#Mumbag TopTrumps – Number 5

By day she looks after HR for one of London’s coolest ad agencies. Her #Mumbag is a sight for my very sore eyes.  If I stand near her enough, will some of her organisational skills rub off on me? I hope so. Let’s take a peek …

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Name: Mizzy

Age: 35

What do you do?  HR at Mr President

Kids: Francesca, 4, Jack, 11 Months

Mark your #Mumbag out of 10 for the following:

Entertainment: 8 if you’re Frankie, 0 if you’re Jack.

Food: 8 if you’re healthy, if it’s an I need sugar day.

Drugs: 0 unless you like Doc McStuffin plasters.

Clothing:  8. Wet knickers and leaking nappies are covered.

Skank: 0. I am not a fan of skank.

Nice things for me: My favourite Whistles tiny bag for grown-up things.

Comedy item: The biggest collection of figurines you have ever seen. We’ve got Boj, Twirlywoos, 2x unicorns, Peppa, George, Susie, Danny and Candy. One miniature pink tennis ball and a shit load of crap from Kinder eggs.

What are your proudest of? My collection of coffee loyalty cards. If you’re a coffee shop in Hampstead, me and my kids are regulars.

Describe your bag: I am a huge fan of bags with compartments. I HATE rummaging around for things whilst holding a baby/umbrella/school bag/scooter/coat. Everything is in a purse or container. There is no risk of anything getting wet. Everything has a home and I get cross if I can’t find it.

100% OCD.

Let’s see it then:

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WOW.

Can I see inside your #Mumbag?

 

More coming from Mrs Yellow soon.  Please find me on Instagram to see the latest posts.

POP.

The return to work after having kids can be a time of great internal conflict. Of nerves. Of excitement. Of guilt. Of no guilt. Of logistics. Of crazy money spent on childcare. Of questioning “Is it worth it?” or “When can I start?”.

This week saw my first client meeting as Mrs Robinson since having my boy 16 months ago.  I have blogged a bit and been working from home in the last few weeks but I’ve not been in front of  REAL LIFE HUMAN clients in that time.

It marked the physical start of going back to work for me and of my cosy maternity bubble bursting.

POP.

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My boy in a bubble

Dom asked me the other day what the early years of motherhood have felt like for me.

The only way I can describe it is as being me, but under chicken wire.

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You can see me and I can see you.  I don’t seem any different yet I am slightly tethered by this invisible mesh.  It does loosen, gradually. Then one day you realise that you are beginning to float again. You want to grab on to a balloon and soar but you can’t quite. You feel like a different version of the you before. Not better, not worse. Just different. Responsible, I guess.

He looked mildly confused so we turned the telly on.

Even though working for myself has its advantages (namely the luxury of flexibility and not having an adult boss, just 2 mini ones) it doesn’t mean you avoid those feelings when starting up again. Oh no, far from it.  You are on the frontline of everything.

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My bosses. They are as tough as they look.

Like most things, it’s down to confidence.  Something that can take a serious trouncing when you’ve been bringing up baby.

There are no appraisals or 360s at home to let you know you’re on the right track.  If a colleague were to poo their pants in your presence, sometimes several times, on a daily basis you would probably, hopefully, lodge a complaint with HR.  But you have been lovingly wiping it up for the last X months.  Your barometers of survival and success have changed and that’s OK. Just getting through the day in one piece can be enough.

Here are a few ideas to get you work ready when the big day comes:

1. Boost your confidence – acknowledge your OLD skills

Phoebe Lovatt of the Working Women’s Club suggests “swapping your to-do list for a done list” as a way to get motivated.

This means listing all the things you’ve made happen in the last 6, 12, 18 months (That includes keeping a small person alive) and appreciating all that you have achieved. If you’ve been OOO for a while, read over old emails, it always really surprises me what I’ve written in the past but it also reminds you that it is all there inside you when you need it.

Dig your CV out while you’re at it and reacquaint yourself with all that you’ve got under your belt so far. See?

2Boost your confidence – acknowledge your NEW skills

Parenthood has flung a lot at you. It’s the steepest of learning curves.  I was thinking about the types of roles in the advertising industry I could recruit for and realised I’ve done most of them myself in the last few weeks alone. I suddenly felt very qualified:

MD – Right team, our goal this week is to get to school before they ring the bell. There will be bonuses for those who make this happen.

FD – Sorry darling we don’t have enough pennies for that *insert horrible lump of plastic branded with Frozen* today.

