Wednesday 28 September 2011

Living Aboard - Part 5: Is it Cold in Winter?

The short answer is no. It is a bit of a running joke amongst live-aboard boaters that this is the most common question that people will ask. However, it may well be a question that you need to ask when you are looking for a boat to buy on the Grand Union canal in London or Hertfordshire. The longer answer is that it depends on your heating. Many boats and narrowboats for sale on the inland waterways are heated with a solid fuel stove. This burns coal or wood and a narrow steel boat can get very hot when the home fire is burning – enough to need opening the window in mid-winter! The advantages of burning solid fuel include a choice of coal or logs as fuel, and the romance of cosy nights in front of the amber glow of real flames. I've had casseroles and mulled wine simmering away on top of mine. The downside to solid fuel is that the fire can sometimes die down to an ember overnight making the mornings a little chilly. You will need to re-black the stove from time to time and sweep the flue regularly.
Solid fuel stove

When I was pregnant with our first child we invested in a diesel stove. It runs off red diesel from the engine tank and maintains a constant heat. It may not seem as cosy and romantic as a real burning fire but some models have an imitation coal flame effect. You can leave the stove safely burning all night while you sleep, and all day when you're out at work. They can, however be a bit of a pain to clean.

Narrowboats can also have a variety of panel or fin radiators which circulate hot water. Alternatively they may be heated with warm air ducting. They either run on diesel, or run off the existing diesel stove or from propane gas bottles. Some systems are electrically controlled so you will need to make sure your batteries are in good condition and regularly charged. Some central heating systems take up very little space but the diesel systems sometimes have noisy exhausts, or electric pumps which can be disturbing at night.

On 1st November 2008 The EU Energy Products Directive stipulated that the full rate of duty should be applied to fuel used for “the purposes of navigation” of private pleasure craft. However, boaters can declare at the time of purchase what percentage of the fuel will be used for domestic heating, and this fuel will be sold to the boater tax free.

Diesel can be purchased at marinas and boat yards, and also from working boats who travel the waterways selling a variety of fuels. Working boats will often sell coal, smokeless fuel, diesel, propane gas bottles and other useful products such as kindling or chemical fluid for the toilet.

Both diesel and solid fuel stoves can be adapted to include a back boiler which may heat the radiators and the domestic hot water. On a live-aboard boat you may like to have more than one heating system, for example a solid fuel stove and a radiator system. However, when you're looking at boats for sale remember that most boats can be adapted to suit your requirements.

Have a look at Boatshed Grand Union to see several different types of heating on the boats for sale that are suitable for living aboard. There are up to 80 photos of each boat so you can get a good look at the options available. The real answer is that it is cosy on board in winter, and perhaps this winter it will be you snuggled up on board eating casserole with mulled wine warming on the stove!

Casserole image credit

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Monday 26 September 2011

Back to School

Learning Opportunities at the London Canal Museum

How do your children or grandchildren feel about their history lessons?  You can support their education and ignite their enthusiasm for history with a visit to the London Canal Museum. They offer an exciting programme of walks, talks, boat trips and family days. The exhibits tell the tale of London’s canals from their beginnings as essential trade routes to today’s use as a leisure resource.  Visitors can learn about the boatmen, their families and lifestyle and the horses that pulled the boats. The current temporary exhibition ‘London's Other River’ is running until 2nd October. This features the history of the River Lea navigation in East London.
On Sunday 4th September visitors can join a guided walk down the towpath to Camden. The canal walks are aimed at adults but a teenager who enjoyed history at school would be most welcome and would probably enjoy the experience. The commentary is not recommended for younger children. However, the education team do occasionally organise guided walks aimed at groups of younger children with a commentary tailored to their needs.
On Sunday 18th September and Sunday 25th September there are boat trips through the Islington canal tunnel. Early advance booking (on line) is recommended for these. The ticket price of  £8 for adults and £6 for children includes entry to the museum.
On October 25th there is a children’s activity day including roses and castles painting, ice-cream making and a short boat trip to the nearest lock. (£4 child, £2 accompanying adult). The dates of activity days are planned with the school holidays and half term in mind.
Martin Sach, the chairman says,
“We've added more activities for kids to the museum in recent years so now they can build a
bridge and stand on it, work a boat through the model lock, and follow the Children's Trail
around the museum, as well as exploring the boat cabin and seeing our tug boat. Museums
combine entertainment with education so they learn without really knowing they have done
something educational.”
For those who do not live near London The Learning Zone on the museum’s website is packed  full of fun educational resources, including drawings to paint and  colour and a Regents Canal Quiz. There are also brief illustrated notes that can teach historical facts in an entertaining way.
Rebecca Mills, a teacher of Year 5 students says,
“The Learning Zone contains a series of enquiries with key questions and bite size chunks of information, excellent  for developing independent learners in upper key stage 2 and key stage 3 (ages 10 – 14).
There are also great lesson plans for key stages 1 to 3 (ages 5 - 14) in the Teacher zone, the activities are fun and varied with clear cross curricular links, learning objectives and differentiation. Also, in the Teacher Zone you can find outlines of workshops and gallery links as well as comprehensive teacher notes.
Too cool for school? The museum is housed in a former ice warehouse built  around 1862 and features the history of the ice trade and ice cream as well as the canals.

