Neom Organics Founder, Nicola Elliott, On The Stress Of Being A Working Mother And Business Owner

Neom Organics Founder On The Stress Of Being A Working Mother And Business Owner

A career in journalism isn't exactly a walk in the park. Like any fast-paced work environment it can leave you stressed and, often, unable to sleep at night.

For Nicola Elliott, after 10 years of writing for Glamour, InStyle and Marie Claire; the budding entrepreneur decided it was time to take a step back from her hectic Carrie Bradshaw-esque lifestyle to focus on what really mattered.

Transforming her after-work hobby of aromatherapy into a business, Nicola founded Neom Organics with business partner, Oliver Mennell in 2005.

The name, if you haven't guessed already, being an amalgamation of the two's initials.

Now 36 years old with two young children, a husband (who brings her tea in bed every morning) and a successful brand which she runs from her hometown of Harrogate, Nicola Elliott has the world of wellbeing at her feet.

But there are still daily struggles to deal with - juggling motherhood and business being one of them.

Here, we caught up with the entrepreneur to get to grips with the importance of wellbeing and why she fears for women...

What inspired you to create an organic brand?

I worked for magazines and was surrounded by women who were really stressed - they were either having problems with lack of energy or sleeping, or were just generally in need of a mood boost.

I was training as an aromatherapist and nutritionist after work, so I started creating little blends and tinctures for them.

I created a blend for my sister who is a staunch ‘greeny’. She only ever uses organic products and was working for Friends Of The Earth at the time. She was having trouble sleeping so I made her a blend and called it ‘Tranquillity’.

Then my husband wanted a blend to revive him after he’d played football so I made him a blend too. My bathroom started to resemble a modern day apothecary. And it all started from there.

It was really obvious to me from the beginning that my products had to be 100% natural and 100% organic where possible, because that’s where you get the efficacy - from the essential oils.

What was the biggest challenge in setting up Neom?

It’s the same now as it was then. It’s all about having the right attitude and knocking problems out of the way.

People who say their business didn’t work out because of X, Y or Z need to find work-arounds. You have to find a plan B. Our business has all of these problems and more besides, almost on a daily basis. But we don’t see them as problems.

For example, we’re launching a shop and anything could happen between now and then. That’s the nature of the beast. But you just have to think ‘well, if the roof falls in then we get a new roof’. Whatever happens, there’s a solution to it.

Things aren’t always going to work out the way you planned them, but sometimes a nice surprise will happen. Originally we wanted to create 100% natural candles, which is actually a really difficult thing to do. Everyone was like ‘no you can’t do that’ but, eventually, we found a way.

Tell us a bit more about your new shop…

Well, it’s our first store ever which is in Wimbledon Village, London (38A High Street, Wimbledon Village).

We’ll have treatment rooms in the back which people can visit. We’re also going to hold a ‘Science of Scent Therapy’ event which will explain the science behind aromatherapy and how it benefits you. Then in January we’re launching a wellbeing club, too.

Describe a day in your life…

There are certain parts of my life that run like clockwork, but then every day in the office is completely different.

We’re always up at 6.30am. My husband will bring me a cup of tea in bed in the morning - which I’m very lucky and really grateful for.

Then we’ll start the madness that is getting two children, aged 4 and 6, to school. I’ll take the children in the morning and then my husband will pick them up in the afternoon.

I’ll make my way to work - making a few calls in the car - and will meet with my brand team to talk about the priorities for the week. Pretty much every other week I’ll be down in London.

I head up the creative side of things for the business, which entails marketing, branding and - to some degree - the sales side of things. Then my business partner heads up finance and operations.

I leave work on time, between 5.30-6pm so that I can spend time with my children. They’re only little so I’ll try and 'plug out' until 8pm. But then when they’ve gone to bed, I’ll probably get back online and do another hour or two of work in the evening.

Any healthy eating tips?

I prefer to eat clean, whole foods every day of the week. It’s not a virtuous thing at all, it’s something that I enjoy and helps me feel my best.

