Kate contacted me via the site to introduce herself, and she was an immediate fit with the ethos of many of our Masters of Many. A doer rather than a procrastinator, she's one of the growing number of mums who are somehow managing to build businesses alongside looking after small humans, no mean feat when your working hours are often a nap time. I caught up with her near the start of her journey with Cheltenham Maman, but the organisation is already going great guns. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
Tell us about your journey to date…
This time a year ago I was managing a GP practice. It’s a very busy job and I don't think patients quite realise what goes on behind the scenes. I'd been there for a long time and had developed a trust with my employers, so they were happy for me to work flexibly and get the job done. But, over time, I felt that I owed them so much for this flexibility that I came to realise that I was driving myself into the ground. I was pregnant with my third child (I have a 14 year old, a 12 yr old and now a 9 month old - all planned!)
Initially I'd planned to go back to work and make it work financially, but as soon as she came along, with that experience I realised how short each stage is. I wasn't prepared to do it anymore. I was deeply focused on doing everything in half the time it needed, I was stressed and I wasn't being a great mum.
Lila was born in January. I spent four months thinking about what I could do and noticed that the experience of having a baby 14 years ago was completely different to how it was now, essentially because of my phone. I could recall being awake at 3 or 4 in the morning thinking I was the only person awake at that hour, and now there's a community at my fingertips of mums all going through the same thing, supporting each other. This was already being built on in London, particularly with Mothers Meeting, but I was frustrated that there wasn’t anything like it in my area.
I got on with the technical side of building a website, which is where my skills lie. I launched Cheltenham Maman, which is a networking, social and community centre for the mums of Cheltenham and Gloucestershire, with Cheltenham as its hub. There’s a blog, which I write for and also have guest writers. I do interviews, and we also do events. My launch event featured Anna Whitehouse (aka Mother Pukka) and Grandmother Pukka also came, giving a different generational viewpoint to the debate. There was our local mum about town Kara Sutherland and Kate Evans, a local stylist and image consultant. We have more events coming up.
We advertise mum friendly jobs, part time, flexi or term time. I’m really on board with Anna's flex appeal campaign. Convincing employers to get with it and appreciate that it's a hugely efficient part of the workforce, that they're essentially trying to avoid employing.
I wasn't prepared for the amount of people that would want to write for the site. There is a huge interest in blogging and I think people find it very therapeutic to put their story into an article for the site. As more do it, the more people get the courage to contact me. I launched it in June 2016 and by the end of July I had content scheduled until Christmas. I wasn't emotionally prepared for going out on my own in many ways, in terms of how exposed I would feel, and being judged professionally by your peers. It took me a little bit of time to come out from behind the logo, and I'm feeling a lot more confident with that now. I feel like I've given birth twice this year, to the site and to the baby.
What made you take the leap to do things differently?
I'd tried for about 3 or 4 years to have Lila, and when she finally came it was so precious, and the trappings of my job weren't worth sacrificing the moments with her. I was just 21 when I had my eldest, and I wasn't on that pathway. I was very determined to prove myself at work and had made some decisions professionally that I don’t feel comfortable with now where I chose work over children, and I was ready for that to change.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture?
I feel like it's got momentum. The feedback I had about the launch event has been really positive.Traffic is fantastic but its still evolving. Money is the hardest part of it and figuring out how to generate an income. The popularity and the traffic is there, but it's finding the balance between what people want to read, and turning a few quid from it to keep me here at my desk.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
My husband took a picture of me about 2 months in, sobbing and a complete and utter mess. It's like opening pandora's box. It’s not something you can put away and there have been moments I've wanted to go back to being invisible, normally when I've not slept well or something else is going on. I have my husband to thank for scooping me out of the low moments. But then, I had an email following the launch event from a lady who said she was feeling very low and struggling to find herself professionally and that the event had changed how she thought about it and enabled her to meet like minded people. It’s fantastic to think that.
What do you find difficult about managing multiple roles?
Segmenting my time is particularly difficult. I do my work at night, but my children aren't in bed necessarily because they're 14 and 12. I’m literally picking things up as soon as I get 15 minutes. My time is very bitty. My little one used to wake up at 5.30 but was happy to sit and play, so between 5.30 and 7 I could get loads done. Recently she's started sleeping till 7 and that's great, but now I'm stressing that I'm not getting things done.