The London Canal Museum
12-13 New Wharf Road,
Kings Cross
London N1 9RT.
Telephone:  020 7713 0836
This article was published in the September issue of Towpath Talk.

Friday 23 September 2011

Living Aboard Part 4: Finance and Insurance

A home afloat

If you're looking for a boat for sale on the Grand Union Canal you will already be thinking about finance. Your budget will determine the sort of liveaboard boat that you are looking for. Whether you wish to buy a second hand narrowboat or a wide beam Dutch barge for sale there are two main choices for finance. You may have bought your house with a mortgage and your car with a personal loan. When you are buying a boat you can do either of these options. It is a good idea to confirm what funding you can secure before going to view your potential dream home.

Marine Mortgages

Some companies specialise in marine finance or boat loans for residential and pleasure craft. This could be secured against the value of the boat. For loans over a certain amount a deposit is often required, to the value of a certain percentage of the boat's value. (The deposit required is 20-30% depending on which finance house it is.) There will be different loan periods to choose from. You will not normally need a survey on a new boat but it is usual to have a second hand boat surveyed out of the water to check the condition of the hull. A surveyor will also give you the option of checking the electrics and overall condition of the boat if you require and may include a current market valuation of the vessel. Some lenders may stipulate that the vessel should have a permanent mooring.

Marine finance is a good solution for purchases from £15,000 upwards. You could also consider using a marine finance broker. They have access to a number of finance companies and can offer you advice on how to secure funding that suits your position.

Unsecured Loans

You can also raise finances through an ordinary bank or building society loan. The advantage of this is that no deposit is required so they can fund up to 100% of the cost of your boat. No security is necessary and they will not require any survey or valuation. However, this option is sometime more suitable for borrowing a smaller amount. A bank or building society may fund purchases up to £25,000 depending on your personal credit history. Of course, with an ordinary bank loan you sometimes are permitted to take a 'payment holiday' when times are hard!


It is a condition of the British Waterways Licence that your boat holds a valid insurance certificate and a marine finance company will also require that you purchase valid insurance. If you are living aboard, marine insurance providers will often add on an extra contents insurance policy to cover your personal possessions, and may list separately the more expensive items such as jewellery, computers, bicycles and solar panels.

So if you are looking to buy your first liveaboard boat, shop around for finance and insurance, and then relax and enjoy browsing a selection of liveaboard boats for sale on line. After surviving the rather dry topic of marine finance you may like to look for your dream boat at Boatshed Grand Union where there are up to 80 photos of each boat for sale.

Disclosure: I wrote this post for the Boatshed Grand Union website. It was my choice to re-publish it here where I hope it is of interest to some of my readers.

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Wednesday 21 September 2011

Free eBook: Narrowboat Families

It's finally here! The brand new ebook, Narrowboat Families. So what does everybody think of it so far? The following writers and media peeps have had a sneak preview.

"I love the way that you describe life on the waterways in such a perfectly poetic way - my favourite kind of Narrowboat Wife writing! I think this ebook gives a wonderful insight into boating life, perfect for any family (or individual) who is curious about what it's really like. The addition of interviews with other boaters gives an even broader understanding of life aboard."
Alice Griffin, author, columnist, travel writer.

