Entrepreneur, fitness fanatic, This Girl Can ambassador and mother, Katie Bulmer-Cooke is the true definition of a #GirlBoss. And, as I discover, she’s every bit as positive in person as she appears on TV.
Many people will recognise Katie from the hit BBC show The Apprentice in which she described herself as a “Stealth bomber that flies under the radar and smashes the competition before they’ve even realised.” It’s this go-getting, confident attitude that Katie radiates. That, and the huge smile that beams across her face when we meet. Dressed in black exercise leggings and a bright orange Berghaus jacket, she’s petite, toned, sun-kissed, with the fresh-faced glow of a 20-year-old and looks as comfortable in her workout gear as I feel within minutes of meeting her.
In 2014, Katie competed against thousands of applicants across the UK to earn her spot on The Apprentice, battling her way through each round, impressively reaching week 10 of the 12-week show. “People had been saying to me for a couple of years every time it’s [The Apprentice] on, ‘Katie you should do that, you’ve started a business from nothing and they’d probably benefit from having someone a bit more normal.’
“Every time I went for a new audition I looked at the other people and thought ‘I haven’t got a chance here’, I was quite intimidated by the power dressing, the girls were all very glamorous and I’m in my leggings and my joggers all the time,” she says. “They [the producers] just kept asking me to come back and I kept saying yes,” she laughs, as if she still can’t believe she was chosen.
Series 10 was the first time we saw 20 candidates compete in the show and Katie along with her teammates-slash-competitors were given weekly business-themed tasks to test their skills in leadership, teamwork, organisation and negotiation. At the beginning of each task each team nominates a project manager, and Katie was chosen to lead her team in week three, which came naturally to the young entrepreneur who called herself “A little bit of a lone wolf” on the show. The statement is made all the more understandable as Katie has worked for herself for the past 12 years.
Katie says on her Apprentice experience, “It’s given me a really thick skin.” She continues, “I expected it to be hard but it was a lot harder – really tough.” There were nights when Katie went back to the house after a task and “Pulled the covers over my head in bed and had a good cry.” She adds: “You haven’t got your mam, dad, your husband and little girl. You have nobody to talk to, you just have to keep it in – that was the hardest part.”
What about Lord Alan Sugar, I ask, did Katie get to see his softer side? “He’s exactly the same off camera. I think people think he has a cuppa with us, he doesn’t. He’s just exactly like what you see.” She says it was ridiculously nerve-wracking to be around Lord Sugar, “I’ve never had knots in my stomach like it. You’d sit in the boardroom waiting for him to come in, you’d hear footsteps coming along the corridor,” she says tapping the table. “Every time he opened the door I used to think to myself…” She takes a deep breath – “‘Take a big breath and calm down.’”
Keeping it in the family
When asked about being business savvy Katie is clear, “I think you either have it or you haven’t.” She continues, “It’s like rhythm – some people will always look ridiculous dancing, because you’ve either got rhythm or you haven’t. In my opinion you can’t teach it, you’ve either got entrepreneurial flair or you haven’t.”
Katie spent her childhood watching her mam, Christine, a self-employed fitness instructor teach exercise classes at local community centres, “Back in the days of leotards and lycra.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that Katie would follow in her mother’s footsteps. “I sat in the corner watching and it was just natural, you know when people say ‘what do you want to do?’ I would tell them I was always going to do the same,” reminisces the 33-year-old.
In secondary school when most girls are preoccupied with their favourite boy bands and the latest fashion, Katie was already beginning to forge a career for herself. “I got my qualifications when I was 16, I was young for a fitness instructor and nobody would give me a chance, so I set up on my own.” Katie taught exercise classes in school sports halls across Sunderland and went on to do personal training to grow her business.
What it takes to be a #GirlBoss
By the time Katie gave birth to her daughter, Heidi, in 2010, she had worked out a way to make sure she had a good work-life balance. “I didn’t have the time anymore to train all the clients I had and teach all the classes, so I had to find a way to help the same amount of people in less time,” she says,
Katie launched The Little Black Dress Club, a six-week personal training, mindset and nutrition programme for “real women” with “Busy schedules, long working hours and family commitments,” very similar to herself. It’s apparent from talking to Katie that she’s the real deal, she understands the concerns of the women she works with as she’s been through the same situations herself. Her before and after pregnancy pictures posted on her website show women what it takes to shape up after giving birth and proves her methods are tried and tested.
Katie admits she owes a lot of her business success to social media,“It’s my life,” she says. “If it went down tomorrow I wouldn’t have a business. I’ve spent nine years building a mailing list and giving people good free content in exchange for their email address.”
Katie’s entrepreneurial flair served her well. She offered other instructors the opportunity to “Buy the business in a box.” She’s gone on to sell the fitness package to 39 locations across the UK, and in Canada, and her online training programmes have reached audiences across the globe from Australia and South Africa to Japan and Mexico.
Katie says it takes self-discipline to make the equally challenging roles of being a mother and businesswoman work. She attributes her career accomplishments to her time spent at the University of Sunderland. “Uni taught me that if you want to achieve something there’s no other way to do that but hard work; it taught me about deadlines and commitment and that translates well to business.” Katie went on to graduate with a First Class Honours Degree in exercise and sports development.
For a woman who clearly has a lot on her plate, I’m curious about how she manages it all? “I chunk my time into either: ‘stuff time’ – doing little bits of admin and keeping the business ticking over, ‘key time’ – working on projects to grow my business, and ‘me time’ – which is where I don’t look at my phone, I don’t check my emails and I spend time with my family,” she explains.
Katie’s smile doesn’t leave her face throughout our interview and her crystal blue eyes light up whenever she talks about her business ventures, and in particular, when she talks about motivating other women. It’s clear she feels strongly about redefining the way women refer to their bodies, so much so, that she recently wrote a blog post about her own stretch marks. “That’s me just trying to say to people it’s alright. It’s totally normal, you’re not the only person with a stretch mark, you’re not the only person without a thigh gap and, you know, a little bit of loose skin – that happens.
“If you’re fit and healthy and in good shape and eating well, and you’ve got those other little things, don’t see them as imperfections, see them as part of who you are.” It’s this refreshing honesty that many women will find liberating in the wake of the I Weigh movement.
Katie may be on TV, in magazines, and newspapers across the country and have businesses that operate internationally, but Katie’s feet are firmly planted on the ground. As a woman who started her business and gained her qualifications in her hometown of Sunderland, Katie is proof that women in the North East can succeed and surpass their expectations with a lot of hard work and a sprinkling of self belief.
To find out more about Katie and the fitness plans she offers, visit: www.katiebulmer.com