I really don’t like the term ‘Mumpreneur’. For me it conjures up images of something like baking cakes and making some pocket money from it. Don’t get me wrong I’ve nothing against bakers, but ‘Mumpreneur’ just makes me think of someone trying to earn money at the school gates as oppose to being a savvy, fully-fledged businesswomen who also happens to be a mum.
I was 33 when I fell pregnant with my first (and only!) child. Just six months earlier I’d left full-time employment to set up my first business with a friend. This business centred around marketing and recruitment and we launched literally the same week the global recession hit. Hoorah! Challenging times but that’s definitely a post in itself for a later date. My daughter, Macy, was planned but I think I was naive both about how easy it would be to build the business and definitely about having a child at the same time!
I had ‘allowed’ myself 3 weeks maternity leave (just writing that seems ludicrous now!) and working for myself that also meant I wasn’t getting any maternity pay. As such once the 3 weeks had passed and I found myself desperately trying to juggle a child and a new business, reality began to hit home! I suppose like a lot of mums I had underestimated just how tough those first few weeks and months are both physically and emotionally, so I found myself feeling like a bad mum AND a bad business woman. It ‘might’ have been easier if it wasn't my own business, though I’m not convinced. Building a new business is tough at the best of times but throw a recession into the mix and a new born baby and you’re kinda limiting your chances. Focusing on business development has never been a favourite past-time of mine so trying to do that in the 1 hour a day she slept, whilst surrounded by bottles for sterilising, spreadsheets and par-boiled vegetables for mushing and I couldn’t convince myself that our business model was better than anything else on the market, never mind anyone else!
By the time Macy was 9 months old I had had enough. Not only was I ridiculously unhappy about the fact that my business was failing but because time was most definitely not on my side I hadn’t joined any mum & babies groups in the area I lived. My friends were all at least 40 miles away in Sheffield and my husband at work. Not only was I ridiculously unhappy but soul-destroyingly lonely too. I loved my daughter very much but what should have been a time full of joy was actually full of angst, misery and despair.
I had to leave the business. At the time it felt like one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do. I’d developed much of the customer-facing side like the branding and the website and so handing that over felt really hard. Whilst pregnant we’d sponsored award ceremonies, I’d wrote a regular article in the industry press and to the outside world I’m sure it looked like it was a huge success. My partner’s side of the business was starting to do really well and generate an income, but I couldn’t make claim to any part of that as I simply hadn’t contributed that much over the past 9 months. It was a stressful time financially and although we tried to end on good terms, I guess we were never going to see eye to eye. Not least as at that time my business partner was still child-free and just as I had pre-kids, I’m sure she’d hoped I would have been able to contribute more than I had and so we parted ways. Instead I took a part-time job which could pay the bills, Macy went to nursery a couple of days a week and I began to get back some much-needed self-confidence both in myself as a mum and as a business person.
As is nearly always the case, what felt like a failure at the time was only going to lead me to better things in the longer term. The part-time role I took was for Macmillan Cancer Support and it very quickly went from part-time to full-time and I spent over 4 incredibly happy years there doing a job I could never ever have seen myself doing before. I worked with incredible teams, all hell-bent on changing the lives of those affected by cancer for the better, made life-long friendships and found my creative side again working on innovative partnerships with companies like Boots, RBS and Skype. Although it seems like a far cry from my now career in photography, I genuinely would not be doing that if I hadn’t worked at Macmillan and learnt to follow my heart doing fulfilling work.
Now my daughter is 9 years old and a little over 4 years ago I went back to working for myself. Back then I was worried I’d lose ground in my career but it’s actually altered my perspective on what’s important and so I’ve actually changed direction, now working as a freelance photographer. My daughter is happy to see Mum doing something she loves (the power of which should NEVER be underestimated), and I’m happy that I can maintain a little more balance, not always, but most of the time.
I cannot pretend for one moment that I have it nailed. No way! But I am learning all the time and so here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way that you might want to consider on your own Mumpreneur journey. They’re not ground-breaking revelations but then sometimes all we need is a reminder right?
1. No-one can do everything! Kick comparison syndrome to the kerb and ignore what life looks like on Instagram. It simply isn’t possible to be perfect at everything all the time. Instead I am learning (‘cos it’s a constantly evolving journey) to believe that progress is better than perfection and if you want to save yourself from certain madness, I advise you do the same.
2. Do NOT do this alone. Seriously! My journey was made so much harder by trying to do it all myself. If, like me, the finances won’t stretch to help for the business then at least find time to take breaks and be with other people. Join mother & baby groups, join networking groups, find one that’s both, but do not think that you haven’t got time to be around people…make time! I so wish someone had said this to me back then because all I needed to know was that I wasn’t alone. I didn’t necessarily need help, but I needed to NOT be alone all day long with a baby and a business.
3. Do not underestimate the amount of time a developing baby AND a developing business will take. If you think it’ll take 6 months to win your first client or sell your first product, double it, treble it in fact! Think it’ll be easier once baby starts walking? Think again! Just like children, a developing business does not get easier once the first two years are under your belt, it just gets different. The good news is that just like children, your business is very rewarding, maybe not financially at first but certainly where it matters, in your heart & soul.
4. Learn from failure. Whether it’s breastfeeding or business development, you will get things wrong, but you will learn from them. Take breastfeeding…I remember what felt like weeks of struggling to get Macy to latch on and showers where the pain in my boobs made me wanna scream the house down, but you know what, we got there. She’s healthy and she survived. And even if I hadn’t managed it, we’d have gone full-time on the bottle and again, she’d have survived, and she’d be healthy. Business really is no different. I thought I would NEVER get past that feeling of failure I had when walking away from my first business. It felt like the whole world knew and I couldn’t look anyone in the eye but now I am back working for myself again and this time I have avoided so many of the mistakes. I’ll make new ones, already have, but what matters is that I’ve chose to see those past mistakes as steps in the right direction and not dead-ends.
Overall life as a ‘mumpreneur’ is very, very satisfying. My time in both ventures, child and business, is spent doing something I love and hopefully both will pay dividends in the future, though I have a feeling the child will only ever get more expensive!