Planner – My insight is that my small ‘clients’ are fickle. Planning is often wasted.

Media Planner – In Q2 they will move from Peppa Pig to Ben and Holly before moving on to Paw Patrol in Q3

Creative – Wow this cardboard tube is a telescope/ a mast/ a horsey/ a really nasty weapon in your hands. Let’s put it in the recycling now.

Art Director – Let’s make a lovely card for Nana’s birthday

Creative Director – The card is lovely, darling, but I think it needs glitter

Client – 10 minutes later. I hate glitter.

Copywriter – See PR

PM – I now have an online colour-coded-calendar-per-human in the house. Gross I know.

PR – Thank You/ Birthday/ Christmas cards x 1 million

Social – An Instagram account devoted entirely to pictures of my sprogs. You don’t have to look.

Receptionist – Sure, I’ll take that parcel for number 20.

Cleaner – Noses, bums, tears and surfaces mainly.

Canteen – 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Though I do outsource to chez Nana, chez Grandpa, Wagamamas, Nandos, Pizza Express* delete according to emotional state/ how near it is to payday.

Procurement – I have joined CostCo. It has come to that.

3. Childcare

Having this right and feeling happy about where your babe is spending their days is basically key to your at-work peace of mind.

So many things to consider:

Distance/ Flexibility/ Opening Hours/ COST/ Childminders/ Nurseries/ Nannies/ Au Pairs/ VIBES VIBES VIBES

You know the deal and what is most important for your needs.  My only advice would be is to go and see them ALL.  You might think you want a nursery environment and then find a gem of a childminder that just FEELS right and vice-versa.

Toptip: Your local authority should have a list of Ofsted registered childminders in your area on their website.

4. Plan A, B,  C and D…

Getting the logistics sorted is also key to you being as relaxed as possible when life does its thing, which no doubt it will.

Get a back up childcare plan or two in case your childcare goes wrong or your little one gets ill in those first days back.  Just knowing which friends and family members are on stand-by/ have a front door key is a life-saver.

For the first couple of weeks fill the fridge with easy stuff; stir-fries, pizza and salad and packed lunch bits.  Bits and bobs are easy to pick up on the way home but you don’t want to be doing big food shops or having to think about what you’re going to eat whilst you’re getting settled.

4. The night before shit-mess

I have learnt by trial and error that doing stuff before you go to bed, however annoying it seems at the time, will make you love yourself for it in the morning.

I bought 4 of these magazine racks from Tiger and we have one each lined up under the stairs.  I chuck my daughter’s school shoes, cardi, book bag and PE kit in hers. I chuck nappies, wipes, shoes, hats, a spare pair of clothes in my son’s. My handbag, keys, purse, sunglasses etc in mine and it has so far avoided the inevitable morning screams of “Where are your shoes?” Dom has not used his yet under claims he doesn’t want his wallet at kid level. But I keep putting his shoes in it. All in good time.  Plus I enjoy asking anyone that will listen, “have you looked in the box?”

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Easy, Tiger.  I wish this was my house but it’s not.

6. Look good, feel good.

Yes I know this is shallow but I was totally flummoxed by this. I realised that I have lived in a uniform of Joni Jeans and a stripy t-shirt for the best part of 2 years plus my body shape has changed and I don’t even know what I like anymore. So when it came to my meetings last week I didn’t know where to start.

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I put something on that I thought was a bit Joan Holloway and then caught my reflection and realised I was more Ma’am than Madmen.

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I spoke to previous #mumbossofthemonth Caroline Mcleod Smith of Style Bureau – she says:

“Invest in quality timeless pieces in plain, neutral colours and then add the wow factor through striking outer layers, statement shoes and bold accessories…think classic black tapered trousers and cream blouse with the addition of an on-trend tweed cocoon coat, block heel pumps and bold colour tote bag. Those finishing pieces will show you’re totally on it, even though you got ready in 5 minutes flat amid mayhem.”

7.  Flex

I am watching in awe at the moment as Mother Pukka goes on her #FlexAppeal crusade for flexible working for parents.  It’s something I want to incorporate into the roles I recruit for and the clients I work with.

But how do you even start the conversation with your employer if you would like to work a bit more flexibly?

