We’d be lying if we said we’d never had an argument
When Katy Alston’s husband bought her an ice cream van for Christmas, she thought he’d gone mad. She’d taken time out of a 15-year-long nursing career to look after her son and was debating what her next career move would be.
“He sounds like he’s really exciting and creative but he’s actually not,” Katy says of her husband. “I wasn’t happy. But he said, don’t look at this like an old van, look at this as a business.” So she did.
She’s now spent as long running Pinks Vintage Ice Cream as Mrs Whippy, as she did working as a nurse. Five years ago, her daughter Georgia (aka Little Miss Whippy) came on board after leaving university. But Katy didn’t give her an easy ride.
“Mum requested a full business plan demonstrating how I could grow the business to increase profit margins,” Georgia says. “Think Dragons’ Den meets The Apprentice, but to your mum. I worked very hard to prove myself.”
Katy admits she had conflicting views on the best thing to do for her business and her daughter. “As a mother you go through real guilt that you should be encouraging your children to fly, so that was why I put Georgia through that grilling. My heart knew there was no one better to work with me but my head was saying I should be encouraging her to go off and do amazing things.
“But it was the best thing I could ever have done – both for the business and as a mother,” she adds.
There have been disagreements in the past (“we’d be lying if we said we’d never had an argument,” Georgia admits), but both say defining their roles with a business coach was a key step towards harmony as co-directors. Both still go out in the ice cream vans but Georgia also spends time working on PR and marketing.
“When you work with anyone, you have ups and downs and clashes of personalities and ideas but when you’re mother and daughter, you purposefully work through them early on,” Katy says. “To begin with, I thought I had to carry on doing everything, or if I wasn’t doing it, I had to check what Georgia was doing. But actually, once you start to let other people do things, that’s when the growth occurs.”
It’s been quite a journey
When Kerry Patton’s sons were just seven, three and a year old, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (a type of lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system). Kerry survived and her sons grew up and moved away from home in Northern Ireland. But five years ago, her health deteriorated again.
“I’d noticed a definite decline. I’d reached that point in my life where I thought ‘where am I going?’” says Kerry. Meanwhile, Scott McMullan, Kerry’s eldest son, had been encouraging her to move to Newcastle, where he lived.
“Scott phoned me one day and said, ‘mum, I have created a business plan that will allow you to lead a lifestyle where you can live at your own pace’.”
The plan was Maid Up North, a cleaning service that was quick to book online and would fit around customers’ busy lifestyles. Scott, who has a computing degree, built the platform and would look after the technical side while Kerry would hire and oversee the cleaners. She was taken with the idea.
Scott says: “I was sitting in an Uber one night and I thought, I wonder what else you can do with this [model]? We wanted to make it really easy and convenient for anyone to use.”
As Kerry’s health fluctuates and another of her sons has had to step in to run Maid Up North at times (Scott still has a full-time marketing job elsewhere), Kerry and Scott are enjoying working on their joint enterprise and have learned a lot from each other.
“It’s been quite a journey,” says Kerry. For Scott, it’s been a lesson in soft skills. “Mum is much more personable than I would be. I’ve learned that side of things is important. I’m more straight to the point.”
The business is performing well, with both mother and son keen to take on more staff. The only point of contention is Scott not wanting his mum to work too much. But they’ll be taking a break from business for Mother’s Day. “I usually take her somewhere,” says Scott. “She enjoys going out into the countryside for a good ramble.” Kerry adds: “I intend to make a lot more memories, that’s all I want.”
My big motivation is my daughter’s future
When Safia Hothi-Bellamy found herself without a job in 2013 after working as an international conference producer in London, her mother Surinder Bellamy offered her two products and £5,000 to see what she could do with them.
Surinder, who already owned a post office and fine food shop, had made her own garam masala and tandoori masala a few years before under the Pure Punjabi brand. Other than stocking them in the shop, she had not done any real marketing.
“Within a year, she’d won us a Gold Taste award for the tandoori masala,” Surinder says about daughter Safia. “She was also in the top three finalists for the young entrepreneur awards, run by Enterprise Wiltshire.”
The business has diversified into offering Indian cookery lessons online and in person, as well as running a pop-up restaurant. Surinder is still involved in the strategy and administrative side of the business – she has since sold the shop and also works as a personal trainer.
But she says her aim for the business is to secure financial independence for her daughter. “I’m always looking to Safia’s future, that’s my big motivation. You want to work and you want to have a career but maybe you want to stay home and raise the children. I think it’s nice as a woman to give that gift to your daughter, to know that if we can get [the business] to a good position before Safia is a mum herself, she will hopefully be free to have those choices.”
Safia, who does a lot of networking, events and marketing for the business, says people are always curious about what it’s like to work with her mother.
“It’s often the first thing people ask me. It always confuses me – I think they expect me to say it’s really difficult but it’s quite nice. We’ve always been very close. We’ve had to learn to change the way we interact so we’re a little bit more productive. We chat like friends, it’s easy to slip into that. We now have two separate offices because we distract each other.”
On Mother’s Day, the pair will be away in Cyprus with Surinder’s other two children. Surinder says she’s trying to make more of an effort to take regular time off from work. “It’s important that if you have a family business, you don’t flog yourselves into the ground.”
It’s lovely to see how admired she is
In 1993, while men were dominating the hairdressing business, Jo Hansford set up a salon in her name in London’s Mayfair. “There were the John Friedas, Charles Worthingtons and Nicky Clarkes of the world, to compete with, but I felt I had a niche in the market.”
Jo is a specialist in hair colour. Over her time in business – she started as a hairdressing apprentice aged 15 and worked in top salons including Vidal Sassoon’s – she’s built up a strong customer base, including celebrity clients.
At the time, her daughter, Joanna, was 17 and uninterested in her mum’s business. “Initially, I probably felt a bit resentful towards it,” she says. “Why did they [Jo’s husband also worked on the management side of the business] need to [launch a business]. I felt it was taking my family away from me – I was probably being a bit of a spoiled teenager.”
After college, Joanna wanted to go travelling. To save some money, she did a stint as a receptionist at her mum’s salon. “I suddenly realised what it was all about,” says Joanna. “It then started to get under my skin a bit.”
In between her travels Joanna returned to the salon and found she had a knack for managing products, HR and PR. Then, Jo’s husband and Joanna’s dad, David, who oversaw the business’s finances, was diagnosed with cancer. He brought in an ex-bank manager to help out, who stayed on when David sadly died. Joanna worked alongside him, eventually taking over as managing director.
Over almost 20 years of working together, she and Jo have formed a solid partnership. They live near one another and Jo picks up Joanna on the way to work each morning, which gives them time to chat about how things are going. “The most important thing we have for each other is respect,” says Jo.
Joanna says of her mum: “It’s lovely to see how admired she is in the industry and how fantastic she is at what she does.”
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