Michaela Alexander is the founder of Miles & Mia, an independent creative company that provides fun educational tools. She is the author of Miles & Mia A-Z book, a book series based on the real-life adventures of her children, that aims to bring diverse representation of characters in children’s books. She launched her business just ten months ago.
What drove you to start your own business?
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and ambition. I am an ideas person so it was just a matter of time for me.
When my daughter Mia was two years old, she would say she wanted her hair to be long just like ‘Elsa’ from the Disney film Frozen. She would say that she didn’t like her natural (afro) hair because it looked like ‘warwasasee’.
Warwasasee is a fictional name created by my son Miles and Mia for things they did not like or thought looked funny. In this case, it was clear to me that she was not fond of her own natural hair and that made me sad as her hair is beautiful.
It made me realise that this is not an isolated problem and the lack of representation does not help the situation. I noticed there was still a huge gap in the UK book market for books with characters of colour and that is when my ‘lightbulb’ moment happened! It was quite simple from there. I wanted to be sure my children, and all children, could relate to current literature and be represented.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
I used to organize events and I was the Club Manager and licensee of Ministry of Sound, in London. There I met a lot of people, from many walks of life. I started working on Reception, quickly working my way up through the company to Club Manager, before leaving to work as a freelance events and tours manager. Then I had Miles and Mia and I am sure most parents can understand this; having children changed my world. I can truly say they inspired me to get writing.
Vision is everything and I knew I wanted the book series to be both educational and relatable, I am a single mother of two curious children learning about the world – it had to be!
I decided to put my mind into creating these books when I found it difficult to answer Miles & Mia when they asked why there were not many books with children that ‘looked like them’. I asked myself the same question and thought, well, JK Rowling was a single parent and that encouraged her to create.
Sometimes the first step is so hard because you worry about the risk and you are judging yourself …harsher than anyone else will. The first step for me was to be sure I had the right support. Things sound easy on paper, but balancing two children and a job well, where do you find the time?
After I sounded out the idea with a few close friends, I spent 18 months doing market research. I then wrote a business plan and approached the East London Small Business Centre. They provide small businesses like me with a start-up loan as well as advice and guidance on starting up a business, which is crucial. It encouraged me to believe in myself and to go for it.
How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
I can honestly say that at this stage, I am focusing on step by step. So getting the first book written and ‘out there’ was step one, engaging with customers and hearing and taking heed of their feedback is another step.
I also like to set myself goals and keep pushing to reach them. Whilst I have a business plan, I also know that things can change and it’s no good being set in my ways and better to keep an open mind.
Social media is a direct conversation with my audience and I’ve used it to my advantage by constantly reading and considering feedback. I want to give people stories that both the reader and those being read to, enjoy. I knew there was definitely space for an alternative spin on the usual A-Z and on a personal level, the book answered Mia’s question! Doesn’t every parent want to be able to answer their child’s question with a reasonable answer?
Can you describe a typical working day?
Right now I am chauffeur, cook, cleaner and entertainer to my children- that’s my unpaid job! I am also currently working at a sixth form college and spend the other hours creatively thinking. I make notes on my laptop or phone to record ideas when I am on the go. I do sit down with Miles & Mia as any parent does and note down their adventures, after all, the books are inspired by their adventures!
What has been the most amazing day in your entrepreneurial life so far?
I have been blessed with a few amazing days but believe me, there have been blood, sweat, and tears. It’s not been easy, but it has been fun. I feel like the fruits of my labour are those precious moments.
I glowed for weeks after opening the first boxes of books. It then felt ‘real’. You spend so much time looking at the creative and the copy, making changes here and there and then all of a sudden it’s a real book! Sitting down with the kids and reading the book and then getting their thoughts.
Another amazing day was when Miles & Mia A-Z won Gold at the Mummi awards These awards have big and small businesses shortlisted, with the public voting for their favourite. The feedback I got was great, so it makes me proud and happy to know that lots of readers – parents and children, have been enjoying the book together. I want to send a big thank you to everyone that bought the book and voted.
What has been your scariest moment?
Not getting the books delivered on time. I know that deadlines and times can change, but I just wanted to know that the books would arrive when I had told Miles & Mia they were going to see it. Being a small business, I have to get used to changes and setbacks. Also, every penny has to be a super-wise investment.
Being creative and ambitious. Just like with A-Z, I remember thinking, but they have not had (this type of book) in the UK, why not now? I like to take on the challenge.
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
Creative direction. It’s 100% activity that my family enjoys and want to do. I know I am lucky but it also means that you are hitting the ground running faster than an athlete. I have enjoyed directing the visuals too! They really bring the words (or letters!) to life!
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle them?
Being your own boss can also mean you never switch off. Now that I have completed book one I am learning from that whole journey, I promised myself to have to have more ‘timeout’ because it’s healthy space.
We all know that you can’t do everything on your own too! I am lucky to have people around me that can give support.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
I like entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey and Pharrell Williams. Business leaders that take risks and constantly strive to take their business to the next level really inspire me.
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business? And who was it from?
My business advisor Jeff Gilbert from The London Small Business Centre (LSBC) was the first person to suggest that I self-publish, which was the best long-term business decision I could make.
When I needed legal advice and help with contracts and copyright law, Jeff introduced me to various contacts in the legal sector helping me quickly overcome these challenges.
What are the three books, websites or resources (professional or personal) that you would recommend to other business owners?
Without the help and support of Jeff and The LSBC I would not have been able to turn my dream into a reality:
A book that really inspired me and changed my way of thinking was ‘The Secret by Rhonda Byrne:
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
I rarely switch off from the business, it’s a 24-hour job and my way of life! On the rare occasions when I have time to myself, I do love to light some scented candles – Jo Malone is my favourite go to brand. I find them calming and soothing which is just what I need after a hectic day! I also enjoy nature programmes such as Planet Earth