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