"May I say what a fascinating ebook! I read it through 'cause it was so interesting. I am not slightly boaty at all but you almost had me convinced to get on the cut!"

"Peggy's book is a great insight into life as a narrowboater with a no holds barred honest approach with not just the good bits but including two year olds on gangplanks, noisy geese, toilet troubles and all!"
Hulya Erdal Chef/Writer/PR

"What a beautiful tale of your everyday life.  None of the fantasy, just all of the nitty gritty but still romantically beautiful...  I read it all in one sitting and my cup of tea went cold!"

To receive the brand new ebook by Narrowboat Wife, sign up to the monthly Narrowboat Wife newsletter.  Each newsletter includes a round-up of the best of this month's blog posts, waterways news, other random thoughts from me, and a download link to the free ebook.

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What did you think? Leave me a comment below. What would you like to see in a bigger, better, extended version of this book? More interviews? More articles? More pictures? What questions were left unanswered?


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Tuesday 20 September 2011

No Child Born to Die

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend Save the Children's blogging conference with sessions from leading bloggers, prominent You Tubers and special guests.
Although it was a child-friendly event mine are too young to sit through a whole day of grown-up talking. They enjoyed cake, fruit and a bit of cBeebies while I enjoyed Blogging 101: a roundtable discussion led by these expert bloggers:

Chris Mosler, Nickie O’Hara, Kate Gunn - representing Netmums, Jennifer Howze -, Elinor Shields, Mumsnet - Sarah Blakemore, Save the Children

“Health workers are critical to saving lives: they are the single most important element of any health service. Without them, no vaccine can be administered, no life-saving drugs prescribed, no family planning advice provided and no woman can be given expert care during childbirth.”

What can you do?

Take Action!

Share the petition with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and your blog if you have one.

That's it. Easy. Five minutes. Make a difference. Save the children.


Monday 19 September 2011

Narrow Margins - Marie Browne

"Rover has gone bust," Marie's husband told her. As the car manufacturer completely funded their rather nice lifestyle Marie and Geoff suddenly had to sell up and downsize considerably.
"I have a cunning plan," said Marie. "Let's live on a houseboat."
Marie, Geoff, the kids and their dog decide to buy an ex hotel boat in need of some serious TLC and set off for Cambridge with absolutely no boating experience and limited enthusiasm.

Marie begins her adventure by moaning a lot, very conscious of the comfortable lifestyle she has so suddenly lost. I’m grateful for the voice of reason, her friend Helen who tells her to get a grip and realise what an amazing opportunity she has.
“The sun is shining, you have no work to worry about, you’re off on a weird experience, you have money, you’re warm and safe and fed, you have no responsibilities and you only answer to yourself, yep, I can  see why you are so fed up, it must be terrible to be you – oh poor you!”
I enjoyed the hilarity of the couple learning to steer a boat by taking an inland waterways helmsman’s course with ‘Dave’. Marie sees the funny side of learning to navigate canals and rivers on what she describes as a ‘floating coffin’. I have great respect for any family that attempts to refurbish a boat while living aboard (Zoe at her blog Give an Earthly is having a go at that right now!) The Doctor and I are rarely brave enough to attempt DIY. Marie’s boat is called ‘Happy Go Lucky’ and at the beginning of the story Marie is anything but that. But I loved the way that as the story progresses the couple become more relaxed and dishevelled, the waterways begin to change them, and they find out that sometimes less is more.
Although there are several travelogues about narrowboating out there, there are not so many memoirs about family life on board. I wanted to find out about other mothers who had experiences that are similar to mine. How is Marie’s life different to mine? What is it like living on board with older kids? How different is it having a mooring? What’s it like throwing a load of refurbishment work into the mix? I think this memoir is pretty unique. 

Narrow Margins is available on Amazon right now. Why not grab a copy for yourself of this funny story about a family’s triumph over adversity?

Friday 16 September 2011

Living Aboard Part 3: Continuous Cruising

My last article on living aboard explored the mooring options that you have when deciding to live aboard. When you are looking for canal boats for sale you may be also be looking for a residential mooring. However, if you intend to become a continuous cruiser you could have some questions about the practicalities of being constantly on the move.

