Annabel Karmel may not live in Notting Hill, but her books are probably sitting on every NHYMs kitchen’s counter top next to their Yotam Ottolenghi recipe books. She is one of the original ‘Mumpreneurs’ who literally started her business at her kitchen table and now has had over 40 books published and sold worldwide. Pretty impressive for a ‘mumpreneur.’ I recently email-interviewed Annabel Karmel, MBE, who has just come out with her latest book on being an entrepreneur, entitled ‘Mumpreneur.’ Here she tells me how she became a success and gives advice and tips for budding entrepreneurs:
- What’s your story? How did you become such a prolific entrepreneur?
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 – I was actually a talented harpist before.
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. Feeling vulnerable when he became fussy I struggled to find enticing recipes to encourage him and so set about devising my own. I shared my recipes with other mums and, fuelled by the discovery that they were proving popular with others, set about compiling a book – The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner – which was rejected by over fifteen publishing houses.
Each rejection letter could have been enough for me to doubt the viability and worth of my idea but I continued to believe in my pitch. New to the publishing world, I wasn’t afraid to break the rules, so I kept approaching people and broadcasting my vision. Fortunately a friend mine introduced me to a small dynamic book packager, who created book ideas and sold them on to mainstream publishers. They understood what I was trying to achieve and worked with me to shape a mock-up which they took to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where it was sold to US publisher Simon & Schuster who ordered 25,000 copies.
This deal unlocked doors that had previously remained shut, and I’ve since gone on to write 40 books, selling more than four million copies worldwide. I’ve also turned my hand to pre-prepared meals, weaning equipment and recipe apps. I’ve also grown a vast online following of mums in need of advice and inspiration.
- Tell me about your new book ‘Mumpreneur: The Complete Guide to Starting and Running a Successful Business.’ What made you write it and how did you go about writing it?
As childcare costs continue to rise, building a business with a family in tow has never been more attractive. In fact, research from our book partner Direct Line for Business sound that two thirds of mums would love to run a business from home.
Having children doesn’t mean a full stop at the end of your CV, and I’m regularly quizzed by mums as to how I set up and built my business. There are so many mums out there wanting to reach for their career dreams and become their own boss, so I decided to write a practical book to help them take the next step.
I set about interview some of Britain’s top business leaders and working mothers, including Chrissie Rucker MBE, founder of The White Company, Wahaca’s Thomasina Miers, and Nails Inc founder Thea Green to bring together a book filled with practical advice and inspiring stories to help you get started.
- What is the one piece of advice you would give to budding mumpreneurs/entrepreneurs?
It takes real confidence to return to start-up a business after having children – and self-belief is absolutely vital in order to succeed. Confidence is just as important as competence – if not more so.
The more you believe in yourself 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).
- What was your biggest failure in business and how did you cope? What did it teach you?
I learnt a great deal from a range of fresh baby food which I developed because I was troubled that babies were consuming food that was older than they were, after all most baby food has a shelf life of one year.
I launched a range of fresh chilled baby food for Sainsbury’s but as there is no chiller in the baby aisle the food was situated in an area of the store that mums were not visiting.
The range was eventually scrapped because although sales were good wastage was high. I remained committed to the view that baby food should taste like real food and while some of the purees on the market weren’t too bad anything with vegetables, chicken, fish or meat tasted awful. I decided to see what would happen if I took my chilled baby food recipes and put them through a retort process to extend their life.
They tasted great but I would not have arrived at this point had the chilled range succeeded, this failure led to my range of baby food pouches being re-sold in Sainsbury’s, as well as Tesco, Waitrose, Lidl and the Co-operative Food.
The opposite of success isn’t failure, it is not trying. If you seldom fail there is a good chance you’re playing it too safe. Failure rarely feels fun at the time but the lessons it teaches may not take long to become apparent, and are likely to lead you on to greater successes in the end.
Persistence and focus, rather than regret, got me to a good place. If you want life to be magnificent, you can’t expect it to be easy.
- How do you balance it all: family & work?
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!
But I loved being a self-employed mum. I did, and still do, feel empowered by being able to make my own decisions and follow a truly worthwhile passion.
My top tips would be to find 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.
- What is the best parenting advice you have?
Most children adore cooking and tasks like squeezing fresh orange juice or cracking eggs are well within the capabilities of a young child. It’s amazing how being involved in the planning and preparation of a meal can stimulate a child’s appetite. If your child refuses to eat anything other than junk food, don’t worry. They will soon find there’s not much point making a fuss if you don’t react.
- What has been your favourite/most memorable holiday?
Family skiing holidays have always been hugely memorable. We once gave my daughter Lara, scoops of snow in a glass bowl instead of lemon sorbet and waited to see how long it took for her to realise.
- What are you currently reading?
I love a good book and on a recent flight back from Dublin, I took the opportunity to read Late Fragments by Kate Gross. It’s our ‘Book of the Month’ for our Book Club which we run on annabelkarmel.com.
- What advice would you give to your younger self?
If you seldom fail there is a good chance you’re playing it too safe. Failure rarely feels fun at the time but the lessons it teaches may not take long to become apparent, and are likely to lead you on to greater successes in the end. During fleeting periods of failure remember that you are in good company; Marilyn Monroe’s first contract with Columbia Pictures expired because they told her she wasn’t pretty or talented enough to be an actress. She ended up becoming one of the most iconic actresses and sex symbols of all time.
- What was the proudest moment of your life?
Back in 2006, I was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for my outstanding 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.
One of my biggest business successes has also been turning my popular recipes from my books into quality supermarket food ranges. My aim has 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.