdown and that kind of thing, I think it’s really important to just keep on creating that separation and just acknowledging the change as well. The pandemic has changed PR, it has changed the way that we work and it has changed the way that we do things. So I think understanding that and giving yourself some slack and learning how to navigate. And I hate the phrase, but the new normal is really important. And I think that’s something to bear in mind.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. Yeah. And I presume when you say, give yourself some slack, you do not mean the conversational chat app, of course.

Azeem Ahmad:
The last thing I wanted to ask you then before I let you go, because sadly we are coming towards the end of the episode. This is something selfishly that I would love to learn more from you about because for context, during the pandemic, I move jobs. And I’m very much a people person so I enjoy the fact that if I was starting a new job, for example, traditionally, I’d be setting a meeting room, having an induction, blah, blah. However, all of my onboarding was remote.

Azeem Ahmad:
I imagine as things are now, things aren’t looking good from a pandemic point of view, let’s say devil’s advocate. And I hate that phrase, but things worsen again, people have to stick to remote working to keep everybody safe. Somebody’s starting in the industry brand new and is starting remotely. So all of the introductions and learning is going to behind 13, 14 inch laptop screen. What advice would you give to somebody in how best to navigate their first steps into the industry from behind a computer screen?

Jessica Pardoe:
I think that, and I hate to use the phrase “It depends,” because it’s so cliche. But it really does depend on how you feel about the virtual learning and virtual working as to how you would kind of deal with that. But for me, I personally do, I am the same as you. I like to be in the office. I like to have connections with my colleagues and chat and be able to catch up. And I remember reading something that Zoom in particular can be quite difficult for our mental health, because it’s really hard to read body language over a screen.

Jessica Pardoe:
So I think taking things like that into account and perhaps looking at varying up the ways that you communicate with your team, especially as you kind of come into a new role and get to know those people is really important. So it might be that certain meetings are done over Zoom. It might be that you have more informal phone calls that you are not waiting around to take because that can be anxiety inducing as well, or it might even just be keeping in touch over platforms, such as Slack. We use Hangouts every day and we just kind of chat informally, either about work or about other things.

Jessica Pardoe:
And I find that that really helped me keep connected in the pandemic. And I think for a new starter, that would be really important. Because it’s kind of with your colleagues, but without the pressure of having to appear on Zoom or having to think about the way that you’re talking over the phone, for example. So that would be my piece of advice. And that’s coming from someone who does kind of thrive of human connection. I find that vary in the ways you communicate does really, really help. And that has helped me and hopefully it will help any new starters to the industry as well. But fingers crossed there shan’t be another lockdown. I would like to think that we won’t be in that situation again. But like you said, you absolutely never know.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah. 100%. I hope there isn’t as well. Jess, absolutely brilliant. Genuinely one of the most enjoyable episodes that I’ve recorded. So thank you very much for sharing your knowledge, your wisdom. If people are listening to this and they’re thinking, “I would love to connect with you, I’d love to follow you, find out more about you.” How can they do that?

Jessica Pardoe:
I would say that I’m most active on Twitter, so you can find me at Jessica Pardoe PR. And I’m also Jessica Pardoe on LinkedIn as well. So if you wanted to connect with me there, that’s absolutely fine. And while I’m here, I’d also like to say that you might like to pop my agency a little follow on Twitter too. They’re at Source_tweets. That’s Source_tweets. And I’d really appreciate a little follow for them too. Thank you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Well, I’ll send you an invoice after for that. I’m only joking. This has been brilliant, Jess. Thank you so much. I’m very pleased and honoured that you chose this podcast to do your podcasting debut. I can tell you this is going to be a hit with the listeners, for sure. I’ve been nodding furiously. Once again, from me to you, thank you so much. And if anybody’s listening to this thinking, “I would love to convert us with this person,” reach out, do it. She is brilliant, very kind, very helpful. And as you already heard, full of knowledge. I’m going to shut up now and I’m going to give you the last word on your episode.

Jessica Pardoe:
Thank you. I would just say exactly what you’ve just said. If anyone’s feeling that they might be at risk of burnout or if they feel like what their situation is, isn’t quite right for them, then please, please do reach out to me. I’m always happy to chat.

Jessica Pardoe:
And I do chat to quite a lot of people on Twitter as well about these kinds of things. I like to say that my DMs are quite a safe space. And if anyone feels like they want to talk about something that they wouldn’t want to talk to anyone else about, then absolutely, I’m your person. So feel free to DM me on Twitter or find me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to chat on either.

Riley Hope podcast interview – How SMBs can use SEO to recover from COVID

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How can small, and medium sized businesses start to recover from the effects of COVID? That’s exactly what my brilliant guest on this episode – Riley Hope – will share the answers to.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

Spotify: Click here
Apple Podcasts:
 Click here

Use a different listening platform? Choose it here.
(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Riley Hope is an organic digital marketer with over five years of experience, with a majority of experience specialising in SEO for small-medium enterprises. She also has an academic background and has written multiple papers on SEO and the SME sector. .

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How SMBs have been affected by COVID.
  • Some of the key mistakes she’s seen SMBs make during the pandemic.
  • How she thinks SMBs should plan if the COVID situation worsens.
  • How can SMB’s start to recover from an SEO POV.

…and much more!

Useful Links:

Episode sponsored by Absolute Digital, check them out here: https://absolute.digital/

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Riley Twitter: https://twitter.com/reillyhope13

Episode Transcript

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks all-round digital marketing podcast. What a great episode and a great guest I have got for you today. We’re talking all about using SEO as part of a COVID recovery for SMBs with the awesome Riley Hope.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before we begin, a quick word from the sponsor. This episode is sponsored by Absolute Digital Media, a leading UK-based digital marketing agency specialising in search, pay-per-click and digital PR. With seven award wins under their belt already this year, they understand what it takes to make a business stand out from its competitors and generate greater visibility in return. Check them out. I will drop a link to them in the show notes.

Azeem Ahmad:
But now, onto the show. Riley, welcome to the show.

Riley Hope:
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Azeem Ahmad:
How is it going?

Riley Hope:
It’s going good. I’m in New York so it’s very foggy and cold out. I don’t know how it is in the UK.

Azeem Ahmad:
Pretty much the same, but all year round mostly.. Would you like to tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, who you are and give yourself a great intro?

Riley Hope:
Yeah, sure. My name is Riley, or rileyhope on social media. I am an organic digital marketing specialist and I mostly work in SEO for small businesses as well as third sector organizations. I’m in the works of developing a social enterprise model that utilizes SEO as a social mission, and focuses on COVID revitalization as well as accessibility. The model utilizes a unique pricing formula that helps make it more financially accessible to small businesses.

Riley Hope:
Aside from that, I actually just finished grad school literally yesterday. I submitted my dissertation last night. Where I explored a lot about COVID-19 revitalization through SEO and organic marketing. I also work as an SEO director at a boutique

agency, and I’m also currently rebuilding my Animal Crossing village on my Switch.

Azeem Ahmad:
Wow, what an introduction. That right there is exactly why I’m excited to have you on the show and talk about this topic.

Azeem Ahmad:
First thing’s first though, a massive congratulations on finishing grad school. You must be relieved.

Riley Hope:
Yeah, to say the least. I didn’t know what to do with myself last night, so I got Chipotle and watched Dragonball.

Azeem Ahmad:
All good. Right, into the meat and bones of the show. We’re talking about SEO as part of a COVID recovery for SMBs. I am very much team SMB, if you see or hear things that I post on Twitter especially when new updates come out because they’re often forgotten about. So less of me, more of you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Riley, in your experience, how would you say that SMBs have been affected by COVID?

Riley Hope:
The Washington Post, Matt Stoller, who is the director of the American Economic Liberties Project, called an “extinction level event for small businesses.” The devastation has taken a global toll. I’m sure that you’ve seen businesses closing down where you are, and I’ve seen them close down near me and all across the country.

Riley Hope:
Small businesses actually take up a majority of our economy. Yet during the pandemic, we saw mass closures with the lockdown restrictions. A study from Yelp came out that estimated that 60% of businesses reported that they were closed or now permanently closed. And then, the Atlantic Council went on to actually state, especially in developing markets, small businesses contribute nearly half of the GDP and generate nearly 70% of jobs. The recovery of SMBs is crucial to the global economy.

Riley Hope:
And then, Oxfam, with this has also stated that half a billion people are expected to be pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic. Yet at the same time, 32 of the world’s largest companies saw their profits jump over $100 billion. The Washington Post went on to also report that 100,000 small businesses in America closed permanently across the USA in the first two months. And during those same months, five of the biggest American companies turned over large revenue and 50 of those companies saw their revenue grow by over 2%.

