In this latest interview, I chatted to entrepreneur, Claire Skerrett, the founder of Picniq. A brilliant way to discover great family days out, events, festivals across the UK and Ireland as well as helping you to find local attractions in your area. Claire's business growth is impressive with over 600,000 people on following Picniq on Facebook.
1. Claire, please start by telling us about Picniq?
Picniq is the number one destination for discovering days out and sourcing discounted tickets for families in the UK. It provides inspiration and recommendations for parents, makes planning days out easy and brings the best deals on tickets to attractions, events and festivals across the UK and abroad.
2. Over 600,000 people follow Picniq on Facebook. An incredible number! How did you grow the business online?
It hasn’t been easy to grow the numbers, but I think that like anybody, if you’ve got an idea you believe in, you believe in it for a reason. It came from my own experiences as a parent, I had my children and I wanted to start doing things with them. I was looking for things to do but I couldn’t find anything that was. I thought, why don’t we put ideas in one place?
Then parents can look online and find a curated list. We built the website initially where people could search by postcode or via area of the things to do around them. I just sat down and started to manually find events and attractions and added them to our website for people to see. I gradually started writing about it a bit more rather than just creating an online directory and I started a the Picniq Facebook page. It quickly got traction because other parents probably were finding the same issue I was.
3. So how much has the business grown?
Since 2014 when my son was two years old, the business has grown hugely. At that point we had 0 followers, and it went up quickly to 200,000 followers on Facebook and last year we sold 300,000 tickets to attractions, so it has grown really quickly.
4. How did you juggled starting the business around your young family?
When my middle child was two, I started Picniq. I come from an education background. I was a Headteacher at the time and I felt like I understood families and what they wanted when I became a parent it compounded my knowledge. I understood both sides of the coin, not just the teacher side but the ‘real’, at home side as well. I wanted to help other busy parents find things to do in an easy way and it became quickly apparent that other people were struggling with this because they started to follow the Picniq Facebook Page.
The page led onto the blog creation and now we continually post ideas and activities. Some of them are free, some you pay for, there’s a whole range really. And as the audience started to grow, the ticket side of things sort of threw itself at us- people would say ‘well this is an amazing thing to do but how can I find tickets?’ and we were directing people back to the attractions and thought really, why are we doing that, could we make this simpler?
4. How important do you think it is to bring personality and authenticity to a brand?
Really important! We want to keep that personality and connection because I am our target audience, if that makes sense! I’ve got three kids and it is all hectic- you want to do things, but you can only do so much. You have to balance work and everything that’s going on. I have an automatic connection with other parents and it helps me understand their needs. When it comes to our ticket offers, I just want it to be easy. Easy offers, transparent prices, easy to book. It’s the same with the way we create our blogs. I have a small team that help now, I initially wrote all of them. We want to make it simple because people are busy and we recognise that we interact with people in their time off, when they finally get downtime we want this to be easy to connect with.
5. Do you ever feel under pressure keeping up with the pressures of social media channels?
I’d love to do more videos and over time there will be more! We try, and we do have videos of every ticketed attraction we work with. I think video gives people a better sense of what to expect at an attraction. We often create Facebook live videos as well, which is always fun; especially for the children.
6. Do you still pinch yourself to realise what you’ve build from an idea?
Yes and no, it’s hard because I still feel like I’m on a massive treadmill. It’s exciting. I love it and not a day goes by that I don’t enjoy, but as with everything, you get more complications in the equation and it always feels super busy. I’m doing this and I’ve got a young family so it’s just what I do! Maybe when the kids are older, I’ll sit back and think ‘that was amazing’ but right now I’m too much in it. It’s a business and we’ve got a team of 16 now, so it’s always full on!
7. How do you juggle running a company around your children?
I suppose I just do what any working mum does and somehow make it work on a week by week basis. The real bonus for me is that, although I’m super busy and probably the busiest I’ve ever been, I haven’t missed a sports day or a school play, unless I’ve really had to and then its been my choice. There is flexibility which is nice, I didn’t have this in the same way when I was teaching because I was at the school from 7:30am to whenever.
