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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.