Riley Hope:
This is the steepest business loss in the history of the USA and we’ve seen this, of course, across the world as well. But in particular to the USA, active American business owners dropped by 22%, which has summed out to a decline of 3.3 million between February and April 2020. This also carries over, so we see the pandemic also disproportionately affected immigrant and minority owned businesses, with African-American owned businesses experiencing the largest loss in the US with a devastating 41% elimination of active businesses.

Azeem Ahmad:
That is incredible. Thank you so much for sharing that. I think many people like myself had an awareness of some level of the impact on SMBs. But, those numbers are sobering, to say the least. Thank you very much for firstly putting in the work and sharing that with everybody.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’d love to dig a little bit deeper into, of the SMBs that survived is probably the wrong word, but the ones who are going through the pandemic now, what would you say are some of the key mistakes that you’ve seen SMBs make during the pandemic?

Riley Hope:
I’ve seen a variety, but I think the key mistake that sums everything up is not enough positive attention is being paid to these digital platforms. I think it can be daunting to a lot of people. They don’t want to mess up their site, they don’t want to mess up how their Instagram feed looks, how their Twitter looks, their Google My Business, or really any platform. There’s so much information on all of these things, especially when it comes to SEO. Or, some of it’s wrong, some of it’s right, some of it’s half right but only if it applies to that industry or what you’re trying to do.

Riley Hope:
I think that anxiousness of, “Oh, if I mess my site up, I don’t know how to get it back,” or, “I don’t know what to post on Instagram, or Facebook or My Business.” And, while there are guidelines and, in SEO’s case, best practice guidelines, I think that there is, for a lot of us in the industry, that it’s fun. There is a learning curve with everything. When you’re adding content with a new WordPress builder or a different site builder, it takes a bit of time to get used to it.

Riley Hope:
I was helping someone set up a new site as part of my research and they were having an issue that happened with a plugin I have never used before. I was like, “I have no idea.” So we just hopped on a Google Meet and screen shared. Yeah, we had to restore the site a few times but we figured it out. I think there needs to be more open dialogue about that, just trying things out. And, about the infobesity of organic digital marketing, especially in SEO.

Riley Hope:
And then, as long as small businesses are staying ethical and not essentially trying to deceive, whether it be the search algorithm or their consumers, I think treating online tools as learning tools is important. Especially as we have these constant updates rolling out, we saw Core Web Vitals come out in the past year, plenty of Google My Business updates and then so many other things.

Riley Hope:
And also, I think just sticking to what is true for that small business. Everyone has a reason why they started their business, aside from making money to some extent. Whether it’s, “Oh, I like to thrive on my days off so I’m going to open up a shop on Instagram and a website,” to even the local restaurant in your town, conveying that kind of reasoning online, in your site, in your social media, whatever else you use, can help people connect and relate to that business.

Azeem Ahmad:
I could not agree with you more. That is gold. I’m sitting here listening to you live now thinking, “This is incredible.”

Riley Hope:
Thank you.

Azeem Ahmad:
I feel guilty that this is free. This is really, really insightful. Thank you so much.

Azeem Ahmad:
So the situation as it stands, we’re not out of the pandemic.

Riley Hope:
Right.

Azeem Ahmad:
Certainly over here in the UK, it looks like things are starting to worsen up as winter season approaches, cases are certainly rising. I’m sure it’s the same over there, certainly from the news that I am seeing.

Azeem Ahmad:
From an SMB point of view, how do you think that SMBs should plan if the COVID situation worsens?

Riley Hope:
I would say plan to be mostly digital. Whatever happened back in 2020, in those first couple months, that March, April, May time where things started to shut down, we saw internet usage rates spike. That spike has essentially maintained.

Riley Hope:
Outline what you’re trying to do, whether that’s trying to get new customers, increase your site presence or just to post on your Google My Business more. We’re seeing businesses become more and more increasingly digital, whether that’s picking up groceries curbside, which I will now never go back into a grocery store unless I absolutely have to. Buying more stuff online rather than going into a shop, learning online or anything in between, it’s important that small businesses are ready to serve people online.

Riley Hope:
Have that Facebook app on your phone, Instagram, granted they’re not down. Have a way that’s easy for you to manage your sites. Use an affordable CRM system, whether that’s using Wix’s site and their tools that they have managed into it, MailChimp has some great solutions that I’ve seen that are affordable. There are form plugins that track data and keep data per GDPR and whatever privacy laws where you are. Use what’s easy and effective to manage your current leads and to get those new customers coming in.

Riley Hope:
Not everyone excels at everything, especially not the first few times. Don’t be afraid to mess up and try new things. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Join some Facebook groups, that’s how I got into SEO. Join some online communities. The digital community on Twitter, of course, is abundant. Plant a cell online and if your business has to pause, like a lot of cosmetology based businesses, a lot of restaurants had to close down due to lockdown measures and it seems like there is no light at the end of that tunnel, there will be. We’ve gotten this far, don’t stop, keep posting, keep editing, keep working towards your digital goals.

Riley Hope:
Nothing in the organic digital marketing sense is every immediate. It may take some time to see those results but keep at it and surround yourself and your business with supportive people.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing, I couldn’t agree with you more. Consistency is key. I’m a big, big advocate of that so it pleases me to hear another person say that, too. So massive thank you from that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s talk about SEO specifically then, and then afterwards I’m definitely going to pick your brains about this whole outage. But first of all, SEO specifically, as you mentioned, it’s not a quick win. Certainly, if you do it the right way. How can SMBs start to recover, from an SEO point of view?

Riley Hope:
The path to recovery, especially for SEO, it’s muddy. It’s not going to be the same for everyone. But, utilizing a lot of free or discounted tools, a lot of small businesses that I spoke with in my research, they either weren’t aware that they could use some tools, or they didn’t want to try to learn them because they thought they were too complex. I think, going back to what I said about getting in those communities, but also for small businesses in particular, affordability is a key factor. Saving that 10 bucks a week, at least for me, means that I can go to McDonald’s and get an iced coffee for that week. That stuff is important. So using Google Search Console, Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, those are powerful and free tools.

Riley Hope:
Something that I noticed in my research is that people underestimated the power that Google My Business can have. So even if you don’t have a physical address, you can use a service area listing and people can find you that way or click through to your site. And then, also enabling messaging in Google My Business as well.

Riley Hope:
If you have or are starting out with a site, let’s say that you didn’t have a site before and you want to start out with WordPress, Astra has a lot of great and free starter templates that you can import, and they’re easy switch out with a variety of different types of builders. Gutenberg I think is one, I don’t know if I’m saying that right. Wix is also affordable and they have themes. WordPress isn’t great for everyone, I know that’s a lot of feedback that I got, too.

Riley Hope:
Screaming Frog is free for small sites, so that’s under 500 URLs, I think. It helps you see a lot of data very quickly, and you can export that to Google Sheets and color code it, do whatever you need to do to look at it. Sitevalve is a great tool and it isn’t free, but it’s very affordable. Utilizing Google Trends is free. I personally like to use the AdWords keyword planner as well. The SEM director at my agency got me onto that so I like to use that for keyword research.

Riley Hope:
There are definitely other great tools out there, that are affordable or that have a free trial, but those are ones that I’ve personally used and can recommend. And then, you can use that data from these tools to build a better site and an optimized site. SEO isn’t just saying, “Okay, Google likes this so that’s all I have to do,” and I think that’s where a lot of small businesses get lost. It’s thinking about the people coming to your site, and you being able to manage the site and those inquiries coming in. You want to think about your customer base, like who your customer base is and how that site looks to them. Is there content on the pages that’s going to fulfill what they’re looking for or what you’re trying to bring forth?

Riley Hope:
Going back to the grocery store example, if you’re running your own corner store and anything akin, and someone is searching for “grocery curbside pickup near me,” do you have content on your site that is geared towards that? Can that customer find how to place an order, pay for that order and when to pick it up efficiently? Do you have staff on hand who know how to look for those incoming orders and get them ready at the pickup time? If you make that search to sales purchase easy for your customer, then they’ll probably come back.

Riley Hope:
For me, I don’t have a lot of grocers in my town but the one that I do use regularly, I can see all their specials through their Facebook. And then, I go to their site or their Google My Business listing, message them through there and then say, “I need a special, whatever, whatever.” And then, I get a reply within an hour with my total, pay online and then I go pick up my order when they said it would be ready. That process is important. Even if you get more customers on social media, having that flow into a website is important. You can track that data better and see how many people are coming to your site from where. You can also show for more queries and more searches with the content on your site.

