Annie Merrylees – founder of My Big Buddy

My Big Buddy, London’s leading male nanny agency, was established in June 2006. The Founder, Annie Merrylees, felt that some children would benefit from the encouragement, care and enthusiasm of an energetic male role model. After huge success with the idea in London, My Big Buddy has since launched in Melbourne with other Australian cities yet to follow!

Annie worked as a Nanny in both Melbourne and London for over 12 years before launching the company. She uses her experiences and training to recruit and guide the Big Buddies whilst offering support to both families and candidates throughout their placements. Candidates are all met individually by Annie, or a member of her carefully selected recruitment team, reference and ID checked. A recent Working With Children Check is a condition of registration as well as a thorough induction on responsibilities, family expectations and routine.

This thorough recruitment process and well established network is what makes My Big Buddy Melbourne’s leading Manny Agency!

As she says: “We have always had the Nanny but now we have the ‘Manny’ – the Male Nanny! The ‘Manny’ is fast becoming the latest ‘buzz word’ in town and he is a highly sought after addition to the busy lives of Melbourne parents. Whilst Mary Poppins has typically been every parent’s childcare dream, many families are now coming around to the idea that a spoon full of testosterone is often more effective than a spoonful of sugar!”

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Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

Working as a Nanny in London, I noticed a gap in the industry for male carers. No male nanny agencies existed and the regular agencies had little to no males on their books. The three boys I looked after had a great rapport with their male teachers and coaches, in fact they’d actually behave differently in their care and play up a lot less.

I decided to start a small agency supplying guys on an irregular basis to families who needed casual assistance with school-age children. The idea was to provide a ‘Buddy’ to kids to actively entertain them and relate to them on a different level to the females in their lives.

After a few months of trading, the benefits of the male role model were so clear that families preferred their Buddies to work regularly and what was once a casual 3 hour playdate became a 5 day a week school run. The crux of our business is now daily school runs and full time ‘Mannies’.

Please explain your business model.

There are two divisions of MBb – Permanent and Casual Placements. The casual clients either pay one-off fees as they book or take out an annual membership to book the candidates directly. Memberships roll over every year regardless of if a family is using an existing Buddy or needs a replacement.

Permanent clients pay a one-off fee for the placement of an individual candidate on a minimum 12 month contract.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? 

Whilst the London agency is ticking over and under the control of a local manager, I’ve relocated to Melbourne to officially launch here. With the summer and school holidays upon us, we’ve already been inundated with enquiries and bookings so I’ve certainly hit the ground running. The model is perfectly transferrable and with our UK reputation, clients and candidates have the confidence we need to grow quickly.

How do you make ideas happen?

We simply answer the demands of our clients. If you listen to what they need, you can offer a service that’s tailored to the market. Selecting great candidates is also key.

What does your typical day look like? 

Candidate registrations, chatting with clients about their specifications, mentoring Buddies, planning events such as school fairs and children’s parties.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

Finding candidates seems to be our biggest challenge so far. In London we never advertise as the network is so large that we rely simply on the boys passing the word around. In Australia we are in the early stages of starting that network, so it’s going to be a few months before we can rely on word of mouth.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Listen to your clients and grow with their demand.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment? 

Sharkey and George Children’s Party Planners

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

I think TOMS Shoes (their 1 for 1 scheme) is a great example of business playing a part in social change.

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

PR and marketing help would be of huge benefit.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Tall Timber, Melbourne. 


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