The highs and lows of going it alone: the challenges
This can mean constant distractions, difficulty in getting to meetings or in obtaining professional advice and little or no opportunity to network offline.
Secondly, one may lack confidence in one’s own abilities due to having taken a prolonged absence of maternity leave. In such a case, trying to pitch to The Decision Maker (think Dragons' Den) can be daunting to the point of terrifying.
Yet despite these challenges, ‘mumtrepeneurs’, as they are affectionately known, are on the increase.
Making the decision to go it alone.
Research by Dr. Tim Leunig of the London School of Economics (LSE) showed that mums are making what he described as “a tangible impact on the British Economy, with a combined turnover of £4.4bn that exceeds some FTSE 100 companies”.
Ask a mumtrepeneur to list her reasons for starting up her own business and those reasons may well range from:
- The need to be able to work from home
- The need to combine work with childcare
- The desire to have a job that is flexible around the needs of her family.
Like many, I had a well-established career with excellent employment benefits before I had my children, so I felt reluctant about giving them up. However, the so-called ‘work-life balance’ offered by the organisation I worked for was not as flexible as I would have liked (a complaint made by many – what we really need are school hours). So for me, the need to have true flexibility and to be able to work around the needs of my family was the decision clincher.
I hasten to add that other no less admirable reasons for mumtrepeneurs starting up their own businesses are:
- Finding a niche in the market
- To provide a better service/product than currently available
- To counter disenchantment of the glass ceiling syndrome
- To feel self-fulfilled.
1. Obtaining practical advice.
In my case, I had an idea, but did not know how to put it into fruition. Of course this is not unique to being a mum, however, it was exacerbated by my being away from the office environment and thus not having the usual professional advice on tap. So, in the absence of advice to the ready, I found myself running around (at times in ever decreasing circles) not quite knowing what to do first and thereafter. I was advised to start with a Business Plan. It was the best advice I could have received, as it helped me to thoroughly test the viability of my idea and focus on certain areas.
As boring and as painstaking the steps may be, successful business owners tend to agree that planning the various stages of a business (and making periodical reviews of those plans) is the best route to success. That is not to say that you should necessarily sit down and theoretically plan a business before starting up - it may be impractical to do so if you are a single parent. The reality is that many will simply get stuck in, find alternative ways to self fund and then plan/review along the way.
Nevertheless, my advice to anyone starting up would be to seek professional help as soon as possible. Business Link at www.businesslink.gov.uk is a good starting point. The government agency gives practical, independent advice on starting up, including where to obtain additional services and resources locally.
2. Finding work/customers.
My toddler attends nursery on a part-time basis and I have a son at school, so I am restricted to either working on Freelance projects that I can do at home, or accepting jobs within a certain radius. Other than my own networking, marketing and advertising efforts, I often tap into Freelance websites such as FreelanceUK and Freelancers.net and agencies.
For further tips on finding customers (and not just finding them, but convincing and keeping them), try Surviving Start-up an excellent interactive learning resource, born out of a collaboration between Bournemouth University and Magellan Projects Ltd.
As mentioned before, if you are home-based with young children in tow, it is virtually impossible to network in the normal manner. There are, however, online networking forums that provide support in this area. One such forum is MumsClub.co.uk. MumsClub provides new mumtrepeneurs with business and marketing support, information, advice and even contacts to get their new business moving.
If you are able to network offline occasionally, it is worth becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce. The fees for start-ups tend to be reasonable and networking events are usually planned well in advance, so this at least gives you an opportunity to organise childcare ahead of time – worth doing in order to meet those all important decision makers among other small businesses.
4. Working around young children.
There is no right or wrong way to do this and it will always be a challenge. My “office is out of bounds” rule is often ignored when my little ones want a cuddle, want to know for the umpteenth time what I’m ‘still’ doing on the computer, or are being particularly grumpy and testy. It is also a challenge to manage projects if the children are unwell. However, the flexibility of being able to easily work around them at home, far outweigh these minor inconveniences and on particularly testy days, I simply
divert the landline to my mobile in case I need to make a quick getaway to a quieter room.
5. Working within a budget.
Having a family can naturally mean having to work within a tight budget. Speaking from personal experience, there can be a tendency to get bogged down with earning money and little else, neglecting or pushing aside Marketing, PR and Advertising.
Yet all are particularly important for freelancers/small businesses in what is increasingly becoming a crowded and competitive market. The best PR is free PR and anything that gets you noticed is great PR – so this could
mean helping out at a local charity event, organising a local fayre or even a competition. For media-related PR, consider targeting local free newspapers or relevant trade/technical magazines. For tips on how to write a Press Release, visit MumsClub as mentioned before.
Marketing needn’t be expensive at all – it is simply extolling the virtues of your services to your potential customers. Think in terms of engaging with your customer. Many businesses now do this with a blog - free, easy to set up and coupled with Google Adsense can even earn you (admittedly a little) revenue in the process. For a detailed look at the various aspects of Marketing, visit FreelanceUK, again as mentioned before.
Online presence is a must, so most accept the importance of having a good quality website. Once the website is up and running, advertise it by putting it on your stationery, business cards, community or school notice boards, leaflets for handing out at mother and toddler groups – everywhere. Get it noticed!
Could there possibly be any benefit in voluntarily giving up regular pay increases, bonuses, subsidised travel, health care, gym membership and the like in exchange for Freelancing/running one’s own business and the many challenges it presents?
The answer may well depend on your reason for starting up in the first place, measured against how successful one’s business is now.
The answer for me, having the flexibility of being able to work around the children’s day, their school holidays, countless other activities and to be able to do so from the comfort of my home, is a resounding yes.
© Mary Cummings – October 2007
Antecell Business Services & Creative Marketing
Mary Cummings has more than 20 years’ business and marketing experience gained in the financial and banking industry. Mary is London-based, married with two children and runs Antecell Business Services & Creative Marketing, which provides affordable, business and marketing support to self-employed professionals, start-ups
and small businesses.