Annabel Karmel rose to fame with her first book, The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, and has since written 37 books on infant nutrition alongside numerous columns for magazines and newspapers. With her own food ranges and a new book, Mumpreneur, we caught up with her.
Your new book, Mumpreneur, is a practical guide to juggling building a business with motherhood, something you and many of the contributors have done for decades – what’s the unifying advice that you can share?
It’s all about finding your guilt threshold. Of course everyone feels guilty about leaving their children to go to work but some mums wouldn’t be good mums unless they had a career as they would be miserable and frustrated, so don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes real confidence to return to the working world after having children – whether that’s as an employee or becoming your own boss.
It’s important for women that motherhood is valued in its own right but equally true that having children shouldn’t necessarily be the full stop at the end of a CV. Shattering the glass ceiling with a changing bag over your shoulder is no longer limited to the realms of fantasy. However, it’s vital that you believe in yourself, which makes confidence as important as competence.
The great thing about running your own business whilst raising a family is that you have the freedom to work to your own schedule. Juggling the dual demands of work with family life is no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination; I remember completing my first recipe book in between the children’s naps, managing a busy toddler group and running a house. It’s difficult keeping all the balls in the air without dropping one occasionally!
You are widely credited with having transformed the way that parents fed their children over the past 25 years, and this was recognised with an MBE in 2006. How does it feel to be a parenting legend?
I wouldn’t quite call myself a legend! When I awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for my work in the field of child nutrition, I didn’t believe it until I saw my name in the newspaper. I’m passionate about making a difference to people’s lives, and this award made me realise that there was a lot more that I wanted to do.
Having built my book business based around weaning and fussy eaters, I wanted to turn these popular recipes into a quality supermarket range. You can now find my Organic Purees, Disney Snacks, Chilled Toddler Meals and Older Kids Meals in various UK supermarkets. My aim has always been to be there at every age, stage and occasion to support mums – and my Mumpreneur book is an exciting new step towards helping mums in their own lives as well as their child’s.
Before you became an author, you were a successful musician – what advice would you offer to someone looking to change career?
Yes that’s right; I was working life as a harpist having studied classical music at the Conservatoire in the Hague Holland and then continued at the Royal College of Music in London. Unfortunately it was the tragedy of losing my first child Natasha, who was born healthy but who died at 13 weeks old from a viral infection that led me to change direction into the field of nutrition. It wasn’t a diet related illness but I was understandably cautious when it came to ensuring that my second child, Nicholas, was provided with foods that optimised his health.
It proved that it’s never too late to be what you might have been. Life is too short to stay in a job where you are not happy. You can de-risk a move into self-employment by saving up three to six months’ salary to act a buffer.
Once you have a business idea you need to believe in yourself. The more you can do this and in your chances of succeeding, the more likely you are to do just that. Of course, we all have doubts from time to time – the danger is if those doubts spiral out of control, creating unnecessary anxiety and negative self-limiting beliefs, which prevent us from doing something that we really want to do (and, deep down, know that we can do).
For your latest book, you interviewed some of the UK’s most successful women – do you think women approach business differently?
I think women, especially mums, are very smart at multi-tasking and juggling working demands with family life. With so much going on they have to be organised and focused which are necessary qualities to bring to the business table. Women are also very good at making the most of any dead time, whether it be responding to emails on a train or checking their to-do-list in a supermarket queue.
With my book Mumpreneur, I’m on a mission to empower savvy mums who want to become their own boss. This is because an increasing wave of mums are desperately seeking ways of securing an income which they can fit flexibly around their family commitments. Starting a business gives mums a way forward which embraces their need for independence. The statistics even show that the number of self-employed women is rising at nearly three times the rate of men – there are now more than 1.2m self-employed women in full- and part-time work and 300,000 of these are working mothers – and growing!
Which of your ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ team inspired you the most, and why?
I’m extremely grateful to the fantastic women that helped me out with the book. They all have such a compelling story to tell. It would be impossible to choose who I was most inspired by.
However, Chrissie Rucker’s story really struck a chord for me. It all began over 20 years ago when Chrissie Rucker spotted a gap in the market for affordable but beautifully designed, good quality white bed linen. Having recently met her then boyfriend (now husband), Chrissie wanted to show him that she was ‘excellent wife material’!
She invested her £6,000 of savings to establish The White Company as a mail order business and started with a 12-page brochure from her boyfriend’s spare room. Twenty years later The White Company is one of the UK’s fastest growing multi-channel retailers with 50 stores across the UK and a reported turnover of £150m.
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