Having children is not a full stop at the end of your CV, says the best-selling children’s writer Annabel Karmel.
Turned down by 15 publishing houses, her first book, The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, broke the mould in bringing spice and flavour to bland baby food.
Twenty-five years, 39 books and 4 million copies later, she has turned her attention to mothers wanting to set up their own businesses with a book of tips, Mumpreneur.
London-based Karmel, 57, turned personal tragedy into a global food empire. It was the death of her first child, Natasha, at three months old that made her focus on healthy foods – along with having a fussy son, Nicholas, now 26, and then daughters Lara, 25, and Scarlett, 23.
“No book on feeding children had ever been done well. It was a gap in the market. No chef wanted to write about baby purées but I was a mum,” says Karmel, who was in Dubai last month to speak at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
“I knew I was eventually going to say this book was dedicated to Natasha. That got me through all the rejections. What you do for yourself dies with you – what you do for others lives on. But I’m blessed my children weren’t good eaters – I wouldn’t have a career without it otherwise.”
Karmel agrees that people could see the term “mumpreneur” as derogatory, but she says her book is really aimed at the mother who wants to set up on her own. “Being a mum is the hardest thing and that’s enough for many. But some people will not be fulfilled without work and will be horrible full-time mums,” she says.
“Mums have amazing people and organisational skills to transfer to work. But often there’s this feeling in companies that a woman is just a mum. She has been out of the workplace and she could even be a liability because she could have another child.”
A survey by the UK insurance company DirectLine found that two-thirds of women with children under 10 were looking to start a home business – to spend more time with their children and because they thought they’d be better off financially.
There’s never a better time to start as the rise of social media and blogging mean that self-marketing is the easiest it’s ever been, says Karmel, who was awarded an MBE in 2006.
One of her tips is to take on a job in an area you’re looking to get into, to learn about it. Having written books for 17 years, she did just that by working with Marks & Spencer and then Boots to create children’s food ranges, eventually launching her own food brand, which includes frozen halal food sold in Australia that she hopes to bring to the Middle East.
Karmel is also working with “one of the Middle East’s leading airlines” (she won’t reveal which one) on its on-board food and is building out a personalised meal planner on her site. She has taken on investment for the first time to develop the functionality.
Her practical guide features her own story and those of 30 other leading mothers and businesswomen, who she calls her Kitchen Cabinet and who she says are all hard-working “clones” of herself.
She recommends that working women get themselves a mentor. Karmel recently stepped in to help a woman who had won a magazine competition to create a children’s clothes label but then felt overwhelmed juggling the opportunity with motherhood. Karmel helped to find someone to make the clothes for her.
“You don’t have to make some amazing invention,” she says. “Do something someone else has not done well. Find a gap. It doesn’t have to be new – put a spin on it. Do it well or with a great deal of personality and panache.”
That’s very much how the Polish-born former harpist started out. In the 1980s baby food was bland and “safe” – so she paired unusual ingredients, such as chicken and apple, introduced garlic and onion and even peanut butter at a time when government advice was to avoid nuts. Her book took almost three years to write and a lot longer to go to print, but really did bridge a gap in the market once it did.
“Being an entrepreneur is not part-time or full-time – it’s a lifestyle,” says Karmel. “You work harder than anyone else because you’re working for yourself. You live it, you breathe it but, if you love it, you’ll never really do a day’s work.”
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