Hello, my name is Alison Pinto. I’m Mum to two children, and I run www.menus4mums.co.uk. Menus4mums is an online family meal planning service which helps busy parents save time and money and put tasty, nutritious dinners on the table for their families. Members get a new menu plan each week for dinners the whole family will enjoy, with recipe cards and a handy shopping list broken down into supermarket aisles. What sets us apart is that the meals take advantage of supermarket special offers to keep grocery bills down – especially useful during the Credit Crunch!
What was your job before starting your business?
It was completely different. I had a busy and demanding job working in central government, which involved some overseas travel. I loved the job and even managed to go back on a job-share basis after having my children. However, matters came to a head when my daughter started school and was completely overwhelmed by the whole process. She refused to speak to anyone at school for ages, and didn’t even answer the register for the first few weeks! She very much missed me not being there, so I made the decision to have a career break and put family first. However, my brain couldn’t stop whirring….
What were your reasons for starting a business?
I’d always thought about running my own business and decided when I gave up work that now was the time to give it serious thought. It seemed the best way to work around my children and all the various demands of school life.
How did you get your business idea?
I wanted to do something that I was really interested in – I don’t think it would work for me otherwise. I’ve always loved cooking, and for years I’ve been planning my family’s meals to make them interesting and nutritious. It had been difficult to keep it up though when I was working, so I thought other busy mums might be interested in paying for someone to do it for them.
What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?
The challenges weren’t too big, to be honest. At the start of planning the business, I drew up a big plan of what I had to do when. I allowed myself plenty of time, as I knew I didn’t want to actually launch Menus4Mums until my youngest had started school. That did get frustrating though, as I just wanted to steam ahead and start! One of the other biggest challenges was in the planning process where I was having to make decisions about things before other related issues had been finalized, eg deciding what the website would look like before I had finalized market research on what people wanted. So I just had to make sensible assumptions and be prepared to make changes along the way.
What training, information or advice did you need to get started?
Business Link were brilliant, and I can’t recommend their start-up courses highly enough. I was also lucky enough to get some funding from my local university to spend on a mentor – it was great having someone experienced to bounce ideas off.
If you could give one piece of advice to a mum of a baby or toddler starting a business, what would it be?
To network, even if it puts you outside your comfort zone. Some of the mums at my children’s school have been brilliant at giving me advice – one spent years doing marketing for Unilever, and another worked for a London advertising agency. It was another mum at a Business Link women’s event who told me about the voucher scheme at the university. Often, one thing just leads to another!