As COVID continues to impact on all our lives and especially those small business owners in the retail sector, we caught up with My VIP Card and UK Parenting Forum– CEO & Founder Maddy Alexander-Grout who, back in 2016, saw that local businesses were struggling and came up with an idea that is a win-win for local businesses and shoppers alike.

Her idea (VIP Card Helping VIPs Locally) has led to her winning Business of the Year in 2018 at the Hampshire Women’s Business Awards and the award for High Business Growth in 2020 at the Successful Women in Business Awards to name but two of her achievements.

Post-natal psychosis and isolation
Like a lot of female business owners, the journey to self-employment and going it alone started after Maddy had her first child. But it wasn’t a straight forward start for Maddy.

“After giving birth to my first child in 2016, like some many women I suffered with mental health issues and was eventually diagnosed with post-natal psychosis. I was also made redundant and have never felt so isolated as I was suddenly stuck at home with my child. I ended up turning to my local parenting community for support and I didn’t realise at the time, but this decision was going to change my life.

We started meeting up regularly which really helped my mental state, and I began to realise many of the businesses we visited were struggling and needed our support to stay afloat which led to my lightbulb moment at 4am on one of many sleepless nights when I realised, I could help parents save money and support my local community.

I launched a local Parenting Forum within days, and it quickly became a success and made me realise there was a huge appetite for this simple solution, and this led to the launch of My VIP Card which is now the largest loyalty scheme in the UK. I am proud to say I have now supported many of my local businesses and have also helped thousands across the UK.

Entrepreneurial Genes
From a young age my grandfather inspired to be an entrepreneur and made me want to run my own business one day. He was a very successful businessman, a multi-millionaire and the most inspirational person I have ever met. He unfortunately passed away before I launched My VIP Card, but I am sure he would have been very proud of what we have achieved so far. He was my main cheerleader, was always supportive and always found time for me even when he was at his busiest. He also believed in the importance of his local community and spent a lot of his spare time supporting and helping out locally.

Baby Comes Too
Running my own business has been hugely rewarding but hasn’t been without its challenges and many hurdles. When the business really started to gain traction, I discovered I was pregnant for the second time and quickly decided I wasn’t going to let this slow me down. I also didn’t want to be apart from newborn baby, so I decided to bring her with me.

She came on business meetings, awards events and even public speaking opportunities as I was spending a lot of time at that period raising my profile to help the business.

It was difficult at times especially when she interrupted speaking engagements, but it was a great way to gauge who I wanted to work with by their reaction and how accommodating they were when we turned up.

While I have experienced some gender related issues in my working life, I try not to let these stop my progress or to dwell on them for too long. We are certainly making good progress with gender equality in the UK but there have been times in my journey when I feel that I would have been taken more seriously being a ‘working dad’ rather than a ‘working mum’. I am pleased to say this is becoming less frequent and I would encourage any women who is thinking of launching their own business to believe in themselves, do it your way and don’t let anyone stop your dream.

Role Models
Everyone has role models they look up to and, outside of her family, Maddy has two that have really inspired her: Sara Davies, the founder of Crafter’s Companion who is probably best known for being one of the dragons on Dragon’s Den and Holly Tucker, the founder of Not on the High Street. Both of them are mothers and had fairly humble upbringings and are very straight talking and honest. The have been hugely successful and now use their platforms to give back and work hard to help and support others who are looking to launch their own businesses.

Learn to dance in the rain
How does Maddy make it through the bad days?
My favourite quote which I remind myself of on the tough days is, ‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain’. I think this really sums up running a business because no matter what stage you are at there will be ‘rainy days’ as you learn to adapt to new and different challenges such as expansion, recruitment or managing staff. The most important thing is to stop and appreciate what you have achieved and enjoy the journey.

About My VIP card helping VIPs locally
About My VIP Card: The multi award-winning My VIP Card founded by Maddy Alexander Grout in 2018. The card enables members to access discounts via the card and app. It encourages people to shop local and save money with over 4,500 discounts. Download the app and start saving. Offering free advertising for card holders so if you are a small business, you might want to take a look! Download the My VIP Card app from the Apple and Google Play store