My main way of getting through is living off lists and my calendar. If it isn’t in my calendar it isn’t a reality! If I have a day that’s busy, I know I’ll just make it through the list. A friend of mine also has three children and she had them quite a few years before me. I remember I said to her, “How do you get out the house in the morning?” and she said “somehow, when they’ve arrived, you do what you did before, and you just do more!” And you do!
8. Are you one of those people that when you have a long overwhelming list, do you have to break things down into bitesize chunks, so you can get through them?
On my laptop I have an ongoing list in the notes section, its ongoing and its stuff I need to get done at some point. But I prioritise things at the top and think to myself what must be done today. So, I literally just go about everything in the order it has to be done. I do give myself days specifically for the tricky stuff that I don’t want to do. I need a clean mind and I personally need to be on my own if there’s some tricky stuff I need to work through. Maybe I have to read through contracts or come up with some ideas. I literally just put a day in my calendar a day and I exit myself out from everything. I’ll lock myself in a corner of the office or actually, just stay at home. I have to prioritise, and somethings do take longer but if they’re on the list. I know they’ll get done. My life and work list is intertwined!
9. And you’re doing theatre tickets now as well?
Yes! It is quite new for us. Theatre is something really exciting for families as it is a special event. We went to see Matilda with the kids recently and they absolutely loved it. It just broadens our offering of the types of things people can do. We’ve recently also just launched tickets to some Florida attractions. We added Disney Land Paris tickets last year which was successful. It’s just about providing a breadth of attractions that are in line with what families are looking for.
10. What is a typical day for you?
So, I get up at 6:00am and go to the gym. I come back by 7:30am, when I get everybody ready for school and leave by 8:00am. As soon as I’ve dropped them at school, I head into the office with my husband who also works, and we either grab the train in or he drives in and I work on my laptop in the car. Once I arrive I’m normally liaising with attractions, maybe trying to win new contracts, or reviewing stats or feedback and data on current sales etc.
I meet everyday with our social team and we discuss what’s going on, what people might like to do. They come with some ideas, and I come with ideas and we plan it out. It could be preparing for marketing pieces for attractions we’re selling tickets for or preparing our own promo on a particular theme or period.
11. Where does the brand name Picniq come from?
We really wanted something that would stand out and be short - easy to remember. We wanted something that resonated with what we do and it to resonate with families. Picnics are something you do with the family, they can remind you of that perfect day.
What advice would you give to women out there who are thinking of setting up their own business?
When you’ve got what you think is a really good idea, test it out on friends first, who may or may not think it’s a good idea. But then also look around in that sort of market and see what else is out there. When Picniq was created, we didn’t really know that our market was going to be what it is now. Even so, I still had a keen idea of what it was I wanted to provide, and I think its knowing that what you think you can do that’s better than others. If there aren’t others you’ve got to think why, is there a reason that no-one else is doing this.
I think there’s a lot more support now for women wanting to start their own business. Banks are more supportive, investors too, I think there’s a focus in the world right now around helping women start businesses and taking women more seriously. It is possible if you’ve got a good idea to start something at home, which they may grow as a strong home business, or even grow beyond that!
12. I have a keen interest in inspiring girls to have confidence and do just as much as the boys can. Do you think you inspire your daughter as well?
I hope so. You never quite know as a parent, but I hope so. She is a confident girl, which is lovely, and she is very aware that I am a working mummy and a hard-working mummy. She talks about it, “what’re you doing today mummy” and she’s genuinely interested which is nice. And I think its just, again, trying to show them the balance, and show them you can do what you want to do. I think that when they children come across something really hard, it’s important to encourage them, for example by saying, “yes that math homework is really hard, but let’s work out how to keep going, lets achieve it and finish it- how good will it feel when it’s done”- I sort of don’t let her give up. Without being massively pushy, we’ve agreed that gradually we’ll make it together. I think we just need to encourage kids to keep going- though that isn’t necessarily girl specific.
For more information, visit https://www.picniq.co.uk