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Inspirational mum Reem from Ossass-Stories.

July’s inspirational mum is Reem, author and publisher from Ossass-Stories.

 

What is your career background?

After studying English at university, I started working as a translator and researcher in Jerusalem, mainly with The New York Times. In 2006, when I was 26, the Israel-Lebanon war broke out, and I urged my boss to let me go to the frontline because I knew the area well. It was my first major journalistic assignment. I realised that being fluent in Arabic would be even more of an advantage in video than in print, so I taught myself how to film and edit video. In 2009 I started doing videos for The New York Times, going into the field, interviewing people, filming them, writing my own scripts and editing together the video reports. In 2012 I moved to New York, and was hired as a staff video journalist by The Wall Street Journal. I mainly covered Middle East affairs, the war in Syria and Iraq, the rise of ISIS and the refugee crisis.

 

How did your career change after having children?

I put my career on hold twice, both times after giving birth to my daughters. After my first, in 2011, I waited 9 months before going back to freelance video journalism, although I was able to do some translation before that. I really enjoyed being a mother, but I also loved my work as a journalist, and I was happy that I could be both. I was happier and more fulfilled, and although I had originally intended to stay at home longer to bring my daughter up bilingual in Arabic and English, it very quickly became clear that she was learning more words and language skills when she was at a nursery interacting with other children her own age and other adults. There was a similar pattern after my second daughter was born in New York in 2015. I left my job at The Wall Street Journal when I was 9 months pregnant, spent the first 18 months with her – and settling my family into a new life in London. I only recently started freelancing again, but I have spent the last few months working on building up my small business, which publishes Arabic books for children.

 

Where did the idea for your business come from?

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” Or, in my case, the mother who invented. Arabic has two registers: formal and colloquial. All books, newspapers, magazines, radio and television programmes  – even for children – use the formal version of the language. That was very frustrating to me as a child, to read children, animals and cartoon characters talking like lawyers and newspaper editorials. When I became a mother I just couldn’t read those books out aloud to my children. So I decided to write children’s books in colloquial Arabic. Things are changing in the Arab world – satellite television channels have familiarised people with other Arabic dialects, and social media has got people accustomed to the idea that it is all right to write as you speak. Other mothers and fathers in the Arab diaspora told me they felt the same, and that it was more important for their children to learn to speak to their grandparents and cousins than to struggle their way through high, formal Arabic texts.

I talked with my husband about this idea in March 2014 and we published our first book in December 2015. When I got the first actual solid book in my hands, it really was a huge feeling of achievement, an affirmation that we were doing something new, and a little bit revolutionary.

 

What drives you do what you do?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was always in the back of my mind, but I never really formulated a plan. But then the world changed around me and I realised that we were living in an era of mass migration of Arabs to Europe, America and elsewhere.

As someone who lives in the Arab diaspora I saw these new arrivals turn up – as a journalist I even went to interview some of them – and it became even more important to me that we should have a new children’s literature in Arabic, featuring the contemporary world. Our books feature a confident, outgoing young Arab girl who feels entirely at home in places like New York. Because it is her city. That is how our oldest daughter defines herself if anyone asks her where she is from: she says “I am from New York City.” I love that. And I want books that show Arabs living in the West comfortably, being an integral part of the scenery, fluent in the language and culture. It’s a passion to me.

 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I was really surprised by how quickly an idea became a real product. It all started one evening in March 2014. I was frustrated after reading a bedtime story to my daughter in formal Arabic. I went to the living room and told my husband that I wanted to write children’s books in colloquial Arabic. It was a eureka moment, it was so obvious to me that this needed to be done, and I had no doubt in my heart or mind that I was going to do it. My husband was so positive, encouraging and very excited about the idea. I started with my research work that evening. I contacted an illustrator the next day after seeing his work on the internet. We found a lawyer to help us set up our own publishing house, we signed a contract with the illustrator two months later, and our first book was published a year and a half after the idea was born. We’ve just published our second book, and I couldn’t be prouder.

