MBTribe are so proud to have interviewed Sarah O’Connell, founder of SO Creative Events and babytodd ‘Bump, Baby and Toddler Show’. After taking the leap of faith in her love of organising events, Sarah started her own company and brand and nearly a year later is proving a fighting machine within the local baby show band. An inspiring and lovely mum and mumpreneur!
Name: Sarah O’Connell
Location: West Sussex
What inspired you to start SO Creative Events and BabyTodd?
As an organiser of various successful events in my career, pre-children, I always got a kick from creating, hosting, introducing, networking, supporting local businesses and spoiling guests. Little did I know that these would be so important later in my self-employed career. After having my twin girls nearly 10 years ago, I quickly returned to work to help ends meet and worked in roles that purely fitted around the family instead of anything I particularly enjoyed. Then I had the pleasure of working at a local charity for 5 years as the Office Manager and became Mum of the office. I loved it, especially because the charity supported families with young children.
Working for a small charity means everyone chips in and does a little of everything and this is where I reignited my passion in events. I organised several PR or Fundraising events and had great fun and satisfaction in doing so. Not only did this role work around the family, but I actually enjoyed what I did. To be honest, as much as I LOVE being a Mum and am super PROUD to be my husband’s wife, it was such a good feeling to just be Sarah at work.
Whilst working at the charity, one of my children had a number of health diagnoses and there were many appointments with schools, health professionals etc. During this time, I had the support and advice of my colleagues who worked with young families. My husband and I were so grateful for the knowledge and understanding that we could access through them. Even though we have a supportive family around us, we asked ourselves, ‘how would we have known to access this information unless I had worked with these wonderful people? What about those families who don’t have the support and don’t know who or where to turn? How do they get the information and support they need?’ This never left me and remained something that I knew I wanted to do something with and eventually became part of the driving force of babytodd.
Although content in my life as a working Mum with umpteen plates to spin and forever the dreamer, I craved a refreshing challenge which would give the opportunity for more time with my children and the opportunity to create something from scratch. To be honest, my husband and close friends urged me to take the leap with my event organising skills and I am so grateful for their support. Without them I am not sure I would have jumped, but I am so pleased I did.
One Sunday afternoon, my husband and I were chatting about how we would talk non- stop babies when our girls were little and that the time had passed so quickly. We reflected about how time had flown and how we wished we had enjoyed and savoured some of the simple things with the girls in their early years. For example, shopping was never quite the same after having children, we always rushed around to get the minimal instead of relaxing and enjoying the indulgence of being out of the house, the opportunity to share experiences with our girls and one another. Then, PING! ‘Wedding Fayres’ I said. ‘like a Wedding Fayre, Baby Fayres, Local Fayres’.
My husband was a little confused but as my loyal and supportive man, he continued to listen to a lengthy, impulsive brain storm about my vision, babytodd. Opportunities for local families to meet and engage with local suppliers, services and information whilst being able to enjoy the experience as a family. Something a little like the national shows but with a personal and regional approach. A chance to indulge in everything family and enjoy it! Then other family show ideas followed whilst drawing on our own parenting experiences and new show concepts were created. ‘Bringing together local events for local families’. So then, the research began and I haven’t looked back…..
How do you balance work and home life?
This is certainly Work In Progress for me. I am so driven and focused on what I aim to achieve that I am guilty of allowing my personal and family time to slide. Whilst I understand that businesses in their infancy need dedication and investment of time, I need to remember why I did this in the first place.
As well as my priority role as Mummy, Wife and friend to my gorgeous little family unit, I still work part time as an Office Manager as well as run my own business. So, I have two days a week, as well as evenings and weekends for the business. Working from home when the laptop is in full view is hard to switch off. I found that I would ‘just pop on for a little while’ and after the third ‘I’ll be there in a minute’ my husband and the girls would understandably become despondent and then stop asking me to share the funny joke or the clever cartwheel in the garden.
My new aim is to acknowledge the flexibility that home working offers us a family but not that we should be indebted to that. I have recently set myself the challenge to find dedicated time slots to work which I can share with the family so we all know when Mummy should and shouldn’t be working. Also, turn off the laptop before the family arrive home and to have 2 mid week evenings off. I am a little apprehensive about the idea as there are always things to be done for the business but I understand I need the space for the family and my own mind.
