Updated: Jun 6
Sarah Cutler I CWC Director I 19 April 2021
For many business or blog owners, the dream is to build an enviable online presence or attract the attention of media journalists that will ultimately translate into paying clients, customers and partnerships, but in reality, achieving this can be both daunting and disheartening. Maybe it’s that we don’t know the right tricks of the trade to get ourselves noticed, perhaps we lack clarity about our personal branding image, or, we simply lack the self-confidence to really put ourselves out there.
We have two options at this point, succumb to the temptation to give up and retreat into ourselves or…call in The Style Editor. Samantha Harman is a style-coach with impressive credentials, an award-winning magazine editor who now uses her experience from the world of media and her passion for fashion styling to help women feel more empowered and to shine brighter, in both their business and personal life. We chatted to Samantha to get the low down on The Style Editor and why she wants women to be seen as the wonderful individuals they are.
Hi Samantha. You help women to overcome their limiting beliefs and gain confidence in themselves. Where do you think this passion for helping women to feel more accepting of their true self comes from and why is it so important?
From about the age of three, girls take on messages from the world about who they are and what they’re supposed to be like. They’re too loud, too shy, too bossy, too fat… never quite enough and yet always too much. I always liken it to a rockfall. You’re a magical creature but who you are gets crushed underneath all these rocks of societal expectation. It’s my job to help chip away at those rocks and release the person you were always supposed to be.
I am one of three girls and I grew up on a council estate without much of anything. But what I had lots of was tenacity, and parents who encouraged and supported me. When I became an editor I noticed how many times women talk themselves out of opportunities they deserve. They never feel they’re 100 per cent qualified when they’re actually over-qualified. Whereas generally, men will put themselves forward. As a 27 year-old woman from a council estate at the time, becoming an editor of newspapers was a big deal for me. I had a lot of people mistake me for the PA or ask me what it was like to work for my white, male, middle-aged deputy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a PA, but what this showed to me is how far we still have to go in terms of getting women into the top jobs. I wasn’t ever the one that had a problem with me being there - other people had the problem. The time when a young woman can say ‘I’m in charge’ and people don’t raise their eyebrows or spit out their drink… that’s when the job will be halfway done! Media is still a relatively male-dominated environment and I am very passionate about helping other women get into that space. Our organisations and our media can’t represent the community properly if they don’t represent the community.
You also help women with their personal styling, assisting them with everything from colour analysis to capsule and wardrobe detoxes. Have you always been interested in fashion and styling?
Always! I love dressing up, finding one-off vintage pieces or creating new outfits.
I think one misconception people have is that a stylist will put you in clothes they like. But the job of a stylist is to make you feel amazing in the things YOU love.
Lots of women spend money on clothes they never wear or that don’t make them feel great. If they invested a bit of that money into working with a stylist, they’d feel better, spend less overall and learn lifelong lessons about themselves and clothes!
Part of your service is to help women and their businesses build a successful presence in the media whether on social media or in magazines. Your knowledge of the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ come from your own experience in the media as an editor. What do you think are the biggest mistakes people make trying to build a presence and how do you help clients formulate a plan for getting noticed?
I work with clients across their whole media strategy - because as well as traditional media, it’s also social media, your website, your newsletter, testimonials, networking events. Anywhere you need to show up! And a lot that showing up comes down to confidence - which then links into the work I do on style.
The first mistake, and one thing I really help my clients with - is not showing up. If you have a product to sell, that’s great - but people want your story. Around 80 per cent of buying decisions are made on emotion. So you need to get comfortable with being the face of your brand. Particularly if you’re a service-based entrepreneur. People are making a big decision in investing their happiness or business with you. They want to know that you ‘get’ them and they won’t be able to do that if you don’t share who you are.
The second thing is actually having a story! ‘I have a product to sell’ isn’t editorial, it’s advertising. When people say they ‘don’t have a story’ I get them to write down EVERYTHING that’s happened in their lives - they soon realise that yes, they do have one! Several, as it turns out! What is your ‘why’? Why do you do what you do? That should form the basis of everything you’re doing in your media strategy.
Not knowing your audience is also an issue. Common things that people ask for when I say ‘what is it you want from your media strategy is ‘being in Vogue and lots of Instagram followers.’
Being in Vogue is amazing, but if your customer isn’t reading it, then what does it matter? The same with wanting followers for the sake of having them. If they’re not your ideal client then they’re not helping your business. Both of these are examples of what we would call ‘vanity metrics.’ You need to be taking action that moves your business forward.
I also think learning all the stuff I could teach you is such a money and time-saver in the end. Before they come to me, a lot of small businesses have ended up spending (literally) thousands of pounds on quick-fix schemes, like classified advertising in the back of big magazines, or competitions to get their follower count up. Sometimes these things can work - but not if they’re the only thing you’re doing.
