The internet is now helping people reach their business goals quicker and easier than ever before, and this is one of IT’s true achievements over the past couple of years, with much credit due to resources already available on the market. My top ten favourite web applications and tools (in no particular order) which could help your business are:
If you’re like me, your work location changes from day to day. For years I was frustrated by having to remember to put important documents I might need while out of the office onto a memory stick. What happens when the memory stick was full? You'd have to start deleting.
Dropbox is a virtual hard drive. No matter where you are, as long you have synced with the cloud-based tool, you can access your files. Even if you haven't synced, get your hands on an internet connection and you’re good to go. It's also great for sharing files without having to worry about emailing large attachments. Dropbox offers free and paid hosting solutions and is a must have for any start-up.
Keeping on top of projects and delegating tasks can be complicated and time-consuming. Basecamp is a great tool for project management and is full of great features that keep you on top of all of your projects.
It let's you do things such as assign specific tasks within projects to people and monitor their progress. The application has a great feature that allows you to exchange notes on each individual projects that you use a lot, brilliant if you have people working on projects in various locations. You must pay for the application, but it's worth it.
When we first launched, we found it hard to keep on top of all our customer service emails. Email Center Pro provided the solution. It gave us a virtual mailbox that could be accessed online from anywhere. The application is accessed through most web browsers and is full of features such as assigning emails to different members of staff, notifications of new emails, conversation tracker, etc. There are many more features included as standard. This is a paid-for service, but it’s incredibly cheap.
Knowing what you are meant to be doing, when and where is vital when running a business, but staying on top of all appointments can be hard. Google Calendars works well for us – and it’s free. Although it's not the most all-singing and all-dancing calendar application available, it does exactly what we need it to do. We can make appointments, invite attendees, email and send SMS notifications. It's basic, but sometimes that's all you need.
Blogging is now very popular and with cutting-edge applications such as Wordpress, it's easy to set up your own blog site. Blogs are a great way to interact with customers and keep them up to date in more detail than Twitter and Facebook. We decided to use Wordpress because it's growing at an incredible rate, there’s a huge amount of plug-ins and support. It's available as a free hosted solution on wordpress.com or you can download the application for free and host it on your own server.
Keeping Facebook and Twitter pages updated used to be a pain and, in my case, often ended up not happening. Now with the help of Tweetdeck, we can update both our Twitter and Facebook accounts from a nice desktop application. It's so easy to use and available for pretty much all interfaces. You can create an account for access through different machines and it also has a web browser version you can use when your on the road. Also there is support for many other web services such as Buzz, Myspace and LinkedIn.
Brianstorming is a massive part of many businesses’ growth ambitions. Evernote lets us share our notes with others and allow them to participate in our brainstorming efforts. There is a web version and desktop application available for most operating systems and a great mobile version for the iPhone. Free and Premium versions are available.
We needed a telephone number that offered two things – ability to put calls through to multiple extensions and a voicemail service. We chose eReceptionist. With this web application we chose our telephone number, set up our extension landline diverts and set our open and close hours. We were up and running in less than an hour. If a customer calls out of hours they are transferred to our voicemail and we can also divert calls to another landline at a different office if there is no one available. It's a great application and works well for us.
Dale Broadhead, Ink Spark Limited
If you are considering starting a business, my first advice is to study some relevant and successful entrepreneurs. If you also have a burning desire to make the world a better place, you should definitely talk to some very particular people: vendors of The Big Issue.
It is a common misconception that The Big Issue is a charity; in fact, it is a social enterprise. The vendors first have to raise the cash to buy the magazine and then persuade people to part with their cash, the classic model for entrepreneurship.
The people behind The Big Issue are highly focused entrepreneurs with a social conscience. John Bird was raised in an orphanage, went to prison and slept rough on the streets. In 1991 he founded the magazine with successful Body Shop entrepreneur Gordon Roddick.
