Have you ever wondered what people mean by the term “Mumtrepreneur”? If your like me, you would assume it meant an entrepreneur who was also a mum, right? Of course we would be correct in that assumption, but I believe the subject of my latest Mum Life Success Story put a more accurately defined meaning on it when she told me that she didn’t really feel like an Entrepreneur “I am a mum who runs her own creative business” she said “I suppose you could call me a Mumtrepreneur, because my children come before my business”.
If your an Entrepreneur you know that running your own business is hard work, it takes passion, commitment, perseverance and a LOT of time. As a Mumtrepreneur you have to divide your time between your family and your new venture, in a masterful balancing act. Some of us can accomplish this with the effortless ease of a duck gliding on water and others of us sink to the bottom of the pond like a carelessly tossed pebble. Roslyn Whiting is a great example of the former (or perhaps she would say she’s somewhere in-between), running her own business (Roslyn Whiting Leathercraft), using traditional methods to make quality leather goods that are made to last!
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A Passion Ignited
Roslyn Whiting currently lives in the beautiful town of Melrose, in the Scottish Borders, with her husband and 2 children (13 & 11).
Hand-tooling leather is not a common craft in the UK. “I first learnt how to do leatherwork when I was 13 at a Christian youth camp (SEP Christian Activity Camp). Most of the activities were sport but I wasn’t very sporty so I decided to try Leatherwork. The first time I tried it, I found it hard. The tools were not easy to use and are totally different to anything I had used before. The second time I had a lesson, it clicked and I loved it”.
Although she enjoyed it, Roslyn doubted that she was any good. To her surprise she won an award at the camp and was both thrilled and inspired. “My confidence grew after winning the award and each year I got better and better and won more awards. It’s amazing what one bit of encouragement can do”.
Fast forward a couple of decades and a few years ago, Roslyn, her husband, and their two children went back to the youth camp to volunteer. She found herself helping out with the leatherwork activities and a passion was reignited. After finding out where she could get the tools, she decided that now was the time to start her creative business. “I had been a stay at home mum for over 5 years and as much as I loved it, I felt I needed to be creative again.”
7 Years in the making
Roslyn has been running her business for 7 years now and has described the process as an interesting personal journey. “The first few years I was finding my feet, developing new products and going to every craft fair I could. I quickly discovered that not all craft fairs suited me as leather is an expensive product and some people are just looking to buy something small and cheap. However over time I have found the right places to sell my goods and my business has grown. I’ve worked hard and feel blessed to have had the opportunities and sales that I’ve had. I’m not a salesperson, a problem a lot of makers suffer from. We prefer to make our products than sell them.“
As her business grew, Roslyn found herself spending more and more time on it, squeezing in making products whenever she could. Then came the obstacles that forced her to change the way she worked.
Injuries started to happen, some due to the business and some not related at all. She could no longer make lots of small items at cheap prices. Eventually she realised that because she uses traditional methods, she “can’t” and “shouldn’t” be rushed. “It’s about applying my craftsmanship and taking my time over every stage to make the best quality products.”
She described this new direction of the business as very exciting. “I decided to create my own design of wallets and card holders, taking inspiration from the Eildon Hills that I can see from my workshop. I use top quality British calfskin for my wallets and I’m going to use leather from the last British tannery to use oak, to tan it’s leather for my belts. The oak is slow growing, therefore takes longer to tan (up to 14 months) and this makes a stronger leather.”
A turning point
Anyone who’s ever run a business would know that building a reputation and establishing a brand is a complex thing. In this age of information we live in, the options available for expansion and marketing etc can often become overwhelming as we weigh up the choices for which direction we should go in.
Roslyn was so excited about growing her business in a new direction that she began listening to a lot of different podcasts and following lots of coaches on social media. “They were saying lots of different things and my head was full of ‘noise’ and I didn’t know which way to go and how to run my business.”
Then everything changed. She woke up through the night in extreme pain and had to go to A&E.
“Well as you can imagine I prayed! My husband had to go back home to look after our children so I was alone. The pain eventually eased but they kept me in, to do tests. My first day in hospital one of my friends messaged me with a simple message ‘how is your year going?’ Wow, the one time when I needed a friend. She was a great help supporting me. I ended up having to have a major operation. That was me out of action for around 6 weeks. Then I got a large order from one of my main wholesaler which was just the encouragement I needed. It may take time but everything will work out.”
