From House Wife To Networking Business Woman Extraordinaire – UmNumNum.ie
Margaret Smith was a quiet, shy, stay at home mother who transformed in a couple of years to become a successful business owner of UmNumNum boutique cookery school. Not only that but Margaret has extended her education, created a very popular business network, attracted media attention, given speeches and talks plus embraced Social Media very effectively. Margaret explains to me how this all came about, also she gives advice to other start-ups and Social Media tips plus explains the whirlwind that was 2011 for her.
What did you do before you set up your own business?
I started out working as an accounts clerk and when my two kids came along decided to give up work and be a stay at home mother. I did a bit of child minding to make ends meet and did a few years with the Open University to keep the mental wheels grinding. Years of being at home with the kids caused me to lose a bit of my self confidence and though I was always shy I also became quite introverted as a result.
How did you get the idea to set up UmNumNum?
I have always had a love and passion for cooking and mostly entertaining as there is no better woman to want to show off my food. So when my husband had to raise €5000 to go to South Africa with the Niall Mellon Township fund I thought maybe I could do some classes and people might pay me.
For years people had been telling me I should do it so I bit the bullet. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it and how the students were delighted with what they learned. So that really planted the seed to start the cookery school but I would say it took another two years to work up the courage to actually do it.
You have had a lot of media interest including a great feature on Nationwide – how did all of this come about?
The media interest is a bit of a mystery to me and lots of people tell me that I am excellent at getting PR but to be completely honest every opportunity in the area came to me without looking for it. If there is one common denominator that I think helps hugely it would be Twitter.
I think being visible and in peoples peripheral vision on Twitter keeps you in their minds. So if people are looking for someone to interview for a particular article or want to do a certain type of feature then there is a good chance they will go with people that are directly in their line of sight. I have never pitched to an agency, a paper, a television company or anything else. I have been extremely lucky. It also helps to be approachable, friendly, chatty and open to all possibilities.
How did Cork Women in Business evolve and what does it do?
With the founding of Cork Women in Business it came from a completely selfish place. I was new on the biz scene and had no networking skills whatsoever. My idea of hell was going into a high powered meeting and trying to work the room and sell. I wanted and needed something a little softer and as lots of others felt the same way then I started CWIB in May 2010.
Our emphasis is on the advice and support element with a good smattering of education about basic business practices and Social Media featured hugely in the early days. We network, of course we do, but there is an absence of the hard sell at our meetings which suits us just fine. We have gone from strength to strength over the last two years but have managed to stay true to those core values of advice and support.
How long have you been on Twitter and Facebook and which do you prefer? Which do you find works better for getting business and why?
With regard to Twitter and Facebook I have an obvious favourite and that would be Twitter. But saying that I do get a huge amount of my business through Facebook so I think it is essential to any BtoC service out there.
I started on Twitter first in Feb 2010 and was dragged onto it kicking and screaming as I was completely scared out of my mind at the prospect. Having spent two weeks following a few people and watching interactions I eventually got the courage up to speak to someone and when they replied nearly had a cardiac arrest! I managed to reply to them and the rest is history as they say. Basically I haven’t shut up since.
I joined Facebook and made a biz page in the summer of 2010. I think that having Facebook is great for letting people know what’s coming up and showing off what you do but I love the dynamism of Twitter. I love the laughs, the fun and the whole spontaneity of it. I adore that you never know who the next person you talk to will be and most surprisingly of all I have made some great and lasting friendships with people I met on Twitter and now they make regular appearances in my ‘real life’.
For getting business I think it is a chicken and egg situation if you like. I meet people initially mostly through Twitter and if they are interested in the cooking school then they usually follow me on Facebook so there is a symbiosis there. However the contacts I have made via Twitter are invaluable. I know there are probably people that will never book a class but they support me, advise me, help me out with IT disasters, connect me with others, offer opportunities that I had never dreamt of and to be totally frank have given me good belly laughs just when I needed them most.
Related: Hashtag: “The Power of Twitter”
Watching your rise on Twitter I’d say 2011 was certainly the year for you. Can you tell me about the good things that have happened?
2011 was definitely a mad year and it’s like looking back on a whirlwind, it all went by so fast.
The year started fantastically by being named as “One to Watch” for 2011 in Damien Mulley’s blog. Then I was accepted onto a course in the Rubicon in CIT in Cork called PINC which was aimed at helping women who were starting their own businesses. It was a tough course but I learned a lot. I filmed Nationwide in April which was very exciting and really fun. The crew were amazing and I haven’t laughed that much in ages. From there my classes started taking off in earnest and I started picking up some corporate clients which opened up a whole other market for me.
I completed a Diploma in Digital Marketing as I could see that I had a flare for the area but wanted to round out my knowledge and that finished in May. I organised an event for World Social Media day in June with Cian O’Regan of CIT and it turned out to be one of the biggest Tweetups in the country and also the most fun (I’m biased of course). In September, Nationwide aired and the goodwill that was generated from that was like a wave of positivity and support that really buoyed me up.
I got asked to give talks on Social Media for UCC and other Social Media trainers. I did a huge talk for Smarter Egg and absolutely loved it. I was petrified of public speaking until last year so this was a massive breakthrough for me. In October last year I was taken on as a website consultant, recipe tester and blogger for Goodalls Ireland. This involves the opportunity to set up food photography shoots and do all sorts of wonderful experimenting with recipes.
I started to get invited to all sorts of events and newspapers and magazines were interviewing me for their publications. It was all very exciting. The year ended with me being invited to the Good Food Ireland Awards in Dublin with the Taoiseach. I am sure I have missed out loads but they were definitely the highlights – phew!
What is the most important thing you have learnt whilst setting up your business?
The most important thing I learned is to roll with the punches. It is never plain sailing. It is a roller coaster that I am getting better at staying on, knowing for every down there will eventually be an up. For every move forward there is a knock back of some sort but stay focussed and believe and it will all work out in the end. You need to be willing to change things that don’t work quickly. Recognise when things need to change and using the knowledge you now have from that failure, make the next offering bigger and better.
The last two years have been the most challenging of my life but I wouldn’t change a thing (well maybe have more money). I feel alive for the first time in years. Every day gives me an adrenaline boost that gives me an amazing high. You never know what is around that corner and two years ago, the scaredy cat that I was, would have run screaming for the hills but I love it now.
What would your advice be to a small business starting up and using Social Media?
If you are a small start-up now and planning on using Social Media then my advice is to build a community around you. Connect with people, don’t just broadcast at them what you are selling. There is no quicker way of turning people off. I actually mentor people now in start up situations as how best to build a following on Twitter and Facebook.
Numbers are irrelevant. It is better to have a fully engaged list of twenty than two thousand who don’t even read your posts. Twitter and Facebook are ways of connecting with people, actual people, you must never forget that. Living, breathing, emotional people with lives just like us. Ups and downs just like us and we must connect with these people on that level. People buy from people, not companies so make the effort to get to know those individuals on your timeline. As well as making business good sense it will make your life more rewarding too.
What do you have planned for the future of UmNumNum?
The future of UmNumNum is very bright at the moment. I am busy beyond belief with lots of new opportunities coming up left, right and centre. Goodalls have recently extended my contract and I now manage all of their Social Media for them and I have a few private clients for whom I do the same.
Bookings on classes are steady and September will be epic. Corporate clients are featuring more and more. There is also a new venture in the offing so watch this space for that. Another event for World Social Media Day 2012 is in the pipeline. We are going bigger and better and details of that will be released shortly. I can’t wait!!
And we can’t wait either Margaret. Thank you so much for this lovely interview. I’m sure lots of people will like to comment on it below.