Through our dealings with local businesses on BrightonMums.com, it never ceases to amaze me how many parents, and not uniquely mums, start a business immediately after having children. I’ve dealt with some parents dealing with major projects and launch events merely weeks before they or their partner is due to give birth. Why would anyone take on huge amounts of nail biting responsibility and never-ending task lists, as well as deal with babies, pre-schoolers, schools runs and homework?
Counsellor and psychotherapist Leilani Mitchell runs a successful training company, The Link Centre in Crowborough. She started her training when her children were merely eight months and three and half years old and shortly after that, was plunged into single parenthood. “I had part-time jobs to support the family through my training,” she explains. “I wanted to stimulate my brain and loved learning, plus the subject matter helped me stay positive throughout raising my kids.” Above all Leilani wanted to tailor her working life around the kids’ routines.
The freedom self-employment offers is what attracts many parents to the lifestyle, but why embark on a journey to continually grow a business and take on several employees and premises? Ginette McGee, founder of the Toytown toy store chain in Sussex, has four children, and opened her first shop very soon after her youngest was born. Her husband also runs his own business, Sussex Eyecare in Seaford, so both are parentpreneurs in charge of a mini-empire. “The fact we own our own businesses means we can come and go. We use tools such as Dropbox so we can work from home, and it’s not usual to work late into the evening.” says Ginette. She goes on to explain that despite the long days they insist on boundaries around their working hours. They share the school run duties but don’t work past 10pm, or on Sundays (except during the run up to Christmas, a key trading period for them).
It’s clearly not only mums who crave flexibility around family life. Being able to pretty much dictate his own hours has allowed removals ‘dadpreneur’ Steve Sole to always be there for his son. “When he was still young enough to take naps, I’d use that time to return calls and book in jobs,” he recalls. His business Nice Man Big Van, has since grown to having three vehicles and recently became VAT registered. He shares custody of his now seven year-old with his ex-partner, which means he must make the most of this quality time and organise his work routine accordingly.
For Nancy Nelson, who set up Sobriquet Lingerie boutique in Eastbourne, being her own boss is about not being beholden to an employer. “The majority of women take on more of the childcare, so flexible business means they can be there for their kids,” the mum-of-two muses. She worked in London at the sharp-end of fashion, designing garments for the Arcadia Group, Freemans and Galeries Lafayette in Paris right up until her eldest daughter was born, but she found it increasingly tough to juggle. Nancy tells me she took the decision to “stay at home” to raise her daughters, but she started a business making uniforms for the nearby prep school plus took evening classes, eventually qualifying as a teacher. During her five and half year tenure at Bexhill 6th Form College’s textiles department, she turned the course round to achieve a 100 per cent pass-rate. But she craved running her own business again. “At 53 years old, I thought it was now or never,” she declares. She opened her boutique two years ago and in that small amount of time has won a number of awards, notably the Stars Underlines Best Shop Awards in the UK, for Best Newcomer in 2014.
It’s somewhat intimidating that these parents are not only building thriving businesses but also winning awards for their efforts. Mother-of-four Sarah Tate also boasts various prestigious accolades for her work as a photographer. For a profession she claims to have “fallen into,” she has certainly become noticed. Encouraged by her cameraman husband, she went from dabbling in a City and Guilds to becoming BIPP qualified and winning South East Master Photographers Association Overall Master Photographer of the Year.
Based in Heathfield, Sarah Tate Photography has gone from having a small studio on a trading complex in the village centre, to converting a barn into her own studio, employing her daughter as an apprentice and engaging another in freelance hair and make-up for shoots. Three of her children are self-employed. “I think they’ve seen the flexibility running your own business brings,” She claims. “Or maybe they just don’t like being told what to do!”
Nancy’s teenage daughters also help her with the business, managing the boutique’s social media publicity and assisting her at bridal fairs. “My youngest recently told me how proud she was of me.” Steve Sole’s young son is also demonstrating entrepreneurial flair. “Someone paid me £2 for a picture I drew of a T-Rex. I put the money in my piggy bank,” the boy proudly tells me, adding how he is saving his pocket money for an Xbox 360.
The most obvious characteristic these Sussex business owners share is their restless creative spirit. Antonia Chitty from the popular Family Friendly Working website acknowledges this from her experience working with parentpreneurs. “[There is] a group of parents who find the period after the birth of a new baby an immensely creative period: they come up with an idea for a product or service, perhaps something that they wish had been around at the start of their time as parents. This passion drives them to quit work and launch their own business.”
Steve has a long history of small businesses and inventions ever since he was a lad. Ginette’s sideline of selling wool and haberdashery from a corner of the Seaford branch of Toytown has evolved into opening another stand alone shop nearby. Nancy has been accepted on to the E-Spark program to help put her “exciting plans” for business growth into action.
It’s clear the sense of achievement is addictive. But do they have moments where they want to give it all up? “I have thought about how nice it could be stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s,” ponders Ginette, “but the thought of how long I would have that job would still be hanging over me.” In fact all these parentpreneurs believe you have more control over your career and income being self-employed.
What advice would they offer those considering starting their own business? Ginette is brutally honest. “Think about what you’re prepared to lose. I live with some guilt from not spending much time with my youngest as a baby.” She also emphasises the importance of research and organisation. Steve agrees. “Think about your work systems and terms from the start.” He also relies on his support network, and his partner helps him with some design work and the filing system. “If you have a support network use it,” urges Nancy, who didn’t have family nearby. “Just go for it, believe in yourself,” she aptly concludes.