 

Who is your target audience?

Our books are mainly designed for Arab children living in the diaspora. But since we started selling, we have also seen interest from college and university students, who are studying colloquial Arabic, but can’t find books to practise it. The book is now on the shelves of public libraries in New York, Norway and Sweden, and in bookshops in cities around the world where there is an Arab community.Our books are for everyone who enjoys a good story. We’re even thinking to translate it into other languages, including English.

 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Most of it is done on social media. We have a Facebook page, and Twitter and Instagram accounts. We also have people who subscribe to our emailed newsletters. We have held readings in schools and colleges and we have a pink business card in the shape of a bookmark that we send out with every book, and encourage people to tell a friend. We are right now preparing for an Arabic cultural street festival in New York – where we had a stall last year – and for our first one in London. I tell everyone I meet about our books, because I am very proud of it, and also I would like people to spread the word. It’s a lot of work.

 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

I think that there aren’t enough hours in the day to manage to be a mother and a business woman. There’s so much work to do when it’s your own business, every little decision from deciding the name of your company, to designing your logo, to choosing the paper thickness of the books, to writing the best promotional post on Facebook. Much of it is up to me, although my husband does help as much as he can while doing a full time job in journalism. Publishing involves a lot of back and forth with printers, smoothing out the text and pictures with the illustrator, and with the friends and colleagues who are more fluent in, say, the Egyptian dialect than I am. My husband and I both post the books personally – those sent from London, at least – which takes up time but provides an enormously satisfying moment when another envelope gets sent on its way.

 

So, I would say that time is my biggest obstacle. Being a mother to an 18-month-old toddler also means there are some feelings of guilt. Am I giving my younger daughter enough attention? But I also see that my older daughter is immensely proud to see her life chronicled in books that are – loosely – based on her life. And I am proud to see a small publishing house that started from nothing growing every day.

 

And your proudest moment/biggest success so far?

I think the happiest and proudest moment for me was when I first saw the first copy of our first book. I was 9 months pregnant, very heavy, and it was an incredibly emotional moment. We had worked for months on the story, the illustrations, the backstory, the rollout plan. It was more than anything a lesson that you can do anything with persistence, hard work and big dreams. Nothing beats the feeling of working for your own company. Seeing it all come together… it was almost like giving birth. But much less painful.

 

Who inspires you?

I admire ambitious women. I remember a few years ago I used to follow a New York Times video series featuring business women from different backgrounds who started from zero and built their business empires. And I remember so clearly looking at their stories and thinking “I want to do the same! I want to have an idea and turn it into a successful business model.”

NEWSFLASH
Reem will be appearing at some amazing cultural festivals over the summer. To find out more read her newsletter.
Full name: 

Reem Makhoul

Author and Publisher

 

Company: 

Ossass-Stories

(Publishing House | Children’s books in colloquial Arabic)

 

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/OssassStories

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/OssassStories

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/arabicbooksforchildren/

Website: www.Ossass-Stories.com

Emailcontact@Ossass-Stories.com

 

Inspirational mum Meghan Fenn

This month’s inspirational mum in business is Meghan Fenn, the author of Bringing Up Brits, and co-author of Inspiring Global Entrepreneurs. I’m really excited to interview another multilingual mum in business, so here it is.

Q: What’s your career background?

I started out as an ESOL teacher and taught in Prague for two years and then in Tokyo for two and a half years. I taught both children and adults and had an amazing time learning new languages and cultures and meeting lots of different people from all walks of life. I studied English and Art at University and the original plan after graduation was to teach abroad for one year, then go back to the States, get my Masters degree and get a job. Within the first few days of leaving the States and starting a brand new life in a very different country, I met my future (now) husband, a British man from England. That changed my whole life. I ended up marrying said British man in South Carolina, USA, then moving back to England to continue my expat life.