Riley Hope:
You can also make an order and inquiry process, and use a CRM integration to track and retain your customers. A CRM, I should have said this before, it’s a customer management system. There’s a lot of different ones within WordPress. There’s MailChimp, that’s the most common one I see. I work in auto so I know a lot of the auto based ones. But, there’s a lot of good ones out there that can cater towards different types of businesses and industries. I think that’s an important part of business, especially when small businesses need to recover and get new customers while keeping those current customers.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing. Once again, that answer right there is literally an audio strategy for any small or medium business to start to recover from COVID, the impacts of COVID, on a digital point of view. Amazing. Thank you so much.

Azeem Ahmad:
Right before I let you go though, I am going to put you on the spot now because you mentioned earlier about the outage earlier this month, of most of social media. I don’t know whether you saw or whether you didn’t saw so apologies if I’m repeating myself, but a lot of the discussion once everything came back online that I saw certainly was, “Well, this is a classic example of why you should never stick to one channel. You should be on every channel, all the time.” Personally, I completely disagree with that.

Riley Hope:
Yeah.

Azeem Ahmad:
Feel free to hold your own opinion on that, absolutely. But, I personally disagree. So from a small business point of view, thinking of Facebook for example, if that business is active and successful on Facebook, it should stick with that until they grow to the point of diversification.

Azeem Ahmad:
But, since you mentioned it, I’d love to get your thoughts. How do you think these outages impacted small businesses? And, where do you stand on the debate of you should be active everywhere, or you should just do one channel, get it right and then grow?

Riley Hope:
I think on a global point, those outages were devastating, especially in non-Western countries that use What’s App. I’m in a lot of wholesale groups and when What’s App went out, you would have thought the world ended because nobody had a way to communicate with anyone. And especially, as an international student as well, from an academic side those outages were devastating. I couldn’t talk to anyone.

Riley Hope:
And then, I agree with you on not everyone has the capacity to do eight million things at a time. It’s great if you do. But, not every small business owner or micro enterprise owner can manage a site, an Etsy or whatever type of eCommerce platform that they use, a Facebook, an Instagram, a Twitter, a this and a that. And now, TikTok is coming in. I think a lot of people forget that businesses are run by people. If you’re doing well on Instagram, then keep doing well on Instagram. Am I going to recommend that you have a site? Yeah. But, I’m also going to recommend that you put content on it that can be updated once a year, or every 12 months, whatever.

Riley Hope:
I just said every 12 months and once a year. I do this all the time, where I just mix up numbers because I was never taught math right. America.

Riley Hope:
If something is working for you, then do that. And also, sites are expensive. That’s something that SEO is like, “Oh, you can put WordPress on for free.” Yeah, if you want to pay $100 a year for hosting. Somebody was recommending me a paid builder and I was like, “I can’t justify somebody who makes $30,000 a year spend that much of their income on a site builder when there are free ones out there.”

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing. Literally, the audience can’t see but I’m just nodding going, “This is gold.”

Azeem Ahmad:
Speaking of the audience, if they are listening to this and wondering how they could find out more about you, connect with you on social media, where can they find you, Riley?

Riley Hope:
I’m actually redoing my site, but it will be back up November 1st. That’s rileyhope.com, R-I-L-E-Y hope.com. And then, on Twitter my name is spelled wrong but it’s R-E-I-L-L-Y hope13, and I am on Twitter all the time.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing. Yeah, fantastic. From me to you, this is sadly the end of the episode. But, what an episode it has been. I’m really looking forward to editing this back, and just piling through the show notes and making a ton of my own notes. All that’s left for me to say, Riley, is thank you so much for being a guest. Thank you so much for being an incredible guest, I should say, sharing so much knowledge. I have found this valuable, I am positive the listeners will find it valuable, too. So a huge, huge thank you for being awesome.

Riley Hope:
Awesome. Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed this.

Rejoice Ojiaku podcast interview – how brands can get Black History Month right

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I invited Rejoice Ojiaku back onto the podcast to discuss what Black History Month is, and how brands can get Black History Month messaging right, without sounding tokenistic.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

This episode was recorded during the week of another period of individual attacks on Black people in our industry, for wanting a more diverse and inclusive space for us all.  Rejoice is a content SEO creator, and co-founder of B-DigitalUK, a digital marketing platform which showcases Black talent in the digital industry.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What is Black History Month?
  • What value does she see in brands highlighting Black History Month.
  • Where in the past have brands got Black History Month wrong.
  • How to sound genuine/authentic when using Black History Month in messaging.
  • Advice for brands thinking about posting content for Black History Month.
  • Advice for agencies/in-house companies who are considering highlighting the importance of Black History Month to their staff.
  • Staying resilient in the face of racial adversity and attacks online.

Useful Links:

Episode sponsored by Absolute Digital, check them out here: https://absolute.digital/

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Rejoice Twitter: https://twitter.com/RejiYates

Episode Transcript

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. What a brilliant guest I have got for you today. You may have heard it on a previous podcast episode of mine, and she’s probably, I think the first person who is coming back on again. So she’s now an Azeem Digital Asks record holder. You can’t see her, but she’s fist pumping the air right now. We are talking all about how brands can get Black History Month right. And my guest is the awesome Rejoice Ojiaku. Say hello, Rejoice.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Hello. Thanks for having me, again.

Azeem Ahmad:
You are more than welcome. Right, before we begin, a quick word from the sponsor. This episode is sponsored by Absolute Digital Media, a leading UK based digital marketing agency, specialising in search, pay per click, and digital PR. With seven award wins under their belt already this year, they understand what it takes to make a business stand out from its competitors and generate greater visibility in return. Check them out and I will drop a link to them in the show notes.

Right. Rejoice, Reji, legend. Welcome to the show.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
That’s so funny.

Azeem Ahmad:
How are you doing?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Good. Good, good. I’m really, really good. How are you?

Azeem Ahmad:
Living the dream, my friend. Right, listen, let’s get straight into the meat and bones of this episode. We are recording this during Black History Month and we won’t go too much into it on this episode, but it has been a bit of a wild week on Twitter for people of color and the marginalized in the industry. We can dig into that later on if we want, it’s your episode. But first of all, let’s start with the very, very basics. What is Black History Month?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
So Black History Month is essentially a month to kind of reflect and celebrate, empower people from the African and Caribbean descent. It’s really kind of to show how black people have contributed to the world, especially in the UK, how black people have contributed in so many aspects and how we have a history that goes beyond slavery and all those things. Even though we have slavery as part of black history, but there’s so much more to it. So that’s why the element of celebration, empowerment kind of comes into it and how we acknowledge a sense of appreciation. So, that’s essentially what Black History Month is all about.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing that. So the title of the episode is how brands can get black history right. So before we dig into how brands can get it right, I’d love to know from you, what value do you see in brands highlighting Black History Month?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I guess the value we see in it is one, acknowledgement of black people and real acknowledgement, accurate acknowledgement. I guess the value comes from we are now seeing that these brands are kind of thinking past the usual preference of whiteness. You understand that if you want to be diverse and inclusive, you can’t only just celebrate white holidays with white history. You have to incorporate a lot of other people’s history and black history being so prominent in the UK, brands kind of highlighting it. Also, it shows your black employees, “Hey, we know this day is very important to you. We want to do our parts” in pushing that empowerment, that acknowledgement about black history in a positive and accurate way.

