I was introduced to Katie via the amazing Steph, who runs Don't Buy Her Flowers, an innovative service creating packages for mums (and anyone who needs a bit of TLC), that they actually want. Both part of this fascinating network of entrepreneurial mums that I've found myself exploring, they represent a group of women who almost fell into their business ideas, but have worked hard to make them a success.
Katie writes the blog Hurrah for Gin, a must read for any parent, that brings to life the trials and tribulations of parenthood in the most brilliant (and quite often, pretty rude) way, via the illustrations that Katie has produced. She has taken this into a business of cards, she's writing a book, working directly with brands on illustration projects, and exploring lots of new ideas that take her talent and drive even further. I caught up with her to find out more about her journey to date.
Tell us about what you’re doing now and your journey along the way
I did a degree in advertising and marketing and from that went on to work in digital media agencies, planning advertising campaigns, for about 5 or 6 years in total. I always liked my job but it was never a passion. I never felt like I was excelling at it and I wasn't hugely motivated.
I went travelling for a few months, came back and wanted to do something different. I've always enjoyed being creative and so I went to work at a creative agency called Digital Outlook for a few years, until they closed. I was pregnant with my first son, so it was a natural career break. After he was born I found part-time work at a social media agency in Brighton for a couple of years.
After my second son, I struggled to find flexible work. Most of the jobs were in London and were full time. It's a big bug bear of mine that there are lots of companies that aren't willing to employ women of a certain age with kids, or look at more flexible options. I felt like I still had a lot left to give, so it was hard to decide I wasn't going to work in that area anymore.
I think there are a lot of women with ambition - an untapped resource left sitting at home. Although advertising often involves long hours, there are often wasted hours socialising in the pub. When someone is only working 3 days they're often more focused on getting the work done.
I was bored and didn't want to be a full-time, stay at home, mum. It wasn't about the money - I needed something for myself. About 2 years ago, I decided to start a blog. I had always liked writing and there weren't that many blogs that talked about my experience of motherhood, in particular the funny side. They all seemed a bit rosy. I fell into the illustration side of it, mostly because there were times when I didn't have photos that related to what I was writing about. I started doing the odd drawing and those posts were much more popular.
That became 'my thing', so I kept doing it, as it made it easier to get the humour across. The blog grew from there. People started to comment that the sketches would make good cards, which was always something I'd wanted to do, but I'd thought it would be hard to get into. I bought a load of stock, starting with ink pen on paper, taking photos and printing on cards. Now I do the whole process in Inkscape. I take photos of the backgrounds of the cards, layer the image and upload them on etsy to sell. It's much quicker and easier and they have a uniform look.
I started to sell the cards in January 2015, and because I had a platform to do it from in terms of the blog and my facebook audience, they've been doing really well. My Mum and Dad now do the packaging and the orders (obviously paid!) - they're my fulfilment team. They quite like it because they're retired and it's a nice job to do as they can do it in front of the TV.
I sell to some shops as well as etsy, largely people who have contacted me directly. I'd like to contact shops and promote the cards more, but there hasn't really been time. I think there's more I could do with that side of the business, I'd like to try more products, like a calendar, and tote bags.
The blog takes a lot of time and effort, and as it grows, people contact you about advertising and sponsored posts, but I've always liked it to be clean and focused on the user, but you do look to monetising it in some way. I always hoped that I could write a book, and so I took the incredibly proactive approach of sitting around, waiting for it to happen!
Then about six months ago, a lady from the publisher ‘Hodder and Stoughton’ approached me. She has 2 young boys and had been reading the blog and wondered if I would be interested in writing a book with them. I worked with her on a few chapters, sent it to her at Christmas time and they made me an offer. Weirdly at that time I'd done an interview with a news agency, which got featured in the Daily Mail, Mashable and Huff Post. From that about 6 or 7 people approached me to write a book, but I felt loyal to my publisher, and I'm happy that I've stayed with them.
I'm in the process of writing that now and have to finish it by mid May. It's going to be a gift based item, so they want it ready for October for Christmas gifting. It's going to be hard back, quite heavily illustrated (about 150-200 illustrations). It starts from the stage of being pregnant to your kids going to school. It's been quite fun as I hadn't written about being pregnant or giving birth, so it's been nice remembering that.
I also get approached with consultation work, helping companies with their social media strategy, but I don't really have time to follow it up. The only freelance I do now is illustration with brands that approach me directly. I've just done work with Kiddicare for example. It was a study about the difficult questions that kids ask in the car. They had a couple of 1000 responses and I picked the top 10 to illustrate. They were questions like 'mummy why do your boobs look so sad'.
I also get approached by magazines to write content for them. At the moment I don't have time to do that much, but once I've finished the book I'd like to do more.
You start doing one thing, but lots of different ways reveal themselves in terms of building the business, so it's more about where you focus.
What made you take the leap to do things differently initially?