His foil is Nigel Kershaw, a printing expert who first became involved when they were looking at producing the magazine themselves. Then, they worked on various entrepreneurial ideas, such as Big Issue vendors manufacturing fair trade candles for The Body Shop.
Finally, they followed the path often taken by successful entrepreneurs: to have even more fun by investing in other people’s businesses and Big Issue Invest was formed.
Any entrepreneur with an established track record, a fully functioning management team and a genuine market opportunity can potentially grow their company by taking on inward investment.
My own advice is invariably for them to scale back their ambitions and try to grow the company organically from revenue, or do everything they can to retain at least 51% of their company.
If you question this sound counsel, you should spend some quality time with an entrepreneur who came to work one day only to be suddenly, and often correctly, fired by their investors.
If your business would benefit from inward investment, has the potential to make some serious money and also has a genuine social purpose, then you should talk to Kershaw at Big Issue Invest. They have been running a social enterprise loan fund since 2005 and have recently launched a new investment fund.
Their process is no different to any other venture capital firm. Experienced investment professionals will first examine your plan to see if it stands a good chance of making some serious money and therefore provide a healthy return for the investors.
Then, they will check that the enterprise has a demonstrable social purpose; the day-to-day business activities of the company must also make the world a better place. Big Issue Invest will measure and report to their investors on the enterprise’s social impact.
Kershaw is looking for people with the right stuff, or as he nicely defines it, are ‘six-thirty people’. These are business veterans, who spend eight a.m. to seven p.m. making money and then at 7.01 attend a charity event or undertake voluntary work.
Kershaw reckons that at six-thirty these people have the right combination of business and altruistic mindsets, and therefore might make successful social entrepreneurs and investors.
The terms of business from any investment fund always have specific requirements.
In the case of Big Issue Invest, this might include a commitment to interview or train a specific number of Big Issue vendors for future employment.
This makes complete sense to me; when I walk up The Strand I always make a point of avoiding eye contact with the irritating ‘charity muggers’ but always buy a copy of The Big Issue, as I am always interested in meeting aspiring entrepreneurs.
More importantly, the magazine is always a cracking good read and excellent value for money, well worth the £2 investment.
Big Issue Invest can be found at www.bigissueinvest.com.
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Thanks to the global economy and the internet, the world is a smaller place. And now, hiring staff is insanely easy thanks to the rise of the remote-working freelance.
For a start-up owner especially, the rise of the freelance is absolute gold. Talent is available with a few clicks of a mouse, from the most difficult of tasks to the most trivial. Freelancing platforms such as Freelancer.co.uk give you an almost unlimited pool of ranked and reviewed suppliers willing to bid for your job.
The key benefits are cost-effectiveness and flexibility. As an entrepreneur I have hired freelances for numerous tasks over the last few years, everything from research to SEO, web design to data entry. Using self-employed people has enabled me to match the business needs as and when required, often at lower cost and at short notice.
While this works for me, I know there are a lot of cynics, especially around the topic of hiring overseas at low cost. My response is simple: I want the best expertise I can afford. Sure, I have employed freelances in China and India, but have often hired in the UK and US, too. You have to take a pragmatic approach.
Hiring freelance staff also makes sense where you have an ongoing, specialist job such as PR, SEO or accounting. There are independent experts in every field and outsourcing to one means you are freed up to concentrate on the core aspects of the business.
I know one new company, an email marketing provider, where the MD has a virtual, freelance team to run every aspect of the operation. It keeps his overheads low and makes him very nimble in a crowded marketplace.
The global economy is transforming the way we work. Could freelances transform the way your start-up works?
Recently I went to the #Lex2011tweetup – which was very well attended by nearly 60 Tweeting lawyers and Tweeters connected to the legal profession. As a result, finally I got to meet so many people I’d been Tweeting with for months.
As a result of this event, I thought I would write my guide to organising a successful Tweetup – an ‘in-person’ meeting of people on Twitter.
