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Annabel Karmel On Why Mums Make The Best Entrepreneurs And The Tragedy Behind Her Success

05/05/2015 21:45 BST | Updated 15/06/2015 18:59 BST

Mumpreneur is a term that divides opinion, but Annabel Karmel sees it as badge of honour, as she believes mothers develop certain skills which make them particularly well suited to being entrepreneurs, and she should know...

Karmel is one of the most successful mumpreneurs around, having written 39 books which have sold over three million copies worldwide. She has also created supermarket food ranges, weaning equipment and smartphone apps.

"I've often heard women refer to themselves as 'just a mum', but being 'just a mum' you have so many skills that will translate well to the business world," Karmel, 52, from London, explains to HuffPost UK Parents.

"As a mum you’ll have learnt how to deal with people who are the most unreasonable creatures in the entire world.

"If you can deal with a toddler who won’t eat, you can certainly deal with a fearsome food critic."

Karmel's eldest child, Natasha died when just three months old. She went on to have Nicholas, now 26, Lara, 24 and Scarlett, 22.

annabel karmel

Karmel's career and her role as a mother are deeply intertwined, as she would never have sat down to write her first book The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner if she hadn't had children.

"I found it quite difficult to get pregnant," Karmel recalls.

"It took me over two years, so when I eventually gave birth to Natasha I was overjoyed. Everything was perfect.

"But then one evening, when Natasha was three months old, I thought she didn’t look quite right. I just had this mother's intuition that something was wrong, so I took her to see my doctor.

"He gave me a lecture about how first time mothers worry unnecessarily and children are much more robust than mums think. So I left feeling embarrassed that I had wasted his time.

"But the next morning she looked a lot worse, so I took her to see another doctor who examined her and quickly left the room.

"He said he was just going to check on another patient, but when he came back 10 minutes later he told me that hadn't been true. He said 'I've been trying to get Natasha admitted to a hospital because I think your child is seriously ill'.

"It was like a nightmare. I'd known something was wrong, but I had never imagined it would be anything serious."

Natasha was admitted to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, where doctors ran a number of tests including a CAT scan of her brain.

"I called my husband and he met us at the hospital," says Karmel. "Then at 5 o'clock they did the CAT scan and a neurologist called us into a room and said in a very matter of fact way: 'Your daughter will never be normal again and she might die.'

"Everything was moving so fast, I couldn’t believe this was happening."

Natasha was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where she was put on a ventillator in intensive care.

"I stayed with her for five days and nights," says Karmel. "Then we were called into a meeting.

"In your heart of hearts you kind of already know what they're going to say, but that doesn't make it any easier.

"We just sat there as they told us the thinking part of Natasha's brain had gone and wouldn't come back. So we made the decision to take her off the ventilator.

"They dressed her in a dress and put her in my arms.

"She took over four and a half hours to die, it was just horrific.

"My family came to see her and they asked if she was sleeping, as she still looked perfectly normal. Having to tell them my baby was dead felt so unnatural. It broke my heart.

"I was in the depths of despair and I wanted to have another child, but I couldn't face another two years of trying."

But just four months later Karmel found out she was pregnant for the second time and within a year of losing Natasha, she gave birth to a little boy, who she called Nicholas.

"The pregnancy was the only thing that helped me get through that very difficult time," says Karmel.

"But the birth wasn’t plain sailing," she adds.

"I called my doctor when I started having contractions. He told me I had a long time to go so just to stay put. But twenty minutes after I put the phone down my waters broke.

"I tried to call the doctor back but couldn’t get hold of him. I went upstairs to get my things to take to the hospital, but the baby's head came out before I got to the top of the stairs.

"I collapsed and ended up giving birth half on the staircase and half on the landing.

"I remember with my first birth, they cut the cord and your baby could come up so you could cuddle it.

"Well I couldn’t get the baby close to me, because we were still attached by the cord and neither my husband nor I knew how to cut it.

"It was awful, I thought I was going to lose the child and I just didn't know how I'd cope if that happened."

Two and a half hours later Karmel's doctor arrived and took her to hospital.

"When my mother arrived to visit me, nobody had told her what had happened," says Karmel.

"She thought I'd had a hospital birth, until she came in and saw that I was covered in blood and so was my husband, but the doctor was immaculate!

"I went to hell and back with that birth but luckily Nicholas and I were both alright."

It was while weaning Nicholas that Karmel first thought about writing a recipe book.

"Nicholas was a difficult child," she admits. "He didn’t sleep very well and he certainly didn’t want to eat properly.

"After everything I'd been through I felt very vulnerable and I thought I must be the only mother whose child won’t eat."

