Blogging your way to the top: Mother Pukka on life as an online influencer
Anna Whitehouse, entrepreneur and blogger behind Mother Pukka, talks about building her brand, working with family, and her best business lessons
Slouched in her pyjamas, with no make-up on, her hair tied back, breastfeeding a baby – Anna Whitehouse's latest Instagram post isn't exactly an image that's synonymous with the glittering social media site.
But for her 132,000 (and growing) followers it's exactly what they're looking for.
A professional vlogger, Whitehouse, or Mother Pukka as she's best known, has been running her online blog “for people who happen to be parents” full time since January 2016.
A former journalist and copywriter at the likes of Grazia, Time Out and Tommy Hilfiger, Mother Pukka has amassed a massive social media following by speaking openly and honestly about life as a parent in a fun and colourful way.
Very much a family affair, Whitehouse is often joined on-screen by her two children Mae and Evie, as well as her husband, and business partner, Pappa Pukka, even Grandmother and Grandfather Pukka get involved.
Having partnered with the likes of Glamour, Primark, Citroën and Conrad Hotels, Whitehouse is yet another example of how major brands are increasingly turning to online influencers as a legitimate form of marketing.
During her appearance at the Festival of Marketing, Whitehouse took time out to talk to Startups about building her Mother Pukka brand, life as an online influencer, working with her family, her best business lessons, and more…
On your website you describe yourself as “a Sellotape-over-the-cracks kinda gal who has one USP: determination”, what drives you to succeed?
“It’s from a very primitive, maternal place inside. It’s never comes from anything other than wanting to put fish fingers, chips and beans on the table and Paw Patrol on the tele.
“That’s the driver, but it’s also the recognition that that’s what my audience wants to do too.
“So, let’s bring conversation around that, so it’s not just about me broadcasting, it’s a conversation between me and my followers.
“That’s really what keeps it going, I keep them going, they keep me going.”
What would you say is your highest achievement to date?
“When you talk about success usually your thoughts go towards something monetary, an accolade or some little moment.
“But all it is for me is choice. The choice of when I work, of where I work. It's the choice that when my child is not well I can be with her.
“My focus hasn't been financial, it’s always been about creating a better work-life balance for my family.”
What business lessons have you learned?
“I think having a good idea is actually really underestimated. There's no point flogging a dead horse. It's a really hard thing to say, but I don't believe that everyone can set up a business and be successful. I think lots of people want to do something, so they quickly pick a lane.
“Think about it so carefully, talk to those who you trust – not necessarily your partner. Talk to former business colleagues, who you really value their opinion, about your idea, about the name of it, and how you're going to communicate it – and get feedback.
“Once you then have that kernel of an idea, then you can wildly see what might possibly work.
“I started Mother Pukka with just a Facebook page, and a really random logo which I no longer use, but I knew what it was going to be, and where it was going to go. I had a strong vision for it.
“That initial moment of stepping into the public domain doesn't have to be perfect – but your idea has to be watertight.”
“We're now in a social media era where marketing your business online, on sites like Instagram, is to a certain extent free. You obviously have to create the content, but if you're clever with it, you can do a lot with very little. Which you couldn't maybe five or six years ago.”
That initial vision you had for Mother Pukka, has it deviated at all? Where there things you tried that didn't work?
“I set up Mother Pukka with three basic words, and I think every business needs to keep it simple at the beginning and have a really core focus, but it was: humour, colour and honesty.
“I've never strayed from those three things. I've grown as a I person and I've changed, my clothes have changed, my kids have changed, everything around me has changed.
“But those three things, they remain integral to what we're doing as a brand, and it is a brand. I've never gone into this as a vanity project – I don't have time to be a vanity project.
“I wanted it to be professional from the start, but being professional doesn't mean you have to communicate perfection.”
“Professional is in terms of how I deliver my content, I want to edit properly, I want to have high-res images on my website, I want to not have spelling mistakes in my copy. Again, striving for those kind of standards is free, to an extent.
“Taking time to edit copy, taking time to write your captions instead of quickly putting them up all adds to your brand's value and to how people perceive you. Those things have always remained important to me.”
You talk a lot about your “brand”, what's the difference between Mother Pukka the brand, and Anna Whitehouse the person?
