Natalie Reeves Billing is a social entrepreneur and a children’s author. She writes books with a difference, often written in dual narratives or from alternative perspectives in order to tackle difficult topics with young children. With her social enterprise, Split Perspectivz, Natalie delivers workshops and literacy aids to children and families in underfunded areas. Natalie is an advocate for mental health and literacy, and a member of the School of Social Entrepreneurs and The Golden Egg Writing Academy. Check out her work on www.lollipoplodge.net
How did you balance being a mother and professional?
With great difficulty. I am not the best at switching hats, but that is precisely what I have had to address during the pandemic. Suddenly, not only do we have to juggle school runs and careers, but homeschooling, on almost zero alone time. It can be very fracturing, but I decided I needed to address my role switching skills, and I’m glad I did. Through open and honest discussion with the children, I felt that we became a team, and they understood the importance of mummy having to work and to respect that time. They learned to entertain themselves much better, and in return, I ensure that family time is just that, with no tech and no distractions. And they prefer that. They know there is a clear space for us only, and no other business can come between it (mostly, lol)
What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career?
When I decided to go ahead and open my social enterprise and launch my book collection, I knew that there was no turning back. Once my friends and family knew I had decided to give writing a real shot, I couldn’t change my mind and walk away. It’s not something you can dip your toe in and out of. Momentum is gained on social media and in online seminars and workshops and only a few weeks of inactively can result in almost zero sales. My books are hugely important to me, as they contain my theory of mental wellbeing-using storytelling as a means of catharsis. During the pandemic, I felt families needed this even more, and although I sacrificed a lot of family time to get this off the ground during the global pause, it also gave me the strength to get through it. I wanted to tackle COVID by pushing ahead and powering through, that’s just how I coped, and I’m glad I did. I needed that space to be me, and achieve my personal goals, as well as being Mum. It made me a much calmer, more patient parent, and happier all round. So, all in all, I’ve gained so much more by entering this field, than I’ve lost. if anything, the only thing I miss is being able to look at a kids book without scrutinising its layout and comparing, lol
Who inspired you and why?
I was greatly inspired by The Women’s Organisation, a social enterprise based in Merseyside. They provide help and guidance for those starting out, or changing careers. I felt like I had support every step of the way. I’m also blessed with amazing friends. I have friends in the same field, who are always there to share experiences and brainstorm, and helped me to see the power and strength within me and the creativity that needed to be shared with others. But, I must admit to having a bit of a fixation with Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo. I’ve read so much about her, and me and mine have read her books millions of times. That was the benchmark I wanted to hit with my own writing.
What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
I would say that dealing with mindset very early on is hugely important. Taking the time to ask some honest questions of yourself. Why am I doing this? What do I want to achieve? When do I want to achieve it? That creates a solid plan we can monitor and adapt as we move forwards towards our goals. Researching is also a huge one. Knowing the market place, the competition. Is there a gap? A need for the product or service you are offering. I always like to do that early on to save myself the disappointment. I made the mistake of getting excited and jumping in too soon, so many times in the past. I’ve learned by many many mistakes, and I guess I wish someone would have kept me in check when i was younger. If it’s a good idea, it still will be next week. Let your idea simmer, research, think, chat about it with friends, and then act.
Do you think women feel intimidated in business?
I think there are still a lot of women who do feel intimidated, but in my experience, that has started to change. I personally have never felt it. I’ve always seen my gender and heritage as a selling point. They are part of what makes me uniquely me. Although, my knowledge on this point is quite limited, as in the publishing world, libraries, primary schools, there does tend to be a predominantly female presence.
Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?
Saturday morning you will find me by the side of the lake across the way, watching the fish near the bank, and drinking a cup of tea. Depending on the kid’s mood that day, I would be either excited about an action-filled day ahead, full of adventure and love, or stressing over a day that may never end, lol
What do you love about your job?
I love that I am making a living out of a hobby. It is something i would choose to do with my time, and yet i get to have a shot at making a paycheck too. I love the excitement of each new campaign, even the unsuccessful ones. It’s all valuable research, as I hone my plans and my strategies.
What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?
The best thing I ever did was to take time out to have a family, and to have complete stillness for a few years while I decided what I wanted to do next. The answer was simple. Work for me is about so much more than money-making, it absolutely must be about the love of it. I chose a career that would allow me to work at my own pace, and decide how much I decided to take on, or not, as the case may be. I’ve never worked well in a totally structured environment and authoring within my own organisation gives me so much freedom. I work better that way.
What’s the worst career decision you’ve ever made?
The worst decision I ever made was to go into a business venture I had absolutely no knowledge about, or interest in, for purely financial reasons. Although there were some profits, they were nowhere near enough to compensate me for the misery of waking up each day to that reality.
How do you organise your time?
My time management is the worst part of my game. I have daily scribbled lists and a phone diary that I sometimes forget to look at, but I manage to pull it all together in a fairly haphazard sort of way. I used to beat myself up about that, and look at ways to improve, but I’m 38 now, and accept that some people just don’t have the timing thing going. I am one of those…Work in progress, lol
What do you think is your greatest strength?
My greatest strength is innovation. When I am in the midst of a planning group, my ideas fire out at rapid speed. I see projects all around me, and marketing materials, and content. I am an ideas person, and I’m never short of one
What do you think is your greatest weakness?
I hate the word weakness, but my work in progress is definitely organisation and business management. As much as i’d love to hire someone to take the weight of all that one day, it just isn’t practical on the money I’m making right now. I promised I wouldn’t help my new business out by funding it, and so far so good.
How do you make decisions?
I used to struggle with this. I never trusted my own opinion until it went to committee. But I noticed that even then, things often went wrong. There’s no shame in that. The main thing is that a decision was made. Paralysis and inability to make a decision is often the most damaging thing to do. Now, at least I can own my mistakes. If I mess up, that doesn’t make me quite as angry. So, to make decisions, now I trust my gut. I say it out loud, I may mull for a few hours, but then I make a decision. The only exception would be if there was a big investment either financial or time. Then, if I’m going to be tied to it, or experience hardship as a result of it, I may invest in consultancy fees.
What do you read?
I read Young adult fiction in the main, as it reminds me of a certain time in my life when the world was fresh and new, and full of opportunities. I still kind of feel that way. I’m also partial to a bit of supernatural horror. I absolutely love feeling afraid.
What do you think are the secrets behind getting to where you’ve got to?
A good idea and loads of effort. There isn’t really a way around it. Most things involve time and effort, some financial outlay. Consistency is another very important thing. It’s better to do a bit every day than loads one day and nothing for a week. People want to trust the brand, and see them as a sort of role model.
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