Getting people in one place at a certain time requires energy and commitment. So, find some other co-organisers to help spread the word and the message. The more people who are well connected on Twitter who get involved, the easier it is to get people to come along.
Unless you plan on making the event a recurring event, pick a time and location where lots of your ideal attendees are going to be present. For example, organising a Tweetup around a conference schedule is a great way to get both Tweeting members of the conference to turn up, but encourages others to also attend.
An event hashtag – eg #Lex2011tweetup – enables people to search on this term, see who is also attending and spread the word about the event.
Tweetups are better attended if there is a purpose. For example, a local Tweetup, such as #Bedfordtweetup or a #Twegal meetup (meeting of lawyers who tweet).
A popular Tweetup can attract 50+ people. Make sure you have gained permission to host the event at the location of your choosing – and if possible get a private room. Most pub landlords will happily let you host the event at their pub and often reserve an area of the pub for you – normally for free.
Use an application such as www.twtvite.com/ to handle the event management. Organising an event such as a Tweetup involves admin. Anything that can help you with this is a must – particularly if it is a free piece of software such as Twtvite, which integrates seamlessly with Twitter. This nifty piece of software sends out a reminder to everyone who has accepted before the event. It collates all the Tweets that use the event hashtag, allows people to leave comments about the event, provides a guest list and shows the location of Tweetup.
Heather Townsend, chief coach and founder at The Efficiency Coach
Inventors, entrepreneurs and start-ups often like taking risks and pushing the boundaries. That is what innovation is all about and surely our world would not have progressed as much if it were not for risk-takers. However, when it comes to the intellectual property (IP), making mistakes can have disastrous consequences. Here are four common mistakes you need to avoid.
Maybe not having a budget to properly protect your IP or trying to do it all yourself. It’s a dilemma: save a few hundred pounds now, while money is scarce, but leave yourself open to risks of potential litigation and significant costs later. Prevention is better than cure and certainly the cost of prevention is much less than the cost of correction/litigation/lost value and investment. Having a budget does not mean it must be huge, but it means access to an IP lawyer (and not only a patent attorney) will help you protect and make the most of your invention.
IP includes a variety of rights patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and other confidential or proprietary information. Sometimes inventors think that if they do not have a patent there is nothing worth protecting or if they apply for a patent that’s all the protection and advice they need. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. You should understand that even if an invention is not patentable, it’s still worth discussing the various options with an IP specialist, since it may be protected via copyright or as trade secret. Think the magic formula of Coca Cola. IP rights when managed correctly can (a) be licensed; (b) be sold/assigned; (c) be enforced against a suspected infringer and protect their owner against competition and increase the value of the invention.
Using a trademark, domain name, design or product without searching whether someone else has registered it or is already using a similar name, design, etc, can be a very expensive mistake – not only in terms of having to adopt another name, domain name and paying extra costs, but also in terms of bad publicity and PR, lost customers and exposure to potentially very expensive damages.
Without the use of appropriate agreements, an inventor may lose their valuable IP assets. An inventor often needs people to perform various tasks, either as employees or third party suppliers/contractors. In each case, the inventor must adopt the correct agreement to ensure ownership of IP and other rights and obligations such as confidentiality, non-competition and non-solicitation. Simple payment for the work performed does not guarantee IP ownership.
Dr Maria Anassutzi, Anassutzi & Co Limited
The recession is grinding towards its inevitable end game, with announcements of public sector redundancies, rising consumer prices and likely increases in interest rates to combat inflation.
While this particular crash is considerably deeper and longer lasting than previous ones, those of us who have been around the block several times know this is just the way of things.
In 1997 Gordon Brown made a bold assertion of “no more boom and bust” and despite his subsequent claim of actually having said “no more Tory boom and bust” it did seem too good to be true at the time. Recessions follow booms just as winter follows summer; the key is to be ready for it.
Recessions are always preceded by unnatural stock market activity inexplicable to ordinary people, who have a sneaking suspicion that insiders are manipulating the system to their own benefit. The next time this starts to happen, my advice would be to reduce your debt radically.