Describe your typical day from AM to PM.
So, I have just changed my working week for the employed part time role and this should really help to structure my working week a lot more efficiently. My schedule on a ‘babytodd’ day tends to start with a standard schedule. Once the children and my husband are out the door and off safely on the school run. I instinctively have a brief tidy around in the kitchen, it helps to clear my mind. Then I fire up the laptop, pop the kettle on and jump in the shower. Fresh start, fresh day.
Meeting my laptop and diary back at the desk with my cuppa in tow I read through commitments and plans for the day as well as any incoming emails and social media communications. Up to this point my days are pretty standard, then the world of babytodd takes over.
I may have appointments with interested exhibitors, calls and emails from families keen to attend and find out more about the events. It could be an event planning or network meeting, administering the expenses, invoicing, research into PR opportunities. The roles are endless as a sole trader and as a one woman band. Not only do I logistically and operationally organise the event, but I am promoting and securing exhibitors and sponsor opportunities with prospective businesses. Then there is the PR to attract a well-qualified audience for each event. This is why the focused timeslots and my morning opportunity to plan for the day are two key staples that will continue to help maximise the most of my time for babytodd events.
Whilst the workload can be overwhelming at times, I love the variety and I am so enthusiastic about what I do and what the shows offer to the local community.
How has this business helped you to grow and achieve your professional goal?
Although the events business, SO Creative Events, and the babytodd show brand was launched a year ago, it is all very early days. My confidence and self-belief does improve but equally I have my days when I wobble too. I think that it is quite normal. As a young business there isn’t a huge amount of time to specifically dedicate to personal development although the learning curve of setting up and creating a business from scratch offers a wealth of growth of knowledge in itself and I try to reflect on the achievements as well as learn from the mistakes and priceless feedback.
In terms of personal growth and professional goals, to have launched two completely new family events (Bump, Baby & Toddler Show and the Childcare Show) within my first year of trading I am especially proud. My growth opportunities are ongoing and I look forward to learning more about myself in this unique position. With a number of new show ideas and gearing up for hosting my second Bump, Baby & Toddler even I am excited to see what professional goals I will be setting myself in a year’s time.
In the next 3 years where do you see yourself and your company?
I would like to see myself as a member of a family that take time out and away a couple of times a year, appreciate one another and the time together. This coupled with a schedule of established and new events to look forward to.
By then my girls will be at secondary school (aaggh, where did the time go?) so I should imagine there are some changes afoot! To be in a position where I have sustainability and growth in my business, coupled with the time to focus on my family is where I aim to be. Whilst working hard, it is ever more important for me to balance with fun time, family time, my time.
With an exciting and fresh update to the brand following soon, ‘babytodd & beyond’ will widen the opportunity for the show range. The aim, to engage with local services & suppliers for local families with children of all ages. The ongoing challenge is to create awareness and following for the brand and I certainly feel this is well underway.
In three years from now, I aim to have a schedule of one staple main annual event. In addition, I plan to have two different show types across West Sussex, each with a presence in at least two main towns in the West Sussex area. I can dream, plans have to start somewhere, right?
What advice/tips would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
Be bold, allow time for planning (it is so easy to leave it for another day), have a solid understanding of your vision and be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to relax and reflect. I wish I had been firmer with myself from the get go. Be sure to set your work schedule, you can change it as you go but it is harder to implement something if the ball is already rolling!
Create great networks around you. Even if you don’t want to attend a networking meeting, be sure to share time with like-minded businesses and individuals. This can be a great way to enjoy your business, it’s important to remember just because it’s business doesn’t mean you can’t have fun .
Listen and learn, allow yourself time to learn. For any Mummy with her own business, of course remember your family and time with them but don’t forget your own down time too. My weekly work time slots and down time are two key priorities for me as I ramp up for the next ‘babytodd & beyond’ Bump, Baby & Toddler Show in October. Busy and fun times to be shared.
Bump, Baby & Toddler Show – 1st October 2017 – 10am-3pm – Copthorne Effingham Gatwick Hotel.
To register for FREE entry visit Eventbrite.
Interview and Copy by Mama
Images by Sarah O’Connell