Belfast Telegraph


By Áine Toner

Some say that women can't have it all, but Heidi McAlpin and Sinead Faulkner have set up a successful business publishing the guidebook Belfast in Your Pocket, as well as being full-time mums. On Mother's Day, the busy pair talk about juggling family life and getting their project off the ground

Self-confessed mumtrepreneurs Sinead Faulkner and Heidi McAlpin have a special reason to be happy this Mother's Day - not only do they enjoy the love of a family, but they've recently celebrated a career milestone.

The busy working mothers operate In Your Pocket Ltd, a Belfast-based publishing company and are responsible for the bi-monthly publications of Belfast In Your Pocket, a guide to the local tourism sector.

Belfast In Your Pocket has recently launched its 10th issue, grabbing a firm hold of the tourist information market.

So how did they get started?

"I used to work in television production, behind the camera. Then myself and my partner Ray decided to travel for eight months," explains Heidi.

"A lot of time was in eastern and central Europe. This was 2004 and the first time I had come across the In Your Pocket guides.

"When we were in Lithuania, I emailed the editors to ask whether they had thought about setting one up for Belfast and they ignored my email!"

Realising she had a workable idea, Heidi waited six months before contacting the company again.

"They replied, admitting they had wondered where Belfast was at in terms of tourism," she says.

"If I could prove it was emerging from conflict, they'd consider giving me the franchise.

"I put the business plan together and used the Invest NI Starter Programme and convinced the editors that Belfast was ready."

Heidi admits it was far from plain sailing at the beginning.

"I was very naïve. I thought I'd put out a fantastic publication promoting Belfast and everyone would be falling over themselves to advertise in it," she says.

"Obviously, it's more difficult than that. We're aiming our publication at visitors to the city as well as locals who want to travel around Northern Ireland."

Business partner Sinead had been working in advertising for 17 years when Heidi contacted her with a proposal.

"She saw the potential and the excitement of working for yourself after working for someone else," says Heidi.

"I have three children - Jack (eight), Naomi (six) and baby Hope (one) and I felt it was time to work for myself," explains Sinead.

"I've travelled around the world and I wanted to work on a publication that offers good insights into what's going on in Belfast and Northern Ireland."

"We work closely together on editorial and although Sinead is involved in advertising, she comes up with editorial ideas as well," says Heidi.

"There's always something new happening - even in the 18 months I've been up and running, I've seen a number of bars open and close," says Heidi.

"It's good fun and because there are six issues per year, you don't have a weekly deadline. There are seasonal features such as in an Armagh and Downpatrick special in the current issue.

"We also want to establish an ethnic Belfast spread to reflect the cultural diversity of the city.

"We put ourselves in the shoes of a tourist when compiling the guides," explains Heidi.

"Tourists are more open minded and keener to explore places that maybe we, because of our historical background, would stick our noses up at.

"I want to showcase different parts of the city that aren't conventionally known for tourists to explore."

"And because we're not tied to anywhere and are independent, we can give the facts as they are and inform visitors exactly how we see it," adds Sinead.

While it's certainly not a nine-to-five job, it hasn't stopped Sinead or Heidi from juggling another important profession - that of mum.

"My baby (Scarlett, four months) has come out to several meetings with me. She's very quiet and well behaved. There'll come a time when I'll get childcare, but at the moment she's very mobile," says Heidi.

"I do get pangs of guilt because she's with me in the office or in the car, but we're sowing a seed here and hopefully she won't think twice about going exploring when she is older.

"It can be difficult, but it's the same for all working women.

"It's hard work but any mother will tell you that," agrees Sinead. "The main thing is to divide your time fairly and make sure to spend time with the children when they're home."

It is clear both women relish the opportunity to work for themselves.

"Being your own boss is a dream. You're only responsible for your decisions and you have creative freedom like never before."

Capably juggling motherhood and a career, the two canny businesswomen are producing a high quality publication without the help of funding from the NITB or Belfast City Council.

"There was a gap in the market for an independent company. I like being independent," admits Heidi.

"What I've found is that many are reliant on funding. While it's great and helps you establish your business, there comes a time when the plug is pulled.

"We're free to do what we want. We want to do that intelligently, to showcase city and country in the best possible light."

€ Belfast In Your Pocket is available at tourist information centres, (plane, bus and train arrival points) and at hotels, bars and cafes.

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