Clair Milligan – Head of Talent and Talent Development, Next Tech Girls Champion and Diversity & Inclusion at top city recruitment firm Empiric says:

“Flexible working can mean lots of different things – remote working, adjusted hours, working a set number of hours over a week at different times (as long as deliverables are met), job sharing…

Think of the work that you do in terms of deliverables and not hours served.
Can what you do be done remotely, outside of the standard 9-5?
If it can’t, can you perform a different role in the company that allows for flexibility?
Talk to other people (colleagues, friends, family) who might have already worked flexibly and how they went about doing it successfully.
When approaching the conversation, have as many ideas and options as you can about how it could work.
Avoid deciding that the answer will be “no” before you’ve even asked.  We often limit ourselves because we think we already know the outcome before giving it a chance. And if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
And remember nothing is permanent. Things change and the needs of your family will change over time. This is flexibility for now not and necessarily forever.”

 

8.  And finally, be nice to yourself.

Get some rest.   It is very tempting to use the time after the kids are down and eating has happened to OD on social media.  Weddings of people you have not even met are not for your tired eyes.  And “just one more” of your current box-set might feel like life or death at the time  but not so fun at 0530 the next morning when the small-human alarm clock goes off. I am the worst at this. Must. Try. Harder.

Make peace with your guilt in whatever form it takes.  Most mums I know feel guilty at some point, whatever their choices. If you work you feel guilty because you are not there. If you are there you feel guilty when you stick another DVD on.  You might feel guilty because you don’t feel guilty. I have even heard of grandparents feeling guilty in hindsight that they weren’t as hands on and child-centric as our generation. You can’t win.   I don’t have the answer for this but just try and enjoy the view wherever you are.

And just remember. You made a brain. And a vagina or a penis.  With your body. Stick that on your CV and smoke it.

More coming from Mrs Yellow soon.  Please find me on Instagram to see the latest posts.

#Mumbag TopTrumps – Number 4

She sings, she dances, she covers the world in glitter.  But what’s in the bag? The most glamorous woman I know has let me have a sneaky peek …

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Name: Louisa

Age: 38

What do you do?  Singer with The Polka Dots, and Face Paint and Glitter Artist with The Glitterbox. 

Kids: Heidi, 9 and Marley, 7.

Mark your #Mumbag out of 10 for the following:

Entertainment: 2.  It would have been higher yesterday, as Marley’s Plop Trumps cards were in there.

Food: 3.   Special K bars are against my religion, but weirdly my kids love them, so I’m always armed for after school snack attacks. If you’d asked me to do this last Thursday it would have been a 9, as my handbag was crammed with deli meats. No lie.

Drugs: 2. But it is a school night.

Clothing:  Minus 10. I’m disgusted that there is one used stocking in my handbag ready for a wash after Saturday night’s gig at Henley regatta. I’m left to wonder where the other one is.

Skank:  10. See above.

Nice things for me: Well, there is a fair amount of vanity packed into this little space. So I rate it an 8. And I genuinely don’t always carry glitter in my bag. I promise. That really was just a fluke chucked in there instead of my work bag after a job yesterday.

Comedy item: Heidi and Marley’s  2 used ice cream spoons that somehow came home from Barcelona with us a week and a half ago. Again, if only the Plop Trumps were still in.

What are your proudest of? The business cards. I feel so flipping lucky to do the jobs I do.

Describe your bag: I wish it was showgirl-chic, but it’s more dirty-stocking-scuzz.

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Can I see inside your #Mumbag?

 

#MumBossOfTheMonth – Nicky Clinch

Five years ago I was freelancing at the legendary Mother advertising agency. Nicky was the super-efficient and glamorous PA to the four partners.

Every 6 weeks the company liked to move all the staff around so people didn’t get too cliquey or stuck in their spaces.

I was missed off the floor plan and the only space left was in between Nicky and one of the big cheeses. So we ended up next to each other. What a happy accident that was.

I had never met anyone with so much energy, glossy hair and glowy skin. She seemed to exist off plants and something called almond milk. This was all new to me back then. But she was an effervescent picture of health; running 5 miles before work and being the life and soul of the office. She was getting something right.

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At that time she was also studying to be a Macrobiotic Chef, Nutritionist, Life Counsellor and Specialist Healing Cook at the International School of Macrobiotics. She had also just met a new man.

I was quite low and had been struggling to get pregnant for over a year so she suggested that I could be one of her ‘guinea pigs’ for her studies. We had a session that covered my physical and emotional state and she made some simple suggestions to changes in my diet and life-style. 2 months later I was pregnant. And she was in a relationship with said man.

