Annabel Karmel MBE: 8 dos and don’ts to create a successful business

The popular children’s author and food entrepreneur shared her business story at a Global Entrepreneurship Week event, find out how she turned an idea for fussy children into a leading brand…

The bestselling author of children’s recipe books and the founder of a successful range of food products for toddlers and babies, Annabel Karmel MBE’s business story serves as an example of what can be achieved when you have a niche idea, “persistence and focus”.

What you could call an accidental entrepreneur, having initially started her career as a harpist working with the likes of Liberace and Boy George, Karmel turned to children’s food after the tragic loss of her first-borne daughter Natasha at 13 weeks old which made her move away from music; “all I wanted was another child”.

One year later she gave birth to her son Nicholas, a “notoriously fussy eater”, and began to come up with different recipes to get him to eat healthy foods. After sharing her recipes with other mothers at a local playgroup, Karmel realised the demand for simple children’s recipes that “took the worry away” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Having published her first book The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner in 1991, the mumpreneur has gone on to publish over 40 books about nutrition and parenting, and in 2007 launched her baby food range which is now stocked in leading supermarkets such as Waitrose and Ocado.

Yet it wasn’t all plain sailing; Karmel struggled to get her original manuscript published – “everyone rejected it” – and says that she “still gets knocks all the time” today. The mumpreneur is even honest enough to admit that in the early days of her start-up venture she “wasn’t terribly pro-active.”

Despite setbacks, Karmel maintained a steely resolve to “not let failures set her back” and her determination has paid off; she’s now the proud owner of an internationally-recognised food brand and has achieved over four million book sales to date.

Having built a thriving brand from scratch, Karmel shared her business lessons with the audience of the Virgin StartUp Ignition event for Global Entrepreneurship Week on what you should and shouldn’t do when starting up.

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Here are her dos and don’ts to help you on the path to start-up success…

1. DO focus on innovation

“Sometimes small companies can be so much more innovative than corporates. Look at the likes of Innocent Drinks, Green & Blacks and other brands being bought out, it’s because big companies can’t deal with innovation like other companies can. Henry Ford famously said ‘think I can’t and I won’t, think I can, I will and I will fly. You need to have courage.”

2. DON’T worry about failure

“If you’re playing it safe, then you’re really not an entrepreneur, failure in one area often leads to success in another area. I know this from experience with my food range.

“When I looked at the baby aisle, everything all had a one year shelf life – some of the food was older than the baby itself! I then thought about creating fresh baby food [and I went ahead with it] but I didn’t really think it through as there’s no refrigerators or freezers in the baby aisle and you’d have to move it to other areas of the supermarket that mums don’t go to. Unfortunately it failed because of the wastage.

“However that led me to another avenue. I thought that maybe if I put the food through retort it might have a longer life and it might taste good. I surprised myself and it actually tasted like fresh puree. That failure then led me to create a successful food range which is now stocked in brands such as Tesco. [..] So it’s important to be persistent and have focus.

“[The same applies with my books] No literary agent would take me on, I was turned down on several occasions. I went round all the country to all the experts on child nutrition until I had my manuscript for the first book, well everyone rejected it. Now, that book has sold four million copies so don’t give up.

“The people that can deal with failure are the ones that will succeed. It makes you stronger.”

3. DON’T expect overnight success

“Don’t expect [starting a business] to be easy. I’ve learnt that entrepreneurship is a lifestyle, not a part-time or full-time job. I feel sorry for the people that have to live with me as I work all hours of the day and night.”

4. DON’T let your job get in the way of your business ambitions

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been. If you’re in a job you’re not happy with, think about it, think about how much of your time you spend working. Save up three months salary, six months salary and make that leap and do what you really want to do and have a passion for.”

5. DO find your niche

“I found my niche, without it I doubt I’d be here today. I found my niche in children’s food but it doesn’t mean you have to invent something. You don’t have to be an inventor to be an entrepreneur, you just have to be able to do something better than anyone else. I think all of us have it within us to do something better. In fact, I think all of us probably have two to three careers in us.”

6. DO utilise feedback from your peers

“Make the most of your networks, I never think you should keep things to yourself. James Caan once said to me when you’ve got an idea don’t just say ‘I’ve got this idea, what do you think about it?’  instead say ‘I’ve got this idea, why do you think it will fail?’ because then you might actually learn something, otherwise you’ll just get gratitude and that’s no good.

“Networking is a two way thing – if you help people they’re more likely to help you.”

7. DO establish a good work/life balance

“You have to find your guilt level. I know that when you’re at work you feel you should be with your children and when you’re with your children you feel you should be at work.

“I was at a talk recently and Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts asked a journalist ‘what do I do when my son says to me please Mum don’t go to work today, stay with me?’ The journalist replied ‘well kids will always go for the jugular and if you’re staying at home with them you’re doing them a disservice because then they’ll say to you ‘mummy why is it you stay at home and dad goes to work?’. You have to figure out what kind of mum you are.

“I started writing because I knew I could spend time with my kids while doing that, I fitted in writing while looking after them. I started my career slowly and I only really went into food [her food range] when they had finished schooling.”

8. DON’T quit too soon

“Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes before he found the one that worked; number 5,127. Failure is simply the opportunity to start again but more intelligently.”


(will not be published)