“I think what you see is what you get. I mean, I'm obviously not videoing arguments I'm having with my husband over the dishwasher, that would not be good for anyone's mind.
“But generally, the two have merged because I have found a job that I can work around my life and that can help others feel less alone.
“If that means capturing a little bit of my slightly shambolic, at times, life where it's messy then so be it. But I'm sometimes dressy, sometimes I'm in my pyjamas.
“We're neither one or the other. We're a multitude of things as women, as men, as people.
“So, it's not an act or anything. There's not two separate people. I'm just bumbling through and taking people with me.”
You work with your husband Papa Pukka, what's it like having a venture together?
“Its less weird than it seems. It's definitely caused issues along the way, we had to edit each other in the book we wrote together – which no couple should ever have to do! That's just not good for anyone.
“We've certainly come a cropper along the way, but no more than we probably did before. The equality of it is something we never saw coming, in the sense that we both could celebrate the book launch because we both wrote half of it.
“We both work hard towards Mother Pukka, because we both see the benefits that come back to our family. It's not that he's going off doing his thing and I'm doing my thing, we're running it as a unit.
“That includes the good, bad and the ugly, and I have to accept they'll be a fair amount of ugly in there, we're human, but if you can navigate through that the benefits are really there, both in terms of flexibility and earning potential.”
You've worked with some big brands, like Glamour and Primark, how do you attract such big names? And how do you choose who to work with?
“The main focus for us is that the brand is accessible. We wouldn't work with Louis Vuitton or Chanel, not that they'd ever come a knocking! Because no one out of my friends can afford that. It's not that there's anything wrong with them, it’s just not what my audience looks to.
“I am really careful about brands we do partner with, there has to be a use for our followers. We did a project with Reading Eggs, an online education system, and it helped kids learn English and Maths in a fun way, and that's useful for everyone.
“In terms of attracting the big brands, it comes down to quality content.”
“A lot of people were nervous that I called my blog Mother Pukka because it might put brands off.
“I was like ‘No, I'm just picking a name. They'll be loads of brands that don't want to work with me but the ones that do are the ones who'll want to say something different than what's out there at the moment'.
“Low and behold that's what happened, people aren't put off by the name. It's a bit like in fashion with the brand Acne Studios, it’s called Acne but it’s done incredibly well because it’s a brilliant clothing brand.
“The label almost becomes irrelevant if what you're doing is good quality and something people are engaging with.”
What would be your best bits of advice for someone looking to become an online influencer?
“Start by writing the three things you want to be down. Because if you don't know who you are, nobody else is going to know who you are.
“Look at what you're doing and see is there something that can differentiate you from all the other blogs and businesses out there. Think about your unique selling point and what sets you apart? We're all individual, we all have something.
“I'm writing about the same parenting stuff everyone is writing about, but I've just packaged it differently.”
“It could be your tone, it could be what you wear, it could be how you raise your kids, it could even be how you don't like photos of your family online so you're doing an anti-sharing post.
“It's whatever you genuinely feel, but don't follow the crowd because you won't be heard. Stick to who you are and realise success just doesn't come overnight.
“There are so many people who give up after a year because its just not working, it took me nearly three years – and that's relatively quick in this world.
“You have to keep going, with absolutely no return, for a very long time. But the graft has to be there – I've had significant hair loss over the past three years!”
How much outside help do you get? Is it just you and Pappa Pukka?
“We have a manager, which is something I think that definitely helps. They manage all the brand projects. I do all the content in terms of filming and shooting.
“We have a photographer who does more polished images, so we do that shoot once a month with Charlotte Emily Gray for our website – because I'm not a photographer.
“We also have a video editor who helps out when I'm too busy, so we have someone on standby if we have client requests.
“But generally, it's just us writing, shooting, and living!”
So, what's next for Mother Pukka?
“We're looking to talk more about parenting in a way that unites people but doesn't have all these different terms like helicopter mummy, yummy mummy, scummy mummy, instamum, mumsnet, its just one group of people trying to keep smaller people alive and trying to laugh more than we cry.
“In doing that, we're looking to write more books. We've just published Parenting the sh*t out of life and we'd like to do more TV, write scripts, and try and just articulate a modern parenting message that you're doing a lot better than you think.”
Want to know how you can build a successful career by becoming the next vlogging sensation? Read our guide on becoming an online influencer here.