Emily Duff

Posted on September 01 2020


JAE Consultancy

At 17 years old, whilst still in college, Emily launched and ran an e-magazine for young people.  As a result, she was nominated for and went on to win multiple business and journalist awards for her incredible digital skills.  I got in touch with Emily to talk about everything in life, business and creating a legacy for our children.

Her interview is particularly timely as we continue to see a huge shift from traditional to more online business models, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  More important, is her response to early childhood education and helping children develop a strong sense of self and therefore grow in confidence, by ensuring they are represented in the media they consume.  Her story is phenomenal. 

After successfully completing a degree in English Language with Creative Writing, Emily briefly worked in a marketing firm but craved the work-life balance that her role did not offer.  In January 2018, she launched her digital marketing agency JAE Consultancy, helping solo entrepreneurs and small businesses improve their brand visibility in the digital world.  Fast- forward to 2020, Emily is embarking on a new and exciting project, Azzy’s Adventures, a series of books showcasing the imagination of a child as he takes on real life professions to solve the problems in his world.

Congratulations on the launch of your first book!

Thank you, it has been an incredible journey. 

What inspired you to write this book?

My son.  There is a lack of diversity in children's literature, so I wanted to be part of the solution to this problem.  I want my young mixed-race son to be represented more in the stories he reads and so I set to writing the books I want to buy for him.

You have a strong background in creative writing, how have you found the process?

My background definitely helped but that did not make the process a walk in the park!

(We both laugh)

My focus was to write a story that every child would love to share.  In the first story, we see Azzy become a firefighter in order to rescue a friend!  Each story includes a heart-warming and encouraging message, along with beautiful illustrations, a mixed-race protagonist and a diverse representation of characters. I am very lucky that one of my closest friends is a creative illustrator, so we worked closely together on the series.  

Your degree provided the springboard from which JAE Consultancy was launchedHow did you start your business?

At 21, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant in my first year of studying.  I completed my degree, graduated with Honours, a two- year old by my side, and began the journey as a single mum balancing work and motherhood. 

I had an office job at a start-up straight out of university.  It was an interesting experience, and I am very grateful for the lessons learnt there.  When I was let go, my boss at the time told me I was bad at marketing, and that hurt, because I thought I had found the career path I wanted to take.  Turns out, after a few weeks of researching similar job roles, I wasn’t bad at marketing; I was bad at PR, which is great because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life doing that!

After spending time out of working for somebody else, in an office environment, paying ridiculous childcare fees and hardly seeing my son, I was deeply unhappy.  I started using my skills in marketing to help my friends and their businesses, and soon enough, I was getting requests from word-of-mouth-referrals.  At 25, I took the leap, created a website, built a social media presence, and was suddenly in businesses as JAE Marketing Consultancy!  I created a better work-life balance for myself and my son, and now, a couple of years later, I can add published author to my resume!

JAE ConsultancyThat’s incredible!  What were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

I would say the biggest challenge was the first few months in business, changing from a steady, monthly income to dribs and drabs as I established myself in a different world.  How did I overcome it? By working hard and consistently, not giving up on myself.

I gave myself three months to make my business work before I had to start applying for 'proper' jobs, purely because I have a child and other financial commitments.  Giving myself this deadline gave me a kick up the backside into actually doing something every day, instead of waiting around for opportunities to come knocking.  This get-up-and-go attitude has always been with me, but I didn't fully appreciate it until I relied on it to give me an income.

The second challenge I've faced, which a lot of people have faced, is this pandemic.  I lost one income stream, and saw an opportunity to create another.  Once again, my business bones kicked in, and I saw something through from a dream to fruition.  Writing, creating and publishing a book within a two- month time frame!

What advice would you give women starting out?

Just go for it! If I had waited to start JAE Consultancy, I'd probably still be stuck in an office job, unhappy, spending the majority of my wages on childcare for someone else to raise my son.  May sound dramatic to some, but if I hadn't taken a leap of faith in myself, I would never have been forced to push myself more.

I have a friend who has incredible ideas, but takes months and even years to action them, by which time they've often lost the enthusiasm for the project and are quicker to quit.  Obviously do due diligence, market research and so on, but don't let excuses stop you from just going for it.

Let us talk about your most recent project Azzy's Adventures.  Can you tell us more about it? 

Azzy's Adventures

Azzy's Adventures is a book series that conceptually I've always dreamt about, but never really saw myself actually fulfilling, then a combination of scenarios occurred to create the perfect time to focus on the project.  Obviously time due to lockdown, but also the increase in people acknowledging the need to diversify their children's bookshelves and the mass media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Raising a mixed-race son, I've always been on the look out for BAME protagonists in children's books, which are hard to come by in mainstream retailers.  There are very limited resources in literature out there featuring mixed-race protagonists, and I wanted my son to see someone in a book who looks like him.  So Azzy's Adventures book series was created, based very much on my son and his physical looks and his imagination.  Not just for his sake, but for the sake of all mixed-heritage children who strive to find literature that represents them just a little bit better.

I think it is fantastic that you are creating a solution to a much bigger problem.  As you said earlier, writing this book was not easy.  What do you know now about the publishing, that you wish you knew before you started on this book series?

It's a lot easier to get a book published these days, mainly thanks to the multiple self-publishing options now readily available.  We no longer need to submit drafts and edits to multiple publishers in the hopes of being contracted!  If I had known just how simple the process could be, minus the frustration in understanding bleed lines on PDFs and juggling different formats and various different nuances that cropped up, then I probably would have published books straight out of university.