Azeem Ahmad:
Lovely, thank you very much for sharing. So the natural question for me, that pop was something in my desk just potentially breaking. So if I suddenly scream out, I have fallen under my desk during the recording, but we move. Naturally what you’ve just said has led me on to, to my next question. So it seems like it can be quite tricky to get Black History Month right. So I’d love to know and learn from you where in the past you’ve seen that brands have got Black History Month wrong.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I don’t know about particular in black history related, but brands have got things wrong in so many ways. I remember KFC doing a whole chicken and the shadow is showing the fist going up now that is so stereotypical. Well, black people like chicken. Ooh, so we’re going to use chicken. Again, that’s so wrong. Pepsi during the whole black lives matter placed Kylie Jenner to solve the whole injustice, is to drink Pepsi. That is wrong. I think the most one I can remember about black history is when there was a conversation. I think it was a university during a black history talk and black history conversations and the person they put the face as was Sadiq Khan, an Asian man.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
So it was outrageous. It was just like what? He’s not black. And then they were trying to spin it off as Black History Month is now all ethnic minorities’ history. No, it’s not. Black history does not stop people from creating your own history or months surrounding that history. So, that’s when brands totally got it wrong. You’re trying to overcompensate. You’re not asking, you’re not socially involving the right people. You’re not involving black people in that decision making because they would’ve told you this doesn’t make sense.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. So naturally I’m led to authenticity, right? Because from what you said there, especially about Sadiq Khan, it didn’t come across as authentic. I’m sure as somebody seeing that messaging, you would’ve thought, well, this doesn’t sound genuine or authentic. So how can you sound genuine or authentic when you’re talking about Black History Month in your messaging,

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Tell the real story whatever you are celebrating, tell the real story and use real voices. The only way it can really be authentic if you actually involve people from that demographic and actually hear them. So they’re doing the story telling, they’re shaping how the story should look like that is real authenticity because you wouldn’t get someone who’s not involved in a community to tell that story for them. Especially if you are brand around content and you hear this key was about storytelling. How can you tell a story from someone who doesn’t know anything about the history?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I think for you to sound genuine, authentic, actually show you’ve taken some time in involving parties or actually part of this history actually show how you are trying to, and sometimes you don’t have to be the one telling the story amplify other people’s voices. So brands, you don’t have to be the one doing it. You can collaborate with a black organization and it can be just something that you allow them and you sort of supporting or sponsoring or putting effort and time into it. It will still look great for your brands. And actually that’s more genuine than anything else.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yes. I couldn’t agree with you more there. I’m going to start to step for a minute and say, if brands are thinking about posting then and collaborating with black individuals, then above all else, pay them, pay them.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Pay them. Yes. Not, it’s not free education.

Azeem Ahmad:
But anyway, this is your episode, sorry for hijacking it for a moment there. So we’re talking about brands posting. So if a brand is listening to this and they’re thinking, right, I’d love to get involved in blacking history month. I’ve just learned from you right there how I can sound genuine and authentic. What advice would you be giving to brands who are now thinking about posting Black History Month related content?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
I think my advice would be first try utilizing your employees within your company. So maybe show representation of how diverse your company is. That’s great content to kind of see how these different things look within from an internal organization. I guess if you want to sort of, then again, collaborate with other people about pick a theme of around black history, pick a theme, it could be black mental health and how that has played about in, in the UK. So partner up with black psychologists, black therapists and let them come to webinars, invite people and have an open space where other people from other organizations can come in and listen to it. So you are not just kind of keeping all the fun within your company, but you, you want to educate the masses. So maybe do it that way.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Pick things that you want to kind of support, whether it’s black media, black presentation, black mental health, black finance, black pounds day, pick something. Then that way it’s easier to kind of create content in terms of what people want to see. I’ve seen companies do a thing where they publicize black owned business lists around this stuff. They do fairs and all these things where people can actually now put their money into, towards black businesses. So that’s how you can think about posting for content collaborate. What do you got internally, what theme do you need to use for Black History Month.

Azeem Ahmad:
Fantastic. This is absolutely gold. I just wanted to go back to something you said at the very start of that answer. Where you were talking about engaging with your stuff? I want to just pick into that a little bit more with you. So, when you see the agencies and in-house companies are considering highlight writing the importance of Black History Month to their staff. What advice would you be giving them? How can people and brands approach this internally with their own staff?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
It would always be good to plan ahead because no one likes. I think, what companies do is, Ooh, first all they say comes around means we need to do something. No, plan ahead, if it is that important to you, you would put it into your plans. Like let’s be real and maybe let people know what events are coming up again, forward thinking, ask people who would like to be involved, who would like to present something or who would like, who has an idea?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
One cool thing can be can you have different black cuisines and stuff like that, black music around all those things. I guess to sort of bring your staff into it, actually seek the opinions in terms of what can we do? What do you think is great to do? What would you like to be involved in? What would you like to hear or listen to? And that will be great. One thing I would like to stress is, if you are doing something for Black History Month, make sure that your black staff are looked after. Because sometimes I feel like companies don’t really care for their black staff internally, but will want to do this tokenism and look great on the outside. It has to be reflective from both ends.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. I’m glad you talked about tokenism there because it’s something that I have seen in the past. In previous workplaces, in my professional life. Plot twist, I’m not a black individual, but having seen black individuals being mistreated just for the sake of a brand, posting the message out very much, like you said, because October comes around and people think right, I need to get a messaging out. So that’s super, super important as we’ve got time left before I end the episode. I’m just going to put you on the spot now and give you some questions, which I have full disclosure, not prepared you for. So I am going to love the answers that come from you. So, first things first, now we’ve got time. Let’s spend a couple of minutes talking about everything that’s happened over the past week. So…

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Yay!

Azeem Ahmad:
The fact that you’re excited means this is good. So as someone who is incredibly passionate about helping young black individuals progress and get equal opportunities throughout the marketing industry. For the context of those listening, to aren’t aware what has happened in the last week, there has been attacks, very public attacks on individuals who are black in the marketing industry in various different countries, from people who have displayed pretty much what I describe as over white fragility, feel free to disagree, but it screams white fragility to me. For black individuals who are in the marketing industry, Reji and they’re experiencing these types of attacks and unnecessary and unwanted hate, especially during Black History Month. Not that it’s okay at any other time of the year, of course. What advice would you give to those people? How do you stay strong and resilient?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Oh, that’s tough. I think one thing is, I would say it’s good to stay strong, but you don’t always have to be strong. The reason why I say it, is racism is violence in any shape, any form, whether it’s a slur, whether it’s a invalidating your experience, it is violence. It can ultimately make you feel as though your existence is not important enough for people to acknowledge your experience. So it’s, you don’t have to always be okay, some days you can have a really bad day and some days you can kind of find a way to move forward.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
But I would say to always remember that at the end of the day there are still real allies there and there’s always power in numbers, especially within your own community. Reach out, talk to someone say what this person said has really put me in a bad space. I would like to vent how, give your child yourself a permission to vent and say what you need to say, but always remember that it’s not your fault. It’s not just your problem. It is a problem. It’s a systemic problem that we need to sort of deal with and you’re not alone in it. Your feelings are valid. What you said is valid. So kind of always remember that.

Azeem Ahmad:
That’s brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing before we part ways sadly, and you share your contact details where people can connect with you and follow you. I am going to open the floor to you. So I’m literally going to give you 30 seconds. You can talk about whatever you want within reason. Something that we haven’t covered off yet, that you want to just get off your test. The audio virtual floor is yours.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Great. So one thing I want to cover is in the height of Black History Month it is great that brands want to do what they feel they need to do for Black History Month. But also remember that it doesn’t just stop in October, whatever you do and whatever you are preaching and saying has to be continuous across the board. It has to be a policy change. It has to be tangible changes.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
If you work within media and you care about diversity and inclusion, you care about Black History Month and you truly want to make a change. Then think about how you are telling stories. Think about how you are showing representation, how you are contributing, especially with some of the clients you work with, how you are contributing in either perpetuating stereotype, perpetuating different viewpoints that is not accurate. Sometimes as a brand and as someone in, working for a brand, sometimes this is for lack of a better word. Sometimes it’s okay to just shut up and let people who are knowledgeable speak about these things without you feeling as though it is an attack on your existence because it’s not an attack or not exist. It is just plain and simple truth.

Azeem Ahmad:
Boom, perfect way to round out the questions there. Thank you very much. If people are listening to this and rightly thinking this human being is sharing some absolute wisdom, how can I find out more about them and follow them? Where can they find you?

Rejoice Ojiaku:
LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn, Rejoice Ojiaku. You can find me there. You can find me on Twitter at Reji Yates. But please be advised that on Twitter. I don’t always speak about SEO or whatever. I do have a life and I do banter. So I’m happy if you don’t follow me there because you don’t want to see what I see. LinkedIn is a perfect place because yeah, I’m very professional on LinkedIn.

Azeem Ahmad:
The only thing that I will add to that is should you decide to follow Reji on Twitter, any time after hitting follow before you then go on to tweet, check that spelling, check that grammar.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Because I will find it and I will expose it.

Azeem Ahmad:
Because you could get cooked. If you log on, one day, and see that she has a strange username it’s because somebody has made some sort of grammatical error, which she decides to share.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
It’s so funny.

Azeem Ahmad:
But yeah, listen, this has been brilliant in all seriousness. Thank you so much for being a great guest. Thank you so much for coming back onto the podcast. And most importantly, thank you so much for helping share your knowledge and wisdom all around Black History Months and hopefully helping to educate the industry. I think, in all seriousness the industry is a far richer place for having you in it, my friend. So for me to you, thank you very much.

Rejoice Ojiaku:
Thanks for having me again, love up this pod it is actually one of the best pods out there.