A sensible entrepreneur knows that cash is king, and while it is very tempting to take on debt in the good times to expand the business, this can backfire horribly when the banks suddenly change the rules.
Many of my good friends found their companies wound up by the banks when the recession began to bite two years ago. It could be argued that this is a good and natural part of Darwinian evolution, the survival of the fittest, especially for serial entrepreneurs who tend to be adept at bouncing back from adversity.
Those entrepreneurs who managed to survive the recession by a combination of good cash management and redoubled efforts in sales and marketing, are now painting an optimistic view of 2011/2, so long as the dreaded “double-dip” does not actually happen.
But for those in the public sector, now is the time of voluntary and forced redundancies as local authorities take a long hard look at how to reduce costs while focusing on delivering key services.
For those with long service and a good redundancy package, this might represent a very welcome early retirement and the opportunity to pursue hobbies or become more involved in charities and social enterprises. Others tell me they will be receiving a year’s income, thus enabling them to take a long family holiday and then have a fundamental re-think about their career and long-term aspirations. There will even be a lucky few who leave their employment on a Friday only to return to exactly the same job as an external consultant on a significantly higher day rate.
But for those who are not in those fortunate positions it will be a time of uncertainty and self-doubt, with a pressing short-term requirement to generate income. My advice to these people is to ask their exit counsellors for as many psychometric tests as possible to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and to determine whether they are more suited to working for someone else or becoming self-employed.
Required reading is Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese?, a simple parable about some mice that arrive one day to find their cheese is gone. Some wait for the cheese to return, while the more enterprising mice go and look for some other cheese.
Six months after redundancy many people will still be bitter and angry. Others will, in retrospect, admit it was the best thing that ever happened to them. My role in this difficult human drama is to show that becoming self-employed is not rocket science. It only requires a little confidence and the support of family and friends, who will probably also be your first customers.
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Why do you click on ‘About Us’ pages when browsing a website? Idle curiosity? A desperate attempt to find out ‘who’ the company is and what they do? A desire to find out more about the person or people behind the brand and connect further?
In my case, all of the above apply at different times.
I’m the first person to say your website copy should be about your customer and their challenges rather than your business. But the same rules don’t apply to your ‘About Us’ page, which is your opportunity to talk about yourself as much as you darn well please.
It’s a bit like being at a party. You do all the right things – ask the right questions, listen, strike up a rapport and then the other person asks about you. You need to answer. On your website, your ‘About Us’ page provides the perfect opportunity to reinforce your brand position, qualify why you’re ideally placed to provide your product or service and most importantly – connect with your reader.
Photographer Vicki Knights does this brilliantly. She talks from the heart – reassures me, provides a little about herself with which I can identify and explains (without boring me) why she’s qualified to do what she does so well. Importantly, she’s also got a great photo – eyes at the camera, looking relaxed, engaging and reassuring.
Take a look at your website’s ‘About Us’ page and ask yourself – is it easy for people to see why they should do business with you? Can they see, literally see, who is behind the business? And have you reinforced your brand position?
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
In the early 1900s, a company called Betty Crocker pioneered the concept of readymade cake mixes. The product was aimed at housewives and its key selling point was a tasty treat could be rustled up with minimal effort. The product had been carefully developed and when launched, market conditions were deemed optimal, in short – a recipe for success.
And yet, the expected sales boom didn’t occur. Why? Although simple solutions were sought after, Betty Crocker’s new readymade cake mix made things a little too easy. So easy in fact, that using the mix felt almost like cheating and the hardworking housewives of the time felt scared and threatened. It essentially made them feel as though their role in the kitchen was jeopardised.
Simple problems require simple solutions and in this case, the solution was very simple: powdered eggs were removed from the mix. The simple act of breaking an egg and adding it to the mix was enough to deliver that proud feeling of having baked a homemade cake. A minor detail, yet one with dramatic consequences.