First, you will need to purchase a boat license for your boat or narrowboat. This is often a ‘continuous cruising’ license from British Waterways. This allows the boat to travel widely around British waterways without staying in any one place for more than fourteen days (or less where local BW signs indicate a shorter period). The Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers state that you must be engaged in a genuine, progressive journey around the network or a significant part of it. In submitting your license application, you agree to comply with the guidelines. If you want to live on a navigable river you will need to purchase a license from the appropriate local navigation authority.

For healthcare on the move you can keep your existing GP and visit a local surgery as a temporary resident as and when needed. For administrative purposes the NHS often require a local address, whether you are visiting the GP as a permanent or a temporary resident. If you cannot use the address of a local friend you may be able to offer the name of your boat, accompanied by the postcode of a local business or canal side pub.

It is sometimes difficult to determine whether a boater is eligible to pay council tax. However the British Waterways license fee covers the cost of a number of utilities a continuous cruiser may use, such as water supply and waste disposal. Boats on fixed residential moorings are liable to pay council tax and this may or may not be included in the mooring fee. Council Tax is charged on a domestic property or ‘dwelling’. Whilst a boat can be a dwelling, it cannot in law be a property.

British Waterways pays the Government a composite levy in respect of Council Tax and Business Rates. So, anyone who pays a boat license fee to BW contributes to this composite levy. BW also pays the local suppliers of sewage disposal and water and pays private contractors for rubbish disposal provided for boaters. In this way, continuous cruisers indirectly contribute to council costs.

To use a local library you will need to prove your home address or have a mailing address of some sort but it does not have to be in the area where you currently live and you do not have to register to pay Council Tax locally.

You can register to vote if you make a declaration of local connection. Contact the electoral registration officer at the council where you wish to declare a local connection, and they will supply a form for you to complete.

If you're looking for a boat to buy in London, Hertfordshire or the surrounding areas there are a number of boats for sale at Boatshed Grand Union that are ideally suited to living aboard and continuous cruising.

Disclosure: I was commissioned to write this post for the Boatshed Grand Union website. It was my choice to re-publish it here where I hope it is of interest to some of my readers.

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Wednesday 14 September 2011

Cancer - my friend's story

I have recently been enjoying a blog called Typecast. It is written by Nickie O'Hara - wife to one, Mum to three and Nana to two (yes, really!). 

Because of her own family's experience with Cancer, and because Cancer is sometimes such a taboo subject, she has started a guest posting series about "your experiences with Cancer" - whether that be your own diagnosis, the struggle with coping with the diagnosis of a family member, the loss of someone to this cruel disease and also some experiences about survival of Cancer.

Nickie's website is a Wikio top 10 parent blog, the Tots 100 top parent blog and she is one of the most influential parent bloggers on Twitter. She is also on a panel at the Save The Children free blogging conference this weekend. I am honoured to be guest posting on her blog today as part of the Cancer series.

Thanks Nickie.

Read my guest post here.

Monday 12 September 2011

I Wish...

I wish I'd known John Lennon

I wish I was a writer. I have wished this since I was a little girl, for as long as I can remember. My mum taught me to read before I even started school. I remember learning to write my name at infant school. I can remember making up children's stories for my little brother on long car journeys in the seventies. I was so proud when a story that I wrote in junior school made it to the front page of the school magazine. When I was twelve I bought a typewriter at a car boot sale. I loved it; I treasured it. I wrote, typed and designed mini-magazines that were inspired by Bunty comics and Jacky magazines. I drew all the pictures too. I loved art, and chose that route into higher education. But a foundation course in Art and Design and a degree in Animation somehow lead me into a secretarial career. I am now a damn fine administrator, typist, PA, bookkeeper, receptionist and so on. These skills have introduced me to musicians and pop stars while managing a recording studio, made me a good Friend of the Earth, (I worked in their accounts department) and elevated me to administrative manager of a neurosurgical operating theatre in the NHS, (I wasn't exactly a brain surgeon but all of my colleagues were). Returning from maternity leave I accepted a lower grade role as a medical secretary so that I could reduce my hours to part time. Then a new government wanted the NHS to cut costs, so they offered me a voluntary resignation deal and here I am, a part time freelance secretary just beginning my freelance writing career.