Itamar Blauer podcast interview – why people should practice sustainable SEO

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To mark hitting Episode 50 of the podcast (still can’t believe it!) myself and Itamar hopped onto a recording, with just a topic – Sustainable SEO – and no agenda. In this episode, you’ll learn lots of things – but mostly, why you should be considering SEO as a long term strategy, and not chase quick wins.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

Spotify: Click here
Apple Podcasts:
 Click here

Use a different listening platform? Choose it here.
(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Itamar describes himself as an SEO Consultant, Trainer & Manager, author, and a YouTuber since 2008.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What sustainable SEO is
  • Advice for industry practitioners when working with clients
  • Advice for clients, and business owners around developments in SEO
  • Why the industry shouldn’t chase after the latest shiny new development blindly

…and so much more!

As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!


Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Connect with Itamar:

Website: https://www.itamarblauer.com/ 

Work: https://www.curemedia.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/itamarblauer

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjZzsFU-vtcj21xmvb2aRA

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/itamarblauer/

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. I’ve got a brilliant guest with me today, Itamar, who is going to introduce himself because I am not going to butcher this. But I need to tell you all something. This is the first time we’re going to do a recording where there’s literally just no agenda, just a topic. We are just going to shoot the heck, as my American friends call it, and we’re going to be talking all about sustainable SEO.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before we get into that, as always, please like, rate, share, and subscribe. Tell a friend to tell a friend, and then tell that friend to tell their next door neighbor about the podcast. And also, shameless plug, please sign up to my newsletter, The Marginalised Marketer. You can find all that information about the podcast, the newsletter and more at iamazeemdigital.com.

Azeem Ahmad:
Anyway, onto the topic, sustainable SEO. Itamar, welcome to the show, my friend.

Itamar Blauer:
Thank you very much, Azeem. It’s an absolute honor to be here.

Azeem Ahmad:
All being well, you are going to be episode number 50, the big five-O. So no pressure to deliver on the no agenda, but tell the audience who you are and why you’re going to smash this episode out of the park.

Itamar Blauer:
Yeah. So hello everyone who’s listening. My name’s Itamar Blauer. I’m an SEO consultant trainer and I’m currently the SEO manager at Cure Media, which is an award-winning influencer marketing agency for fashion brands. There’s a lot I can say, but I don’t really want to talk too much about me. I want to kind of get onto this topic because I think it’s very interesting. Obviously, being episode 50, there’s no pressure, right? No pressure. We’re just going to go with it.

Itamar Blauer:
Sustainable SEO, right, and I’m kind of asking my own question here, Azeem, unless you want to ask me one, but when I think of sustainable SEO, the reason why I want to talk about sustainable SEO, is because I feel like a lot of people in the industry, they’re always trying to think of what’s hot right now and then tackle that, and then wait for the next thing.

Itamar Blauer:
So the best example I can give you with that is something like Core Web Vitals. So we’re talking about, I think it was May 2020 when Google started announcing Core Web Vitals. Everyone was like, “Whoa, this is the big thing. This is something that we’re going to jump on.” So a lot of people did. When you look into the nitty gritty of the whole concept, websites were always meant to be user friendly, right? They were always meant to be performing well for the user.

Itamar Blauer:
The reason why I link this to sustainable SEO is that essentially the core of sustainable SEO is if you’re planning to be in business and have a website for the next five to 10 years, it’s about the activities that you do that really future-proof your website and your business to be able to succeed, no matter what happens. No matter what kind of new buzzword comes out, no matter what kind of algorithm update gets announced.

Itamar Blauer:
The reason why I say the Core Web Vitals example I think is great because nobody needed Google to tell people in May of 2020 that the content shouldn’t be shifting and causing a bad user experience. It’s not like a light bulb went into people’s heads, and they’re like, “Right, now is the time to sort this stuff.”

Itamar Blauer:
So when it comes to sustainable SEO, for me, it’s always about trying to plant the seeds that will grow your website into the kind of mid to longterm, so that you’ll always be able to benefit from strong, organic performance that you can get from having a very good website.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. I mean, we could just end the episode right there. Thanks a lot. Let’s dig into that a little bit more. I’m really interested to learn more from you. So you’re talking about being sustainable in the medium to long term. Why is it that you think that there’s such a short-term mindset in parts of the industry?

Itamar Blauer:
I think it’s because things change quite quickly. So in my eyes, I’ve seen this a lot over the years. If you think all the way back to the 2000s, when link-building was like, you buy a bunch a huge volume of links, you’ll be able to rank. That was the thing that worked then. And then, over time, that didn’t work, but something else worked. Do you know what I mean? And I feel like SEO in part has had this kind of hurdle approach where there is always a hurdle that you reach, and then there’s always this new way of doing things or a new term that comes up or a new algorithm update that causes people to change that perception on certain things. And then they just try and address it one by one.

Itamar Blauer:
So that’s why I think, and I’m not trying to generalize, I’m not saying everyone does this, but I just see it a lot when something new comes out and then people like, “Okay. Yeah, this is the big focus. This is exactly… This is what is going to increase your rankings.” Then it just becomes more of a checklist where that checklist keeps on getting bigger and bigger as time goes on. So once you’ve done something, there’s always going to be something else in the next month or few months, that is new to you, that you’re going to have to address.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that, love that. I’m immediately drawing comparisons to a shiny new thing syndrome or likening it to spinning multiple plates at once. I guess one of the things that I wanted to ask you, I was going to ask you this later on, but I think you’ve led me mostly to it. Imagine for a second, Itamar, I am listening to this and I am work with an agency. So I’m paying an agency to do my SEO for me, but I’m listening to this podcast. I’m thinking, well, a lot of the things that this guy is saying resonates with how my website is being managed. Where can they start to address that? How can they start to address this issue and bring this up with people that they work with?

Itamar Blauer:
Yeah. That’s a very good question of course, because it’s the reality for a lot of people or a lot of business owners that use agencies. I think this is a whole nother topic in general, in terms of work agencies. I know a lot of great agencies, I know a lot of very bad agencies. That’s just something we have to deal with. I think if someone’s, like you posed that, if someone’s listening to this, and the kind of stuff you could ask an agency that’s doing your work for you is, I think it’s important to understand methodology, because a lot of times an agency will go to you and they’ll kind of tell you the checklist, or they’re like, “Well, we’ve done an audit. These are the things that we need to fix.” But I think SEO is much deeper than looking into audits and looking at the X, Ys and Z, these are the things you need to do.

Itamar Blauer:
I think methodology is very important because if you have a good methodology, it should be able to portray that this agency is going to be doing things that are still going to be benefiting you in the longterm. I think that’s a very important thing to address. I’ll try and think of an example. It’s like when people try and flag… Let’s have a think… Even with Titlegeddon, like Google changing the metadata and all that kind of stuff.

Itamar Blauer:
If an SEO agency tells you, and not even titles, if they’re going into, let’s say, meta descriptions, and they’re telling you, “We’re going to do this thing for you where we’re going to create new meta descriptions.” This is absolutely critical. It’s quite hard as a business owner to really be able to be very critical about when you’re hearing these things, because it’s like, “Well, as SEOs, we know that. Google most of the time rewrites meta descriptions anyway.” The only new stuff they have is to impact click-through rate. So it’s not even a direct kind of ranking factor, right?

Itamar Blauer:
I think this is why it’s important to anyone listening that a good methodology for SEO, it’s pretty much anything but the kind of checkbox approach of, “We’re going to do this, this, this, and this to get you these results.” It has to be more something like, “We understand your business, and the things that we’re going to do are going to be able to sustainably and positively impact your business on your website so that you are able to get the returns that you’re looking for in the long-term.”

Itamar Blauer:
I think that also involves being able to speak with an SEO agency. And I’ve said this to SEO agency owners a lot. When you’re pitching out for sales and stuff, that jargon, firstly, it’s very unlikely to work or resonate with a business owner because they’re not going to know what the hell… You can tell. It’s like, “Yeah, yeah. So I’m going to address the whole Titlegeddon situation going on.” And they’ll just look at you and they’ll be like, “What the hell does that mean?” So I think language is very important when you’re communicating this. That’s from an agency’s perspective.

Itamar Blauer:
But from a business owner, you’ve got to probe. I think you just have to probe the agency. It’s like, “How can you confidently be able to tell me that you are going to show me the results in the long-term?” I think that this is where you can weed out an agency that’s great versus an agency that might be a bit mediocre, where it’s like, if somebody is just going to be like, “Well, we’re going to get you these results because we’re going to do this whole checklist approach.” That to me is kind of mediocre way of thinking about it, because of course these things can change over time, with any kind of new algorithm update. That’s when you’ll get these mediocre agencies who will be just chasing this whole check-mark scenario.

