My Early Hour: Tina Marshall, founder of Creating Sense

She has two sons under the age of four and is running her own marketing consultancy business Creating Sense. We talk to Tina Marshall about early mornings, breastfeeding while pitching to a new (high profile) client and the relentlessness of motherhood…

Tina Marshall, 40, lives in Oxfordshire – where she was born – with her Husband Rol and their two children Toby, three, and Archie, 21 months.

What’s your home/home life like?
Busy. We try to keep on top of the boring things like housework, but to be honest we skim the surface, there is always something else that has to be done. The boys have a tonne of energy and they simply don’t stop. We have a lot of fun, and they are very affectionate children, which I love, but honestly – I don’t think we realised quite how relentless having children would be. Even though people tell you, it doesn’t prepare you for it. I remember thinking that because I could handle a late night partying and getting up for work the next day, that would count as having no sleep… Ha!

What time are you up in the morning?
At the moment the better question would be, when do you get to sleep? I’m usually up a few times in the night. The boys both had a bug a few months ago, they played tag team on us for a while and now poor Archie is teething so his sleep is pretty unsettled. Of course I’m paranoid he’ll wake Toby up and I’ll be sent from one room to another (which isn’t unusual), so the short answer is that all being well, we’re up for the day at 6.30am. If Arch has had a particularly rough night, he’ll sleep in a little later and it’ll be 7am when the sun comes up on Toby’s Glo Clock (love that thing).

What wakes you up?
The boys. Always the boys. Arch is in a cot so he’ll wake us up vocally. Toby will come into our bedroom and stroke my arm whispering “Mummy, wake up”.

Tina Marshall - founder of Creating Sense -

How do you feel?
Entirely depends on the night.

What do you do first thing?
I have the better part of the deal. I get the boys into bed with me, (check my phone and see what emails have come in and which I can respond to quickly). I have cuddles with the boys then I get them dressed while my husband is in the shower. He then takes them downstairs for breakfast and depending on the day, I’ll spend 20 minutes doing a personal training programme (it’s videoed for me so that I can do it in my own time and it works around the boys). I then come down and help get shoes on and get them out the door. My husband will take them to nursery and I’ll hop in the shower… I’m usually ready to work at 8.30am or 9am on an exercise day.



In three words, describe mornings in your home?
Two Hungry Boys!

What’s for breakfast?
Cheerios and peppermint tea.

Sometimes you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, believe me I know, but you just have to keep on and you will be recognised, your time will come

How might the rest of your day pan out?
Hugely variable. I might have a customer meeting, I might work from home all morning. I can be working with someone on their product launch, or writing material for a client. Last week I was on the phone to a journalist from a local business magazine as well as another call to a journalist from a national magazine for a client, then I had to prepare my VAT return for my accountant to process and those things always take time. Variable again this week: more PR bits, some work with a US Launch Advisory Group I’m part of, client meetings and chasing new business.

Regardless of what I’m doing however, I pick the boys up from nursery at 12.45pm. My youngest will still nap, my eldest, not as much. He is just starting to drop his nap so he will have a bit of time chilling out and relaxing. The no nap thing is tough from a work perspective because it essentially means that I’ve lost five hours that I had to work each week so I have to be smarter with my time.

The chaos continues with them both when Arch is up at 2.30-3pm. We play, go out for walks, draw, dance, cook, anything really. My husband gets home at 6pm so we have a family dinner together, then bath, bed (boys, not me) and I will usually work for an hour or so if I need to before we chill out for a bit and then head to bed ourselves.

What’s your workspace like?
I’d love to say I use my dedicated workspace, but the truth is tend to work all over the house, so while it’s there, I don’t always use it. Changing location gives a different mood each time and I find myself inspired by different things. The smallest thing can spark off the thought process.

Where are the kids when you’re working?
They are in a fantastic nursery from Monday-Thursday until 12.45/1pm at the latest, but I never like to get them that late, as then it affects nap-times. Having them somewhere they are happy makes all the difference. I work when they nap, in the evenings and quite often on one day at the weekend (I had a client meeting this morning because my client has a baby and it was the only time she had childcare and could focus), which is fine because it gives my husband that 1-2-1 time with the boys.