A similar situation occurred when Pinnacle Foods tried to introduce the Duncan Hines range of readymade cake mixes into the Japanese market. Despite extensive market research and product development, once again, the expected boom in sales didn’t occur. The problem? Japan has a cooking culture predominately based on rice, and although the market was ready, homes were not. Indeed, the majority of Japanese households were not equipped with conventional Western ovens, rendering the cake mix effectively useless.
These stories reflect the need to spend the necessary amount of time to get things right from the start. So here are two simple rules of thumb I’d like to share.
Same as for a date, you need to think wisely what to wear and where to go. So when you think about your brand, your checklist should include everything from your dress code and website to your tone of voice in your communications. Are you too serious? Do you stand out? If not, think about the Purple Cow.
As well as feeling amazing about it, you’ll create much more word-of-mouth marketing than you have ever imagined possible. Go speak at school and universities, help charities and promote other businesses. Timebank is a great example of an organisation that can help you give your expertise away for free. Doubt it’ll work? Check the Jojo Project and you’ll see how quickly you can establish a brand and grow it.
Since 1 April 2011, the tax paid by small limited companies (Corporation Tax) is the same as the basic rate of income tax – 20 per cent. In addition, the increase in Class 4 National Insurance contributions (NICs) should prompt sole traders to review their business structures for potential tax savings.
Maybe you decided to be a sole trader because you thought it was easier. Deciding which business structure to go for isn’t always simple. There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer.
Your personal circumstances should determine your choice – and only you can decide.
Putting aside the misleading perception that a limited company gives you greater status or credibility then, in my opinion, there are two major issues to consider when deciding your business structure.
As a sole trader there is no distinction between you and your business. You do not need to have a separate business bank account. All the debts of the business are your debts. If the assets of the business do not cover the debts, your personal assets could be used to pay the debts – and that includes your house.
The debts of a limited company belong to the company, which is a separate legal entity. Except in cases where personal guarantees have been given, your personal assets will not be used to pay the company’s debts. Maybe this is a more attractive proposition than a sole trader or unincorporated business structure.
The second reason for a limited liability business is based on tax savings. As a sole trader you pay:
If your profits are below the personal allowance of £7,475, in all likelihood it would be better to operate as a sole trader. You will pay no income tax and will only pay a very small amount of Class 4 NICs if your profits exceed £7,225.
If you profits are below £5,315, you can also apply for an exemption to Class 2 NICs.
A limited company pays Corporation Tax at 20 per cent on its profits (up to £300,000, after which the rate rises).
Profits can be withdrawn from the company by way of a salary for the director(s) and dividends for shareholders. Again, this assumes that the directors/shareholders have no other income.
I’ll illustrate with an example… Say your business has profits of £15,000 and you have no other income.
Tax as a sole trader would be:
Total tax = £2,335. So profits after tax are £12,665.
Tax as a limited company would be:
The profit of £7,932 is distributed from the company as a dividend and no further income tax is due on the dividend, because the total income is below the higher rate threshold.
The total available after tax is the available profits + salary – Corporation Tax = £13,413. With profits of £15,000 you would be better off as a limited company to the tune of £748. If your profits are higher the savings may also increase.
Some may argue that this would be wiped out by an increase in accounting fees – I usually respond with “not if you are using CheapAccounting.co.uk”.
There may be the opportunity to sell your sole trader business to your limited company. In doing this you may realise significant tax savings. It would be inappropriate of me to give a specific example here, because savings are absolutely dependent upon your circumstances.
So my advice is to get someone to review your circumstances and work out a specific projection for you.
Like many women I meet, having my daughter was the turning point for me. It made me realise I wanted to get off the corporate treadmill and start my own business.
Six years ago, at the age of 26, I began searching for a more rewarding, fulfilling role that I could build around my family commitments. I wanted to get back to the things I was good at, be my own boss, call the shots and start something that would give me more financial freedom than being employed could.