Itamar Blauer:
But if you get somebody who’s able to really talk to you about their methodology, about how they think about organic search, how they think about, first of all, understanding your business and understanding your website to be able to drive these results in the long-term. I think that’s a very important thing to discuss with them.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. Absolutely gold. Thank you so much for sharing that. I wanted to flip the script a little bit then, and not talk about it from the customer’s point of view, but from the SEO point of view. I mentioned earlier on it, it’s probably a bad analogy, but that shiny new thing syndrome. What advice would you give to SEO as practitioners, people in the industry who are in the weeds, shall we say, to stay focused on sustainable SEO in the longterm and not get distracted by the shiny new thing? What advice would you give to those people?

Itamar Blauer:
Yeah, that’s a brilliant question. I think the first thing I would say, and I say this a lot, is that you have to be critical. When you hear things online, especially if it’s something new that comes out, I think you have to be very, very critical. Don’t just take things at face value because that will just lead you to tunnel vision on whatever that thing is. If you end up finding out over time that you’ve wasted so much of your time and resources trying to go for this brand new thing that didn’t work out, then you would have wasted time for yourself. You would have wasted money from your client. They’re not going to be happy, and all in all, it’s just a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Itamar Blauer:
So the first thing I’d say is be critical because a lot of the times when you hear about these new shiny things, you’ve got to ask yourself, it’s like, what if I try and do the opposite? Or what if I try and take a different approach? I’ll come back to the Core Web Vitals example. I’ve heard people say in the industry that, Core Web Vitals are absolutely fundamental to ranking well on Google. I’m just thinking to myself, if I took that at face value, all I would do is try and improve a page speed score from 80 to 95.

Itamar Blauer:
And even that, like page speed insights or the metrics, they always change. Every time you rerun a test it changes slightly. Do you know how much time could be wasted on doing that and to something that might not really impact you at all in terms of the ROI or the KPIs that you’ve got? If I take a different approach and be critical about Core Web Vitals, and I’m saying actually, you know what? I think content and relevancy is far more important than how fast a page loads.

Itamar Blauer:
So number one, be very critical of anything that you hear online. If you really want to make sure, do tests, experiment, have your own site where you can run these tests and be able to see for yourself what differences or any kind of correlation you can see between things. So I would say for SEOs it’s very important, be critical, experiment with things. Don’t always take things at face value. I say that as well, not to be like, don’t simply discredit or disregard things that people say, but just always try and have a bit of an open mind in terms of, well, they’re saying this, what if I tried the opposite? What if I tried it slightly differently and see what happens?

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. Love that. That’s a brilliant way to think about things. I guess one thing that cropped up in my head, which I wanted to ask you, sort of put you on the spot really, because it’s something that’s just came to me. So let’s say, for example, that you were working on my website and I didn’t know a lot about SEO or anything. I am paying you to do this for me. You have explained to me your methodology, you’ve explained to me how you work, and it makes sense. I’ve gone away, done my own Googling. I’ve come across an article that somebody else has written and they are saying something that’s completely different, without using Core Web Vitals, for example, but some that along those lines. I’ve brought that back to you and I’ve said, “Right, why are we not doing this?” How do you explain that to the person that you’re working with or for?

Itamar Blauer:
Yeah, and I think you’re most likely to find scenarios like that. And the reason why you’ll find scenarios like that is because SEO is a subjective field. There’s very little that’s completely objective about this industry. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love this industry, but then also it can cause some controversy in terms of what you’re saying. So if you, a client, was going to come back and show me something that said something different, I can be like… Well, you can do many things in this scenario. Either you could tell them, be like, “Look, I’ve tried this myself. I’ve tried different approaches. This is what I found to work.” I think something else that’s very important and business owners and clients care about is proven results or testimonials or any recommendations.

Itamar Blauer:
So you can show people, and some people have problems with the confidentiality of showing other clients. You can get the screenshots of a Google Search Console performance graph or something like that, where it doesn’t include any info about the other clients or websites, whatever. But to be able to at least try and convince them that A, you’re a critical thinker, which I think is important in an industry where there are so many differing opinions, but also to show them that you’ve got the goods to back it up. If you’re able to kind of showcase any previous work that you’ve done related to maybe something, even if it’s something very close to the kind of topic they’ve brought up to you and say, “Look, I’ve approached it my way. This way worked. If you want to try it this way…”

Itamar Blauer:
At the end of the day, and this is something as well that clients need to understand, at the end of the day, it’s their money that they’re spending. So if they’re very adamant on you doing or working in a particular way, sure, but at least try and educate them. I don’t want people to start taking people’s money and just messing around, not really doing… Education is very important in an industry that’s so subjective. So at least try and explain your methodology and try and explain whatever that scenario is in the sense that, “I’ve done it this way. It has worked. If you want to do it another way, I can do it, but I’m just telling you, I’m warning you in advance, I can never make any guarantees and this and that, but I still think that the way that I approach is better.” At the end of the day, if you phrase it like that, there’s a higher chance that they’ll trust you, because at the end of the day, they’re paying money for somebody who has the expertise to go and do this.

Itamar Blauer:
You should never belittle clients or laugh at them or call them out because they’re just curious as well. I feel it’s a good thing if clients are curious, because it means that they really care about their own business and their own website. So just trying to be nice and just explain to them that based on your testing or experience, this is how it works. Show some testimonials or charts of progress, stuff, just to make them feel a bit more at ease. That’s the way that I would approach it.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. I’ve said that a lot this episode, but yeah, generally I love that. Especially the part about encouraging curiosity. Couldn’t agree with you more. 100%. I could genuinely talk to you for hours, my friend, but I’m sure you’ve got a proper day job to do.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before we part ways and you share your contact details, I’m going to open the virtual floor for you. So if there’s anything that you want to share, talk about, or continue to talk about, I’m going to give you 30 seconds to do that right now.

Itamar Blauer:
I mean, to be honest, you said that this episode, you first said to me, 10 minutes, and then I look up and I’m like, “Wow, it’s almost 20 minutes.” How did that happen? To be honest, I just want to say thank you to you personally for giving me the chance. I really appreciate being on here, especially with the big five-O. I’m personally very happy about that, and yeah, I don’t really have too much more to say unless there was any last bits that you wanted to add.

Azeem Ahmad:
The only last bits, and probably the most important bits, because if there are people listening to this thinking, I’m really valuing the insights that this guy is sharing, I want to find him on social media, follow him and learn more from him. Where can people do that?

Itamar Blauer:
Aha. Yeah, so everywhere basically, because I think I’m the only person in the world that has my name. So if you search for me online, if you type in Itamar Blauer, and if you’ve spelled it right, of course, then you should be able to find me. I try and upload useful content so that people can help improve their skills and learn more about SEO and other digital marketing disciplines. So that’s on my website, itamarblauer.com. You can find me on YouTube as well if you search for Itamar Blauer, and find me as well on LinkedIn, Twitter, all that kind of stuff.

Azeem Ahmad:
Top stuff. Thank you very much, my friend, for being an absolutely brilliant guest. The only last thing I will say is don’t forget to like, rate, share, subscribe, and also pick up the newsletter. But more importantly for this episode, just as we hit bang on the 20-minute mark, Itamar, you’ve been a brilliant guest. Thank you so much for giving up some of your time and sharing your wisdom with not only me, but also the people who are going to listen to this show.

Itamar Blauer:
Thank you, Azeem. Been a pleasure. Cheers.


Shomi Williams podcast interview – mental health and seeking therapy in marketing

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The amazing Shomi Williams, a psychological therapist, joins me on the show this week, discussing the important topic of mental health and seeking therapy in marketing. You really do not want to miss this incredibly powerful episode.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Shomi runs a platform online called Lafiya Health that focuses on delivering mental and physical health education and services in a culturally competent and accessible way. She also works with people on a 1:1 level to support them with their emotional well-being needs.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Why she thinks looking after mental health is important.
  • What (if any) differences does she believe exist between white professionals and POC professionals in marketing who need help with their mental wellbeing?
  • What she thinks the perceptions are of mental health and wellbeing in the POC community.
  • What she thinks holds people back from taking that first step and seeking out a professional to have a conversation with.
  • Advice for people listening currently struggling with their mental health.
  • Tips for approaching the issue with colleagues who you may feel are suffering from poor mental health.
  • Her thoughts on people having therapy and either being open about it, sharing with the public, or being guarded and saying nothing.

…and much more!

