You only have to look online to find research and reports of stressed, overworked employees, many of which are working parents, struggling to balance their work and personal commitments. What is clear is that the ‘run of the mill’ Mon-Fri, 9-5 doesn’t reflect the reality of modern business of family life, both for business owners and those who work for them.
With increasing pressures to communicate outside of working hours and with the real-time nature of the internet and mobile-enabled apps, people are slowly realising that actually, more can be achieved by changing the way they work and particularly their working patterns.
As a working mum myself, flexible working was an essential requirement of my future career path after having children. I had a lot to offer in terms of my expertise and experience and what I could offer my clients, I just couldn’t do it Mon-Fri between 9am and 5pm. So I found a way to work around this and work at times that suited me. Whether that was with international clients, so that the timezone difference meant I could work in the evenings or via harnessing online technology to enable me to deliver parts of my role from the comfort of my home (and in my pyjamas!). When I saw this working for me, I realised it could impact other people in the same way and invested in the development of JigsawBox.com, an online platform for coaches and trainers to develop virtual training programmes, courses, workshops and bootcamps.
I really do believe that social media is opening the door for smaller businesses to achieve fast growth and to compete with larger organisations. The new term ‘social collaboration’ and particularly the application of technology to facilitate this (such as video-conferencing, instant-messaging, mobile-enabled applications and cloud-based project management tools) means that whether you work for yourself or as an employee for an organisation, you can now conduct many tasks virtually, with hardly any impact on the day to day running of the business.
The biggest challenge I faced when using a flexible ‘virtual’ workforce was actually letting go of the reins a bit and allowing other people to take over. When you create a business, it becomes your baby and you can often be very precious about letting other people make decisions or become part of it’s infrastructure. Part of you wants it to only depend on you. But the reality is that for any business to grow (and certainly if you don’t want to be working ‘in’ your business all day every day) you need to get to the point where you can let others take over some of the roles that you really don’t need to do yourself. The changing nature of the workforce means that you can now tap into highly experienced and skilled individuals but on a freelance ‘pro-rate’ basis, enabling you take advantage of some really great people, without having to foot an expensive full time PAYE bill.
I would encourage all smaller businesses to explore how flexible working could not only improve the overall productivity of the business, but also drive forward growth and expansion. It really is there for the taking.
More help needed for Mumpreneurs
It remains the case that if you’re a mother who wants to start a business, you’re still very much on your own.
According to a survey from BT business conducted earlier this year, starting a business is a dream for one in ten mums, with 62 per cent saying that choosing the hours they work was the biggest reason for wanting to start up.
Kim Johnson used to run an advertising and marketing company, so was used to people coming to her pitching inventions, but she had had no ideas of her own until her daughter was born.
After little Aimee slipped off a chair whilst trying to join her mother at the worktop, Johnson searched the Internet for something to elevate her child while keeping her safe – but found nothing. So she came up with FunPod, a standalone child safety unit that solved the problem.
It was not an easy learning curve, however. ‘The male-dominated nature of the industry meant it took me five months to actually find a manufacturer who would take me seriously,’ she says.
By a stroke of luck, a husband of a friend turned out to be a manufacturer of childrens’ furniture for day nurseries, and the ball was rolling.
The standalone child safety unit launched in November 2006 and is now sold in seven countries worldwide, winning nine awards and earning its founder “Mumpreneur of the Year” for the North of England in a specialist magazine.
But it may never have happened without the faith of a fellow parent who happened to be in the industry.
I was interested to see if there were any specific financial help for mothers in business – but the search continues. ’There are no specific grants I am aware of, but it is vital to tap into local knowledge as there may be certain funding initiatives in certain parts of the country,’ says John Grange, advisor at Business Link. Hardly definitive evidence of a recognition from financing institutions of the sizeable mumpreneur demographic.
Mumpreneur Support Networks
Nevertheless, there is help out there for mumpreneurs. Prowess is an online network supporting the growth of women’s business ownership through a women-friendly support structure – but there is a fee involved for individual membership. Another membership fee is required to join Women in Business Network (WIBN), a networking organisation for business women of all levels of seniority across a wide range of industries, offering training, events and guidance for businesswomen. A free option is available in Everywoman, which bills itself as “the UK’s leading provider of training, resources and support services for women in business”.
These resources may help mothers starting out, but more needs to be done to ensure institutionalised sexism and lack of tailored financing options don’t stand in the way of mumpreneurs growing their startup.