I take Organic Burst Spirulina every day and a tablespoon of Udo’s Choice Oil. I find the supplements I take really help me to feel good. As well as drinking lots of water.

In the morning I might eat rye toast with avocado or porridge with berries. For lunch, something like a chicken salad. Then evening meals will be fish or some sort of vegetarian option.

Then come Friday I’ll have a glass of wine or a piece of cake, for sure.

How do you switch off from work when you’re at home?

To completely switch off, I will either go for a swim or I’ve recently bought a little Westie puppy, so I will take him for walks.

I get bored very easily and I find that keeping things flexible is the key to keeping me healthy. Committing to classes doesn’t work for me.

If I don’t find time during the day to switch off - and it sometimes happens - then I will try and take a few hours in the evening to have a bath, unwind and practice a mindfulness exercise or something like that.

It doesn’t have to be about going to a gym four times a week. It works for me not to make promises as far as wellbeing is concerned.

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How do you juggle motherhood, work and life?

I find motherhood is hard. It’s the gear shift, for me, that I find the hardest. It’s not necessarily fitting a lot of stuff into the day, which can be quite tiring at times.

But it’s the shift from organising a business and working in a slick adult fashion, to then going home to two children saying ‘no I’m not getting in the bath’ or ‘I want the blue cup and not the pink cup’. It just kind of throws you.

When I spend a week with my kids, I find it gets easier as the week goes on. You slicken up your routine, don’t you? But flicking between working and being a mum, that’s one of the hardest things.

I think us working mothers are really hard on ourselves as well. There’s no okay area in our life that we can take as downtime. It’s really important to not look around and see how everyone else is doing. We need to quit beating ourselves up about everything and comparing ourselves with other women.

I loathe saying ‘me time’ because it sounds like this indulgent, unnecessary, luxurious, 'put your feet up while everything else goes on around you' time - which is completely counterproductive.

But I do think we need to take some time for our mental health. I fear for women because I think we are particularly bad at that.

As a woman, it’s about cutting yourself some slack and trying to make the every day a little bit more luxurious. You need to change your attitude so that you look after yourself, because then you can look after your family and your colleagues.

Do you think men are under the same pressures when it comes to juggling work and parenthood as women?

I have a husband, David, who I share the parenting responsibility with - it’s 50/50. It would be wrong of me to say that I do more, because he’s doing a great job.

I think, in some ways, men are better at editing things down to the bare bones of what needs doing. They naturally don’t juggle as much as we do and they focus on singular things. For women, we will try and juggle things and it makes life very stressful.

But I guess it’s a woman’s predisposition.

As someone who sets the bar, how do you make it easier or less daunting for women in your own company?

We have slightly more women who work for us, many have young children. My theory, as a boss, is that the job always needs doing. But if your child is in a nativity play or is sick then that’s super important and I encourage my staff to just tell me that they’re going to take the time off.

There’s quite a lot of flexibility here. You can go and see your child’s nativity play and then log back on afterwards and do some work. That’s the great thing about technology - and it's something that can be very helpful for working mothers.

Do you think that, as a population, we need to switch off more?

Oh definitely - 100%. We just don’t switch off.

I think we need to investigate how we can best do that without feeling that we’re taking our lives down a notch.

But that’s the dichotomy isn’t it? Switching off means getting the work done in half the time, which actually produces more stress.

Why is making time to relax so important?

We’re all more stressed than ever before. The World Health Organisation (WHO) are now saying that by 2020 the top four diseases will be stress related. That’s really scary.

It’s not about whether it’s going to take a few years off your life or not. It’s about the quality of your life up until that point as well.

To me it’s synonymous with Christmas. And it gives back too.

And finally, what’s top of your Christmas list this year?

:: Russell and Bromley x Stuart Weitzman bag.

:: Spa day at Rockliffe Hall, Yorkshire.

:: Private yoga lessons and the full Sweaty Betty kit to go with it.

:: A really silly dog coat for my Westie puppy, Harry.

:: Hush have got a really nice black fluffy jumper, I’d really like that.