Our Behind the Business series continues with Kara Bos, who runs the popular survival swimming class for children, Swim4Survival. 

Tell us a little about your business.

I teach survival swim lessons to babies and toddlers between the ages of around 8 months until 6 years. It gives children the skills to be able to save themselves from a potential drowning accident. It also gives them confidence in the water and a freedom of fear of the unknown, which is often what is so scary about putting their faces or heads under water. I started my business because I had a baby and wanted to have more time with him. My job at the time didn’t allow this, so I had to find something that would still be fulfilling but also allow me the freedom to spend as much time as I needed taking care of my son.

I started my business in March 2013 after seeing a video post on Amsterdam Mamas of a toddler falling into a pool and to my surprise he proceeded to swim to the surface and turn onto his back and float. I wanted my son to learn these skills because there is so much water surrounding this country, and because we often vacation near water. Emmy had mentioned that it might be a new job opportunity for a mama or papa here in Amsterdam. I took her words to heart and started Swim4Survival.

Describe a typical working day.

My job starts early; I leave the house around 7:30 a.m. and head to the pool. I’m up and running by 8 a.m., and my first lesson comes in by 8:10 a.m. I teach a new child every 10 minutes until 9 a.m. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find consecutive pool time in Amsterdam even after calling around 14 pools! So, around 9:30 a.m. I’m back home and then taking care of my son for the rest of the day. I teach either four or five days a week with this same schedule, for four to five weeks straight. During my son’s nap, I often do my administrative work, marketing, and of course I head to plenty of baby/toddler groups to network.

How do you manage childcare?

I am fortunate enough to have an amazing babysitter who comes to my house and watches my son for the two hours I am gone. The rest of the time I take care of him, which I absolutely love.

How do you balance work commitments with family time?

Because I only have one hour in the pool a day, and it’s early, it gives me the rest of the day to focus on my family. I love the fact that I can do something so rewarding, and yet have an entire day with my son. I don’t work weekends or evenings, so family time is still full on. Of course, I’m on the computer a lot in between keeping up with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, email and any other possible media marketing campaign!

What do you like best about running your own business?

I love the balance that I have – I don’t have any kind of stress that I’m not giving fully to either my family or my work. When I was working four days a week as a pharmaceutical representative I couldn’t focus on my work because I kept thinking about all the time I was missing out with my son. I looked forward to Friday so much more because it was my day to be with him. Running my own business gives me so much freedom, and at the same time fulfillment because I’m doing something amazing!

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

Surprisingly enough, I haven’t had any large challenges. Filling time slots is always nerve-wracking but my course always manages to fill up enough that I don’t have to cancel. If I had to name a challenge it would have been my first course in Zuiderbad. I had a lot of public watching my course and with anything new comes skepticism. Unfortunately, I faced a lot of people saying I was abusing children, and my parents were even accosted. It definitely caused some questioning of what the heck I was thinking of starting this course in Amsterdam. However, it also strengthened my resolve and as my course progressed and people saw my children’s abilities I gained respect. Not everyone, of course, but the majority and that’s what mattered.

How do you find time for yourself and what do you like to do with that time?

Time for myself is definitely hard to find since I’m a full-time mom outside of my morning shift. Once in a while I have a babysitter and I’ll go to a movie or do some shopping. In the evenings, I’ll meet with friends and go out to dinner. However, since I get to plan my own schedule, time for myself is best spent on vacation! We already have next year planned for traveling to Sri Lanka, USA, Switzerland….

Where does your support come from? Do you have a business mamas network?

My support is mainly from Amsterdam Mamas; without them I don’t know how my business would survive! Outside of that it’s through networking at groups such as Robbeburg, Bouncy Bunch, Cafe Giraf, Cityhouse Coffee & Books, and social media such as Family Market Amsterdam, Amsterdam Mamas, and friends. Word of mouth is probably my largest supporter outside of Amsterdam Mamas and kids’ moms who have already joined my course.

What is the most important piece of advice you would pass on to a parent planning to start their own business?

Since I’ve just started it’s hard to give any advice, to be honest, but from what I’ve learned so far it’s very important to have a good network. A good idea, service, or product isn’t anything without a market to support that. I’m so thankful for a group such as Amsterdam Mamas which has really helped my business thrive.

Originally from the US, Kara Bos moved to Amsterdam in 2009. She and her Dutch husband have a 20-month-old son, Alexander. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and worked in pharmaceutical sales before training in the US for swimming survival lessons and starting up her own business in Amsterdam. For more information, please visit Swim4Survival.nl.

photo credit: Kara Bos

Emmy Coffey McCarthy

Emmy McCarthy was the Director of Stichting Amsterdam Mamas. She is a Mama, Entrepreneur and Connector on a never-ending quest for balance in her life.