As I’ve not long started work again after maternity leave the second time round, it felt right to write something that millions of other mums go through – choosing whether to go back to the same job, look for a new role or go it alone as either self-employed or with a new business. It’s scary. REALLY scary, but for me it was a now or never situation. If I would have returned to my job as an Account Director I knew I would never have the time to concentrate on starting a business… I used the end of my maternity leave wisely. I also know a few other mums who have taken the leap, so here are some tips and advice if you’re coming to the end of your maternity leave and are going to start a new business or become a sole trader.
Know your start-up costs, funding required and price structure. You may have been thinking about the products or services that you’re going to offer for a while, maybe for years, but you need to have accurate costings to ensure the venture is right for your situation. The dream turns to reality quickly when you have nursery invoices, dancing lessons and various flavours of bear yoyos (other toddler snacks available) to pay for with no more maternity leave cash coming in. As Debbie from The Blue Ladybird Pottery Painting explains, “I really wanted to work. As much as I love being a stay at home mum I wanted something more, but the main reason for going self-employed was the cost of childcare. There were some great jobs that I could have applied for but they wouldn’t cover the cost of 2 young children’s nursery fees. Being able to earn extra money was a factor too. My husband’s salary covered the bills but there was no money left for extras, and I wanted to be able to pay for swimming lessons and family days out.”
Whether it’s the same work as you previously did (such as myself), something that you consider a serious hobby or interest, or an idea that seems so obviously lucrative, do some research on similar offerings and ask friends and family for their opinions. Going one step further and creating a business plan is really the ideal, and while it’s not a particularly ambitious approach to business I’d suggest working out what you NEED coming into the family kitty. It gave me a figure to aim for, which meant x days of work a month – I knew I didn’t have to panic unnecessarily unless my average dropped below that number. If that seems too scary, many accountants and business advisers offer fixed fee packages when starting a new business to help you with all the tricky bits.
Keep your goal fixed in your mind. For some people, money isn’t the driving force and objectives that aren’t financial are equally as valid and important to stay focused on. For Libby from Oh My Golly Embroidery it was important for her to have something that made her feel like she was more than someone’s mummy. Even on the days she is shattered she reaches for a hoop and a needle. She told me: “I guess I started because although I was happy to be a stay at home mum (that’s what I wanted) I still felt I needed to do something that wasn’t anything to do with being a parent. Something just for myself. It started as a hobby really but I enjoyed it so much I figured it was something I could try and make money from. I love being a mum but it’s good to have something outside of that. I guess that would pretty much be my one piece of advice too. Just to go for it. You’ll never know how it’ll turn out until you try and I found with etsy that it is possible to learn as you go along.”
Start creating your brand and its assets while you’re still officially on leave. While some things are easily learnt on the job, as Libby says, getting your marketing house in order before you’re ready to start work is a must if you want to appear professional and a genuine player in your chosen sector. You want to be able to direct your potential customers and clients to a website, etsy page or social media profiles or hand them a business card when they ask for one. If you can start out with some testimonials or recommendations then all the better. However, you shouldn’t throw all your spare cash into creating the assets you need unless you’re sure it won’t negatively affect your cash flow during the first few months. Work out the must haves and the nice to haves for your business and insert everything into a 12 month plan. For example, the banner stand you would love to have might not be a necessity until Spring when you plan to exhibit at a show.
Plan your routine, workspace and create some ground rules. Many mums start off by working from home and I continue to do so – but let me tell you, while it’s really nice to not haul my backside into an office 45 minutes away, it’s HARD. It’s probably hard for anyone but with one or more young children, there are so many tempting jobs to do, especially when the task in hand is not one of your favourites. I’d rather clean the oven than do my bookkeeping some days! My advice here is to be as strict as you possibly can with yourself, even if that means having breaks at set times to ‘just put a load of washing on’ or ‘just start the dinner’ or ‘just have 5 minutes peace and quiet… with the hoover’.
Your workspace is really important too. I’ve just gone Ikea Kallax mad to tidy up my working area so mentally I felt tidy and ready to go again. Working on the kitchen table or the sofa isn’t ideal so try to carve out a space, however small, so your mindset switches to work mode when it needs to. I also found moving my desk from the corner to in front of the window a real help as the light coming in helps me feel more get up and go, and ready to attack my work – if you have options, try them to find where you’re most productive.
All you need now is some customers or clients, so make sure you tell EVERYONE you know what you’re doing. Word of mouth is the greatest, and cheapest, form of marketing. However, if you’re a mum that’s recently started a new business, please comment below to let me and other readers know what services or goods you provide. I might need what you offer one day, and maybe you’ll need my skills – I offer fixed-fee marketing packages for start-up businesses, so get in touch if you need help getting your essentials together.
Good luck to all you hardworking, entrepreneurial, freelance, self-employed, sole trader, ltd company, start-up mums!