On launching Creating Sense

Tell us about your business, Creating Sense…
My background is corporate, global marketing. After having my eldest son I thought I’d go back to work after six months but it didn’t pan out that way (I’m bound by a compromise agreement so I can’t say more) and I really didn’t want to travel and be away so much so I decided to work for myself.

At the beginning of 2014, when my son had just turned one, I formed Creating Sense, a marketing and communications agency focused on helping businesses deliver strong go-to-market strategies. As such, I do varied work. I coach small business owners, take on short term projects, work as an outsourced marketing support so that people don’t need to pay a full-time salary etc. Just as I started the business I fell pregnant with my youngest.

When the boys were little I would always try and organise things around their naps, but sometimes it isn’t possible. I had one meeting where I was delivering a coaching session over Skype and Archie woke up early. Before booking the session I did already explain to my client that I had just had my baby and she was good with it… I don’t think she realised, though, that he’d thrown up all down my back (the benefits of Skype).

I had another meeting where the person I was meeting with rocked up early and I hadn’t yet fed or gotten Archie to sleep. He was breastfed at the time, must have been about four months. Again, I had explained that I had just had a baby and she really didn’t mind, so while a successful local businesswoman was flicking through my portfolio and I was talking about my work history, I was also breastfeeding.

Tina Marshall - founder of Creating Sense -

What’s the greatest challenge when running your own businesses?
Time. I have a limited amount of time to make everything happen – without a team to help. So I have to think strategically. I have to be able to answer the “Is it worth it” question. I have made some mistakes along the way, and I expect I’ll make more, but it’s important to learn from them. We are lucky in Oxfordshire, we have a lot of good business support that is offered. The trick is to find the good ones from the ones who are just in it for themselves… those aren’t the ones who can, or want, to help you.

What makes it all worthwhile?
I love my job and I love my children. It is that simple. As frustrating as it can be at times, from both sides, I realise that I am lucky to have this choice, that we were in a position to be able to alter our lives for me to be able to do this.

When I work with a client and I see them absolutely smashing it, they’re getting noticed, their sales are increasing, I love it. When I’m with the boys and they remember their manners, draw a dinosaur, help prepare the table for dinner, I love it.

Are there aspects of the production that you delegate to others; do you enjoy, for instance, the creative side but not the accounts?
I definitely delegate my accounts. It’s too important to mess up and I certainly don’t want to get on the wrong side of HMRC!

Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
Bit of both to be honest. I do miss working with a team and having those people there to bounce ideas off, but if I need to do that now I’ll pick up the phone and call a trusted advisor. The plus side is that I get to make all of my own decisions, I can act quickly and flexibly – and that’s really important in the business world.

What’s the secret to career success?
Work hard. Don’t give up. Sounds corny, but I do believe that good things come to those who work for it. Sometimes you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, believe me I know, but you just have to keep on and you will be recognised, your time will come.

Be honest. I remember when I first started working for myself I kept the whole children thing quiet, as I found that some people do act differently around you and think you’re not as focused just because you have kids. However this bit me in the behind one day. I remember struggling to lead a conference call, muting and unmuting the phone, while I was pacing around with one child on my hip and the other watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Not good!

As for me-time, sometimes I get a lie-in at the weekend

Now, if someone rings in the afternoon or wants to speak to me in the afternoon I’ll always give my disclaimer: I am with my children. Emails are much easier to manage in the afternoons. If I need to do an all day meeting/event, either my husband will take the time off work as annual leave, or my mum and my mother-in-law will come and look after the boys.

Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing motherhood/relationship/me-time/time for friends/career? 
Of course, it’s not ideal, and it can be very frustrating. On the plus side, my husband is very supportive and he enjoys his time with the boys, my friends understand (most of them are really busy too) and as for me-time, sometimes I get a lie-in at the weekend.

Describe an ideal weekend?
Hmm. The boys sleeping through the night.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
Australia. I’d love for the boys to grow up on the beach.

Creating Sense