A few weeks back, while making the most of my very first BritMums annual gathering, I learnt another thing or two about mums in business: they’re strong, motivated and a cool bunch when you put them together in the same room. But the main principle still applies: a child is THE game changer for a mother. Therefore many of us decide to sink into the unknown, to embrace a gutsy career switch that promises better hours around the offspring, more quality evenings with the other half and less guilty feelings attached to this motherhood odyssey despite the challenges of the new professional journey.
One of these fine mothers I had the chance to meet and chat at the blogging event was Caren Prior, a brave spirit who ventured into the mumpreneurial new waters while raising her two children and who’s now sharing with us her true views on how both worlds have been colliding since then. Caren has started Hummingbird, a Brand Engagement Agency where she works with brilliant brands such as Touchnote – creator of my current favourite app on my smart phone (who knew sending postcards and creating holiday print boxes can be such a hooking experience and foolproof gift idea?!).
1. Motherhood is such a game changer. Was this the main reason behind pursuing the career you’ve developed on your own when creating Hummingbird?
It was, but I’ve been a mum for 16 years and a mumpreneur for just one, so it took a number of game changer moments to get me there. I started my career in travel and spent a large chunk of my [mid] twenties being responsible for the PR, Marketing and Inflight Entertainment onboard Air2000. Trinity Mirror (the UK’s largest newspaper publisher) followed with managing Marketing, Interactive and Commercial teams driving revenues through media partnerships that delivered engagement for major brands with our audiences across print, mobile, digital and social for 18 years. For 11 of those years as a single mum to Ella, 16, and Isaac 12. Ella was born with Di-George syndrome, a genetic disorder (22q11.2 deletion). We didn’t know until she crashed at 2 days old bursting both her lungs from an interrupted aortic arch. She was rushed up to Guys in London on life support and underwent open heart surgery, at 6 days old, weighing just 4lb 8oz. The second smallest child in the UK to have had that surgery and survive at the time. We spent the next 3 months in intensive care before we could bring her home, the next 2 years in and out of local hospitals and being fed via a tube.
The mother of all game changers. Attempts to create a business whilst all this was going on failed (I thought I was superwoman, I was not!) and economic circumstance kept me tied to the day job (with longer hours over fewer days so we could fit all the paediatric cardiology, immunology, physiotherapy, audiology, speech therapy appointments and hospital stays in). Isaac’s arrival meant maternity leave and the chance to pursue my other passion and embark an Interior Design Degree. But within a year the relationship with their dad had fallen apart and the resurfaced dreams of starting my own business died with it, for a second time.
Between the double dip recessions and career progressions that followed there never seemed to be a right time. Until the opportunity presented itself the form of redundancy in July last year, nearly a year ago to the day (give or take). Hummingbird was born.
2. Why Touchnote?
One of the things setting up Hummingbird has allowed me to do is be selective about who I work with and the brands I represent. I have completely bought into Touchnote as a brand and I’m privileged to call them a client.
If you haven’t discovered the Touchnote app for yourself yet, you really should, I’m almost evangelical about it. The app allows you to turn the photos you have sitting on your phone into printed postcards. So it makes It really easy for busy mums like me to keep in touch with the people I care about and share our life’s moments. I’ve used the app to send postcards from holidays, as thank you’s, for capturing first days of new school terms. So much more personable than just uploading to social media.
3. How does a regular day for Caren Prior look like?
My alarm goes off at 6:30 it’s straight in the shower followed by an hour of domestic goddess’ing – breakfasts, lunches, ironing – and general pre-school-bus project management. By 8:15 everyone has left for school and my working day begins at 8:30. What that day looks like depends on what live projects I’m working on, if I have any client meetings and what new business I’m pitching for. Today I am finalising the implementation of a Brand Ambassador programme for Touchnote. I’m reaching out to parenting bloggers, key travel editors, and press to secure coverage for the launch of their new Print Box product and to increase awareness of the brand. Scoping out these partnerships involves negotiating, contracting, writing press releases and generating other media assets.