I know from experience that there are often things that come across our path that seem small or irrelevant, that end up becoming opportunities or events that change our lives or looking back were instrumental in our growth. Roslyn had such an experience that changed her perspective in a positive way.
Roslyn explains that there was one final twist in her story. There was a book that she’d been thinking about buying for quite some time called ‘The Empowered Entrepreneur – Elizabeth Cairns‘ but had put off for various reasons. Just before she went to hospital she finally decided she would buy the book and see how it went.
The book happened to arrive just as Roslyn got out of hospital and provided a welcome distraction to her recovery. “It is one of the best books I have ever read. It was also great having the time to read it. The author talks about giving yourself time out and breaks to be creative, for example go for a walk in a wood. Scientists have proven that walking in woods and amongst trees helps your wellbeing. She spoke about things being bigger than us and that things will work out if we just wait for the right time. Because of my beliefs I would put God there. I realise this isn’t everyone’s beliefs, including the authors, but I found it helped me to be patient and wait for the perfect timing and it will work out.”
Roslyn explained that the author (Elizabeth Cairns) talks about taking things slowly, listening to your gut. We know our business better than anyone else, we are our business. We are all unique and therefore our businesses are unique and we deep down know the best way to run our business. “This released a huge weight off my shoulders. I had been watching so many other people on instagram and facebook that I wasn’t taking the time to be quiet and reflective to take into account my own intuition and passion to determine what direction I need to take my business.”
Whilst Roslyn still doesn’t have her full energy back after the operation she is excited to know that she is now opening herself up to listen to where she needs to go. “Something that isn’t easy when our time gets eaten up by so much. People buy from people and want to know the person behind the photos on instagram and facebook. Because I now allow myself the freedom to run my business my way, it is easier for my customers to get to know me and build a rapport. I still listen to some podcasts but they tend to be more the testimonial type.”
A question I ask all my Mum Life Success Story subjects is how do they find balance. “That’s an interesting question. I don’t think I manage it really. It’s not easy juggling being there for my children and making commissions, but is worth it. It is important to me to try and be there for my children. I work from home so if they’re ill, I’m able to look after them etc.”
Roslyn has a very supportive husband and two great children, who now understand that she needs time to work during their school holidays. She makes sure to take weekends off to spend with the family and if she receives emails in the evenings or weekends she either doesn’t reply until her working hours or tells them she’ll get back to them when she’s in the workshop.
Not everyone understands the difference between huge online retailers and individually run creative business’. “People have got so used to Amazon etc… where they’re open 24/7, they forget that there is a person behind the business, although this is why my customers buy from me and are great (I think I have the best customers).”
Roslyn knows that there are things she needs to pay more attention to and looking after herself is one of them. “I need to get better at taking breaks and going for walks during the day. I work within school hours and that makes it difficult.” I think all of us as Mums know how difficult it can be to fit in “me time” but also realise that it’s a vital part of maintaining that sense of self we can often lose in all the busyness and commitments to others, which can lead to Mum Life Burnout.
I asked Roslyn where she saw herself in 5 years time. “I want to be known and respected for making unique, quality leather goods that will last for years. I would like to have more sales through craft events and online shopping and continue to draw inspiration from my beautiful local countryside to make unique designs.”
Roslyn says her family still comes first, so she doesn’t go to events and crafts too far away from home. “I realise that I need to branch out further than the Scottish Borders. It is hard to know which events are good and where my ideal customer goes but I’m sure it will get easier as the children get older and my confidence grows.”
Advice for Mumtrepreneurs
Roslyn had this advice for mums thinking of starting their own creative business. “If you are thinking that you want to start your own business and still be around for your children, I would definitely say go for it. It is one of the best things I have ever done. Yes, it’s hard work but it is worth it. To still be there for the big moments in your child’s life but also to be creative is great.”
Finally “My biggest tip is to believe in yourself, give yourself quiet moments so you can listen to God (If that is your faith) and your instincts about where to take YOUR business.”
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