Editional and brand recognition might take longer than paying for an advert - but the pay off is so much sweeter. Editional is ‘earned’ coverage. It’s an editor - a trained journalist who has their readers’ best interests at heart - saying ‘THIS is the company you should buy X from.’
Tell us a little more about about your work as an Editor for Cotswold Living, What is your favourite part or memory of the job and do you think it has had a big influence on your passions and new business?
I was told, before I became an editor, when I was just starting out that I might be ‘too into fashion to be a serious journalist.’ I wanted to prove that being ‘into’ fashion and being someone who engages in current affairs aren’t mutually exclusive. You can still wear leopard print and run a business. You can like sequins and still be serious about politics. But I guess it all goes back to how we judge women!
I feel like I managed to navigate the murky waters of dressing for work quite well - I was always very serious about my job, but authentic to my personal style. When I began sharing images of my outfits online, I’d get messages from women asking questions like, ‘I’ve got an important meeting tomorrow, what should I wear?’ or ‘How do I represent my company but not feel like I’ve lost myself?’
For women in corporate - particularly in a male-dominated environment - it can be easy to think ‘well I want to be taken seriously so I’ll dress more masculine than I usually would.’ Now, a suit can make you feel really pulled together and like a boss… but just because you might like pink it doesn’t mean you’re not an awesome one.
So I realised there was a gap in the market for someone who could offer all of the media and branding expertise, with the personal styling and confidence help too. And thus The Style Editor was born!
During my career in journalism to date I’ve edited titles such as the Oxford Mail, Oxford Times, Bucks Free Press, Reading Chronicle. I now contribute to a couple of national publications, as well as editing Living.
I was editor of the Windsor Observer when it was the royal wedding of Meghan and Harry - that was a moment! I was the first female editor of the Bucks Free Press in its 160-year history, and we won Newspaper of the Year whilst I was there. Again, fun seeing some of the faces when I went up to the stage as the editor to collect the award! I’ve also been Journalist of the Year, Editor of the Year, USA Today Individual of the Year and one of the most inspirational women in local journalism.
Obviously big memories would be meeting the Queen and the (late) Prince Phillip, going to Buckingham Palace, covering the Olympics, lots of celebrity interviews. The job gives you some incredible access and for that I am very lucky. However - those things aren’t why I got into journalism. I got into journalism because I was the daughter of two people who worked extremely hard to keep a roof over their heads - and where I’m from I saw a lot of struggle. I’ve always loved writing, but really, as cheesy as it might sound, I wanted to make a difference.
Local newspapers are where people go when they feel they have nowhere left to turn. The OAP who is being scammed, or the council tenant who’s stuck in a flooded flat. Often, just a call can fix the problem, after months of feeling like no one is listening to them. Sometimes, people are feeling desperate and because they feel like they know you, they’ll call.
Local journalists also hold power to account. I’m not sure people appreciate just how much information they’d struggle to find if newspapers weren’t there digging.
So whilst yes, amazing, have met some incredible people and done some truly incredible things… the ones I will hold in my heart until the day I die are the people I can say that hand on heart I made a difference to.
Tell us a little about yourself, what do you like to do when you’re not working?
Is there…. a life outside work!? I honestly LOVE what I do so much with my business that it doesn’t feel like work. My husband heard me on a client call the other day and said ‘I never heard you sound that passionate or confident or like you’re having so much fun until you started your business.’
Obviously shopping is a big thing for me! And spending time with my husband - we were friends for a while before we went on a date so our whole relationship is grounded in friendship. I cry with laughter at least once a day.
Being with my friends makes me happy. I feel very grateful to be surrounded by so many amazing women. It probably sounds corny but every day I think... how lucky am I?! To be in the company of these incredible women. Running businesses, raising families, making change happen, serving their communities. They are queens.
When I took the job at the Berks and Bucks papers, I did not know a soul in the area. Then one night I got an Instagram message from a woman who was holding an event, saw I was in the area and asked me if I’d like to go. I really didn’t! I was very tired from what was a hellish start to the new job. It was cold, raining… miserable. But something forced me out the door. From that, I met some of the most amazing women, without whom I would not have had the courage to do what I do today. Then, when I moved to Oxford, I met more. Making friends as an adult can be really tough - particularly if you’ve moved around a lot for work. But being here in the Cotswolds, inspired and connected to all these incredible people, really feels like home.
Do you have any exciting plans for the future that you’d like to share with us?
I’m just very focused on helping as many women as possible feel great about themselves and go after their goals. Currently I offer 1:1 services, but I’ve got a few exciting plans in the pipeline! It’s all about collaboration and seeing what happens!
Finally, if you could share just one bit of advice for all the women out there, what would it be?
In her book Untamed, Glenning Doyle writes the only thing that was ever wrong with me, was thinking something was wrong with me.’
Samantha Harman – The Style Editor