July 2020

Doing It For The Kids: An alum’s journey to the British Podcast Awards

Picture credit: Sian Parker

Working freelance isn’t always easy. Working freelance whilst raising two children, creating a community of fellow freelancing parents, and producing an award-winning podcast, is a different matter altogether.

Graphic designer Frankie Tortora (Music 2007) has done exactly that. Alongside her daily commitments, she set up Doing It For The Kids (DIFTK), a space for freelance parents to share advice and experiences. With a Facebook community, face-to-face meetups (currently on hold), a blog and a weekly podcast, DIFTK is thriving like never before.

A bronze in the ‘Best Business Podcast’ category at the British Podcast Awards was just the icing on the cake.

We spoke to Frankie to find out exactly how she’s juggled her commitments on the journey to success.

Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself.

FT: I'm a freelance graphic designer, mum of two and founder of Doing It For The Kids — a community by and for parents who work freelance. I’ve been freelancing for just over eight years, working with lots of different people across the arts, media and charitable sectors. My clients include Imperial War Museums, Virgin StartUp, BBC Performing Arts Fund and the Institute of Physics.

You graduated from Leeds in 2007 – what are your memories of the University?

FT: I had a brilliant time at Leeds. Both the University campus and the city were so vibrant and exciting, and as a music student in particular, there was loads going on. We were spoiled with the number of gigs to go and watch, as well as pubs and clubs to play in ourselves. I lived in Hyde Park in second and third year and have very fond memories of watching films at the Picture House, bands at the Brudenell Social Club and doing some pretty dodgy karaoke at The Original Oak.

How did you move from studying music to a career in graphic design?

FT: After I graduated I was in the very privileged position of being able to take on a couple of low paid work experience placements and internships. Those led to a career working in arts administration and project management for the BBC. I began to realise that what I really wanted to do was be creative, rather than facilitate other people’s creativity, and I’d been doing a lot of graphic design work in my job. After being told my role was at risk of redundancy, I started a part-time portfolio course in graphic design two nights a week. I started freelancing as a designer straight away with my redundancy money as a buffer and eight years later, here we are.

Picture Credit: Jeremy Freedman

Being a mum of two and a freelancer, what sort of challenges do you face?

FT: How long have you got?! While there are obviously huge benefits to being able to work for yourself when you have kids, this way of working does come with some significant challenges. The biggest one tends to be time. Or rather, a complete lack of it. Finding the time to do all of the things that come with running a successful business can be hard — combine that with a relentless list of parental and domestic responsibilities and there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

The most obvious solution to this is to pay for childcare, but the problem then is how can you find affordable, reliable childcare when your income and hours are unreliable? I’m not sure many of us have the answer to that one yet!

Tell us about DIFTK. What’s it all about?

FT: I launched DIFTK after getting pregnant with my first child and struggling to meet other parents facing the same challenges as me. Things like keeping my business relevant while on maternity leave; trying to find flexible and affordable childcare; feeding my way through a client call…And while I’d talk about my work with the parents that I did meet, what I really craved was honest, upfront chat about the realities of freelance life with other parents who truly got it. Unable to find what I was looking for, I created it myself. Four years later and DIFTK now consists of a collaborative blog, face-to-face meetups, a super active Facebook community and weekly podcast.

Doing it for the kidsPicture Credit: Jeremy Freedman

The DIFTK community has continued to grow since its launch. Why do you think it’s working so well?

FT: There’s nothing like ‘walking’ into a space — literally or virtually — and feeling like you’ve found your people; that you are immediately understood. That’s how DIFTK makes me feel, and I hope that’s how it makes other DIFTKers feel too. That’s the power of community.

I like to think DIFTK is a bit of an antidote to the all too familiar ‘hustle’ culture and sometimes unrealistic representation of mothers in business in particular. My aim is for the conversation to be candid and real — we embrace the good stuff, but are not afraid to talk about the not-so-good stuff too.

And while people can obviously ask questions in the group about running a business, about finances, or marketing strategy etc., the emphasis is more on the seemingly mundane, day-to-day, practical stuff. I’m interested in creating a space where people can talk comfortably about the strain this way of working might be having on their relationships for instance, or to ask about the best CBeebies shows to buy them five minutes of peace!

Doing it for the kidsPicture Credit: Sian Parker

What have been some of the challenges of producing a weekly podcast?

FT: So the podcast is a joint effort with my friend Steve Folland who I met through the internet! Steve runs a weekly podcast called Being Freelance alongside his work as a video and audio producer.

After a couple of years of just chatting via social media, we decided to ‘co-mentor’ each other where we essentially meet once a month to talk about life, work, kids, side projects and then as a result of that, ended up making the podcast together as well. While I personally had never made a podcast before in my life, Steve obviously had. He helped me sort out my equipment, find a hosting platform, and he answered all of my tedious editing questions.

Putting together a podcast is HARD. I walked into it blind and was completely unrealistic about the amount of work involved. When you’re planning, recording, editing and promoting the thing entirely off your own back it really is all consuming. I’m not sure I’d do it again knowing what I know now!

Congratulations on the recent bronze at the British Podcast Awards. You fought off stiff competition from some well-known brands – how did it feel to pick up that accolade?

FT: Oh-my-word, it felt amazing. We were ecstatic to even be nominated so to win an award was absolutely incredible. We could not be prouder of what we’ve managed to achieve in a year!

Doing it for the kidsPicture Credit: Jeremy Freedman

We are in the middle of a global pandemic – what advice would you give to others who are having to work more flexibly for the first time?

FT: For anyone suddenly working from home with the kids around, I’d say try to be realistic. If you expect things to be able to continue ‘as normal’ from home then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

If you can, try to establish some boundaries. That could be a literal, physical boundary where your workspace is separate to everything else that’s going on. But if that’s not possible, it’s more about communication. Talk to your partner (if you have one) and your kids (if they’re old enough) about the hours you need to work and the privacy you might need when you’ve got a meeting or a phone call.

It’s also really important to make it clear when you’re not working. Let everybody know when you’re in ‘family mode’ and during that time, try to give the kids your full attention.

What do you think is next for DIFTK and you personally?

FT: Normally I’d have some kind of answer for this but — given the 6 months we’ve just had with Covid-19 — the short answer is, I don’t really know! I had been planning to put on a lot more face-to-face DIFTK meetups this year, including events outside of London, but obviously that’s all on hold at the minute.

From a personal perspective, because of schools/nurseries being closed, the pandemic has meant that — apart from the odd job here and there — I’ve pretty much had to give up all of my client work which has been really hard.

We have been managing to put the podcast out week after week though — it’s just meant that we’ve had to record at 10pm at night with Steve in his car!

You can find out more about DIFTK by visiting the website or by tuning into the weekly podcast.