When I put it like that, it’s been a real success. I run a design and marketing agency – Flourish – which specialises in creating engaging brand identities and websites for small businesses. We have a great reputation, some really inspirational clients and a fantastic team. I genuinely love what I do and find my work fulfilling and rewarding. The business has grown by 30 per cent over the past year and while I’m unlikely to ever be a millionaire, I’m really happy with the balance between my income, the work we do, the team we’ve built and the hours I put in.
I’m simply not prepared to work 70+ hour weeks and sacrifice many of the things that are important to me in the name of business growth or so called financial success. There’s more to life than work, and that’s something for which us women (and especially mums) who run businesses should give ourselves more credit.
That said, running a business and being a good parent isn’t easy. My own mum gave up work when she had me and has only just resumed her career in the last ten years. She devoted a huge part of her life to bringing us up and although I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have done at the time, I now fully realise the value of what she did for us. I often feel guilty that I haven’t chosen to do the same thing for my own children.
Having my first child at 25 was always going to mean we weren’t as financially settled as many of my friends ten years older than me. We chose to live in one of the most expensive areas of the country (Surrey) and I can’t imagine ever moving. But that puts a lot of pressure on me financially. My husband is a policeman, so it really is down to me to earn (in three days) the bulk of our income.
I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t feel enormous pressure to ensure the business performs financially. I don’t just have my own family to worry about, but a team of seven, an office in Guildford and some pretty staggering overheads. Some of the team are starting to have their own families; there are mortgages and rent to pay. People rely on my business for their livelihood. Sure, they could get other jobs but they have become a part of my life and I don’t want to let them down. I wonder if non-mums feel that same responsibility towards their team?
Like any working mum, I am also constantly juggling the demands of work and home life. Am I spending enough time on the business? Am I being fair to the team? Am I doing myself an injustice by not working today? And by the same token, have I spent enough time with the children? Should they have watched TV while I wrote that blog post? Shouldn’t I have been just playing puzzles with them instead? And so it goes on…
I’m not sure I’ll ever catch up with the admin, letters, permission slips and requests for money that regularly come home from the school and various clubs. There is never enough time in the day. And while I only officially work three days a week, I will often catch up on emails or blog posts in the evening or – until last week – while my youngest sleeps at lunchtime. I have no idea where that time’s going to come from now!
But enough moaning. I’ve developed a business I’m passionate about, with a team I love, doing work that inspires and motivates us. We’ve sought out the types of clients we really want to work with and I’m now financially secure enough to live in a lovely house in a lovely village and get to every assembly or sports day without feeling the need to answer to anyone.
I do feel guilty that I work. I’d love to devote myself to my children full time in the way my mother did, but I think you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. As my own mum said to me when I’d just started my business: “I don’t think you ever look back and feel you got it right”.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
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When I first heard the term ‘mumpreneur’ I chuckled a bit and instantly adopted it because I felt it was a term that totally described me, an entrepreneur with another full-time responsibility – motherhood.
Women should be proud of the term because it instantly highlights how much harder mums have to work, because being a busy mumpreneur involves an awful lot of juggling and battling with your conscience.
For me, I think the biggest challenge is the lack of freedom – freedom to do what I want, when I want. As a mother, before you can commit to anything, the first questions you ask are – “Who will be able to look after my child?’ and “Is it fair for my child to be with X for this length of time?”.
As a busy working mum, you’re always evaluating how your decisions will impact on your children, you can’t just say “yes” at the drop of a hat to random meetings and events and unfortunately – this can lose you business.
They say that when you have a lot going on something eventually has got to give and in my first year as a mumpreneur, I’ll admit it, my domestic duties gave way. My house was a complete mess at times. Balancing domestic and business commitments effectively is unbelievably stressful and I have found you have to be super organised to ensure everything gets done. It took me a year to learn how to juggle my responsibilities successfully and even now, some weekends I’m still close to tears because I’m so tired, but I’m a mumpreneur and that’s what I do.