Five years on and Nicky is a full-time Macrobiotic Chef, Counsellor, Teacher, Blogger, Instagrammer, Public speaker, #MumBoss as well as being married to that man and has a beautiful daughter.

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We have kept in touch and championed each other’s new ventures, so it seemed fitting that she should appear here.

As we are talking, she is effortlessly creating the most delicious lunch for me  as practice for a live cookery demonstration at The Natural Foods Show.

Where are you right now?
I am at a time in my life when I am starting to realise that anything is possible. All the things I dreamed about years ago are not impossible to reach now.
I am still teaching my 6 week course, I have launched a new half day workshop about what our cravings are telling us: Stepping away from emotional eating to empowered eating.

I’m also starting to do more public events, beginning to share my story and talk about topics such as how eating plant based has become sustainable to me, seasonality, cooking for children as well as cooking demonstrations, my supper club at Daylesford , writing for Neal’s Yard, Planet Organic and writing my book.

How have you got to where you are now?
It sounds like a cliché but step by step and one day at a time.

My first step when I qualified 5 years ago was to build my 6 week course. I started teaching before I was ready which I would advise to anyone.  I needed to do it before my baby was born.

I then had Teia and had a year off. The next step was to get back to teaching again.
On my next course I met the soon-to-be owner of Tiosk – where I then went on to be head chef.

Everything has been very synchronistic. A student of mine had a breakthrough and put me in touch with an agent. I met my publicist through you. (Me: I introduced Nicky to my talented friend Jess at Bang Talent).

Doing this as a mother has been a really interesting gift for me as I can only do it this way, one step at a time.

No matter how much I love my work, Teia will always be priority.

First it was 3 days a week, then 4 days a week. Motherhood has softened me, it’s a good thing. It has made me more playful, more creative, forced me to take life less seriously and really benefited me.

Would you/ Could you have done it pre-Teia?
I think I COULD have done it but I think the way it has happened is the way it was meant to.
I wonder if I would have tried too hard, I might have shot myself in the foot; been too ambitious, not had enough balance. Got divorced.

The week I think is the most important in my work life, Teia will get chicken pox and I will have a week in pyjamas watching Frozen. And I’ll think that is actually what I needed. To rein in my ego and keep me humble.

What made you start when you did?
I was going to have a baby and I needed something for myself that was mine so I had something to go back to that I didn’t need to start from scratch after maternity leave.

What is the best thing about being a business owner?
That I can create anything I want to create.
The downfalls are that I can never switch off and there are 20 hour days unless I make sure I switch off. But there are no limitations and that motivates me.

What advice would you give someone setting up on their own?
Get really clear on WHY you want to do it first, and only then move on to WHAT you do.

What people are interested in is what is at the heart of your work.

People buy WHY we do things not just WHAT we do so it has got to mean a lot to you. When you invest so much into this new business, this new dream, you better love and care about it otherwise you are just surviving something and not creating something.

What would you tell your younger self?
My 20 year old self. Nicky – trust the process, you are exactly where you are meant to be, don’t give up.
My 30 year old self. Nicky – trust the process, you are exactly where you are meant to be, don’t give up.

I wouldn’t change a single thing because it makes everything I do mean an awful lot. I am who I am today because of all that I have experienced in life, the good, the bad and the ugly. It has all been a gift.

What has been your greatest challenge so far?
To continually trust my instincts no matter what everyone is telling me.
I have a publicist, agent, branding consultants, lots of voices, lots of opinion (all very positive and helpful I’d like to add) but there is a danger of me getting lost. My vision. My heart. I need to keep remembering WHY I am doing what I do. With social media, for example, there is a pull to do what people like but I must stay close to my intention. Not everyone will like it but my integrity is important.

Biggest achievement so far?
It has to be how I am bringing up my daughter. I am so proud of who she is blossoming in to and I am proud of myself of how I am showing up for her.

With work it is not the flashy stuff. It’s when I watch my students or clients transform and get themselves back. It is remarkable watching someone come back to life and have a feeling that you have contributed to that in some way. There’s no better feeling in the world.

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How do you get a work/ Mum balance?
I have to be disciplined. When I am working, I am working. When I’m with Teia, I try to be present for her. No Instagram, close the laptop (although I am still really working on this). Days off are quality time. It’s not always perfect but I think it works. She will always be my priority and if there are signs that it’s not working anymore I’ll do what I need to change something. It’s all about balance, for all of us in the family, and we continually need to check in with each other to see if something needs to be shifted to bring us all back into balance.

