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Based in the UK, Clare Seal is a writer, speaker and financial coach. She started an anonymous Instagram account, @myfrugalyear, in 2019 as she tackled her personal debt, then shifted her career towards financial coaching and writing as her story resonated with a large audience. In this article, she shares her experiences and advice for building a community.
If you had told me five years ago, when I was on the brink of maternity leave and desperately worried about how we were going to manage our rent, bills and debt repayments on statutory maternity pay, that I would be thriving in a new career as a financial coach, author and content creator in 2023, I wouldn’t have believed you. There are lots of parallels between my life now and the way things were back then, beginning with the fact that I am, once again, heavily pregnant, this time with my third and final child. But life has changed beyond recognition, both in terms of my personal life and my career – indeed, the two have become more intertwined than ever before, which makes things both easier and harder.
Until 2019, I worked in brand marketing for an interiors company, managing their social media, influencer and PR strategy for £27,000 per year. I’d returned early from my second maternity leave because I thought it would be good for my career, and I desperately needed to start earning more in order to service the huge sum of debt that I’d accumulated over the course of my twenties. I didn’t quite know how it had happened, but I had just over my annual pre-tax salary’s worth of borrowing spread across credit cards, store cards and an overdraft, and it was causing me daily anxiety. There were no fancy cars or designer handbags to show for it, just years of incremental overspending, a lack of financial literacy and a nice, though not super-flashy – wedding. My breaking point came mid-March 2019, when my anxious process of juggling tiny amounts of money from one account to another, desperately trying to plug the ever-growing gaps in my budget, finally failed me. I reached a breaking point in my relationship with money and did what any sane person would do in that situation: I started an Instagram account.
My aim was, in the beginning, to find a place where I could hold myself accountable, to maybe get tips from like-minded folks or people who’d been through it before. I thought I might get a handful of followers who would shout at me if I overspent, but the more I wrote about the specifics of my relationship with money and descent into five figures of debt, the more it seemed to resonate with people struggling in the same way. I realised that there was a whole group of people who had been waiting for someone to talk about money and financial education in a way resonated with them, in a way that treated it with the gravity and nuance that it deserved, rather than just simplifying it down into ‘spend less than you earn’ type rhetoric. My account was initially anonymous which, ironically, allowed me to be truly honest and authentic online for the first time. It acted as my armour at a time when my skin was too thin to really withstand much criticism – I was being hard enough on myself without inviting judgement from strangers.
Things moved quickly for me after I had a blog published on a popular website, and it was reshared a number of times by big accounts. I wasn’t ready for the huge influx of followers, and luckily most people were kind and supportive. Their stories and interest gave me the fuel that I needed to keep writing, keep documenting my progress out of debt and keep sharing my thoughts. I started to share tips based on what was working for me, and secured a book deal just a few months after creating the account. I started to secure commissions in magazines, speaking work and brand partnerships, all of which formed the foundation of my new career.
I made more mistakes than I care to remember as I learned to navigate having a public platform, mostly to do with how much of myself I gave away and how much I allowed the opinions of strangers to impact me. When you’re creating a platform based on your own experiences, it’s hard not to take things personally – I highly recommend creating an auto-response or hiring a virtual assistant to deal with any unwanted attention, especially if your profile starts to gain traction quickly. I was also terrible at negotiating in the beginning, and wish I’d been quicker to collaborate with my peers to discuss rates and ensure that we were all getting the best deals possible.
In terms of the things I got right, or have learned to get right, I would advise anyone looking to grow a social media audience to embrace networking – not to get ahead, but to make real connections with other people working in a similar space. You have no idea how valuable that support will be in your low moments. Allow for ebb and flow of interest, engagement and opportunities – it can’t all come to you, all of the time. Use the downtime to focus on bringing as much value to your community as possible, and don’t get disheartened if some things don’t go down as well as you thought they would. As long as you retain clarity around your mission and what you’re hoping to achieve, and you’re consistent in getting that across, the rest will come.
You can find Clare’s books and contact her via her website. If her books aren’t in your local library, remember you can request them! You can also find them on our Bookshop.org page. You can browse organisations that provide financial advice and help with financial literacy in the Everyday Life section of our directory. If our site helps you in your campaigning and activism, please consider leaving us a tip.
Last updated 23rd May 2023. Please note that articles are written by independent writers and do not represent the Do Something Directory.