@barneyandwilf

It’s #MumBag and #MumBoss #Monday where some very talented and interesting women let us into their minds and their bags to see their inner workings.

This week we have a pair of Mums who have come up with one of those genius ideas that is also really simple, like the best ones always are.

Cat and Jen met at NCT and became good friends. When their kids started nursery they found themselves drowning in all the artistic creations they came home with.  Not having the heart to chuck them out and also not having the wall space to show it all, they started to scan and digitally reproduce the images and make stylish poster prints to show them off.

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At first they made them for family and friends and they were a real hit; so they decided to give it a go as a business and BarneyandWilf  (named after their boys) was born. Two years on and they are winning Design Awards and featuring in Tatler.

I caught up with these two inspiring ex City-girls to see how they got to this point:

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What does your business do in a nutshell?

Cat and I create poster prints out of children’s own artwork. We found ourselves in the position where we were being overloaded with lovely/ crazy things the kids had created each day at school and nursery, but having it stuck on the walls just created clutter and we had nowhere to store it all.  Plus we didn’t have the heart to throw it all out. So we came up with the idea of digitally reproducing the images into little squares, fitting 24 to up to 90 pieces onto a poster you would actually want on your walls, and then we could throw away or store the originals guilt free. Lucky for us the idea really caught on with parents as it’s something all Mums and Dads face. And the modern framed grid collage looks contemporary enough to have anywhere in your home.

When did you start it and why at that time?

Cat and I did NCT together and, as our youngest sons were about to turn 1, we had had so many comments about the prints we had made for friends and family we decided to give it a go selling them properly. With tiny children, it took another year to get going, and the boys, Barney and Wilf, have just now turned 3.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Fitting it in around the children who were so young when we started. We used nap times and evenings to get things done and relied on Cat’s husbands amazing IT skills to get a website going. Also as we both have backgrounds in the City so getting up to speed on digital marketing and the Instagram and Facebook world have been learning curves.

What has been your proudest moment?

Winning a Junior Design Award and being introduced at school as the mum at school with ‘that genius business idea’. It makes it really worthwhile (even if its really not as glamorous as it sounds!)

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What is your best mum hack for making it all work?

Wine! And working in the evenings. It’s not for everyone I know, but I’m used to working late from my banking days. I literally cant get anything done if my children are in the house, and now the naps are a distant memory it really is the only time I can get any work done. It’s quiet, you can drink wine and there’s nothing worth watching on the TV anymore.

You seemed to have found your ‘thing’ – do you see it that way?

Both Cat and I agree we have been really lucky to find a unique business idea which has taken off and addresses a gap in the market.  So, yes, to a certain extent we have found a niche, but I would also say we did stumble upon it during those hazy, sleep deprived baby years, and would be keen to try other businesses in the future now we have found our feet a bit.  But we are still very much a new business, and as the saying goes you get luckier the harder you work.  It has been quite a struggle getting up and running with such young children at home, so it’s not for the feint hearted.

What encouragement would you give a mum thinking of starting her own thing?

Give it a go and be brave.  Honestly, everyone is blagging to a certain degree. Coming from a background in Corporate Banking in the Middle East my skill set couldn’t have been more different, but Cat and I sent a few emails and genuinely loved our idea, which I think rubs off. Before we knew it people were ordering prints and featuring us in magazines and blogs.

Also something Anna Whitehouse (Mother Pukka) said which I really took on board, was keep the activity going, and I definitely find this works. If sales are quiet, just keep sending emails to people who could help you, posting on Instagram and generally interacting with people and building networks. We might not sell a print, but we will make a relationship, attend a function, make a new friend with great insights…its all part of building a business and makes you feel like its ticking along. Working alone can be lonely so expect quiet times and use friends or family as sounding boards.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t take it all so seriously!  In my previous career I was in such a rush to achieve achieve achieve, that I never took stock of where I was or asked enough questions of the people around me. Now I have been forced to slow down with 2 young children and working on my own small business I have realised what’s important in life. I moan about it at 7am but I really do like that I can take the children to school and be the one to pick them up most days.

Will you show us your #MumBag?

Number of items in your bag: 10

Mark your #MumBag out of 10 for:

Entertainment: 6  A Thomas train and a favourite book. We are never far from a train with Wilf around and he played with this very patiently waiting at the doctors surgery the other day (and probably picking up every germ possible!)

Food: 0  Complete snack fail today. Probably why my children are so awful in public! Must buy snacks.

Drugs: 8 Currently fighting the dreaded lurgy going around, Lemsip is my friend. And 8 hour cream for everything.

Clothing: 4 Spare monster pants for Wilf. Always. Bless him, always far to busy to be bothered to go to the loo. And always baby wipes, to assist in the aforementioned accidents.

Skank: 6 Receipts, hair ties and a dry cleaning ticket from 2015 (inside my wallet)

Actual nice things for you: My lovely Jem and Bea MAMA bag with a few bits of makeup. I always have a few bits for after the gym, when I ever get there. We met Jem and Bea at a Mums The Word meet up in Tunbridge Wells and it was great to chat to a business further down the line to us. They were generous with their time and contacts and make the miost beautiful bags.

What is the most comedy item you have found? Annie’s latest artwork handed to me the other day. Her face stuck to a bumble bee. However she is white blond and the way she has cut her head out makes her look completely bald. I did have a giggle.

What is the oldest item in there? A couple of those receipts probably. Oh and my coin purse from Marrakech. The blue leather is so old and battered but I love it and reminds me of fun travels.

What is the item you’re most proud of? Rich gave me my bag when I had Annie, and I’m most proud of the fact that despite it being cream I haven’t completely trashed it yet.

Describe your baggage-type:  I definitely err on the side of messy, but every now and then I get a bit OCD and have a big clear out. But yes, hoarder most of the time.

Let’s see it then:

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Thank you for reading x

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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.