Gemma Wade, founder of You Say Tomato, talks to us today about how she came up with the idea for her business, and how she runs it on a daily basis, alongside being a Mother to two young boys.
What is your background?
I grew up in Manchester and started work in advertising agencies when I left university. I spent ten years working in London, ending up as an Account Director, managing a team of people creating work for clients like Cancer Research UK, Toyota, and L’Oreal. It was a real work hard, play hard environment and was perfect while I was child-free.
It also gave me brilliant grounding for running my own business as I had been responsible for helping my clients with their marketing strategies, managing costs, understanding audiences and creating ads that spoke to and inspired them. The only difference is that is I did all that with a team of people doing all the parts, whereas now I have to do everything!
When I was on maternity leave with my first son (who is now nine) I was in talks to return but the concept of flexible working was unheard of in agencies then. So after weighing up the cost of childcare versus what I earned and the demands of the job, I left. I was gutted, but in hindsight it was the best thing to happen as it gave me the push to do my own thing.
Why & when did you start your business?
When my oldest son was nearly one, my husband was offered a job in California. We’d just found out we were pregnant with our second baby and were living in a tiny third floor flat in London. Perhaps stupidly, we thought that we needed to move anyway and if we didn’t go abroad now we never would. We landed in California the day before my son’s first birthday. I was five months pregnant with my youngest and we knew no one. It was so much harder than I expected being so far away from home with no support network.
Fast forward to my youngest being a few months old and I was itching to do something but didn’t have childcare. One night over a bottle of wine, my husband came up with the idea that I should teach people to cook. I kept meeting people through my children who didn’t know how to cook. And I did. I’m not trained formally but it is something that I’ve always loved doing, even when I was working crazy hours. So I bit the bullet and in 2012 I set up a Facebook page, advertised my first class and started teaching cooking classes from my home kitchen once the boys had gone to bed.
Because of where we lived, most of my clients there worked or had partners who worked at Apple, Google, Facebook and Netflix — they were doing amazingly complicated jobs but didn’t know how to cook. And because I was a busy working mum and surrounded by struggling parents, I knew what types of meals and techniques were realistic and useful to them. Unlike most cookery schools or cookbooks, the meals I taught them were things they actually found useful and most importantly they were things that the whole family would eat so I was saving them time, money, drama and avoiding waste.
In 2015, after three years of running my business there, we decided to move back to England. I had to start from scratch, building up clients and getting known. I still go back to California to teach once a year and lots of my clients there use my monthly meal plan subscription. Now I teach throughout the UK and help loads of busy families cook with my meal plans and recipes.
Where do you work from?
I work from home at the kitchen table most of the time but sometimes I have to grab my laptop and go and sit in a coffee shop as it can get a bit lonely at home. I teach from home and it is also where I do all my recipe testing, filming and photography — when we moved back we rebuilt a house and as part of the build I could design a kitchen that worked for teaching as well as for family life. I also run supper clubs locally and go and teach in people’s homes throughout the UK.
How many people do you employ?
I have a virtual PA who does a day a week helping manage bookings and keep my website updated. I only started working with her last year but she’s amazing and has helped me stop using all my time on things that don’t grow the business. Now I can spend more time writing and teaching. I also have someone I can call on when I want more properly-produced videos made or if I need any advice on social media as her business is helping small businesses with those things. I do everything else from going to the shops to the washing up, writing, website updates and all my social media. It is full on but I think anyone who runs their own business amazes themselves at the things they have to learn and get on with.
Where do you get your inspiration from/new recipe ideas?
I love food so whenever I eat out I make notes of flavour combinations I want to try at home. I spend too much time on Instagram following other cooks too. Most of the time my inspiration comes from the day to day hustle of cooking for my family. I’m always striving for new ideas to get delicious food on the table without too much time so I’m always looking for ways to cut corners without using processed foods or without sacrificing flavour.
How many children do you have – and their ages?
I have two boys, my youngest is seven and my oldest is about to turn nine.
How do you balance work and your own family life?
It is hard. Working from home means I’m not great at having boundaries. It is too easy to quickly check my phone and I tend to get inspired to write or post on social media I’m making dinner which is also when the boys are around. It is the price I pay for being flexible enough that I can go to assemblies, pick the boys up from school and be around them so much. They’re really proud of what I do and its all they’ve really known. I’m trying harder to be realistic about what I can actually get done in the time I have and say no to things that aren’t going to help my business get to where I want it to be. It is a daily struggle but I think that’s the same for most women once they have children — whatever they decide to do. I think that makes the recipes that I share relatable though.
What does the future hold for your business?
I’m working on my first cookbook and I’ve just launched a service where I send people weekly meal plans, shopping lists and recipes — all designed for busy families. It launched in January and I’m having amazing feedback so I’m working on ways to get more people on board and spend a week each month writing the next month’s installment. Personally I’m hoping for more time to just be and to live in the moment a bit more as well as for more time to see friends and family.
Follow Gemma at You Say Tomato:
Written by Editor, Jess Soothill