Q: How did your career change after having children?

I did end up getting my Masters, but in England instead, and in Design Studies. After graduation I got a job as a senior Internet designer and worked there until I was made redundant while pregnant with my second child. Of course that also changed everything! I was 5 months pregnant so couldn’t even consider going for interviews, so I decided to start up my own web design company. I thought I’d freelance until after the baby, and then get a job part time as I’d have two babies under the age of two. Again, plans changed because my business really took off and within the first year, I had established a client base, a great reputation and had a constant stream of regular work coming in. I also loved working from home which gave me the flexibility to look after my young children and not have to pay out for full-time expensive childcare. Working from home around my family really suited me.

Q: Where did the idea for your business come from?

There are two parts to my answer because I’ve since started up a new company. So the idea for my first business came directly from what I was doing as an employed designer. I simply started project managing my own web and graphic design work and clients. I advertised in the Yellow Pages and spread the word through client referrals and my website. There wasn’t any social media back then so I had to rely on advertising and getting the word out there through happy clients. I managed to grow organically and keep a steady business going around the demands of a busy young family. Fast forward 10 years, a move from the Midlands to Sussex, and one additional child and I was ready to take my business to the next level. I had been working closely with a marketing and PR professional who I’d met at an awards event and throughout the 6 years of working with her, felt she could help me achieve my business goals. So, I asked her to join my company. She politely declined but suggested we start something new together 50/50. So that was how our company Shake It Up Creative Ltd was born. We do design, marketing, PR, websites, social media and search engine optimisation. We’re essentially a full service design and marketing company.

Q: How did you move from idea to actual business?

Originally, when I was starting out, I asked the nursery proprietor where my baby went, if she would like a website designed in exchange for free child care places. That was my very first job as a freelance web and graphic designer. Paid jobs came very quickly after that. I think once I decided to go for it on my own, I just picked up the phone, registered with HMRC, designed my logo and letterheads and invested my time and energy to make it a success.

Q: What’s your USP?

My USP has always been that I can do the graphic design AND the web Techie work too. That still is part of our USP. We can do it all or as little as you like and we’re flexible. So for example, we can do logo and branding right the way through to website and marketing and PR campaigns. Or, we can simply create a logo or stand-alone graphic design, copywriting or one off PR.

Q: How do you spread the word about what you do?

Through our website, on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) and at regular networking events.

Q: What’s been your most successful marketing/PR strategy?

Networking definitely. But also our #ShakeItHUB free design and marketing help sessions. We offer these to our local business community. They are open to all and people come to us with questions about their website, about a marketing campaign, for help with social media or anything design and marketing related. We give hands-on help with no obligation to ‘buy’ or take anything further. They are very popular and it helps to spread the word about our company and what we can do. It also shows people that we are experts and we know what we’re talking about and that we’re willing to help businesses.

Q: What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

In the early days, it was balancing family life with a home-based office. You have to become very disciplined and use time wisely, work smart so when it’s family time, you can concentrate on that and not work. Now, it’s winning pitches in a very saturated market place. Worthing and Brighton have a huge number of marketing companies so there is a large amount of competition for us.

Q: Why is work so important to you?

I’m a creative person, I have a strong work ethic and I like to be productive. So work suits me. I also want to be a good role model for my children. I have a teenage boy, a teenage girl and a seven year old boy. They know I work, they know I run my own company. They like that and understand why I do it and how that benefits our whole family. Financially as well, we need to be a two parent income family in order to maintain the lifestyle that we want to have and give our children the best start in life as possible.

Q: Who inspired you?

Because I came here to live with no family or friends nearby (or even in the same country), I had to find inspiration from within. That is one reason I wrote my book Bringing Up Brits Expat Parents Raising Cross-cultural Kids in Britain. I wanted to share my story and inspire others and show them that they are not alone, that there are other parents out there doing the same thing and it’s hard. So hard! But if we find others who are going through a similar experience, we can find comfort and encouragement. Now, I’m inspired by my children and how amazing they are and how supportive they are of each other and of us (myself and my husband).