In the past few years, a lot more women have been able to go into business, partly because of the internet has helped them to push their amazing ideas to global levels. There are also many more networks and government initiatives encouraging women to go into business. And many mumpreneurs are making significant amounts of money, which means many people – including men – must take them far more seriously. The many success stories are highlighting the potential that many mums have in the world of business.
What is the key to being a successful mumpreneur? Think of yourself as Superwoman – full of amazing ideas, doing what others thought was impossible, efficient and ready for the world’. But when business is over for the day, you must be able to become a more earthly and homely character.
The main piece of advice I’d give to any mother who wants to go into business is this: if you have a passion for it, then go for it. It’s only passion – genuine passion – that will drive you to work as hard as you will need to work if you are to become a successful mumpreneur.
Ola Amoako, Urbantopia
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As a female entrepreneur who started her business after having children, technically, I’m a “mumpreneur”. However, I’m ambivalent about the term.
I’d never refer to myself as a mumpreneur – I prefer business-owner or self-employed – but I wouldn’t correct someone who referred to me as a mumpreneur. It’s a media-friendly term that can generate PR no business-owner would want to miss out on. It’s also a useful tag with which to identify other women in a similar position, for networking, solidarity and support. But the term itself is quite twee and patronising. For many people, it seems to conjure up the image of a kitchen table business, bringing in a bit of “pin money” for mum in between play dates and coffee mornings.
There’s also the question of how widely the term can be applied. Are all female business-owners with children mumpreneurs or only those whose businesses are aimed at the baby or family market? Are female engineers mumpreneurs? If so, why aren’t entrepreneurial fathers referred to as “dadpreneurs”? If not, there’s an implication that the baby and family section of the market is “woman’s work” and that’s somehow less worthy than businesses run by “proper” entrepreneurs.
The very way in which the neologism – a newly coined term in the process of entering common use, but not yet mainstream – has been constructed signifies a belief that mother’s primary duty is to her family in a way that is not applied to fathers. She’s a mum first and an entrepreneur second.
Setting aside the label, I wholeheartedly support the phenomenon of women setting up their own businesses following the birth of their children. It’s wonderful to see the creativity and skill of so many women being showcased by their businesses. There seems to be a recurring theme of trying to make things better and easier for customers and suppliers as well as for the entrepreneurs themselves. Most mumpreneurs are keen to support each other and work together – even where their businesses are competing.
Everyone also knows that balancing a demanding job with a happy family life is difficult. Being your own boss is a good way to have total control of your own time. As an entrepreneur, if you’re awake, you’re working to some extent – but you can choose how, where and when. It makes me feel incredibly guilty when my three-year-old daughter says: “Put your computer down and give me a hug”. My seven-year-old, who can remember when I was a full-time management consultant, realises that at least now I’m around all the time to give hugs.
Ruth Lopardo is owner-manager of www.loveitloveitloveit.co.uk
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These days it’s the norm for women – especially mums – to aspire to “have it all”. This means you’ll probably be hard pressed to find a mum who isn’t playing numerous roles as a matter of course in her everyday life. From taxi driver to cleaner, cook to child-minder, PA to life coach. If you had to employ others to do the work of one mum within her family, you would probably need a small army. Add to that paid employment, be it full time, part time or self-employment and a small dollop of “me time” at the gym, socialising or whatever to preserve your sanity, and it’s little wonder we’re all feeling the pressure.
Mumpreneurs face similar challenges to other mums in juggling the demands of home and work but, in the early stages of their business’s lives especially, the line between work and the rest of your life becomes so blurred it’s almost imperceptible. There is no official start to your working day and no end of shift clock-off time. Consequently, it’s easy to let your exciting new business idea take over every aspect of your life.
Despite this, being an entrepreneur is in some ways an obvious career choice for mums. Self-employment allows flexibility – the “Holy Grail” for those seeking to balance work and earning potential with being there for their children. And yes, this sometimes means staggering bleary-eyed to the computer in the early hours to get an hour in before the kids wake up; making calls and sending messages while you wait for swimming lessons to end; burning the midnight oil, and neglecting the ironing. But for most of us – that is a small price to pay.