Last year I miscarried and my husband lost his job in the same week – it was one of the worst times of our marriage. Two weeks later I was in a depression and grieving and my husband was feeling really low. Teia seemed her normal lovely cheery self at home but at school, we found out, she was just sitting in a corner constantly nursing her baby doll and not wanting to play with any of the other kids. She had seen me crying and broken for the first time in her life when I am normally so strong. Her teacher told me what was going on and I cleared the diary and we went off to Malaysia to bond and get all loved-up again.

What do you want from being a working mum?
I used to feel really guilty for loving my work. But I’ve realised it is who I am and the more honest and truthful I am to myself about who I am, the more at ease my daughter feels too.

I am learning that what I am doing is showing my daughter that it is possible to be a woman who follows and fulfills her dreams. That she is capable of anything. I want to teach her how to be a grounded and empowered woman.

Do you miss your ‘old’ life?
Oh goodness, no. I don’t miss my old life at all. I have had moments, though, when I’m desperate for some space to myself or some time out.

I’ve had one weekend to myself since being a mum, when I was alone in the flat for 24 hours. I was like, “Hey Nicky, I haven’t seen you in ages!” and I missed that. It was the first time I had been unattached to anyone else as a wife, mother, counsellor, teacher, a Nicky that didn’t belong to anyone but me and it felt really good. I enjoyed every moment.

I used to spend a lot of time alone doing so much self-pampering.   Nowadays it is very much a luxury but I still wouldn’t change it for anything. Becoming a mother is the best thing that’s ever happened for me.

What are your tips for making it work?
My husband always reminds me that if I go down everyone in the family does so I would say to other juggling mamas, you must take care of your own health and wellbeing. If we neglect this then it will effect our ability to be loving mamas. This is a lesson I have to re-learn over and over.

You also have to be very flexible on any given day. Be open to things not working out. And trust life a bit. No a lot.

And what is the BIG plan? Anything you can tease us with.
Well my big news is that I am writing my first book which I am absolutely thrilled about. It is another dream that I am trying to realise.

I also have some big public festivals and events and workshops coming up. And to try and get in baby number 2 in there somewhere!

It is an exciting year.

And with that, Nicky puts a huge bowl of golden tempeh triangles with rainbow slaw and satay sauce in front of me. It looks and smells so good that I tuck in straight away and have finished the bowl before she has even finished taking her picture (below) of the dish.

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There is a joke in my house that nothing can be eaten until it is photographed. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to my meal while it is still hot!

Nicky really is her own best advert. And since meeting up I have booked on to her September course Transform your diet, Transform your life.

For more details about courses, Nicky’s recipes and her blog go to
www.nickyclinch.com

Watch this plant-based space.

Forget Muth-R, you need MUSH

So, remember a couple of months ago I wrote a piece about The Minefield of Making Mum Friends?

It struck a chord with so many people, got shared around the world and lots of people got in touch to say how they could relate. I heard from Dads in the same boat and even randoms on Facebook added me saying that they would be my friend.  Thanks guys, really.

I signed off by saying that I was going to launch an (imaginary) app called Muth-r.  Think Tinder or Grindr for Mums.  This too got a positive response with some kind folk wishing me every success with it. Gawd love ’em.

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Then a funny thing happened.

This week I went along to a brilliant Mother’s Meeting event.  It was all about networking and one of the companies that got introduced to the group was Mush.

Now this is where it gets really exciting… because Mush is my imagined app in THE REAL WORLD.

It actually exists and it is thriving. Download it here.

How it works:

 

The two clever brains behind it are ex-advertising MD Sarah Hesz and ex city-broker Katie Massey-Taylor; both from South-West London.

 

Sarah Hesz and Katie Massey-Taylor, developers of the new app Mush.

Sarah Hesz and Katie Massey-Taylor, developers of the new app Mush.

 

They became friends last year, at an admittedly lonely time for them both, when Sarah approached Kate in a rare act of social bravery.

I caught up with Sarah earlier to find out how it all came about.

Why do you think making mum friends is so hard?

It shouldn’t be, but it is.  When you have a small child and you’re knackered it’s hard enough getting out of the house, let alone making conversation with a stranger.  At groups you often know what the kid is called weeks before you find out the mum’s name.

Asking for someone’s number takes courage and or desperation.

