We had the pleasure of meeting the founder of SevenoaksMums.com. Find out why Francesca Watson set up the website and why, for her, community is key.
Six years ago, as Francesca encountered motherhood for the first time, it was the mothers with two children who left her awe-inspired. ‘They just knew everything – from who should paint my sitting room, to the best feeding counsellor and who would sort out my dodgy back’. Having just moved from London and with no nearby family, they were a common species to these parts. A young family laying down new roots in uncharted territories. Sevenoaks, being a typical commuter town, sees many arriving from further afield to enjoy the quality of life, beautiful town, stunning countryside and excellent education options. Like so many others though, Francesca found the lack of support network really hard. ‘I felt like I was missing a local, trusted community, and that was the springboard for Sevenoaks Mums’.
At the time Francesca was interested in running her own business, but had no experience or family footsteps in which to follow. Having worked in property and finance, it was certainly an unexpected move, ‘but something that stuck with me from childhood’, says Francesca, ‘is that you can do anything if you persevere. I saw both my parents constantly progressing with work, house moves, looking after a large family, there was always a lot of fun to be had along the way with the extended family and group of friends. It felt like a team approach and I liked being in the middle of it.’
And so, with two very young children in tow, Francesca took the plunge and Sevenoaks Mums was born. It has evolved from an online community group to a fully-fledged website. Sevenoaks Mums is a local parenting website where visitors can engage with the local community. Mums in Sevenoaks (and surrounding areas) can find tried and tested recommendations for local businesses – with over 1300 local businesses listed on the directory. ‘We regularly update the site with relevant content which we know our readers find interesting’. The website covers education, childcare, exercise, travel to food, local events and reviews of local restaurants. The site has a very engaged and loyal local audience, with over 6,000 registered users.
Says Francesca, ‘I didn’t expect instant success and I’m willing to graft hard. My dad said to me to make as many mistakes as I like, just don’t make the same one twice. I don’t fear failure and treat it as an opportunity instead. I’ve certainly made many mistakes but I don’t beat myself up about it.’
Francesca views the flexibility that running your own business affords you as key to her success. Balancing work and family commitments were crucial to her well-being and being able to sustain any new career. ‘I have two sons, aged 5 and 6 and they are a handful! I like being able to do the school run and talk to them about their days, not that I always get a response!’ She has worked hard to understand the key to her own happiness and with that, created a life to suits those needs. ‘I know that being a working mum is what suits me and I am firmly of the belief that mums need to be happy to be the best they can be, whatever that looks like.’
Nowadays the business is thriving and is almost unrecognisable from the early days. Having seen that the old structure needed to change in order to progress, the Sevenoaks Mums team has grown over the last six months to a team of six. Francesca feels inspired by the other women she works with – all local mums, all juggling. ‘It gives me incredible joy to create work opportunities for other local women and they are such a talented bunch. I think we all enjoy working in a collaborative way, getting the brain cells fired up.’
It’s clear to see that community is a key driver for Francesca. She cites it as one of her key motivators. ‘Whilst the Sevenoaks Mums business plan has shifted and evolved many times, it recently dawned on me why I enjoy it so much; it has always felt like a team, a community.’ Not just with her team does she feel that sense of belonging, it goes much deeper than that. ‘We are part of the community we’ve put in the spotlight. I’m constantly inspired by the range of skills, talents and kind heartedness of our members and we work with many of them as partners, clients and collaborators.’
Sevenoaks Mums is now in its fifth year but she still feels the same energy and excitement as she felt for it in its infancy back in 2012. ‘Nothing stands still. Technology and business practice change at such a rapid rate and keeping up with that and how it impacts on our members and professional partners is a constant education.’
Their numbers continue to grow and as a result they have exposure to new local concepts, events, businesses and opportunities. ‘It’s quite the ride’, says Francesca, ‘and not one I’m stepping off any time soon’.