Working for yourself can be lonely, with no workplace banter or colleagues to bounce ideas off – but there’s no reason it has to be. I started Networking Mummies to go some way towards creating the support network evident within a “normal” working environment. So next time you see a group of mums chatting animatedly in Costa Coffee think twice – they might be discussing marketing strategies and the issues around patents as well as X Factor and the latest anecdotes about their children.
After being an employee, having your own business is an immensely liberating experience. You are in control; your decisions determine the direction your business takes; and every minute of work and inspirational idea you have benefits you directly. In simple terms, you get out what you put in – which isn’t always the case when you’re an employee. You can build up your business and your profits while still being around for nativity plays, illness and school pick-ups. For us it’s an exciting balance of work and home that feels like an adventure our whole family is going on together.
So what is the surprising truth about mumpreneurs? It’s the idea that any mum can be one. It may seem too risky, too daunting and too difficult but if you have a dream or great idea about which you’re passionate and have the support of those around you, the possibilities are endless. You will need to be determined, work hard and think creatively to get your business to work, but these are things we can all do if we are motivated by the desire to succeed.
Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back. If you are a woman with children and want to work for yourself or have a great idea that you want to turn into a business – make 2011 the year you become a mumpreneur.
Joanne Dewberry and Jessica Boston, Networking Mummies
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This blog post originally appeared on Joanne Dewberry's blog. Images by McClure Humphries Photography, © Networking Mummies 2010
Nestled between Mothering Sunday and the final of Mumpreneur Idol (on Saturday 9 April), this week is the perfect time to celebrate mums who run businesses.
Here’s what we’ll be up to this week:
When you’re starting a business, it’s easy to get bogged down in the priorities of winning business, product development, marketing, admin and so on. Your ultimate exit from the business can seem like an eternity away, hardly worthy of your precious time. However, the day will come when you finally leave the business and the value you extract from it can be maximised by decisions you make early on.
The most common exit for a small business owner is via a trade sale, where the whole company or just its assets are sold to a third party (often another company in the same sector). Having been involved in selling two businesses I started, I've learned the hard way that value is not just decided by turnover and profit. Here are some key factors to consider at an early stage.
It’s important to retain the copyright for your designs; to register trademarks and product patents where possible; and make sure you own the source code for your software. It may sound obvious, but many outsource contracts allow the contractor to retain intellectual property (IP) for their work and it’s crucial to stipulate that all IP reverts to you.
In a service business, it’s tempting to outsource as much of your service as possible to third party providers. This often makes sense during normal business operations because it keeps costs more predictable. However, going towards a sale, if your offering relies upon another company for delivery, it will be perceived as an extra risk by a buyer.
This is something that makes sense for the general well being of your business – with or without a sale in mind. Recurring income streams are extremely valuable. If your business model allows, invoice your clients on a regular monthly, quarterly or annual plan, ideally using a passive billing method such as credit card or direct debit. That way, the buyer of your business knows that they will walk into a cash-generating machine from day one.
Monthly or quarterly billing cycles are best. Annual billing cycles are great for cashflow, but be prepared for your buyer to query the unused portion of any pre-payment as a liability. Get advice from a good accountant on how to counter this.
To fund business development, you might need investors. Avoid building up a large number of small shareholders, because the chances are that one of them will at some point become a problem. Ideally you want to keep 100 per cent of the business for yourself.
If you need to give away equity, only do so when all other options have been exhausted. Pay for a lawyer to create a watertight shareholders’ agreement that ensures you maintain overall control of the company, and can drag along all other shareholders should you wish to sell.
So it may sound counter intuitive to think about the end at the beginning, but it will help shape your long-term plans and ensure you develop an asset worth selling.
Jonathan Rodger is managing director of email marketing service Message Horizon.