I had seen Kate a few times in the playground, she looked normal, we had kids the same age and I needed someone to get through this tough stage with.  I asked her for her number with very little pre-amble and we became great friends.

The funny thing is, we live so close and have Facebook friends in common that it should have been way easier to make an introduction.

So Mush is about making it easier for Mums to connect.

What was the lightbulb moment?

It was a Friday afternoon, we went out for a hectic tea with our four kids at Pizza Express to celebrate that we had kept each other sane through the winter and the births of our second children. At least one bottle of prosecco was involved and the idea was hatched.

How long did it take you from idea to launch?

That initial idea came in March 2015.  We then went through the process of research to see if it existed already; we thought it must do but it didn’t. We talked to people about the idea and they seemed to like it.  We also knew we needed an app which we needed to raise funds for.

We made a really budget website, put 3 posters up around the playgrounds near us saying “Mums of East Sheen, let’s do this together.” And it worked; people signed up for it.  Off the back of that we looked for potential investors.  We secured investment at the start of this year and launched at the end of April.

How did you manage it with the kids?

We had no childcare in the beginning so were pulling in favours all the time.  Once we had some funding we got help so we could dedicate our time properly.  And now it is our job 4-5 days a week but with the flexibility to do nursery drop-offs and park time before tea.

And why the name Mush?

We have a few reasons.  In truth we wanted a word that meant something to mums and mush is something we all know with baby food etc plus we were probably weaning at the time.  It also has other meanings such as face and friend.  Or it could even be Mum’s Social Hub.

Are you both on it and using it?

Absolutlely.  I had a great playdate last week with a woman who, coincidentally, lives on a parallel street.  We had enormous fun puddle-jumping on a rainy afternoon.

What has been the feedback so far?

It has been fantastic.  We have been going for a month and have 11,500 users already.  Mums are making connections and that is extraordinarily satisfying for us.

We have had a lot of positive feedback from the media too:

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There is so much to do now.  Someone asked me the other day if I was going to have any more kids and I said that I have just had a baby. This app is our baby and it is keeping us very busy.

And finally,  what advice would you give someone with an idea they want to get off the ground?

Believe in your idea, people are going to pick it apart: the trick is to stay committed to your vision but open to feedback and advice.

And with that, I have downloaded the app.  It is really easy and pleasing to use; especially choosing the words to describe what you like to do with your kids and in your non-mummy life.   

I feel a bit furtive and nervous as I make a profile and start checking out other mums but it is also quite exciting to have a nose and see who you like the look of.

I have chosen carefully and sent a message to one mum who looks like my mates, I suppose. Plus she has kids the same age and has put similar interests as me.

We’ll see if she feels the same. I  do hope she doesn’t think I’m mushing into things. (Sorry, not sorry.)

Download the free app here.

 

#MumBossOfTheMonth – Caroline Macleod-Smith of Style Bureau

When my daughter was about 10 months old I started to think about going back to work.

Then I looked in the mirror.

I was wearing a uniform of black maternity leggings, a saggy nursing bra, whatever top didn’t have signs of baby-led weaning splatted on it and massive knickers that would make even Bridget Jones’ eyes water.

I had also just got a new passport photo taken.  I had managed to trowel on a bit of make-up, done my hair and put on a new shirt that I had recently bought.  I thought it was a good day.

When the photo came back I couldn’t believe it. Not only that this photo was set to haunt me on every holiday for the next 10 years but WHAT HAD BECOME OF ME?  I had unwittingly entered my “Amish Teacher” phase.

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I had always been pretty clear on my own style; never that trendy but a love of vintage, spots, stripes, bows, interesting prints and figure hugging dresses. Or a sailor ­crossed with a clown if you want to put a label on it. Suddenly I felt sartorially at sea. My body shape had changed and I had lost confidence in what I liked or what even suited me anymore.

Help came from my fashion-phobic husband. A man who hates shopping so much that he buys everything in navy blue as he knows it will go with everything else that he has in, erm, navy blue.

He bought me a session with Style Bureau to cheer me up. Caroline Macleod-Smith offers personal styling and shopping to men and women, any age and any budget.

We know Caroline through friends and I had gotten to know her over the years at various birthdays, weddings and christenings. She is that girl at events who always looks fantastic; she carries off stylish and on-trend with ease and always gets it right. Plus she is always wearing something that makes you think “Ooooh I like that, I bet it’s really expensive.” And you’ll ask her and she’ll just say a regular high street shop.