How is the current pandemic affecting your work and how are you facing the challenges?

I lost the majority of my smaller business and entrepreneur clients in the first few weeks of the pandemic being announced as they tightened their budgets and saw social media as something they could now do in-house as they had the time.  Which is to be expected in these times honestly; a lot of outsourcing options such as virtual assistants and social media managers found ourselves to be in this unfortunate situation.  However, I've put my 'time off' so to speak, to good use with the book.  I found having a project to work on has made the weeks go faster, and I'm very grateful to be working alongside one of my closest friends - it has made the journey much more fun!

The Skills ConversationHow do you think this pandemic will change the fashion industry as we know it?

I think so many businesses and entrepreneurs now appreciate that they need an online presence of some sort, whether it be for online orders or purely having a website or social media profile that is regularly updated.  Many smaller businesses who previously wouldn't have had time to dedicate to social media have spent lockdown seeing first-hand the advantages of building their digital presence.  We only have to look at retailers such as Primark and the dramatic loss they made in sales due to their lack of online ordering options.  If they had a website you could order from, their footfall would be lower on the high street yes, but their online sales would be huge!  Especially during a worldwide pandemic, I think customers appreciated businesses who adapted and had online options so they could continue their lifestyle and purchasing options without leaving the comfort of their home.

You have multiple projects on the go at the same time, how do you juggle your business and family life?

The thing that I've found that works really well for my son and I are routines.  Even throughout lockdown, bar one or two occasions, we've stuck to the same bedtime and morning routine from school days.  This means my son is asleep by 8pm, and I have a couple of hours in the evening to focus in on work, and we are awake by 8am, which might seem early to some, but during lockdown when we were homeschooling it was a lifesaver to actually getting work done.

My son and I often do two required tasks together also to save time for some quality time later in the day.  For example, on a typical day, he would be reading his school book or doing homework at the kitchen table while I was preparing dinner.  Then, after dinner, we would spend time together without screens or distractions playing a board game or doing a puzzle. This meant we had time to share all about our day, I have time away from the screens I stare at all day, and we both are left feeling refreshed and fulfilled.

My friends often take the mickey out of me because I am that very organised, very practical type of person who seems to have it all together.  The type who will say "ignore the mess" as you step into a house that you think is perfect!  Juggling multiple clients and businesses, plus being a single mum, has meant this organisational aspect to my personality has saved the day more than once.

My next question is going to sound silly given how well organised you are!

(We both laugh)

What organisational tools do you swear by?

The simplest and cheapest tool that we all have access to - an alarm! I tend to set alarm reminders for everything, from posting on social media for a client, to an appointment or scheduled call.  I set the alarm for 10 minutes before the needed time to give myself a chance to switch frame of mind if needed.  If I didn't have these alarms, I can very easily get lost in another task and forget my actual responsibilities. Also helps with not burning dinner!

Lockdown gave us ample time to listen to podcasts, read more, and watch all the inspirational shows that have been sitting on our lists. What do you recommend? 

Rush: Holy Spirit in Modern Life podcast. This is a helpful resource for me to strengthen my relationship with God with a practical, simple opportunity in the middle of the day to consider what God is saying to me.

The Handmaid's Tale.  I first read this book in secondary school and was hooked from that point onwards onto dystopian novels.  I credit this book to being the reason I fell in love with Literature, English Language and Creative Writing.

Little Fires Everywhere TV series. Hands down THE BEST series I have watched!  The acting, the script writing, the twists and turns.  I won't say anything more in case people haven't watched it, but definitely should be on people's watch list!

Yes, that was a brilliant production!

Now onto fashion...Fashion or Style, which do you live by and why?

I  would definitely say style over fashion. I'm not the type of person to stay up to date with the latest fashion trends, hottest designer, and what's in and what's out of fashion.  I have a go-to style to accommodate my day-to-day life of school run and working from home, but I do enjoy getting dressed up also for a rare night out!

Do you have or would you hire a personal stylist and why?

I haven't done so far, but could I hire you for my book tour?!

I would love working with you thank you! We might as well start your personal styling session now!

(We both laugh)

What are your favourite pieces from our online shop? 

I love the Coster Copenhagen Mystery Flower collection - that dress is simply beautiful! And the Milina London silver filigree earrings are stunning too.  The pastel hues of House of Spring shoes are also something that I love and feature quite a lot of in my wardrobe.

What beauty product can you not live without?

Mascara has always been my go-to beauty product, mainly because I think my eyes are my best feature (not in a big headed way!) and I love to frame them.  Even if I only have a minute to get ready, I'll be there spending 30 seconds trying to swipe my mascara on.

(She smiles)

That brings us to the end of the interview, thank you so much for your time Emily. 

Thank you for having me!

I have really enjoyed talking with you and I am excited to know what you have in store for us next year? 

More books! I'm already working with my illustrator friend to create the images for the second book, and we have many more ideas to include in the series so I don't see us stopping for a while yet.

That’s fantastic! Thanks again and all the best with the next books! 

Emilly’s first book Azzy’s Adventures is now available to order here.

Follow JAE Consultancy on instagram for more digital marketing inspiration and join her business network with the Skills Conversation.

If you want to know more about the making of the book series Azzy’s adventures you can follow them here. 

 The Skills Conversation

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