This week’s Woman in Progress is someone we haven’t yet met in real life, but pretty much stalk anyway as we’re always following in her wake around the loveliness of Cambridge as seen on her Instagram feed. Katie Underwood is, in her own words, a food lover and restaurant professional, now carving out her own path in the industry around her 3 kids, with her PR and social media business. And the access she has to Steak & Honour burgers…not that we’re jealous or anything.
Katie Underwood, hospitality PR and social media guru
I'm a former restaurant manager now running my own hospitality PR business in Cambridge, specialising in Social Media. My husband is half of Steak & Honour - and for the last 5 years I’ve run their SM platforms, as well as a lot of other work behind the scenes! In essence I’m a food lover & restaurant professional. I write about it and take rather a lot of photos, but I’ve had to create a new role for myself in the industry now that I have 3 small kids.
What’s the one thing in your life that makes things easier?
My husband. When people ask me how I can run my own business when I have 3 under 5s, it's honestly because he shoulders a lot of responsibility. Something has to give. And for me it’s the household… laundry, shopping, cooking, all the details... he does those.
What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?
My iPhone. I work on my phone constantly: taking photos, running social media campaigns and engaging with prospective clients. New technology has given parents the chance to work flexibly. Always having work in your hands can be a huge burden, but technology has levelled the playing field and allowed us to be part of the conversation. I was particularly grateful for my phone during the years I spent breastfeeding!
What’s one thing that you would stop if you could?
Cambridge is a very tough climate for independent shops and restaurants. Rents are astronomically high (mostly thanks to the University who own most of the land), and only high-volume chains have a great shot at making the numbers work. It's very hard for an independent to fight-off chain competition for a prime site, and also hard to set prices low enough for the public appetite. I would love to see an end to this, and a shift in consumer attitudes.
What one piece of advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?
5 years ago I didn't know many people in Cambridge. I think I would tell myself to be patient and to trust my instincts.
What one piece of advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
A decade ago I was living in Cape Town, and expecting my life to take quite a different path. Then in a few months I would meet my husband, fall in love, and drop academia for hospitality. My personal and professional future was set then, but the breakup with my old life was emotionally very draining. I started suffering form insomnia - I literally didn’t sleep for days on end. In a sense I’ll always feel that I left a part of myself there. If the Katie of today met Katie of 10 years ago, I think I’d most want to show her a picture of my kids. One day, I’d like to take them back to Cape Town to rediscover part of my old life.
What are you most proud of?
Aside from having 3 kids in my 20s and vaguely keeping my sh*t together, I'm really proud when people see examples of my work and then become clients. The best part of social media is the exposure it can give writers and creators. It's a great feeling when someone asks me to represent them or to write for them because they think my tone can capture their brand.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at work?
Surrounding yourself with other positive, ambitious women is really key. They lift you up with them. Negativity and unkindness often comes from a lack of confidence or jealousy, and you just can't engage with it. Just stay positive and keep pushing.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at home?
Ignore the way other people do things! Just make it work. Other people's advice is generally very unhelpful when it comes to your own children. You really do know best. I tend to have all the kids bundling into my bed by the morning and although it’s getting really old, I still don't need your advice about controlled crying (but thanks).
Did you expect to be doing what you’re doing right now?
We always expected to be running our own restaurants, but I just fell into building my own business. My husband is a chef and I managed Front of House, but when I had kids I expected to have to give it all up - at least for a time. I do miss the buzz of an evening service, but in this job I’m using a much wider set of skills. Before I met David I was very academic - I have an English degree, and stepped away from postgraduate life to pursue hospitality. I wanted to make money! So I’ve etched out a career that combines my skills and my interests, and gets me out of the library.
How did you end up doing what you’re doing?
I lived my love of restaurants even when I wasn't working. Instead of sitting at home with the baby I would always get out of the house, even if just for a coffee. I'd take photos, talk to people and places on social media, and made links. Through my food photography and writing, I got a bit of exposure, and business owners started asking me to work with them. It really is a case of pursuing the thing you love.
What top tip would you pass on to other women in progress reading this?
Know your worth. So many of us undervalue ourselves. Juggling a lot of balls – family life and work – doesn’t mean we have to settle. Believe you can achieve great things and demand to be taken seriously – and paid accordingly!
Are you done yet? What’s next?
I'm definitely not done! Once our kids are all in school I’d like to step things up a gear. Expand into an agency and take on staff. The restaurant business is a tough one, and there's huge scope to offer support with real insider knowledge. In the long term we'd love to be able to travel again, open a lifestyle business - maybe a cookery school or a beautiful guesthouse - but I think I’ll always be working towards the next step. I don't want to kick back just yet!