She’s not intimidatingly trendy, though, it’s friendly trendy. Trendly?

No wonder, then, that she has carved herself a successful personal shopping and styling business that I got to experience first hand.

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After filling in a detailed questionnaire and setting our budget, Caroline and I hit the shops at Westfield Stratford. Part of the service is that she researches and reserves clothes at the shops you visit, as well as picking up bits you like on the way. It is an absolutely wonderful way to shop as she is doing the hard work for you. You just have to try things on and decide if you want to buy them. Plus you get the advice of a professional who will tell you whether things are suiting you or not and how to style them for different occasions

Caroline is also so nice that it is actually like shopping with your best mate or sister.  Minus the arguments.

Our trip was a huge success and she kitted me out with tops and bottoms and even managed to make me feel good about myself. I was expecting to feel like a turd polished by TopShop so this was no mean feat.

Three years on and I am still using her advice (namely wearing camis under tops for a smoother line), not hiding under shapeless tops and I still LIVE in my TopShop Joni jeans which are skinny with a bit of a higher waist than normal. Something I am thankful for after 2 kids.

Style Bureau is now 5 years old and thriving. I caught up with Caroline to find out how she’s made it such a success.

Where are you right now in your life?

I am currently in a very good place. We have just done the big move out of London to our forever house and I feel that I have managed to strike the right balance between work and family.

I am 5 years into Style Bureau and I’ve built up a good, regular, client base that comes back again and again. When I started I didn’t know how much repeat business I’d get. Some of my clients now don’t shop any other way and do a seasonal shop with me plus ad-hoc bits on top.

Plus up here in Nottinghamshire there are huge new opportunities for me working with spa hotels, corporate work and charity events.

All this as well as my personal shopping, styling parties and regular TV work, so it is a very exciting time.

How have you got to where you are now?

A lot of hard work, determination and self-belief.

When I started out I used to ask myself, “Can I actually do this? Am I doing a good enough job?”

This really drove me to go the extra mile to give the client everything. From the prep for each session, to the follow-up and the time I gave them on the day. I went over and above to really wow them with my service.

From that I would get great feedback; clients saying that the session had been brilliant, that it had made their week and they felt amazing. Making my clients happy gave me confidence and that drove me to keep going. I felt like I really had something of value to offer.

What’s your background?

 I studied fashion at Leeds and then had a career in fashion buying for 10 years.   So I knew I had a skillset and a good eye as well as a commercial experience.

I then did a personal styling course with Chantelle Zinderic to learn the ropes and specifically about marketing and how to charge myself out to clients.

So what was the catalyst?

I was made redundant from Jane Norman in 2011 when I was on maternity leave with my second baby, which wasn’t ideal. I was at home with a 2 year old and a 2 month old and I had always had it in my head that I would start a business when the boys were at school but my husband said to me, “This is the right time, just go for it.”

So I did the course with Chantelle, which was exactly what I needed, and then I just needed to get my name out there.

We were living in Kingston at the time, which had a wealth of potential clients. Lots of new mums going back to work with new body shapes to deal with saying “Can you help me?”

I donated loads of vouchers as prizes or to charities and then literally built it up from scratch. I relied on word of mouth and to this day have never done any advertising. It was tough as only had one day a week childcare for ages. Plus I worked loads of weekends.

Being made redundant is possibly one of the best things that happened to me and was definitely the kick I needed.

I now do personal shopping and styling for 100s of clients, corporate work, fashion shows and TV work.

I really have found my dream job, the mix of fashion and the 1:1 with people.

TV work? Tell us more …

A couple of my team at Jane Norman were also made redundant at the same time and they started working at QVC. One of them passed my details on to the talent manager who recruits guest presenters and I got called in for an audition.

I am now on air 2-4 times a month. It is live and the first time was terrifying but the weird thing is once you get going you’re fine. I have to tell myself that I am just chatting and that makes me feel OK.

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After the first one had gone well it gave me massive confidence and I thought “I can do this.” I felt comfortable and I really love it.

Do you think you could have done all this pre-kids?

Would I? Probably not. I loved my buying job and all the travel. I saw so much of the world that I would never visit normally. When you have kids one of you needs to be around more so I knew I had to create something that would allow that. My priority was being around when they were younger.

What advice would you give someone setting up on their own.

If you love what you do, you will succeed. Your passion and love for it will get you there. People will be inspired and energised by that passion.