I lost a friend to cancer earier this year; very suddenly. Loss makes you stop and realise that you may not have forever to realise your dreams.
"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans".
(John Lennon)

I am a writer. I've been writing forever. "I'm a lover not a fighter"*. I'm a mother and a writer. Step by step I am turning my tip-tapping, typing fingers into a business. I know from my hypnotherapist career (- forgot to mention that one!) that whatever you believe about yourself becomes your reality. I don't have much spare time to pitch articles. I wish I had the time to contact agents about the wonderful book I have already written about my narrowboat life. I wish I had time.

But I wasn't given three wishes, not even two: If I had just one wish, I would just wish I was a writer.

Thanks to Josie for granting me one wish. I believe if it is written down it is now out there in the universe, just waiting to be answered.
Josie writes beautifully at
She's created a fortnightly writing workshop and the prompt for this one was "I Wish."
You can read other people's wishes and writing by visiting her blog. I recommend popping over to read her wish post, which is an evocative, descriptive, poetical prose piece about her dream house by the sea.

In truth, I know that no magical elf or brownie is going to grant me a wish. It will be me that makes my dream come true. Watch this space.

"Twist me and turn me and show me the elf, I looked in the water, and there I saw myself!"
The Brownie Guide Handbook

*Quote from The Kinks.

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Thursday 8 September 2011

Little Legacy: A small thing handed down by a predecessor.

When I was seven years you were eleven years
Took my new bicycle for a ride
Stood in the park I watched you ride away
I didn’t want you to, and I cried.

(Part of a poem I wrote many years ago).

This summer the Doctor and I were invited to a wedding at a beautiful, ancient west-country church. I used to visit the churchyard now and then, on birthdays and Christmas to remember my step brother. I’d never heard of viral pneumonia, it happens to the young or the old and came very suddenly in the night. Time is a healer and losses become memories, but twenty years after his death I found myself re-living his funeral on a quiet sunny summer day. I remembered the black clothes that my skinny seventeen year-old self wore. I remembered which hymns were chosen. I remembered following the coffin out of the church and I watched it carried to the hearse. When I looked behind me the whole congregation had assembled silently behind me and stood on the steps in front of the church yard gate. This summer, twenty years on, I laid some fragile tangled flowers on to the memorial stone and for the first time ever I did not cry at the grave side. 

Later that afternoon our friends were married. The church that has seemed so ominously stifling to my teenage self was alive with pride, joy and love; bustling with colours and happiness. The groom was stylish in a deep red suit and wore a permanent smile. The bride was breathtakingly beautiful in the dress of her dreams and their family and friends released wishes of strength and happiness into the stones and foundations of the ancient church so that every molecule resonated with glittering hopes for the future. Outside in the church yard the bells rang out with joy, and we threw confetti over the happy couple. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two young children in their best smart wedding guest clothes jumping and playing over my brother’s grave. 

Little Legacy is a remembrance project, a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors. This is a concept created by Penny at the Alexander Residence blog. The idea is to share a scrap of wisdom that arises from the past, something that connects you to your past and drives you into the future. Little legacies can come from people living or dead and  don’t have to be a memory from long ago. 

At the beginning of their vibrant life together this bride and groom unwittingly gave me an intensely happy memory to re-frame my perception of a beautiful, ancient west-country church. Lives have seasons, everything changes, cycles and circles; a lovely lesson learned.

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Wednesday 7 September 2011

Living Aboard Part 2: Moorings

If you've decided to live aboard a narrowboat your next decision may be where to live. Most boats are not sold with a mooring, so while looking at boats for sale you should also be considering your mooring options.

Residential Moorings

Most mooring sites are leisure moorings which means they are officially non-residential. However British Waterways do operate some residential moorings and a few are provided by boatyards and marinas.

If you register your details on you can save a search for residential moorings and have vacancies sent to you by email as and when they are published by BW.

Residential moorings may or may not provide diesel sales, 240 volt electricity supply, waste disposal, parking, land line telephone, launderette, a postal address or a water point. Consider which services are important to you, and within your budget.  You may also want to check the distance to local amenities such as grocery shops and the GP.

