Alison Duff – Calmababy

Alison Duff – Calmababy 1 2 3

This involves you attending sessions based at Aston Business School, but what actually happens at those sessions?

Alison-Duff-810,000 Small Businesses is a business growth programme, for small and medium enterprises – and social enterprises – and there are ten modules, totalling a hundred hours, with a series of workshops and one-to-one sessions with a business mentor running alongside the modules. What they’re looking for is high-growth businesses to complete the programme and ultimately create more jobs in the economy. And for me, personally, it really has filled in those gaps, and taught me a lot of things that I didn’t know enough about. They’re all specifically tailored modules, and we come away with practical things that we then have to do, and through that build up a growth plan. All of those modules – HR, Marketing, Strategic Growth, Finance, Sustainability – have had a direct impact on the current
business, but also on the plan for going forward. So, basically, I’m writing another business plan looking forward over the next three to five years. We also get time to go away from the business – which a lot of small business owners don’t get – and work with the university to look at things objectively, at things that can be changed to make a real difference to the people working in the business, to the bottom line and to the customers.

So, what is the plan for the next few years?

We’ll open more centres. Really, that is our growth plan, and I don’t see why there can’t be a centre in every major town and city. And, who knows? Maybe internationally as well. We have actually been approached by people who’ve said: “Open one here!” – but first of all we will expand regionally in the next three years, then in three to five years, nationally.

Is this where you expected to be when you started out?

No! I wanted to set up a centre, to build my own facility to teach my classes, but I had to give up teaching about nine months ago. So I no longer teach, but I do manage the business and the growth of the business. I really miss teaching, a lot, and I miss the contact with parents and couples, but what I do get a lot of satisfaction out of is seeing our teachers in those roles making a difference, and getting the feedback from the parents. There was this slight concern for a while that if I’m not teaching, people wouldn’t come. But of course they do, because all our teachers are fantastic – and there are people who come now who have never known me. It’s great, because the teachers do such a good job. And they really care about the parents and the children. I think that really comesacross and is why people keep coming back.

Who has inspired you along the way?

The people who always springs to mind is Françoise Freedman and Sally Lomas from Birthlight. They taught me a lot of what I know on the teaching side, and I’ve been able to pass that down to our teachers. Most people who have influenced me are on the teaching side. But then there are people like Donald Winnicott, the paediatrician and psychoanalyst, who raised some really controversial theories in the 1950s about children and mothers and the relationship between them. Also,
Michel Odent and his work on natural childbirth and Waterbirth plus Margot Sunderland, from the Centre for Child Mental Health London. On the business side, I’m getting more inspiration from the Goldman Sachs programme than I ever got from anybody. I’m surrounded by 30 small business owners, all of whom do very different things, but what’s interesting is that we all face the same challenges, no matter whether we’re in engineering, PR or Social Marketing.


What advice would you give to someone setting up in business now?

I would say not to get too caught up in the small stuff. Small stuff is important for everyday running of the business, but when there’s an issue, you need to keep focused on the vision and the bigger picture. It’s so easy if something happens to get caught up in the stress and frustration of it, but often it’s quite minor when you look at the whole, bigger picture of your business. And you need
to maintain the work-life balance.

Is it important to be passionate about the business?

For me, it’s everything. I’m quite lucky, because we’re touching people’s lives on a day-to-day basis. It is a nice thing to do – we’re working with people, so it’s very easy for us to be enthusiastic and passionate about it, because you get that feedback and you have that interaction with the little people and their parents. What we do isn’t a job, it’s a way of life

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Alison Duff – Calmababy 1 2 3

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