At first it was because I liked writing the blog, but it was great that people followed it and the motivation was then that I wanted to grow it, and make ultimately make money from it. However, the older I get, the less motivating the money side is for me. I'm far more excited by wanting to do the things I do, and people liking them. Writing books isn't the most profitable thing to do, but I love writing, and I love the fact I'm doing something that is going to be published and will be there for my boys and other people to read.
What do you find difficult about managing multiple jobs?
There are so many different chunks of the business, and managing multiple social media for the businesses and my personal accounts is never ending, and also addictive. I have a constant stream of messages and mails and I could never reply to everyone individually, as there aren't enough hours in the day. It can be difficult to switch off. I often put the kids to bed, and work till midnight, don't get enough sleep and then get up and look at my phone straight away, so I don't feel like I have relaxation or me time. When it's your own thing it's always you, not someone else's problem.
Do you ever get the fear, and what do you do to spur yourself on when that happens?
This is the only time I've felt passionate about what I'm doing, but sometimes I think I don't know how it's going to work out. As the children get older, I'm not sure I can talk about them in the same way. Their problems and issues will become more personal and become more exposing for them, rather than common ground for parents more generally.
I'm hoping the illustration side of what I do will therefore take off, but also my sister and I have had a Children's book idea that we're trying to kick off. I'm looking at long-term things, as I can't keep blogging all the time, and I don't want to do it forever.
What or who do you find intimidating?
Writing personal content and putting it up on the Internet can be intimidating. Some people can be total bastards! Whenever I post I doubt myself, although quite often the posts that get shared the most are the ones that I think are the most rubbish! I do worry about people's reactions.
I get a lot of comments about language and people saying I should enjoy my children more when they're young, but most get that it's tongue in cheek. I think that laughing at those sides of parenthood is a positive thing. I'm lucky in that the vast majority of comments are positive and they understand the humour, but you'll always get some people who say hateful, personal things.
What makes you feel good / powerful?
All of the lovely messages I get, often from people who have had a bad day and read one of my posts and thank me for cheering them up and making them feel like they aren't the only one going through it. I was one of the first of my friends to have kids, and I went through a bit of a bleak time. I think it's really important to recognise that some people take to motherhood more naturally than others.
Because of all of that I've always been passionate about mums sharing their experiences, and having a positive influence, not being competitive about it with other mums. If everyone knew the honest sides of parenthood I don't think they'd stress about it the same way.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
I'm very much about enjoying the moment. The older I get, the more I realise that you have to enjoy life while you can and not worry about the future. Life is about having fun and taking opportunities that come your way.
However, I do think about legacy. Particularly in writing this book, a big motivation is having it for my boys to read in the future.
How do you define success now?
From an evidential side, I look at numbers of followers and people reacting or sharing. There are also awards. I won MAD blog of the year in 2015 and I have also won Mumsnet best writer awards.
But to be honest I don't really care about those things, and I don't think my readers do either. Ultimately I judge my success based on whether people enjoy what I do, and the feedback shows that.
Where would you like the blog, and your business, to get to?
I'd like to keep writing and illustrating and continue writing children's and young adult books. There is only so much you can talk about parenthood. I can't keep doing it forever as it could become a bit mundane. I'm hopeful that the children's book I am working on will be a success and lead into other audiences and genres. I'd also like to extend the card business into more card formats and products.
How do you start your day?
My mornings are based around the children, getting their breakfast, and ready to get out of the door. I work from home and my littlest attends nursery two days a week. I'm thinking about looking into co-working spaces as it can be isolating.
I do social media checks on content and keep my facebook page and channels refreshed. I haven't had much time to do the blog recently; facebook is my main channel really. I'm writing the book, which I like, but it’s quite hard as it’s so easy to get distracted. It's easier to do the quick win stuff - a book is a long process and it can feel quite hard to stay motivated.
What's the biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
I'm really enjoying life at the minute because I'm motivated and passionate, but the downside is that it is really hard to switch off. I feel quite guilty about whether I'm being a good mother, friend, wife, or worker because I'm so stretched. We're going to Canada for the summer, as my husband has a month's sabbatical, so I'm really looking forward to doing that, some downtime and enjoying being a family.
How do you come up with new ideas?
My ideas are based on my own experiences. I can't stand sloppy, over the top stuff, so my ideas focus around the realities of having a new baby or getting married or celebrating a birthday or anniversary. Stuff that will make people laugh, rather than keel over basically!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to do something with animals, a vet or working in a rescue centre, although I never enjoyed science enough to do it. The other option was to be a backing dancer in pop videos. I tried some classes but had no co-ordination. I still love dancing though!
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
If I ever mention to my eldest son about moving out, getting a job or getting married he starts freaking out. I have to promise he can live with me forever. When they are old enough, I will tell them to just do whatever makes them happy, and not what pays the most.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
A property developer - I love the process of converting houses, it's so satisfying seeing everything come together.
What's the single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Don't try and emulate anyone else, be true to yourself and try not to worry about what other people think. You can't be all things to all people.