Q: How do you balance your business with your family?

I work full time around the children. So that means I work during school hours. I usually also work a few hours in the morning before they get up and some, not all, evenings. It’s tough running your own company because you’re always ‘on’ especially working from a home office. But it means I can be here for the children when they get home from school, I can do the after school clubs and activities and attend day time school functions. My children are at the age now where I can work (from home) when they are around. I have a room that is my office so I don’t have the chaos of working from the kitchen table. If they need me, they come get me. My eldest is very good with my youngest so during the summer holidays, for example, he can fix lunch for everyone and take my youngest out to the playground. I can also usually take days off here and there when I want to.

Q: What are your top three pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1. Network in person – this will help you to gain new clients, spread the word about your business and also, very importantly, find people who can help you get set up (such as a trusted accountant or business development expert). Be open to collaboration, service exchanges and coffee meetings to get to know potential clients and business associates.
2. Try to launch with a USP. That will set you apart in a very highly competitive market.
3. Make your own logo, branding and website stand out. People will want to see your expertise and you can show this through your own designs for your own company before you have a significant portfolio to showcase.

If you want to get in touch with Meghan
Meghan is co-director and chief designer, Shake It Up Creative www.ShakeItUpCreative.com
Author of Bringing Up Brits, co-author of Inspiring Global Entrepreneurs
www.bringingupbrits.co.uk
www.expatsinbiz.com

If you want to buy your own copy of her books check out the links below

Betty and Cat – Hennie’s Multilingual writing adventures

This week I have a real treat in store for you. An interview with the amazing Hennie, author of the Betty and Cat books.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Holland, immigrated to Montreal, then lived in Toronto, moved back to Holland when I had a mid-life crisis, and now spend my time between Holland and France.

How many languages do you speak?
I speak Dutch, French, and English. I studied German, but for some reason, the words won’t come out of my mouth properly! My current thing is learning Spanish.

Have you always been keen on languages?
I’ve always been keen on communicating, and sometimes it takes another language. At home, languages were always a thing – my dad was keen – he spoke four and started learning Spanish at an advanced age. He also thought Esperanto was the way forward and learned that.
Living in Montreal at a time when the English were in power, we were the only family I knew that had Francophone friends. We were different, they were different, and the people we lived among (the Anglophones) must have thought that we were different. Somehow, that ended up making us more tolerant, and I think more interesting in the long run.

Could you tell us a little about your language learning journey as a child,
Learning English (there were three of us kids; my parents already spoke school-English when we immigrated) was always fun at home. We shared stories, we showed off, we were shown off (I remember my dad having me recite Humpty Dumpty into a tape recorder for the folks back in Holland). It was never considered a chore, hard, un-fun, or extraordinary.
New year’s day we had Dutch friends for lunch and ended the day with French friends. My husband is American. So: we started the day in English, nattered in Dutch over lunch, spoke French all evening, and then went home talking English. There are millions of people all over the word who live like this, and were probably never taught to make a big deal of it. It just happens.

Could you tell us a little about your career background?
I was a copywriter all my working life. My greatest joy was writing a two-part children’s story for the newspapers around the Santa Claus Parade, sponsored by the department store I was working for. I even got a fan letter.
What inspired you to write and publish your books?
A friend here in France, an illustrator who has grandchildren growing up bilingually in Brussels, asked me if we couldn’t collaborate on a bilingual kids’ book. She ended up being too busy to illustrate it – but I caught the bug, and did it. Not for a second, though, did I consider a translated book – the Betty & Cat books just flopped out in two languages.

Anything else you’d wish to add?
There are so many people around the globe working with kids – and adults – teaching second, third and more languages it gives you hope for the future. Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner. And one way to truly understand is to learn the language.

Find out more about Hennie’s amazing books at bettyandcat.com