As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Lafiya Health Twitter: https://twitter.com/LafiyaHealth

Lafiya Health: https://www.lafiyahealth.co.uk/

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Azeem Digital Asks Podcast. I know I say this all the time, but I really am excited for this episode because I genuinely believe that there’s a massive space for this type of topic to be discussed, which has not been discussed. And I’m very glad that my guest has agreed to join me today.

Azeem Ahmad:
She’s Shomi Williams, a psychological therapist, who runs a platform online called Lafiya Health, which focuses on delivering mental and physical health education services in a culturally competent and accessible way. She also works with people on a one-to-one level to support them with their emotional wellbeing needs.

Azeem Ahmad:
If you haven’t gathered already by the name of the episode on what I’ve just discussed, we’re talking all about mental health and therapy in marketing. So Shomi, welcome to the show.

Shomi Williams:
Hi, Azeem. Thank you so much for having me.

Azeem Ahmad:
More than welcome. How’s it going?

Shomi Williams:
It’s all going well. The weather’s good, so I’m happy. That’s all I need really. How about you?

Azeem Ahmad:
Very much the same. I don’t want it to get too hot though, because hay fever.

Shomi Williams:
Oh yeah.

Azeem Ahmad:
It’s real out here, which causes problems. But yeah, listen, that’s enough talking from me. I would love for you to give a quick intro to yourself for the listeners to learn more about you.

Shomi Williams:
Okay. Hi, everyone. My name is Shomi. I’m, as mentioned, I’m a psychological therapist. And I do a lot of outreach work to, I guess, broaden the education around mental health, to demystify it, destigmatize it.

Shomi Williams:
I run online workshops for different topics that would be beneficial for a lot of people, and then group therapy courses. And of course just general therapy as well. Yeah, so that’s essentially what I do. I also like playing video games.

Azeem Ahmad:
Oh, now I have to ask before we get going. Favorite video game?

Shomi Williams:
Ooh, that’s a really hard one. Do you know what? Just because when I look back of everything, I will say that my favorite of all time is Grand Theft Auto. Yeah, or Tekken, one of the two.

Azeem Ahmad:
Good, good answers there. Good answers. I’ll have to pick your brain some more about that after recording, because this is not what the episode [crosstalk 00:02:10].

Azeem Ahmad:
So let’s dive straight into it. I’d love to hear from you, why do you think that looking after mental health is important?

Shomi Williams:
I think it’s important just because it just, it contributes to everything really. Our productivity is down to our mental health, our social connections, how well we are in a community, how well we are in a family. And how well we feel in ourself is all down to our mental health.

Shomi Williams:
So it’s even linked to our physical health as well. When your physical health is good, your … Sorry, when your mental health is good, you have a better immune system, you’re less susceptible to pain. So it’s just good all around. Good mental health means good life, good living satisfaction levels are high, your immunity’s high. Everything is hunky-dory.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that, that’s a great answer already. I’m very glad that I reached out to you. So again, thanks very much for agreeing to join me on this.

Shomi Williams:
No worries at all.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’d love to learn from you, because you must speak to a variety of people from all different backgrounds. So I’d love to learn more from you about what, if any, differences do you believe exists between white professionals and people of color, POC professionals, in this space who need help with their mental wellbeing?

Shomi Williams:
That’s an interesting one, because a big component of what I do is about being culturally competent, because there are gaps in the understanding of mental health between different types of people. And then that’s just down to what actually contributes to our mental health.

Shomi Williams:
Some societies are more individualistic, I guess, in a Western society, we’re a bit more individualistic. The connection that we have to our parents, it’s a lot less dutiful, whereas where I’m from anyway … So I’m West African, I’m Nigerian. What you might find as well is the way in which people relate to their family is very different. Very, what I guess over here, might be seen as unhealthy is just the norm over there.

Shomi Williams:
And I guess with mental health things are very … It’s very subjective. What is a problem in one area isn’t a problem in another place of the world, or what was a problem 100 years ago considered … For example, hysteria in women was a mental health problem, now it’s just life.

Shomi Williams:
So there’s just a difference of understanding of, I guess, just what’s important to everyone. And sometimes that can make people feel very overlooked when they’re speaking to a professional about something that they hold near and dear to them, and the professional is from a society where it isn’t held in the same way.

Shomi Williams:
Yeah. Sorry, I know I’m being a bit roundabout. But yeah, sometimes there can be a bit of a disconnect when it comes to what’s important to you, based on where you’re from in the world.

Azeem Ahmad:
I love that, and you’re absolutely not being roundabout at all. It’s really interesting. So thank you for sharing that.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’d love to dig a little bit deeper then and say, specifically looking at the POC community. From my own personal experience I’d love to know, I believe that there is a specific perception around mental health and wellbeing. I’m absolutely not going to put words into your mouth because the episode is about you. So I’d love to learn from you. What do you think the perceptions are of mental health and mental wellbeing in the POC community?

Shomi Williams:
I think at the moment in the POC community, it’s very secondary. It isn’t a priority in the way that physical health is. I think because a lot of people have come to the UK, and they’ve had to have their immigrant mentality on where it’s all about the hustle and building some kind of generational standing for their children. Thinking about mental health and how satisfied and happy they feel and self-actualization, isn’t a priority.

Shomi Williams:
And when their children are in a better position due to their hard work and the children are not functioning to a certain level and they’re like, “I’m not feeling great and quite depressed in uni,” the parents can very easily be like, “What are you talking about? I’ve just come here on a boat and survived the brutality of severe racism, and university is getting you down.”

Shomi Williams:
So there’s a massive disconnect where it’s not a priority. As long as you have two legs, why aren’t you walking forward? They don’t understand that your mind is slowing down those two legs. So I think it’s seen as very secondary, very frivolous, and something that only the privileged can focus on.

Azeem Ahmad:
Completely agree with you. And I’m glad that I didn’t put any words into your mouth, because that’s exactly the experience that I had when I was younger. When I was younger and I was in that space where I wasn’t feeling great literally, my parents would say exactly the same thing.

Azeem Ahmad:
A lot of similarities like, “Oh, I’ve dealt with X, Y, and Z, and you’re only dealing with A, B and C. You just needed to get your head down, work harder and get on.” But I truly believe, as you alluded to, that we are slightly more culturally aware that our parents are, slash, or were. Which is brilliant, so thank you for sharing that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Which leads me very nicely to my next question. I’d love to draw on your experience. So without being too specific, I’d love to know what you think holds people back from taking that first step and seeking out a professional like yourself to have a conversation with?

Shomi Williams:
I think one thing that holds people back is the fact that they need to acknowledge that there’s a problem. And who wants to have a label, who wants to acknowledge that, “There’s a problem with me. I need help.” Especially if you’re still able to function. The problem isn’t stopping you from functioning, so you’re still able to somewhat do the things that you think are important.

Shomi Williams:
It can feel a bit humiliating, especially when you’re conditioned to see it as a weakness. Nobody wants to say, “Hey, I’m weak.” And I think already there’s such a stigma. People can very easily use depression to insult each other or anxiety to insult somebody. So it’s almost like claiming in insults to a lot of people, because of the way in which it’s stigmatized. So they find it very hard to say, “I am this thing that I find to be so negative and I need help to not be it.”

Shomi Williams:
And also, it takes a lot of work as well. And I guess as well, just being a person of color, the services have historically not been the most favorable to us. So we’re very used to being dismissed from, for example, if you’ve grown up in schools where being black means that you are more likely be expelled or you’re more likely to be put in certain classes despite your ability. And then your encounter with the police is negative as well. You’re kind of conditioned to not have that much trust for, quote unquote, white services.

Shomi Williams:
So already you’re less likely to even go to the hospital, even if there’s a physical problem wrong with you. Let alone a mental health problem, which is invisible. There’s already that distrust that’s been ingrained. So first we have to admit that there is a problem, then you have to go to people that you are conditioned to not really trust and to try and avoid. So it’s not easy to do, it’s not easy to confront that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Again, you’ve led me very nicely to my next question, specifically drawing on, and calling out POC marketers.

Azeem Ahmad:
If there are POC marketers who are listening to this that are struggling with their mental health, but have not yet taken that first step to seek help, what advice would you give to them? And then separately, if there are any marketers, not necessarily POC, in the same situation, what advice would you give to them?

Shomi Williams:
I would say it’s very easy to think … When you’re in that fog, it’s very easy to think that whatever you do, isn’t going to work. But it’s good to at least give it an attempt, and then you know if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work. And at least cross that off your list that, “Okay, I’ve tried this. It hasn’t worked out for me.” It’s really important to advocate for yourself. You know that you’ve had times when you’ve been better and you deserve to go back to a time where you’re feeling better.