I work from Touchnote’s offices in Shoreditch one day per week. It’s important that I get underneath the skin of a brand and planting myself in a brand’s office so I can ‘live it’ is a really effective way to do that. Today though I am in the office at home.
At 12:30 lunch is an attempt at something healthy, with leaves.
Then I have a conference call with the Joba Events team, another client who runs a Peaky Blinder’s themed 1920’s pop-up in Camden, to go through ticket sales and VIP bookings for this weekend as well as the Artist line-up, social media and marketing plans for next weekend.
At 14:30 I follow up with the Director of Sober Services as I have some points that need clarifying on a Brief I received from them yesterday. They are looking to launch a UK-wide addiction roadshow and have asked me to pitch. And it all resulted from a conversation held in very muddy field at Glastonbury 3 weeks ago. I’m excited at the prospect at being part of a project that could make a real difference in the lives of the people it will touch. Sober Services agree to send answers on Mon so for now it’s back to all things Touchnote.
At 15:30 the kids come home and we get to chat about their days something I never used to be able to do and am really grateful for.
Today is Friday, I try to finish early around 5pm so our weekend can begin (usually the working day doesn’t finish until 6:30pm). If it’s a mummy weekend we will look at who has arranged what with who at school and schedule some fun things to do around the myriad of sporting activities. If it’s a daddy weekend it’s a light dinner before the children disappear and I can relax with a huge glass of red 🍷
4. Today so many of us may experience periods of low confidence when motherhood kicks in, especially when a career change is also involved. What would you advise mothers to do in order to overcome this and pursue their dreams like you have successfully done?
Oh gosh the way you ‘talk to’ yourself influences everything you do. My advice would be to just stop listening to those voices of self doubt, find a way to work through anything self-limiting. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. And if that fails call me and I’ll remind you how amazing you are!
5. What would you advise the new ‘mumpreneurs’ to keep in mind in the early days of growing a business (after all the challenges and perks you got during developing Hummingbird)?
I think its important to keep in mind no-one ever started a business knowing it all, so you won’t and that’s ok… In the early days set realistic goals but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach those goals in the timescales you envisage, goals and timescales evolve, and that’s ok too… See mistakes and rejections as opportunities to learn and just keep up the momentum. Oh and get a good accountant – make your life a tax deductible expense.
One of my biggest challenges came from the change in infrastructure – going from a huge organization with access to insight, resources and support services at your finger tips, to having to do everything for yourself took some adjustment. But there is something so empowering about being the master of your own destiny and making it work for you and your kids that far outweighs any negatives.
6. Which are the 3 ‘I got this from my mama’ lessons you’d like your daughter to learn from you and proudly use later in her adult life?
My mother’s life lessons centered around always trying your best, treating others as you want to be treated, having respect for all living things, … and never swearing.
She taught me how to sew a hem and cook a roast, wire a plug and plumb in a washing machine – very resourceful woman my mother
I would like Ella to take all of those character traits with her too. She’s definitely got her work ethic from me and always puts 100% effort into everything she does. She starts College in September and I’m so proud of how far she has come. I’m proud of the dude too of course.
7. Your favourite quote…
A portion of a quote by Lewis Carroll is one of my favourites: “In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take…”
8. Finally, what has motherhood been teaching you and your favourite motherhoody perks are…
Motherhood has taught me compassion, acceptance, patience and given me superb conflict resolution skills. Its also taught that wine solves most of the things my conflict resolution skills can’t! (lol) One of my favourite motherhoody perks is the cup of tea Ella brings me in bed every morning. She just started doing it one day without even being asked, and has done it ever since! Any Isaac related perks usually cost me money. He’s great at neck massages but they always come at a price.
Any mumpreneurs looking to benefit their business through effective brand engagement can contact Caren at TheHummigbirdOrg@gmail.com.