Karmel found comfort in other mums, who she met through a playgroup she set up, which grew to include around 100 mothers. Through them she discovered that fussy eaters weren't as uncommon as she thought.

"About 50% of the mums in the playgroup had children who were very bad eaters," Karmel says.

"Cooking was my great hobby, so I'd been making lots of tasty recipes to encourage Nicholas to eat. I gave the recipes to some of the other mums and their babies all loved them. Every week they would ask: 'Well what else have you got?'

"They all started telling me I should write a book, and I thought that would be an amazing tribute to Natasha.

"I never expected it to make money. I was doing it to make some meaning come from Natasha's life and also in a way as therapy for myself."

Karmel worked closely with the Institute of Child Health to ensure the nutritional information in her book was "based on fact rather than opinion".

"I think that was what made my book different to other baby food books out there," she says.

"Also, at the time it was a commonly held belief that babies only like bland food, and I challenged that.

"I taste tested all my recipes on Nicholas and babies from the playgroup and only the popular ones made it into the book.

"I was the first person to make tasty baby food that was healthy and properly researched."

Karmel's The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner went on to become the second best-selling non-fiction hardback of all time, but at first she had trouble convincing publishers to take a chance on it.

"Nobody wanted to publish it," says Karmel. "Partly because I was an unknown author at that point and partly because no book about feeding children had ever done well, so it was completely uncommercial.

"But I didn’t write it to make money, I did it as my legacy so I wanted to have it published even if it didn't sell many copies.

"I got rejection after rejection and I began to think I had wasted two and a half years of my life pouring my heart and soul into this book, but eventually Simon & Schuster bought a number of copies and then Random House decided to publish it as well."

The rest, as they say, is history. Karmel's recipe books are among the most popular gifts given to new mums and dads and she was awarded an MBE in June 2006 for her outstanding work in the field of child nutrition.

annabel karmel

She has now ventured into a new line of writing with her latest book Mumpreneur, which is full of advice for mums who are thinking of launching their own business.

"I learned the hard way how to make a successful business," says Karmel. "I had such difficulty starting my career and I had learned so much along the way, so I decided to write a book full of advice and tips for mums who want to become mumpreneurs."

As well as advice from Karmel, the book also includes interviews with 30 other top UK mumpreneurs including Myleene Klass, Wahaca's Thomasina Miers, Jacqueline Gold of Ann Summers and Nails Inc founder Thea Green.

SEE ALSO:

Annabel Karmel: Winning The Battle Of Feeding Fussy Toddlers

Proud to Be A Mumpreneur

Karmel's Top Tips For Mumpreneurs

Don't be afraid to try something new.

"A lot of people feel like they have to stick with the career they had before they became a mum. Say you studied law, you may feel like you can’t just give it up.

"But why not? I gave up 15 years of my life training to be a musician, but I became a mumpreneur by doing something completely different. Something I didn’t really have any training in. I just learned on the job."

Put your efforts into something that's important to you.

"You must do something you love and you have a passion for as there will be a lot of pitfalls along the way and if you don't enjoy what you're doing you'll be put off when you have to struggle.

"It was hard to keep going after my first book was rejected by publishers, but I had a love for what I was doing, I was doing it for Natasha and that kept me going."

Don't be afraid of failure.

"Setting up a business is not easy, but for me failure is not the opposite of success, - I have failed on a number of occasions, - failure is not trying.

"An entrepreneur is somebody who is a calculated risk taker. They will look at an opportunity and they'll see the possible failure but they won’t mind because that’s a stepping stone to succeeding."

"Dyson made more than 5,000 prototypes of vacuum cleaner before he made the one that made him a success."

Take inspiration from your children.

"A lot of mumpreneurs have started businesses based on something they've learned through having a child.

"If as a parent you've needed something that isn't out there, then it’s quite likely that somebody else will need it too.

"Take the success of the Avent baby bottle, which was created by a husband and wife team. They had found it very difficult to fill their baby bottle with baby powder, because the neck of the bottle was too small. So they invented a wide neck bottle with a stable base and a teat that was made of silicone.

"They sold that company for hundreds of millions of pounds. And that was just a variation on something that already existed, but done very well."

Set your own schedule.

"I progressed very slowly in my career. I wasn’t very proactive to begin with, I was happy to write just one book a year, as I wanted to be there for my children, especially after having lost a child.

"But my success shows there is no schedule you have to stick to, you can make your work fit your life. I chose to write books, which I could do from home, in my own time."

For more advice pick up a copy of Mumpreneur: The complete guide to starting and running a successful business by Annabel Karmel.