Mumsnet co-founder Carrie Longton
Mumsnet co-founder Carrie Longton
A view from Carrie Longton

Mumsnet co-founder Carrie Longton: 'Flexible working makes economic sense - it's not about being nice'

Carrie Longton, co-founder of Mumsnet, shares her belief in collaboration, flexible working and "doing good deeds in a dark world".

Stay true to your roots. The first few years when we were working from home with no income were sometimes hard going. But every so often a user would email and say they couldn’t have made it through the past few weeks without Mumsnet and that made it all worthwhile. Our aim is to make parents’ lives easier and everything we do has to fit in with that core purpose. Like all web businesses we constantly have to adapt to the changes going on around us, but it’s key not to lose sight of your initial motivation.

You know more than you think you do. In a previous life I produced TV shows, and the skills I acquired – working out what an audience wants, coming up with new ideas to enthuse them and responding to their reactions – have turned out to be surprisingly transferable in helping brands connect with parents. It also helps that I’m a mum; I knew all those sleepless nights wouldn’t be wasted. I’m a campaign planner, but also a consumer. So much of marketing is asking "Would it work for me?"

Collaboration is the key to successful business. Whether it’s brainstorming with the team, with brands or even asking the Mumsnetters for their opinions, I have always valued teamwork and think you can achieve so much more in collaboration than by working alone.

Mums often surprise. It can be tempting for any industry to indulge in a bit of groupthink or cling to long-held "truths". Actually, mothers are not one homogeneous mass and they’re not twee; they’re bright, irreverent and not always striving for perfection. They want real conversations that acknowledge this.

Mumsnet users were leading the way on peer recommendations before we knew the term existed. Having my first child was both wonderful and surprisingly tough. She was covered in eczema and there was no Mumsnet to help me through that first year. We’ve been successful because the site answers that desperate need to connect with someone who has been through similar experiences. This trust in shared experiences holds true whether you’re talking about a colicky baby, a tricky relationship issue or working out which car is right for your family.

Flexible working makes economic sense – it’s not about being nice. One of the reasons we set up Mumsnet was to try to have more time with our families. I’m not sure that’s always worked, but I work a four-day week and make a big effort to get to netball and football matches. People work harder and better if they are able to balance work and family. Too many highly skilled people end up leaving the workplace because they can’t make work and life compatible. That is just bad for business.

I hate early mornings. I’m always in awe of those profiles that have business-leaders getting up at 4am to do hours in the gym before breakfast board meetings. I get up because if I didn’t, no one in my family would make it to school. But being a parent and working part-time makes you much more disciplined about how you work – you make every minute count.

Being authentic online is not an optional extra. Being seen to listen and ’fessing up if you make mistakes is vital if you want to build trust. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, and we’ve always been transparent with our community. Brands have more to gain from genuinely engaging with consumers than they have to lose from any critical comment.

Try to do a good deed in a dark world. Lots of brands do this, but many are nervous about talking about it. If you can demonstrate that your company is having a positive impact on the world, you will do particularly well with parents – as long as the message is authentic and genuine. On a personal level, I wouldn’t mind having it as my epitaph either.

Mumsnet is hosting its first ever conference on marketing to mums, Mumstock, at the Tate Modern on 23 April.