Before moving to Australia I had studied to be an Art History Teacher and I have lived in a number of countries since my University degree doing a number of roles. Just before moving here I was doing a graduate study in Women’s Leadership at a Christian Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I started a blog about my travels and things that were of interest to me and things that I was studied – and I grew quite a following from Australia including two people from Tasmania. To be honest I had never heard of Tasmania before 2006! There was a fellow in Sydney who had been doing a random search for other bloggers who like a particular author and I was one of two bloggers that he found and he started sharing my blog. It’s amazing how fascinating life is, that my interest in an author led to my blog being followed by some Australians which led me to marrying a Tasmanian and moving here to live and start a family and a business. Some call it fate, as a Christian I feel that God has a hand in it all. The workings of the world are bigger than you or I.
I moved to Hobart in 2007 and when I first arrived my husband and I were resident staff at a residential college for uni students. My husband is now the Vice Principal of that school. Our first daughter Olivia was born in 2009, and as a young mum I decided to stay at home for as long as we could manage, and then Ella came along in 2010. I was really lucky to have an amazing network of support through my husband’s friends and family and our church community. Even though my own family and friends were oceans away, I didn’t miss out on support, help, advice and encouragement.
It was when I began meeting other families, at the library or the playground or play groups, I realised how many of the mums were much like myself from overseas, interstate or even regional Tasmania, but without their own networks of support. And for many of them their parenting journey looked so different to mine and they were doing it all on their own. I thought it was an immense societal shame and that we had lost the village, lost the tribe. So I wondered what one person could do – and being quite savvy with social media through my blog and being an early adopter of Facebook, I decided to start a Facebook page. One month after starting the Hobart Mums Network page I was responsible for having connected 500 mums, and six months later there was 1000. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel so if there had have been something else available I would have hopped on board with that, but in doing my research I found there wasn’t anything, so the Facebook page really filled a void.
That was in 2011, when Olivia was two and Ella was one. As people started to connect through the Facebook page, some online friendships became face-to-face friendships when people started to see they had similar ideas and shared parenting issues. Real friendships formed and a community was created. As a result we started monthly networking events, where we invited mumpreneurs to come along and talk about their businesses and the challenges and rewards – and that led to a group called Business Connect which is still going strong today and is now state-wide rather than just for Hobart. We found that we came up with ideas and decided to turn them into a reality – for example one of the mums had always wanted to write a cookbook, so we got all these mums who were on maternity leave and had all these skills sets in administration, copywriting, photography and project management and pulled together to raise money for something worthwhile. And we did it. It took a year and we published the book called ‘Inspired Cooking’.
My husband blames the American-ness in me for getting projects off the ground, because I have the confidence and so I just say ‘Yeah sure! We can do it!’ and making it happen rather than putting the brakes on because it’s too big an idea. Just make it work! Some of the mums said they missed being in a choir, so we started a choir. And then one of the bigger projects we undertook was when we decided it would be great if there was a place in the CBD where families could come together and relax and connect with one another – so much more than just a place to change a nappy or heat up a bottle or plate of baby food. A place where there were good toys and books, where mums or dads could sit down and make a cup of tea and have an adult conversation with another parent. There was a swell of support – so three days later a local business in the CBD offered their basement space which had on-street access ideal for prams. She allowed us to transform the place into our vision, for free, because as a mum she knew how much she would have valued having such a space. That is ‘The Haven’ which we started in 2012 – and we have since changed location to a space provided by the big cathedral in the city which is a gorgeous place that is open five days a week from 9.3am – 12.30pm. I manage the space along with a co-ordinator and it is staffed by volunteers who believe in the idea, look forward to getting out of the house each week with a regular shift and want to make new friends and give back to the community.
Hobart Mums Network became a business for me because of all the interest and the swell of support, and it got the attention of local government, state government and even our local Federal MP Andrew Wilke. It had grown to such an extent that it wasn’t sustainable for me to drive it on my own. If I had died, everything would have died with me. The Facebook page now has nearly 6000 local mums who connect 24/7 about parenting issues, tips and tricks, so managing that as well as The Haven, I realised I needed something to ground me and to help make sure that what I had achieved was still going in 20 years time when my children might have their own families. That’s when Child Health Association Tasmania came into the picture. They are over 100 years old and they are a state-wide organisation made up of parents not health professionals as the names suggests. When the group started they were the ones who lobbied the government for a child health nurse to visit new mothers and their newborns in their own home to assess their development. Since then they have been known for advocating health and well-being. They made sure that refrigerated milk was available in every school when there was a bad case of gastro going around in the 1930s and 1940s. Bringing Hobart Mums Network in under their umbrella made sense – we had established the name and the credibility, we were trusted and were a name to be reckoned with. The Child Health Association of Tasmania needed the freshness that we offered. We were so on target with what the 21st century mother needs, their desire to connect and understanding how they connect. They wanted our fresh website and membership facilities with online forms and payment to bring them up to date with today’s mothers. So we are now a part of the Child Health Association of Tasmania Network.
Creating all of this whilst having Olivia and Ella worked quite well, because what I was doing was for other mums, so I was always in a child-friendly environment and they were always along for the ride. In particular with The Haven, it was their home away from home. And whenever I did presentations like at the Town Hall, I took them with me and introduced them as my assistants and they sat down and with their books and textas. They were a part of my business from the beginning. My husband is always supportive so whenever I have to work on the weekends setting up displays at markets or festivals, he looks after the girls. So fortunately the whole networking enterprise fitted in with my lifestyle, but also became a business for me and for my family. I am now managing the southern region of Tasmania for the Child Heath Association, and we are rolling the concept out through the northern region with The Haven now open in Launceston.
From next year both of my girls will be in school, so that does bring me to a crossroads where I really have to think about what I want to be when I grow up! Do I continue with Hobart Mums Network and try new ideas with it, or do I want to go back to teaching, or do I want to try and do both? Is that even possible? I guess my answer would be that it is, but if I did one well then the other would suffer and I don’t want that. Whatever direction I take I have raised up enough volunteers who believe in the movement I’ve started, and I know if I was to pass it on it will continue, and continue to evolve.
If you want to get your own business off the ground, I would say do your research. Make sure there’s no one out there doing what you want to do and doing it well. Once you’re sure there’s a need out there for what you want to provide – network! Network your bottom off. Your network will become your advisors – not just in your business but in your life. When things are down they will be your champions, when they are just getting started they will be your footmen, getting the word out there. Networking is the key.
Networking is a vital part of running your own business. At Business Mamas we understand this, and provide the opportunity for networking with other students who are also mums, as well as working with a mentor, so you always have the support you need.
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