A single mother who launched her own business after being made redundant while she was pregnant has revealed she survived on a diet of bread to fund it.
Julie Hawkins, 42, from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, ended up on benefits and in rented accommodation following the breakdown of her marriage and then falling pregnant after a fling with a friend.
While struggling to make ends meet, she came up with the idea for the KIH Bed Pregnancy Cushion – named after her daughter Kaylyn Ivy Hawkins – which is designed to enable mums-to-be to lie on their front at variable stages of pregnancy.
The cushion has a dip in the middle to accommodate the bump, while the firm edges of the pillow support the collar bone, the ribs and the pelvic area.
After two months of saving to pay the patent office £60 for her initial design, Julie continued to scrimp for two years, not even buying herself a new pair of socks to save every penny she could.
Julie Hawkins, 42, from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, ended up on benefits and in rented accommodation following the breakdown of her marriage and then falling pregnant after a fling with a friend
While struggling to make ends meet, she came up with the idea for the KIH Bed Pregnancy Cushion – named after her daughter Kaylyn Ivy Hawkins – which is designed to enable mums-to-be to lie on their front at variable stages of pregnancy. Pictured: Julie trying out her creation
After securing an £8,000 loan from a charity, Julie battled for another six years to get her business off the ground.
She is now forecast to make around £30,000 in the next year but believes that could easily be doubled to £60,000.
Julie recently launched a business network for single mothers to address the stigma that they’re ‘work-shy’ and help others in a similar situation to her strive for success.
Before she became a mother Julie was working as an estate agent, having previously held down jobs as a personal assistant, a publican and a legal secretary.
‘I worked solidly but I could never really find something fulfilling or that well paid,’ she told FEMAIL.
Before she became a mother Julie, pictured while pregnant, was working as an estate agent, having previously held down jobs as a personal assistant, a publican and a legal secretary
At 34, while still married to her husband-of-seven-years, Julie (pictured on her wedding day) suffered a miscarriage and took it as a sign she wasn’t destined for motherhood
At 34, while still married to her husband-of-seven-years, Julie suffered a miscarriage and took it as a sign she wasn’t destined for motherhood.
When her marriage ended, Julie decided to ‘let her hair down’ – and was stunned when a dalliance with a friend resulted in her falling pregnant.
‘I fell immediately in love with my unborn child and I knew that I would be on my own with this pregnancy from the very beginning,’ she explained.
While on maternity leave in 2011, Julie was made redundant
While on maternity leave in 2011 she was made redundant, but when she applied for support, Julie claims she was ‘treated very differently’ due to her single, unemployed parent status.
‘When you have a 20-year work history and a mortgage, you are used to manners on the phone and being spoken to in a normal, friendly, courteous way,’ Julie explained.
‘I was spoken to in a very different way, as though I had never worked a day in my life and was not a person worthy of mutual respect.
‘I could not comprehend being treated as a work-shy fraudster when I knew that 12 months earlier the same person would have been politely asking me to value her property.’
Julie gave birth to her daughter at 36 but struggled to make ends meet with the cost of rent and childcare and limited suitable, affordable, long-term properties.
She began studying for a law degree in an effort to ensure single parenting wouldn’t be an issue financially in the future.
While she was pregnant, Julie came up with the clever idea for her KIH Bed pregnancy cushion after finding it difficult to get comfortable due to her growing bump.
She constructed the pillow to accommodate her changing shape and showed it to her midwife and health visitor, who praised the idea and encouraged her to take it further.
She told FEMAIL: ‘I knew I needed to bring it to market, but of course I was broke and not creditworthy.
Julie, pictured on her 34th birthday just after her miscarriage, said she was ‘so sad and lost’ during that period
Julie gave birth to her daughter Kaylyn Ivy (pictured) at 36 but struggled to make ends meet with the cost of rent and childcare and found it hard to find a suitable, affordable, long-term property
‘It took me two months to save £60 to pay the patent office for the initial design registration and bit by bit I made the market-ready product by shopping around, selling all that I could and not having any personal expenditure at all.
‘I had to incinerate one to comply with British Standard testing and that hurt! But I knew I had to do it as I was applying for a loan from a charity that loaned to people who banks reject, and I wanted to make sure I had all certification in place.
