Interview with Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events founder Michelle Jay
When Michelle Jay’s youngest daughter was born with a rare genetic condition, she gave up her job and started a new event business aimed at mums. Find out how today Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events (and her daughter Izzy) is thriving!
What’s your career background?
I’ve worked in various roles primarily within market intelligence as part of the marketing function of several large brands including Sainsbury’s and Barclaycard.
My last role before stepping away from the world of PAYE employment was heading up the Programmes, Consultancy and Research Department of a public sector organisation. I was responsible for a department of 16 people, and managed multi-million pound government contracts, so it was a very full on, demanding role.
How did you career change when you become a mum?
To be honest, my career didn’t change that significantly after I had my first two children (Georgina who is seven and Alistair who is four). I went back to work after taking six months maternity leave with each of them, and my career continued to go from strength to strength.
Obviously managing the work-life balance post children was incredibly tricky, and my priority has always been my children, but I enjoyed my job, and I was good at it, so I tried to juggle (as all working mums do) my family life with my demanding career.
Why did you decide to set up Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events?
I decided to set up Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events in September 2014 after my youngest daughter Isabella (who is now one) was born with an extremely rare genetic condition called Goldenhars Syndrome.
I knew that Izzy would need a lot of support, particularly over the first few years while she was having her first surgeries, and I felt that I couldn’t return to my previous very demanding job. So when the opportunity for voluntary redundancy came up I decided to leave so I could give Izzy the support she needed.
It’s been an incredibly challenging year, but she is a fighter and has coped amazingly well with all she’s been through.
While I love being at home with my children, I had worked in a fast-paced commercial environment for the past 20 years and I have to admit the transition was challenging for me. Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events was a way to keep my toe in the business water.
How did you feel about leaving your career?
To be honest leaving the world of PAYE was a no brainer. Izzy needed me, and when the opportunity for voluntary redundancy came up, it gave me the chance to be able to spend time supporting her through her first surgeries and various hospital appointments whilst the specialists who are looking after her establish her care plan.
On the day I officially left it was strange because I was on maternity leave and had worked from home previously, so it felt much like any other day, but I did have a brief moment thinking ‘oh my goodness, what have I done’, but Izzy and my other children are my priority so that was my focus.
What skills or experience from your career have helped you in your business?
Having a commercial background has definitely helped with setting up my business. I have a business plan that I continually update and a strategy for growth.
I look at my figures constantly to keep an eye on my income and expenditure, so I think my experience of managing government contracts has helped enormously – keeping a close eye on my bottom line has been really important.
What is Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events?
Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events organise baby and toddler shows around the UK. In just six short months we have built an enviable reputation for producing exceptional events.
We’re organising 10 events this year, and will be organising 20 in 2016. We have footfalls in excess of 1,000 visitors at each show and have between 70-150 exhibitors at each event. We are now privileged to work with over 500 companies dedicated to the pregnancy to preschool sector.
What’s your marketing strategy?
We implement a multi-channel, integrated marketing campaign for promoting our events to mums, and invest very heavily in this activity. We have created a sustainable business and work with many of our exhibitors again and again, we’ve been able to do this by getting great visitor numbers at our events.
If visitor footfall doesn’t meet our exhibitors expectations, they won’t book again with us, if we don’t market our events effectively then we won’t get the visitor numbers we want. So getting the marketing right is vital.
We use various marketing channels including social media (we invest very heavily in highly targeted Facebook advertising), press advertising, and leaflets (we print 15,000 for every event and distribute them via our exhibitors, and Mums and Tots Groups, libraries, sure start centres, and anywhere else we can think of).
We also engage with local bloggers and other local parent influences to get them excited about our events, so they also promote to their networks and followers.
What have you found most challenging about starting Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events?
Definitely finding the time. Ironically I set up the business with just the idea of organising one local event, so I could keep my toe in the water, and still have time with my family, however the feedback has been so positive from visitors and exhibitors alike and the demand for other events has been so strong, the company is thriving, which is incredible. But also means that achieving a good work-life balance at the moment is a dim and distant memory.
That being said…I love it! I’m passionate about my business, I have set it up from scratch and put my heart and soul into it…it really is my fourth baby! And when I get great feedback from a happy exhibitor or visitor it really makes all the hard work worth it!
How do you balance your work around your family?
This is something I am really struggling with at the moment, as the business is growing so quickly. But I try to create boundaries. I’ve set up a separate office space where I can close the door on work and spend time, uninterrupted with my family.
I also try to take regular time off – although it is something I am struggling with, the temptation to try to cram as much work in as possible is always there. There’s always something to do, and I have so many ideas for the business that it’s sometimes hard to switch off.
But I am starting to get better at balancing work and family and it makes me really proud when my eldest daughter whose 7 says she wants to run her own business like her Mummy, so hopefully I’m setting a good example for her.
What’s your five year vision?
I have big ambitions for the company. We would love to continue bringing our events into different parts of the UK, and we’re also piloting a number of other event formats including Health, Beauty and Fashion Fairs, and Home and Garden Shows.
So continuing to grow the number of events we produce alongside being able to (hopefully) continue to create a better work-life balance is my vision going forward.
What tips do you have for other mums wanting to plan an event?
Make lists! The events we run have a lot of components, so as well as having lots of different retail stands, we also have local parenting organisations attend (the local council, the local midwife team, breastfeeding support and so on).
We also have a packed seminar and demonstration programme at all our events, so visitors can see a demonstration on paediatric first aid, take part in a toddler music or movement taster session, or try out a baby massage class, for example.
We also have family entertainment throughout the event, including a soft play area, a crèche and meet and greets with Minnie Mouse and Fireman Sam.
So there’s a huge amount to organise. For some of our biggest events we can be working with over 150 different companies, so keeping on top of everything is tricky – but lists are definitely the key.
The other tip I would have for organising an event is, don’t be afraid to shout about it! Tell everyone and anyone about your event, spread the word as much as possible using every route you can think of to get people to come along.
You can find out more about Bumps, Babies and Beyond Events on their website.