Nicola Swankie is the Founder & Lead Consultant at Swankie & Partners, a training partnership specializing in helping companies embrace new technologies for better business performance.
In addition to building Swankie & Partners with a remote and flexible work ethos, Nicola is also the Co-Founder of Coastal Coworking, Coolum Beach’s only coworking space right the heart of the Sunshine Coast.
Balance the Grind spoke to Nicola about running her own consulting and training business, using co-working spaces, setting and sticking to boundaries, burning out, and more.
This conversation is brought to you by Teachable, a powerful yet simple all-in-one platform to create and sell beautiful online courses.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
A random fact not many people know about me is that I have a Computing Science degree, inspired after watching the movie Hackers in 1995 (Yes I am that old).
Whilst I was never the best coder, I have always been fascinated with how humans use technology and use it to connect and interact with each other.
I started my career in London on the grad programme for a big bank and while I was working in Marketing department I fell in love with the energy and innovative of the Creative Agency they worked with.
Shortly after that I moved to work in RKCR/Y&R where I sat next to the digital team. I think that is where my love affair with digital and social started, but it really took off when I moved to Sydney in 2009.
Still working in big creative agencies, I drove my bosses mad because I kept trying to make every brief a social media opportunity.
Eventually Todd Sampson’s Leo Burnett team put my passion to good use when they brought me in to build one of the first Social Media teams in Australia in 2011.
I was later headhunted to start-up IPG Mediabrands social agency SOCiETY (since merged back into Reprise) which grew to a team of 20 + people within 18 months.
It was a crazy fast ride, which I think many leaders in the digital space can empathise with, but an exciting time to see Social really start to be taken seriously after passionately fighting for it for so long.
I left Sydney after meeting my husband and having a son, since then I have been mainly doing Social or Content Strategy consulting projects and training teams both agency and in-house. I now live in the Sunshine Coast just north of Brisbane.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
That is a good question! I run my own consulting and training business now, which kind of means I do all sorts of things!
Currently I’m working on lots of Influencer Marketing projects and ad hoc Social Strategies.
I also find that I’m doing more and more training (which I love) as Social and Content Marketing become more ingrained in the day to day of Marketing teams and more of them want to upskill their people.
I also train and coach teams on Leadership, especially emerging and young leaders, who, like me 6 years ago, may find themselves rapidly becoming more senior as the experts in relatively new technologies but without the decades of experience to help them emotional cope with the stress and responsibilities that can come with that.
Because I am self-employed a big part of my day is trying to continually market myself to secure the next project. This was one of the things I found really hard when I started my own thing.
I still find putting myself out there challenging at times, but I feel I am getting better and figuring out what works for me.
As a side project, my husband and I recently opened a coworking space for the growing number of remote workers and small businesses in the Sunshine Coast where we live, so that takes up a bit of time too, but it’s good fun!
3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
As I juggle a couple of businesses, a 2.5 year old, 2 big dogs and living regionally days can all look quite different! However, they are ALL well planned.
If I am here in the Sunny Coast I will squeeze in some exercise early with an outdoor trainer by the ocean because I thrive on being out near the coastline. I find it sets me up for the day if I get that time for my soul to “wag its tail”!
I usually do drop off at daycare and then work at our co-working space where I stay in touch with my clients and team through a combination of phone, Basecamp, GMeet video calls, GDrive and Zoom.
We have a vibrant and buzzy community in our space, which is filled with parents of young children, most of which have moved from Sydney or Melbourne recently all trying to live regionally and work flexibly around families.
If I am travelling, I usually head to Sydney on the 6.30am flight, get all my meetings and workshops in and jump on the 5.30 flight back, which means I can usually be home before my little boy goes to sleep. I love how easy and fast it is to move through our regional airport. I can be home in 15 minutes of landing.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?
Plan! Use a calendar when you spec out what you need to achieve. My Google Calendar is my bible for life which means I can block our time for social media audits or influencer recruitment around swimming lessons and dog walks.
Share a first draft as quickly as you can. I’ve done this for years because I always find it speeds things up.
People can’t always express what it is they want, but once they see something in the ballpark of that thing they can tell you what they don’t. It also gives you something to discuss and build from. I have learnt not to be precious about sharing stuff that is rough and ready.
Know what’s important versus urgent. What is at the top of your email inbox is not always what you need to be doing right now! Everyday I set the 3 most important things I want to achieve and fight not to let urgent little bits get in the way of those as much as I can.
Set boundaries and stick to them. I learnt this one the hard way in life because I am a people pleaser and years of working in client service on retained accounts programmed me that I had to say yes to everything and then I wondered why I was working until 11pm every night?
Now my life doesn’t allow me to do that even if I wanted to, so I have to be stricter with what I say yes to and I have to manage expectations clearly.
5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
Plan and use a calendar again! My husband and I are both big on this and hold each other accountable if one of us is slipping on self-care, wellness, downtime activities.
It may seem like you have to skip that yoga class at the time to get that scope of work done, but if that keeps happening you quickly end up burnt out and you are no good to anyone, so it’s critical to keep your cup filled up.
We have set times each week in our calendar for wellness (juggling around business and family) and unless something big gets in the way we are pretty good at sticking to those.
The other big one for me was going to bed earlier and getting up early. I am a big morning person and the hours between 5am and 7am (when our little boy gets up) are sacred time for exercise, yoga and meditation.
6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?
I have Fridays off with my son. We usually have some sort of an adventure in nature and I can actually feel my batteries recharging after the best part of a week at the screen.
I am a big yogi, so that is still an important part of my week and I try and do a retreat a few times a year.
On a more day-to-day level dogs are a really good way to enforce getting out for a walk everyday. One of my dogs is a 56kg male Ridgeback and if he doesn’t get out for a run, we are all up all night!
This discipline has actually been really good for me too, as I end my workday with the dog walk and it gives me some space to clear my head before I dive into Mum mode. I also try and stay off my laptop in the evening. I am not really all that great at that though.
7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
Knowing my limits. I blew out my adrenal glands in my twenties because I pushed, pushed, pushed.
This meant that eventually I would crash and I have struggled with adrenal fatigue ever since then. I might think by working late and starting early I am doing a better job, but historically the product I deliver isn’t as good and I’ll quickly burnout and be practically useless.
Especially when it comes to creative tasks. It’s like a part of my mind stops working.
Be OK with emotional discomfort. This is probably the most important habit I have had to work on for success. And I don’t mean burning out by doing lots of work, I mean taking on tasks that make us feel uncomfortable, challenge us and sitting with the emotional roller coaster that comes with that.
Usually a tough conversation or putting ourselves out there. Yoga has been really useful in helping me do this in other aspects of my life.
Eat well. It sounds so simple, but filling up your tank with good nutrition helps power you and it makes you feel better, more positive and able to do more without burning out with your time.
8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?
- Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. He confronts a lot of the bullshit excuses that get in our way of getting the right things done.
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. For those of us who carry around a need to express with creativity
- Exhausted to Energized by Dr Libby Weaver. a look at our biochemistry and hormones and what is happening to our bodies when we do too much.
9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Stay positive. Do as many things in the day that give me energy rather than make me feel drained.
I am a big believer in charging up to blitz through things effectively rather than feel crappy and make yourself stare at an excel spreadsheet for 8 hours. Sing, talk to people, know whatever it is for you that gives you that positivity boost and do that thing!