Interview with A Life More Extraordinary founder Lucy Parsons

When Lucy Parsons couldn’t find a job after maternity leave, she decided to use her skills in passing exams, and getting into the university of her choice, to help others. Find out how A Life More Extraordinary was born.

What’s your career background?

Well, rather unconventionally I’m going to start with my university education. You see, not only going to university but the years leading up to it were probably the most formative of my life (and these are the years that gave me the inspiration and know-how for my business).

I was nine years old when I went on a family day trip to Cambridge. We went and walked around the Great Court of Trinity College and it was there and then that I realised that I had to go to Cambridge. There was something about the atmosphere and also knowing it was the best that really made me want to go. (I’ve always tended towards setting myself goals well outside my comfort zone and worked very hard to achieve them).

I spent the next nine years working out how to get from the village school via a pretty standard comprehensive to the ivory towers of Cambridge University. This meant working out how to get the top grades as well as what I needed to do to make my application and interview shine. I’m happy to say that I achieved it! I studied Geography at Newnham College.

My first job was on the graduate trainee scheme at I was headhunted straight out of university for this training scheme. I worked at Tesco for three years. I was really lucky to work with a team of very talented and well qualified people (they’d mostly got MBAs from top business schools and had worked for the most prestigious management consultancies before coming to Tesco).

However, I realised about two years into my time there that the corporate life wasn’t for me. I just didn’t know what to do instead. For a while I thought I’d do a Masters degree but realised that I didn’t want to do that.

In the end I just left with nothing to go to. I realised I wasn’t going to come up with the answer by just going to work and doing what I didn’t want to do over and over again! So that I had something else to do straight-away I booked myself a round the world ticket. Less than a month after leaving Tesco I was in the air on the way to my first stop in Tokyo.

When I returned from my round the world trip I was left still wondering what I was going to do next. Ever since I was at primary school I had always really respected my teachers and always fancied myself teaching one day. However, I thought it would come later in life when I had more life experience to draw on in the classroom. But, left with no other ideas I applied and got a place!

I taught for four years at two different comprehensive schools and loved it. I particularly loved thinking about geography every day, the subject I had loved studying at university.

How did your career change after having children?

When I was expecting my first child I had some pregnancy-related problems that forced me to have a lot of time off work. I then didn’t have an ideal birth experience and needed a lot of support from my family. The problem was, they were two hours’ drive away!

I knew I’d get over these initial problems but I also knew that I wanted my children to grow up closer to both sets of grandparents and I would be happier closer to home as well. So, when my daughter was three months old my husband and I decided to move. The day she turned six months we collected the keys to our new house in the village where I had been brought up.

I was delighted. However, it meant I couldn’t go back to work at the end of maternity leave. I only wanted to work part time and couldn’t find part time teaching jobs close enough to my new home. I was left as a stay at home mum.

Where did the idea for A Life More Extraordinary come from?

After I had my son I started realising the possibilities of internet based businesses. I could see that I could share my expertise, work from home, be there for school pick-ups and drop-offs every day and have a fulfilling career that was useful to other people.

One day I was watching an online marketing course and a lightening bolt struck: I should be using my experience of getting five straight A grades at A-Level and getting my longed-for place at Cambridge University to help young people achieve similar dreams.

How did you move from idea to making it happen?

The first thing I did was write my ebook The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam it Ever Takes. I knew that if I wanted a business I had to have something to sell!

The book took me just eight days to write – I had such clarity about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I then set up my website and started blogging. I ran some Facebook ads to get people onto my email list and had over a thousand join in just a few days. I then launched my ebook to my list.

What’s your USP?

My USP is that I’ve done it all: I’m a straight A student with five A grades at A-Level, I’ve been to Cambridge, one of the world’s top universities, I am a qualified and experienced teacher (I went back to Cambridge to train) and I’ve been an A-level examiner.

I’ve seen academic success and how to achieve it from every point of view. I can empathise and give insight as well as provide actionable advice and inspiration from every angle. I also have work experience outside education.

Who’s your target audience?

My blog is addressed to 15-18 year olds because they are the people who need to receive, understand and action the messages I share. The vast majority of my readers are girls, they just seem to warm to me more than the boys!

However, I also have email newsletters for parents and teachers. Often, when something needs to be paid for, it is either the parent or the school that does the paying so it’s important for me to maintain a relationship with these people too.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

My main method of communication is my blog. I publish a post every Monday and share it in my three different email newsletters: to studentsparents and teachers. I am also very active on Twitter and have a Facebook page.

What’s been your proudest moment to date?

I’m incredibly proud of having written my first book and having made it happen all by myself. However, the thing that makes me smile the most is getting feedback almost daily about how much of a difference my work makes to the lives of ambitious young people.

Sometimes I’ll be chatting to someone in a Skype session and it will become clear to me how they have read and soaked up every word I write on my blog and put my advice into place with fantastic results. It makes me proud, happy and emotional all at once to know that I’m making a material difference to the lives of young people.

And the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

My biggest obstacle is really juggling having a young family with trying to grow into a viable business. My hours are very limited (I have the time my son is at pre-school and a few extra hours sneaked in here and there). But it’s happening! I often have to remind myself to be patient and that I’m doing this largely for the lifestyle!

Why is work so important to you?

Having been a SAHM I’ve realised how much I need the intellectual stimulation of work. I also feel I need the validation of earning money for what I do and sharing my expertise.

It is also very important that I role-model to my daughter not just working and earning a living, but doing it in a way that is very compatible with family life. I want her to grow up knowing that she can use her talents to serve the world, earn a good living but have an active and loving family life at the same time.

Who inspires you?

My mum. Like me she has had a wide-ranging and varied career from working as a BBC producer in the 1960s and 70s to running adult literacy programmes when I was young and writing for local publications. Throughout my life she has always managed to balance interesting work with being there for her family. She is my role-model.

How do you balance work with your family?

My core work hours are the times when my son is at pre-school. That’s about 16 hours per week. I also have Skype calls in the evenings with the young people I work with after I’ve put my children to bed.

At the core of my values is being present for my children and I do my utmost not to skip a bedtime or a school pick-up.

What are your three top pieces of advice for mums looking to turn their career into a business?

  1. Start before you think you’re ready. You learn far more by getting out there and doing it than by sitting at home thinking about it.
  2. Choose to learn from people who have experience that you don’t have, for example learning about online marketing from experts.
  3. Believe in yourself and be patient – it can take a while to start gaining traction!

Lucy Parsons empowers 15-18 year olds to achieve their academic dreams by showing them how to get the top grades and helping them get into the best universities. Sign-up for Lucy’s weekly parents’ newsletter for insight and inspiration to help your teen to reach their full academic potential.