Continuous Cruising

If you would like to travel around without staying in any one place for more than fourteen days then the British Waterways Guidelines for Continuous Cruisers advise that boaters should be engaged in a genuine progressive journey around a significant part of the canal system. This is a requirement of purchasing a continuous cruising license and ensures that popular visitor moorings do not become overcrowded.  This can be a varied and satisfying lifestyle for someone who is happy to be on the move; for example a retired couple, or someone who works from home. Make sure that you read the full guidelines before choosing continuous cruising. British Waterways are currently researching ways to 'rule out repetitive 'to-ing' and 'froing' within the same geographical area'. If you do not have a permanent mooring bear in mind that your boat will be moored on the towpath which could be less secure, especially in inner city areas.

Winter Moorings

British Waterways let out some of their visitor mooring spaces as ‘Winter Moorings’. These can be purchased through their mooring vacancies website at the beginning of October. Some marinas and private mooring providers also offer winter moorings. During the winter months the weather and stoppages for canal maintenance make cruising more difficult. Some boaters prefer to settle down for the winter and then continue to cruise in the summer months. Depending on your situation you could apply for a different winter mooring each year or keep returning to the same place if availability allows.

So whether you are choosing between a second hand narrowboat, a Dutch barge or a wide beam houseboat for sale there are also decisions to make about whether you wish to find a residential mooring. Use the boat search facility on Boatshed Grand Union to view a selection of boats suitable for living aboard.

Disclosure: I was commissioned to write this post for the Boatshed Grand Union website. It was my choice to re-publish it here where I hope it is of interest to some of my readers.

Monday 5 September 2011

Newsletter News Flash

Draft book cover
Good afternoon. And here is the news. If you have signed up for the new narrowboat wife newsletter thank you! But it will be no news to you that there has been no news as of yet. The reasons for this are mainly,

1) The mailing list provider software website RSS feed thingy is more difficult to set up than I first thought.
2) I am concentrating on spending time looking for new clients for my secretarial business and new writing commissions.
3) I haven't finished creating the book cover for Narrowboat Families.

The good news is, the Narrowboat Families ebook is nearly ready, and I have recently had an article published in my favourite newspaper Towpath Talk. It's called 'Back to School' and takes a look at the learning opportunities available at the London Canal Museum (my favourite museum!).

Friday 2 September 2011

Mumpreneur - Fun, Friendly and Achievable?

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What do you think of when you hear the word “Mumpreneur”?
I’ve been doing the Become a Mumpreneur course for a few months and I’m loving it. It’s delivered in bite size chunks to my email inbox in a way that allows me to progress at my own pace without feeling overwhelmed. I already have sixteen ideas on how to create multiple income streams which will allow me to work flexibly from home.
I’ve always thought that having too many ideas buzzing around in your head indicates a lack of focus, but receiving structured tasks and challenges by email is like having your own personal business mentor to keep you on track. I now believe that all of the crazy ideas in my mind can be turned into incomes.
I am mother to a three year old and a one year old, and I am also a part time secretary, and yet somehow I do manage to fit little bits of entrepreneurship into my week.
I’ve read some recommended reading, and jotted down lots of ideas in to my Mumpreneur notebook. I sold second hand books outside my narrowboat and increased my blog traffic by joining in linkys. I set up a Facebook page for the blog and set up some affiliate marketing programs. I pitched a couple of freelance articles. I joined and Opinium the survey site. I also absorbed a huge amount of information about online marketing from attending the Cybermummy parent blogging conference in June. I was initially worried that the event was going to be full of career driven mega-mums, confident and possibly even power dressing. However, I actually had a lot of fun and found that even the most influential, charismatic, high profile bloggers were people, just like me, and not intimidating after all.
I’ve always shied away from any kind of marketing and business studies mistakenly thinking that it would be boring and that I would be no good at it. I had a belief that I don’t have a “business head” and the word “entrepreneur” makes me think of high flying Richard Branson types – certainly not me! But the word “Mumpreneur” sounds fun, friendly and achievable. It suggests that being a mum comes first and the ‘preneur comes a close second. That does sound like something I’d like to be. Becoming a businesswoman is a journey, but I was absolutely astounded to find out that it can also be fun.

This article was first published as a guest post on the Become a Mumpreneur website.

Find out for yourself how fun, friendly and achievable becoming a mumpreneur is and sign up for their free Mum to Mumpreneur in a Month e course.

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