Raising a business is a labour of love

A new blog aimed at mothers and pregnant women, called Maternity Leaf, launched in Dunedin on Saturday, 26th April. The site features articles and blog posts on a wide range of subjects by women who are pregnant, have been through pregnancy, are planning to go through pregnancy, or are midwives.

Charlie Ferris, the site’s 20-year old co-founder, says she was inspired to create the resource when, after working in the community as a student midwife, she noticed how little information women were accessing about their maternity care.

“Old wives’ tales and misinformation run riot in the pregnancy circles,” she said, “and no one is to blame. That’s just how it has come to be.

“A woman should be completely informed about every single procedure that could or does happen to them, because, without the information, they cannot provide informed consent. Maternity Leaf aims to provide that information to women in an easy-to-read way, and on a user-friendly platform.”

After she recognised the need for a better tool in the market and decided that she was going to make it, Charlie began leveraging her network of media and marketing contacts to seek the support she needed. Charlie’s friends would describe her as social. What she’s really doing, is taking advantage of networking opportunities.

“After we had the initial idea,” Charlie said, “I sat down with my business partner and we came up with a media plan. We looked at competitors and scoped out the market. We found our niche.

“We then bought a URL, designed a logo, built a website, and started up social media. We set ourselves a launch date about 6 weeks into the future. We built up enthusiasm among family, friends and colleagues mostly on Facebook. By the time we launched, we had been interacting with our fan base about 3-4 times a week.”

These interactions came in the form of giveaways two ‘sneak-peek’ articles to arouse fans’ curiosity. There were a few hits and a few misses, Charlie admits, but she said that with each post, she learned what fans did or didn’t want to see.

It has been a great experience, Charlie says, but it hasn’t been all fun and games. When she’s not chasing sales leads, writing articles, or interviewing mothers, Charlie Ferris is a full-time second year midwifery student at Otago Polytechnic, and she’s on call 24/7 for hospital or home births.

“A huge challenge for me was committing to something that I was not sure would take off. Now I feel a lot more confident – I think taking the risk, rallying your troops, asking for support, and being logical and reasonable are the best steps anyone can take to overcome a challenge.

Another challenge has been finding the finances and time to take Maternity Leaf to launch.

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“Studying full time, being on call 24/7, and living off a student allowance of about $80 a week means that I have to plan what I will be doing every single day, and what I will be doing over the next few months. I have to ask for support, and while relying on people is not something I like to do, it is humbling and, I think, necessary.

“It’s an investment – the people who support you will see you into success.”

Charlie, an artistic and creative person by nature, has not taken too kindly to the business side of her startup, and suggests that adding a business partner who compliments her weaknesses has helped tremendously.

“You need to define what you bring to the business and what you can’t bring. It’s also great to be in a partnership with someone because that means if you can’t complete something for whatever reason, they can pick up the slack for the time being.”

“My poor business partner had a headache trying to teach me exactly what a ‘take-home’ wage was. Also, learning about advertising and revenue, and gross and net – when you’ve never actually thought about these terms before, they are really confusing. I handle these by asking (too many) questions, and honestly, just Googling things I don’t understand.

“I’m also not authoritative at all. I have trouble putting my foot down and sorting other people out, and that’s something I’m still learning. I handle it by trying a little more assertive each time I talk to someone. It’s also a bit easier to be assertive when you’re able to write something out over email as opposed to speaking face-to-face, for me anyway.”

Starting a website about maternity care – or about any healthcare service – is a big leap, says Charlie, but being actively involved in her field of interest makes it easer. She has learned that, whenever you’re providing content to your audience, you need to be able to write confidently, knowing that some people may disagree with you and publicly criticise you.

Maternity Leaf’s primary source of revenue will be an online shop that is set to be unveiled soon, but as the platform grows, Charlie hopes to supplement that revenue by advertising some products she believes in targeted at mothers.

“I want to be providing information to as many women and students as possible. My intention for this site is to educate people, and the more people we can reach the better. I hope to expand our brand, with products going out under our name. We will be selling other companies’ products on our site, but in a couple of years we could develop our own – you never know!

Charlie’s average day as CEO of Maternity Leaf, full time student, and on-call midwife is busy to say the least.

“It’s kind of a routine of not having a routine,” she says. “I have to be flexible time-wise because I’m on call and studying/attending lectures, so I need to work Maternity Leaf around them.

“I try to spend 2-3 hours per day writing articles and reading relevant research and books, and planning for future articles. I spend a good portion of each day chasing people up who are writing articles for me, or who have agreed to an interview. I have about 10 hours worth of lectures/debriefs each week, and I also work on placement with a midwife and have about 4-5 appointments with her every week. In between that, I attend births which obviously can’t be scheduled, and can really throw your plans out the window! They’re definitely worth it though.

“My schedule is all over the place, but I think that being able to cope with that is a big asset.”

If you’re interested in Charlie’s venture, head over to the Maternity Leaf’s Facebook or Twitter.

Maternity Leaf was the first startup to pass through NZE Services, a digital agency for startups launched today. Mach Media NZ, NZE’s parent company, owns a minority stake in Maternity Leaf.

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