‘I did not know anything about manufacturing in the UK but I was home with a baby and Google, so I asked every question that came in my head, made lots of phone calls and asked lots of questions.’
Julie didn’t have enough money to properly invest into her business, so she funded it by ‘eating bread’.
‘I could not afford to buy food and material. I fed my daughter well, but I cut back on every penny, for two years I didn’t so much as buy a new pair of socks,’ she said.
Julie said she fell in love with her unborn child ‘immediately’ but knew it would be a struggle bringing her daughter (pictured as a baby) up on her own
Julie began studying for a law degree in an effort to ensure single parenting wouldn’t be an issue financially in the future
‘In 2012 I started a six-month process of a business plan and presentation to a panel. They loaned me £8,000 to buy my first batch of stock and place a few adverts.’
Having spent a year finding the right manufacturers and negotiating quotes, Julie ordered her first 100 KIH Beds and assembled them all at home, ironing every cover herself.
She splashed out on adverts in glossy mum-to-be magazines but admits she probably wasted ‘thousands’ as she should have targeted practitioners, and was left with little budget and forced to rely on word of mouth.
‘I cannot tell you how many celebrities I begged for a single tweet to help me raise awareness of my product,’ she admitted.
While she was pregnant, Julie came up with the clever idea for her KIH Bed pregnancy cushion after finding it difficult to get comfortable due to her growing bump. The firm cushion supports the skeletal structure, allowing bump and breasts to comfortably sit inside whilst the cover has been specially designed to support the round ligaments
‘Networking was hard, then there was childcare and an inability to really market my product without a healthy marketing budget.
‘People told me to just go and get a job, despite me working, studying, building a business, having a toddler and trying to be there for my child. Plus the benefits system struggles to understand that building a business takes time as you are constantly called into question.’
Julie’s top tips to single mums who are looking to succeed in business
Do not quit. And do not get sucked into working 40 hours a week to make pocket money for somebody else’s business – put that effort into your own.
Have faith that you can do it. Do your research, do what you love, and then make sure you gain enough exposure to bring in enough income. Hold your head high – and talk to me!
Short-term pain is long-term gain. You must be prepared to be uncomfortable for a while to take the risk and break free.
Cut back on everything. Own your choices. Ask your employer if you can reduce your hours so that you can network to grow your business, or if they don’t support you, don’t support them.
Her struggle inspired her to set up the Single Mums Business Network (SMBN) eight months ago.
The organisation aims to offer support and inspiration to single mothers who are running a business alongside caring for their children by paying for professional PR, exhibitions, marketing and advice to raise of awareness of its members, who pay £5 a month.
‘People think that single mums are work-shy and sit around smoking and watching TV, but that’s simply not the case,’ said Julie.
‘We are women who for one reason or another no longer have a partner. We are more determined to work hard and do well then ever before.’
‘I realised with collaboration I could help these women gain more exposure than they would individually.’
In May this year, Julie exhibited the KIH Bed at the NEC in Birmingham and sold more units in a week than she had in a year.
‘I knew that if I had that level of exposure in my first few years it would have saved years of struggle, and I did not want to sit back and watch other single mums struggle another minute than they had to,’ she said.
‘That is why the SMBN is exhibiting at the Women in Business Expo in October, as well as a conference in September with inspirational speakers. That is £2,000 value to my members that I know many of them could not do alone.’
Julie said this year end will be the first that KIH Products has had a decent turnover, with the predicted forecast based on the last six months for the next 12 somewhere in the region of £30K.
‘With increased exposure this could easily hit £60K,’ she added.
Julie’s struggle inspired her to set up the Single Mums Business Network (SMBN) eight months ago
‘Each year has been a struggle but I kept going as I knew the alternative was a much darker picture.’
The intention is for the SMBN to have 100 members by the end of the year and to continually give these members exposure to help them succeed.
‘Now, being a single mum with my own business is brilliant,’ Julie said.
‘My daughter is in school and being single makes it easier for me to work at night. I have competed the law degree and I no longer work elsewhere, so I just concentrate on the business.
‘I have free childcare with school to attend meetings and I find that the only “challenge” is knowing that it’s on me to make sure my daughter doesn’t live in relative poverty.
‘I want it to be so that no single mum bows her head in shame or is forced to leave her child and go back to working for low pay because she could not grow her business enough in a year to draw a full wage.’
For more information visit www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com.