Shomi Williams:
So it’s definitely possible, these mental health problems are not … They’re not definers of you or your destiny. It’s just, it’s a very human thing. Just like having the common cold doesn’t mean that you are now a cold-haver and that’s it for you. If you do get help, you’re on the right track and it’s possible to get better.

Shomi Williams:
So I would just encourage people to advocate for themself. Seek help, give it a go, continue trying. Even if it doesn’t work, try again, reach out to … You can speak to your GP. Some work places, they have their own therapy systems within the workplace that you can call up. Go to people that you trust. Obviously not everyone is so clued up, but people that you trust and you believe are clued up. Go to them, speak to them about it as well.

Shomi Williams:
Try and reemerge yourself into things that you used to do. If now, because you’re quite low, you’re not doing the things that you enjoy and you’re not socializing, try and take baby steps towards re-immersing yourself into that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that, that’s absolutely brilliant. And I’m about to throw a question your way that I haven’t prepared you for, so apologies.

Azeem Ahmad:
Contacting a GP right now, in my experience, is pretty much impossible. I’d probably have more joy going back to the first ever house I lived in, finding out where my next door neighbors have moved to and if they’ve got any pets or not, it’s that hard. So if there are people considering taking that step but are finding it very hard to speak to a GP, what alternatives or what other options would you recommend?

Shomi Williams:
There’s a national service called the IAPT service, so I-A-P-T. If you’re based in England, you should have a local one. Just Google your area and the word IAPT, see what’s available. And a lot of the time, most places allow you to make a self-referral. Some places you can only refer through your GP, which should change, and I think a lot of them are trying to make self-referral accessible. But as of now, I’d say about 70% of them do already allow you to make a self-referral, so do that.

Shomi Williams:
There are charities that can support you as well. Even like Lafiya Health as well, I do workshops to, I guess, get you kick-started. And I know it’s not always helpful because I know it’s not the most accessible, but if you can try low-cost therapies, there’s counseling directories that are available and people that have different prices as well.

Shomi Williams:
Some people really benefit from books. So there’s actually therapeutic books and it’s a cheaper alternative. You can buy a book for 15 pounds and that has given you a lot of therapeutic advice and tools and tips and workbooks. If you’re someone that operates in that way that’s a very cheap way to access therapy.

Shomi Williams:
Yeah, I would say IAPT service, speaking to people, trying to reintegrate yourself into activities that you enjoy, possibly using a self-help book or a therapeutic book. And then there was something else that I … And private therapy or low-cost therapy are alternatives to contacting your GP.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing that. I should have mentioned much earlier on that this entire project, this podcast, was something that I started to protect my mental health last year during the lockdown because I could have quite easily … I think I’ve even put it on my website, I could have quite easily just watched nonsense on YouTube over and over again and not actually doing anything. There was one point where I felt like I was burning out and doing this every single week. So I stopped and I started reading, so a plus one for books. Absolutely brilliant.

Azeem Ahmad:
Got a couple more that I haven’t prepared you for.

Shomi Williams:
No problem, go for it.

Azeem Ahmad:
It’s always fun. This one is interesting, because I’ve spoken to people who are in this similar situation. So hypothetical situation, I work in an agency and I’m concerned about one of my colleagues who are throwing themselves into work. I think they’re overworked and I think they’re burning out. I don’t think that they recognize it.

Azeem Ahmad:
How can I approach the situation? How do I get them to see what me and other colleagues are seeing?

Shomi Williams:
I think that honesty is always the best policy. Say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve been really, really in work mode lately. Is everything okay? How are you feeling?” Just a check-in, let them know that you care.

Shomi Williams:
I think what’s really important when it comes to checking in on people when you’re concerned about their mental health, is having your concern, understanding where your concern is coming from, communicating it to them. But at the same time, you still need to let go. And they’re going to do with that what they’re going to do. Some people will take it in and maybe reflect and maybe dial it back, and some people won’t.

Shomi Williams:
So know that because you’ve noticed it and you are bringing it to their attention, it doesn’t mean that you have to then save them. You can’t save somebody that doesn’t want to be saved. Sometimes for some people it just takes a little check-in and that’s enough for them to reflect and dial back. Some people, they do need to crash and burn before they reflect.

Shomi Williams:
Either way, continue showing that you care and that you’re concerned. Mention it once and then if they continue down that path, maybe bring it up a week or two weeks after. But just gently, continuously let them know that your presence is there and that you care. That you’re available if they do want support, or that if they do … Not even necessarily support, you don’t have to make it so formal. You might say, “Do you want to head out for lunch one day?” Or just to let them know that you’re there essentially, that’s the most that you can do.

Azeem Ahmad:
Fantastic. Thank you very much for sharing it. I promise, this is the last one that I’m going to throw your way.

Shomi Williams:
No problem.

Azeem Ahmad:
When it comes to having therapy or seeking a professional’s help, for me, it’s very binary. And you may disagree, but for me, people either come out and say, “I’m having therapy.” Or the complete opposite, they’ll have therapy in silence and get on with their lives.

Azeem Ahmad:
What do you think specifically about the former, where people come out and say, “I’m feeling a bit low and I’m having therapy, and I feel great for it.” I’ve seen people jump into each other’s mentions quite rudely and say, “Oh, I thought you were stronger than that.” Where it’s an admission of you might be seen as being weak publicly.

Azeem Ahmad:
But the question I want to get around to, is what you thought some people who are open about having help professionally with their mental health and wellbeing.

Shomi Williams:
I think sometimes, when it comes to taking care of your mental health, because it’s not a new concept. Or because it’s newly popular I guess, some people they find it almost like joining a new religion. They’re so excited about it. There’s this new discovery of their inner world, and they’re making all of this progress and they want to share it.

Shomi Williams:
And I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but obviously it’s unfortunate that there are people in the world that are going to interpret it really poorly or might make you feel down about it. If you feel like you want to share it regardless and you can withstand that, go for it. If you feel like it’s quite sensitive for you but you still want to share it, I’d say share it with people that you care about. Share it with your friends, with your family members, maybe not somewhere so public that it’s easy to attack if you’re in a space that you’re quite sensitive.

Shomi Williams:
But ultimately there’s nothing wrong with sharing it. If you’re happy about something, celebrate yourself, celebrate it. But just be careful the way in which you’re doing it, and just be aware that it may possibly rub people the wrong way. How prepared are you for that if they retaliate? If you’re able to withstand that, go for it, put it on all the social media and to the world. If that’s something that you’re a bit worried about, just keep it with the family and friends and the people that you care about.

Shomi Williams:
But there’s no reason to … If you don’t want to share it, absolutely don’t, it’s up to you. It can be as private as you want. You’re in control. That’s the most important thing, do what you want, but just be aware of what may happen.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolute gold. Honestly, this has been brilliant. I could genuinely talk to you for hours. Thank you very much for sharing this.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before I let you go, I would love for you to share how people can contact you, follow you on social media or connect with you.

Shomi Williams:
Okay. So the main social medias that I’m most active on would be Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, I’m Lafiya Health. I’m also Shomicita, but I’m less therapeutic on Shomicita and more talking about TV shows.

Shomi Williams:
And Instagram, that’s Shomicita. So S-H-O-M-I-C-I-T-A. And there’s Lafiya Health as well. Lafiya spelt L-A-F-I-Y-A. Yeah, that’s how it’s spelt.

Azeem Ahmad:
I love how you had to double-check that. Shomi, thanks for being a fantastic guest. Before I hit Stop Recording, literally the final word on this episode goes to you, so you can say whatever you want within reason. But once you’re done I’m going to hit Stop Recording. So no pressure, you get to end the episode however you want.

Shomi Williams:
Okay. I think my takeaway word would be for everyone to just be kind to themself. To give themself a bit of grace, because I think naturally we’re a bit inclined to be a bit harsh, be super-critical, expect ourself to be further than we are. And just beat ourself up for whatever we’re doing or whatever we’re not doing.

Shomi Williams:
It’s really important to just let yourself be … Let yourself make mistakes, let yourself explore what works for you, what doesn’t work for you. Be honest with yourself, be honest with those around you, and just accepting of whatever it is, let it be. Because at the moment, there’s just a lot of pressure on everyone to do whatever for this person or for themself, or whatever expectations are on them. And at the moment, especially in this time where things are particularly difficult and very different, the pressures getting to a lot of people.

Shomi Williams:
So yeah, my takeaway is just to be kind to yourself. That’s the most therapeutic thing you could do.

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