Interview with Sally Bunkham, founder of Mum’s Back

Read how her own pregnancies inspired Sally Bunkham to launch Mum’s Back, a hamper business providing gifts especially for new mums full of all the things they’ve not been allowed while pregnant.

Mum’s Back is also a social enterprise, and £1 from every hamper sold goes to PANDAS Foundation to help with their important work in supporting families dealing with perinatal mental health issues.

What’s your career background?

Following university I had a brief stint with sales where I like to think I spent a little bit of time learning the gift of the gab! It certainly wasn’t something I wanted to do forever, and I soon found a job working at The University of Sussex when I was in my early 20s.

I loved it and worked my way up doing events and office work. The events I helped organise were all aimed at helping students become entrepreneurial, and I think a lot of it rubbed off on me. I worked there for nearly ten years, until I had my first child two and a half years ago.

How did your career change after having children?

After I had my first baby, Daisy, it was always the plan to go back to work part-time. Life had other ideas though, and when Daisy was just three months old we discovered I was pregnant again. This meant I had to go on maternity leave while already on maternity leave!

I did consider going back after round two, but various things got in the way. The cost of childcare for two under two would have just been too great, and sadly I was struck with a bad bout of postnatal depression after my second daughter, and I was in no fit to return to work anyway at that point.

At the time this was incredibly tough, but actually when it comes down to it, it’s the thing that has now spurred my passion for Mum’s Back.

Where did the idea for Mum’s Back come from?

The concept for Mum’s Back had been bubbling away ever since I had my first daughter. I didn’t realise how much I’d miss all of the things I wasn’t allowed whilst pregnant until I wasn’t allowed them.

My NCT gang and I used to talk about it all the time, and mention how we couldn’t wait to enjoy a nice glass of wine, a rare steak, or similar, once we’d had the baby. After giving birth to Daisy I got some beautiful gifts, but I realised they were all either focussed entirely on the baby, or saintly gifts that assumed you needed something like an exfoliating body scrub or bubble bath.

They were lovely, but I decided there was a real gap in the market for something purely and totally for mum that gave her a bit of her old identity back – after all, she’s the one that has just grown a little human being and gone through childbirth!

The idea for Mum’s Back was then born. The social enterprise element came later on, following a real rough ride with my second daughter, Ruby. Sadly, she developed an undiagnosed medical issue, which meant she was a terrible sleeper and was really unsettled a lot of the day and night for months.

We just couldn’t get to the bottom of it, and the sleep deprivation on top of looking after my other young daughter pushed me to my limit. I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and it took me a while to get better.

That period made me realise how important mental health is and gave me a great empathy for others going through anything similar. It was then I realised that I could help via my new venture, hence the reason why £1 from every hamper goes to PANDAS Foundation.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

The first thing I did was source all of my products. Once I’d done that I invested in an online branding course. It was really important to me to make sure I had the right brand and vision. It was a really good way to think about my target audience and who my ideal customer was, as well as my general ethos.

Once I’d done that I brought a designer on board to work on my brand and design. Luckily for me, my husband is a web developer so he was able to build my site for me. Once that was up and running I was ready to go!

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Being new to the market I’m all about spreading the word via social media. Facebook and Twitter are great places to connect with people.

I’m also a blogger and since my business is so closely linked to my personal journey of motherhood and experience of postnatal depression I’ve found it quite a cathartic, as well as practical, thing to do to spread my message. I love how blogging has the ability to connect and resonate with people, and it enables me to get my message out authentically.

I do quite a lot of live videos on Facebook so that people get to see the real me, warts and all, as I think it’s really important for my brand.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Without a shadow of a doubt it’s been my experience of sleep deprivation and postnatal depression as a parent. It totally sucked all the confidence and energy from me. It also meant I really struggled with my identity and who I was. I was totally lost for a while back there.

It’s a funny thing because that bleakness in a way also helped me, because it’s the driving force behind the very concept of Mum’s Back. I want it to be all about mums having a little treat for themselves while realising that it’s ok to not be ok for a while.

Being a mum is tough! Society puts pressure on us to feel a certain way and when we don’t, we feel guilt. Mum’s Back is about saying screw the guilt and take a little something for yourself! Without that period in my life I also think the business would be lacking the fabulous social enterprise element, which I now love. So in a way I’m grateful for that obstacle.

And your proudest moment so far?

I think it was probably seeing my website live for the first time. It felt like such an achievement to see it all finally coming together with all my hard work on research and branding in place.

It’s the first time I’ve had my own venture and it felt/feels so good to be able to look at it and think, wow, that’s my business! It also feels amazing to be able to turn such a bad period in my life into something positive.

Just yesterday I also had an email from who said they were really keen to have us as a seller on their site, too, which felt wonderful.

Why is work so important to you?

For me I like to have a good mix and variety is the spice of life. I love being a mum, but I also love to do something else to give me a bit of creative balance. It’s also my dream for my daughters to see me create something so that they realise that they too can aspire to do whatever they are passionate about.

How do you balance Mum’s Back with your family?

This is a really tricky one, and one I’m still grappling with! My two kids are still under three so are pretty dependent on me. I do get about 3-4 hours a day on average to work, when they are either at nursery/grandparents/asleep.

I find I have to be really strict with myself and write a list of tasks that I definitely need to achieve and set myself mini deadlines. When I’m doing these tasks I turn off all other notifications like Twitter and Facebook, as they can be so distracting.

I do work a lot in the evenings, but I find it’s really important to have at least an hour’s downtime before bed. I do also aim to not put too much pressure on myself.

My main priority is still my kids, and if they are poorly or similar, things simply have to wait. When that happens I try to focus on all the things I’m doing well instead of all the things I’m not doing. As long as I get orders out everything else can wait in a period like that. That is also the bonus of being your own boss.

What are your three top pieces of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

1) Passion

Firstly I would say work hard to try and find your true passion. I have known for a while that I’d like to start my own venture, but it’s not until now that I have found something I have a real passion in.

That little spark means that I actually look forward to working on it and it’s almost like a treat to get cracking (most of the time!).

2) Find more passion!

Secondly, and to aid with that, I’d encourage anyone to think about how his or her passion can have a double bottom line. How could your idea also help others? My concept took on a whole other dimension when I added the element of raising money for a charity that I have a deep affinity for, and really adds fire to my belly to want to succeed.

3) Find your tribe

Lastly, I’d say do your best to find your tribe of supporters both offline and online. I’ve joined some fantastic networks on facebook, that are brimming with like-minded people who are keen to share knowledge and encourage each other… like The Talented Ladies Club!

I also invested in some business mentoring from a coach (Helen Packham) who offered me some fantastic support both practically and from a self-belief point of view. I had no idea how beneficial a mentor would be until I got one, and now I would totally recommend it.

Find out more about Mum’s Back on their website.