Being a mum,a single mum at that,and to 5 kids can sometimes bring a lot of negativity from other people. Now as much as I respect myself and have confidence in myself, it can still leave you feeling like you are fighting a losing battle to get people to take you seriously.
When I joined Networking mummies in February 2014, I was a bit overwhelmed with the whole experience. I had no idea about networking and what was involved. I just knew the description of the position available, and the description of the person Laura and Stacey were looking for to join the team, related exactly to me.
I took over the running of the Central Birmingham group and it took me a while to find a suitable venue and drum up interest in the meetings. I really struggled to get started and not knowing the area too well totally went against me as I knew no one to network with!
After a few months the Lichfield branch became available and I saw this as a great opportunity to get to know the businesses in my area.
Over the few months I had been leading Central Birmingham, I had picked up some great tips from other branch leaders about setting up meetings and interacting with my group. And the support and advice from networking mummies directors ,Laura and Stacey, motivated me to stick with leading a group and I switched to leading the Lichfield and Tamworth branch.
As a small business owner myself,I knew that if I networked well, I would make good relationships with other business owners and my own business could really thrive from it.
I already knew a few women in the area that had their own businesses and contacted them to be part of the group.
I was really excited to be able to support other businesses in the area and grow a massive networking group.
I like to aim big, never small!
My hopes were soon crushed as I was faced with quite a lot of negativity. I get comments all the time that I look young, and I feel sometimes that I'm discriminated against because of being a single mom. I know my self worth and in the past have faced very difficult challenges in my life that have taught me to fight and be strong, and to go for what I believe in.
So despite the negative comments such as "my business is fine and doesn't need a mothers coffee group to succeed" to people blatantly laughing in my face at the thought of lots of young single moms with no business sense,sat around chatting about nothing, as we are all clearly whatless!, I stood my ground and started up monthly meetings.
The first few meetings were quiet and the venues I chose weren't quite suited to what we needed. But the people that did come along were brilliant. Enthusiastic, encouraging business women and men!
Despite being ambitious and motivating, I'm also a very down to earth , Laid back person and my meetings reflect that. I like to make our meetings as relaxed as possible. Yes we chat about business but we take our children along and if you have kids, you know that being able to have a conversation without being interrupted can be difficult! There aren't many networking meetings where the host is chatting away about what's going on that month as she's wiping snot and feeding the child next to her without even having to look at him!
As branch leader I love to hear about my members work and success and if I can inspire and help in any way, then I do so. I feel it's essential to support those around you on the same path as you. What you reap you sow. And this has been evident in my group over the past few months as I watch my members form new friendships and help each other out. March saw us move to a new venue for our meetings and our last meeting was the biggest yet, with 10 moms and 3 children! Not huge numbers, but we are steadily growing.
Each week new members are joining the group. Not everyone wants to stop and say hi and get to know the members. They just want to advertise and move on, but that's not what Networking Mummies is all about.
I encourage all my members to build relationships with each other and find out more about each other, not just what business they have. Successful networking runs a lot deeper than "what can I sell you?"
There have been times where I struggled with being a branch leader and wanted to give the role up. I wasn't sure if networking was for me. I was fed up of people not taking me seriously and I doubted my ability to do the job properly as my group is small and compared to the other branches, I didn't seem to be getting anywhere quick.
But what I've learnt is that you should never compare yourself to anyone else. We are all at different stages in business and in our lives. And don't doubt your ability to do great things!
When it was announced I had won the Branch Leader of the year award at the annual recognition awards a few weeks ago, I was gobsmacked. I knew there was a possibility I could win as all branch leaders were all up for the award. But I actually thought the award would go to someone else because they had a bigger group, more contacts, successful events etc, but I also knew I was a good branch leader and supported and motivated my members 100%, even when I wasn't feeling motivated myself.
As Laura and Stacey began describing the winner, I began to realise it was me. I had been ill all week as wasn't going to attend the event. I had ditched my newly purchased glam sparkly dress for my old faithful and comfortable jump suit because I wasn't feeling in a glam mood. I had kicked off my shoes under the table and was sat back enjoying the knowledge that I wouldn't have to make a speech, and enjoying a few brandys! And then I was announced as a winner!! I stumbled to get my shoes on and got up to receive my award. It all happened so fast and I stumbled through a thank you to a few people. I really was stunned and totally not prepared. I didn't even pose properly for photos!
It took a week or so for the reality of winning an award to truly sink in. The support I've received from family and friends and other members of my group has been amazing. I sometimes play situations down but this one I'm not.
I'm a WINNER!! And I'm letting everyone know!
Being recognised by two top business women who I admire greatly, fills me with such pride.
There is so much stigma attached to being a single mum and having a large family and I feel I am helping to change people's mind at how they view single mums doing it all themselves!. I have been described as motivating, encouraging and inspirational. Three amazing words! I have great aspirations for myself and my children. And will definitely prove all the critics wrong.
Winning this award has filled me with the motivation and determination in myself that was starting to slip slightly now and again. I have so many ideas for my branch. Absolutely massive ideas!
I won this award because I'm a good leader. In fact I'd say I was very good! And I'm ready to push forward with all my ideas and be an example to other women out their who think they can't do what they love to do because they have a family to support.
I work so hard every single day toward personal and business progression and am passionate about both my networking mummies branch ,and my other business, the Ab Fab Plan (online bespoke nutritional plans). It's wonderful to receive this recognition and to be part of such a great company.
by Louise Watson who is branch leader of Lichfield and Tamworth