Boss Mums: Amanda Cookson

My name is Amanda Cookson. I am a wife, mother, designer and entrepreneur. I'm also anxious and strong willed, with a weird sense of humor. I've been married to my husband Craig for nearly 11 years. We live in Mosgiel with our two kids and two dogs.

Henry is nearly 7 years old, and I see a lot of me in him. He can't turn his head off, he vacillates between intense focus and uncontrolled energy. Sophie is coming up 3, and she's a firecracker. I see my stubborn streak in her. I also think she'll be a leader...the Prime Minister or running a gang. Rounding out the family is Ruger and Jed, our black labs who provide us with a mixture of barks, fur and cuddles. They love heading out hunting, dog food, and pats. They are good boys.

I run Be My Guest Design, designing and printing special occasion stationery. Wedding invitations, Save the Dates, greeting cards, wine labels, guestbooks. I get to design pretty stuff every day, and I feel damn lucky!

I started Be My Guest nearly 7 years ago, just before I got pregnant with Henry. It was a very small, part time departure from my corporate job, giving me an outlet of creativity and 'pretty' that I wasn't getting at my 9-5.  Once I had Henry, the world as I knew it fell apart.  He cried all the time. Screamed. For hours. He wouldn't sleep. My antenatal class was talking about how they loved their baby more every day, while I was thinking 'can I give him back?'. We went to doctors. Colic - it'll pass. You're doing great *pat on my knee*. I wasn't doing great. I needed sleep, and I contemplated crashing my car so I'd get a break. But I always had Henry, and I didn't want to hurt him. I had intrusive thoughts. Thinking about those still upset me. Yet everyone kept saying how great I was doing and how amazing I was... leaving me to it because I was 'coping'. A vicious catch 22. 

Summing it up in a few lines makes my diagnosis seem obvious, but it still took a lot of time to realise what was happening. Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. Very quick to slip in to, a slow slog of medication and therapy to get out of. 

As my maternity leave ran out, I contemplated the future. I couldn't go back full time. Craig worked away from home during the week (he still does) and I was barely better. We talked about part time, about flexible hours, but couldn't agree. I ended up leaving and throwing myself into making Be My Guest work.

Something that I didn't mention about myself earlier? I'm secretly lazy. Some call it efficient. If I have to do something too many times, I automate it. So that's what I've tried to do with Be My Guest. It's a balance of giving my amazing clients personal care and attention, while making behind the scenes as efficient as possible, so I don't need to reinvent the wheel. Creating systems and processes is the stuff that I really nerd out on and enjoy, but there's something about design/creating that gives me peace and joy. I suppose it is a form of meditation, and I lose time doing it.  

How do you juggle working on your business and running a household?

When I had Sophie in 2017, mindful of what happened the first time, I hired help so I could have a 'maternity leave' and realised that I could only thrive as a person, Mum, wife and business with other people's support. Especially as the kids get older and sassier LOL. My second time around was much better, if you were wondering. I preemptively went back onto anti anxiety medication and had an incredible midwife and support system looking out for me. Of course, in true Cookson fashion we did manage to go big, breaking ground on our house extension beginning with Sophie at 4 days old. Chaos, but the good kind.

Last year we had the opportunity to buy the business who printed my wedding invitations, and so, we did. It was a huge decision for us, as I was still only doing part time hours. But to grow Be My Guest we have to evolve. I had built an incredible relationship with my printers and didn't want anyone else controlling the quality and timeliness of my invitations, which after all were the physical end result of a lot of hard work. Plus they were based in Mosgiel and if it meant I could stay away from Dunedin I was all in. Haha.

My aim with work is to hire people who are better than me in whatever aspect I need help with - so I can focus on what I'm good at. There are now 6 of us on the team, 2 full time and 4 part time, fitting work around their families/studies/life.  It is really important to me to be able to give people the flexibility and grace that I so wished for as a new mum.

It's also important to me to support local wherever I can. We use NZ made envelopes. NZ made pocketfolds. NZ packaging. NZ companies for our supplies. This means paying a bit more sometimes - that's how it has to be. People need to be paid fair wages for work, and the people making cheap products overseas are not getting fair wages, or safe conditions. We didn't fight for all our health and safety and employment laws just to send all our work to somewhere that doesn't have any regard for them, surely?

Do you have any tips for other mums wanting to start their own business?

If I had to give someone advice for starting their own business it would be, consider what's important to you. Build your business to align with your values and beliefs. Live them. If you value NZ made, then yes, you will have to suck it up and spend a bit more sometimes. But you'll feel better.

Value yourself. I have seen a lot of people come and go doing similar things to me. They were always so much cheaper. But they burnt out. If you don't price your work appropriately, you can't hire help. You can't wholesale. You paint yourself into a corner. You're better than that. Value yourself. You are worth it.

Show up every day. It may seem hard - or impossible. But even if you do one task every day, that's 365 tasks over a year. You can achieve a lot if you just stick to it (there's my stubborn streak showing).

In terms of work life balance, and the juggle - I don't have balance.  My house is always messier than I'd like. Dealing with kids and working is always going to be hard. But my kids are pretty good at playing independently because they've had to. I try be a good role model: 'this is what hard work looks like', 'this is what sticking to your word means', 'we are all in this together, so can you please put your plate from the floor to the bench before I throw it there because I've tripped over it a dozen times already'. If you're struggling, reflect back on what's important to you, why you're in this in the first place, and what you can offload.

One last piece of advice. You don't have to do it all. In fact I highly recommend you don't, because you'll do a shit job and you'll feel like a shit Mum and that sort of self talk gives you wrinkles.  No-one wants wrinkles. And you're a good mum.


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