Don’t underestimate how good you are.

And crucially, never give up.

I didn’t get the QVC role straight away. After my first audition I was told that the brand itself didn’t think I was the right fit. So I called and called asking about new brands. Lulu Guinness came up.   I did a really good audition but Lulu herself said I didn’t fit the brand as she wanted a mini her.

It was fairly soul destroying but I kept on calling as I knew I could do it.

Then Liz Claibourne NY came up. I was the 17th auditionee and the production manager said to me “Please be amazing.” I got the role.

I could have let that opportunity go but I kept on calling. Getting that role has been brilliant for me in many ways but especially being part of a team as I do work on my own a lot too.

Be really, really brave. And just talk to everyone about your business as leads come from the most random chats. The more exposure you can get for your business, the better.

What has been your greatest challenge so far?

The most challenging was the first Rose Theatre Fashion Show. I had done others but this was managing students in all the roles from hair, make-up, music, models, dressers – the works.

It is a public theatre, paying guests and a team who I didn’t meet until the day. It was a huge learning curve for me. But it was awesome, I have done three more since and now it’s a permanent fixture on the theatre calendar.

I love working with younger people and it has lead to some lecturing and mentoring too.

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What has been your greatest achievement?

Other than getting the QVC role I think it has to be last April, it was an outstanding month for me. I had a variety of personal and corporate jobs as well as working for ITV doing a personal shop for the X factor Final ticket winners. Their head stylist called me up afterwards and said I’d done an amazing job which was just the best feeling.

I was also a finalist in the Kingston Business Excellence Awards for entrepreneur of the year.  I was up against established, hugely successful businesses with huge teams which was the biggest confidence boost ever. I felt pretty proud that night.

How do you make it work with the kids?

The boys are now 7 & 5.

In the early days I had 1 day a week of childcare and I massively relied on friends, neighbours and my amazing Mum who lived 3 hours away and worked herself. I couldn’t have done it without her.

Then when the boys were at nursery I built up to 3 days a week and had my regular clients.

Now both boys are at school I do 3 days of pick-ups and drop-offs and my Mum does the other 2 days. It’s definitely very balanced and I really treasure my time with them when they are back from school and I can really focus on them. It also means I can be involved at the school. I use my commute back from London to do my admin, which means I can switch off my laptop and enjoy my evenings.

What do you want from being a working Mum?

It is important for me to realise my ambitions. It is also important that it runs along side being there for my boys. I am a better mum for them working than not. Sometimes I wish I was completely satisfied by being a stay at home Mum but I worked and studied hard at something I am good at and I make people happy and wouldn’t want to give that up either. I thrive from working and achieving and bringing money in and it gives me self-worth.

Do you miss your old life?

Now and again I long for a proper lie in but apart from that, not at all.

What would you tell your younger self?

That we are in control and we can make things happen. When we are younger we don’t know that and think someone will tell us what to do. Work flipping hard, be determined and you will make it work.

And finally what is your best tip for making it work?

Don’t give up on leads and don’t give yourself a hard time about having time off, it will do you good.

I am currently gearing up to re-entering the fashionable world of advertising and don’t think my new uniform of wonky-boobed-mime-artist-in-skanky-Nikes will cut it (well maybe in some agencies) so I think it’s time for another session with the Style Bureau.

If you think Caroline could help you or someone you know,  get in touch here.

#Mumbag – Number 3

The City Slicker.

The more I look at this, the more I properly LOL… I think it’s because it is the TOTAL opposite of what I thought the owner might have inside her #Mumbag.

Imagine a glamorous redhead with red lipstick, immaculate clothes and a high-flying job in The City.

She has her gorgeous raven-haired babe in her pram and a Longchamp bag casually dangling from the handle.

And then this.

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Owner: Clair

Age: 39

From: London via Liverpool

Children: 18 month old boy

Fact about Clair: She is currently working to build a sustainable talent pipeline of women in technology addressing the fact that only 17% of the tech workforce are females. (Nice one.)

Number of items in bag: I lost count at 60

My top 5 items in her #MumBag:

Sachet of ketchup (You can take the girl out of Liverpool…)
A froggy maraca
A chopped up and expired debit card
3 dummies. Her son ditched them at 5 months. He’s 18 months now.
5 different snacks and a bag of chocolate coins. Definitely not taking any chances or is it the universal mother’s panic of NOT HAVING ENOUGH FOOD for her child?

Can I see inside your #MumBag?