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Martina Mercer talks about her award as Working Mum of the Year in the Pitman Training Super Achievers Awards 2014.
Martina Mercer’s father was a bit of an inspiration. Not only did his example encourage her to set up her own businesses from the age of 14, but he was also the subject of her first book.
Martina’s path to becoming a writer has not been easy and it is in recognition of her achievements, in overcoming domestic violence, starting her own copywriting business and setting up a consumer advice organisation that she was recently named Working Mum of the Year in the Pitman Training Super Achievers Awards 2014.
Martina started her first business at the age of 14 after spotting a shop for rent in her local high street. She had left school early and decided to start selling furniture. Her dad was an antique dealer and she had spent much of her childhood going to antique fairs. “I was quite confident about running my own business,” she says.
She returned to school, got her exams and did a degree in English, but she was not able to follow the career she wanted because her marriage became increasingly abusive and controlling. She started running her own business gardening and cleaning caravans to look after her two children, one of whom has recently been diagnosed with autism. However, the violence got so bad – her husband, who was alcoholic, once threw an iron at her head – that the police put a panic button in her house. It was not, though, until her husband threatened to hit her son that she asked him for a divorce.
He refused to leave and locked Martina in the house with the children for a few months. Eventually she managed to persuade him they needed some time apart and as soon as he had gone she changed all the locks. He managed to get back in, though, by persuading his son, who was not aware of the extent of the violence towards his mother, to let him in through his bedroom window.
The violence got worse after that and, although her husband left at one point, he kept coming back so Martina had to get a court order. He paid no attention to any injunctions so she and the children had to make a sudden move to “the middle of nowhere” and Martina was forced to change her name. To earn some money she kept the cleaning business and she began an Open University English course.
Through the internet, which she had not been able to use when she was with her husband, who dragged the divorce out for two years, she began connecting with other people and her confidence started coming back. She wrote a book which was a fictionalised account of her father’s life. “He was a very good businessman and lived an interesting life,” she says, “and he always told me I could have everything I wanted if I worked hard enough.” Her father had been made homeless when he was 10 and had built up a furniture business from a boarded up shop on London’s King’s Road, using furniture he found in skips. He also had bit parts in a lot of films and tv programmes. A US publishing firm published the book and offered her a job as an editor.
Martina then started blogging and began internet dating. Her blog was about all her dates. “I got known as a serial first dater,” she says, “ because I didn’t want any commitment.” The blog attracted a good following and she was asked to write several articles as a result. Work started coming in and she was able to build up a copywriting business, www,martinamercer.com, working from home.
Then she met her second husband Justin. She had gone to school with him and was reunited with him on Facebook. Three years before their first date she had glandular fever and he kept her company playing Scrabble online. He was in a relationship at the time, but when he left his girlfriend the two went on a date. At first, Martina didn’t want to see him again because so used was she to being a serial first dater, but she missed talking to him.
“He was so gentle and kind – the kind of man I would not normally go for. It has really worked out well. He is what I needed and what the kids needed,” she said. Within 46 days the two were married. Martina’s business began to take off and Justin helped out with the children. Three years ago Martina had her third child. Justin was looking after his ailing father at the time who later died so she took just one day off work and had to be hospitalised five weeks after the birth after suffering a haemorrhage.
Since then she has been working around her daughter, often with her laptop on the sofa and her baby on her lap. Last year she started Consumer Voice, an organisation which campaigns for better customer care. At the time she was doing some work on e-commerce. “I could see something was missing between the retailer and the customer. They weren’t listening to each other,” she says.
The site offers free advice to consumers and helps brands deliver what their customers wants. Consumers can leave ratings on companies and their products. “It’s really interactive,” says Martina. She intervenes on behalf of consumers to ensure they get their complaints heard. She spends two hours a day on the site after she has finished her copywriting work and plans to build it over the next few months. “We are giving companies feedback direct from the horse’s mouth rather than from marketing companies and helping them to listen to their own customers,” she says.
Martina’s campaigning and personal achievements saw her nominated for the Pitman award by one of the freelance mums who works with her. “It’s fantastic,” she says. “It’s recognition that now I am getting it a little bit right.”