I have to roll with changes of routine as a family as they happen constantly. The summer holidays were really tough. I've spent the last 7 years looking forward to having summer holidays at home with the kids, but I couldn't find the time I wanted to put into the blog and I was torn as to what we should be doing. In hindsight I probably started it all a bit soon, as Lila was 4 months old, but my brain was ready for a challenge.
Do you feel like you’re achieving a work life balance?
When I was working before, if one of the kids wasn't well, it was really stressful. Now it's not a big deal, everything is really flexible and the meetings I have are generally with mums, who are understanding about postponing. Because I was working flexibly maybe my older boys didn't notice how much time I was spending at work. Now I remind them of the things I'm able to do with them that I wasn’t before.
Ultimately it's you that suffers for having a piecemeal approach to working. What comes bottom of the pile is reading a book, or soaking in a bath, but I still think that I'm excited about what I do so it doesn't feel like a sacrifice.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
Sleep! It's always that I'm running low on sleep and I need to indulge in a little bit of self care. Sometimes at the weekend, we'll go out for a day as a family and leave the gadgets at home. A day away from social media and the site and emails has so far been enough to recharge my batteries. I also feel empowered by the fact that I'm doing something. I’m not just thinking about it, I'm doing it and I take pride from that when I need to overcome the fear.
What or who do you find intimidating?
To begin with, I found almost everyone I encountered quite intimidating. As long as I'm honest with people about the fact that I’m not working from a business plan, and I’m moving with the site as it evolves from the beginning then the fear of other people and their knowledge and experience dissolves. They realise that they have to talk to me as a layman.
What makes you feel good / powerful?
I've had emails from people who just want to meet because they like the idea of the site. I've made more friends in the last 4 months than I have in the last 4 years. People have usually sussed me out on social media, so we already have a bond as they get the ethos and the idea of the site. Even if in a years time I decide I can't make a living from it, I'll have gained so much from the experience.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
Probably my legacy. I'm quite risk averse. I have an amazing father who does amazing things for people and constantly puts other people before himself. He's 70 now and is retired, and I often find myself thinking what an incredible legacy he'll leave behind. That is what drives me. I’d be very pleased to leave even half of what he will leave with us.
How do you define success now?
Survival! On a daily basis it’s that I've ticked a few jobs off the list and I've creatively come up with a few ideas that might bring more content, new business, or new events to the site longterm. And that I've had a mindful moment, particularly with my little one.
The bigger picture I suppose is balance. It's having the right amount of time for all of the people that are important to me, including my parents, in laws and friends. A quality of life that means I can afford to make a few decisions. When I had the boys, we were young and skint - and although life was simpler then, it's nice now to have more freedom to decide what we're going to do.
Where would you like Cheltenham Maman to get to?
I'd like to offer a monthly suite of workshops - business, networking, social media training, self assessment for tax and pensions and all of the detail about working for yourself, and professional coaching for people who are starting up on their own. And events that support mums who aren't in business, both practically and emotionally, including fun events where you can have a cocktail and a gossip.
It’s still taking a huge amount of time to get jobs up on the site, and I'd like to be in the position long term where employers are coming to me because they've realised there is a work force they can tap into that they need to attract.
How do you start your day?
The only certainty I have at the moment is that my little one has a morning nap, so I'm up early to do a blog and update social media pre 7am. From 7 to 8 it's all about the older boys - breakfast, packed lunch, toothbrushes, PE kit - and then they're out at 8 with my husband. My little one then goes back to bed and I get 2 hours of work time. We're normally out and about from 10 - 3 either meeting mums who are interested in the site, interviewing people, visiting attractions or local businesses to review them for the site, or event planning. Then it's school pick up, home and the rest of the whirlwind.
What will you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
Not to get too focused on one specific career. My 14 year old is sports obsessed and he's only recently broadened his horizons beyond being a professional sportsman, Now we're starting to talk about sports journalism and other options. Also that I don't think academic qualifications are the be all and end all. Social skills and other aspects of professional success matter these days.
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Manners cost nothing - and you never know when you're going to need someone's help so no relationship or encounter should ever end negatively. There are very few situations that can't be amicably overcome.
To find out more about Cheltenham Maman, go to www.cheltenhammaman.co.uk