My business is just a little younger than my two-year old son, Jim
When I first set out my stall I primarily offered corporate social responsibility (CSR) support to micro and small businesses. Small businesses annually give more to CSR causes than big business every year– but they rarely harness the benefits in the same way that the big guys do. Through staff engagement, streamlining, and identifying meaningful causes and ways of giving that can be transformative small companies and the causes they support can reap the benefits.
A large strand of my work was to fuse CSR principles and staff training; meeting the soft skills needs of organisations through focussed volunteering. Things have changed now though – I have become far more involved in education innovation and most of my work is now in this area. In many ways the process is the same, it is only the client group that is different. I facilitate, I support, I clarify, I deliver and I aid organisational change and innovation. I suspect that my future lies in education: it really floats my boat.
A little bit about my background
I hold a first class degree in Comparative Religion from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and my early career focussed on people and work: I was variously a jobs analyst, a qualified careers advisor and Higher Education specialist and a communications co-ordinator. I hold qualifications in guidance, careers education, delivering learning and CIPD training. I then moved to the Open University and briefly managed a project to encourage graduates into teaching, before I became pregnant and had my son. My early work as a job analyst and careers adviser had shown me clearly that work impacts significantly on people sense of themselves and I had been introduced to CSR through my CIPD training. I believe that CSR can create meaning in the workplace.
Looking back I had always known that the time I took off to have a child would be time that I could sue to refocus my life and career goals. I had always been disappointed that I hadn’t continued in my studies after my degree and it was always in the back of my mind that I would study again if I became a Mum.
The last few years of paid employment had been increasingly uncomfortable for me
I was competent but miserable. It was the never-ending grind, shifting goal posts and never-quite-knowing-who-you-should-be-pleasing feeling that got me down. But, I was a wage slave. When I took my maternity leave I faced a very tough decision. The OU are a spectacular employer and had given me a pay rise while I was away, they also offered me any number of part time/flexi time working options. I remember opening the pay-rise letter on the same day that I had handed my notice in and sobbing, fearing for my future career. I always aspired to earn my age, and taking that pay-rise would have got me there at last!
My reasons for starting a business were very much about my own self actualisation
I needed to see if I could create something new in the world and I needed to test my own value in the market place. I wanted to test the limits of my potential. Maternity leave gave me the safety net to create a hole in my CV without any risk: people would expect a gap, and if I used that gap to try to start a business then there was no harm if it all went wrong. The only other thing that would allow me to break from paid employment would have been a lottery win. It’s not often that maternity pay is likened to a lottery win…
I started work when Jimmy was 2 months old, I had taken on some data entry work to get funds into the business to get me started. Alongside this I was developing the CSR policy and practice of a Design and Branding Agency in return for the design and hosting of my website and stationery. I began a short OU finance course to keep my brain working. I networked hard and offered free training to a local forest centre in return for free use of their grounds to offer my own training (I do a lot of outdoor challenges and games). I attended a few business link courses and some at the Centre for Women’s Enterprise, as well as other training courses in specifics, one of which paid for by a grant from http://www.enterprising-women.org
I was exhausted. Knackered.
I didn’t finish the course. My first year profits equalled, exactly, my accountant’s fees (which I hadn’t factored in!). You live and learn.
My Mum helped with childcare and I worked every evening and nap-time
I did try to use a nursery quite early on by it was too upsetting for everyone: it was too much to young for him I think. I don’t think mums should feel guilty a bout using childcare at all, different things work for different Mum/baby combos and there is little harm in trying different things. Looking back I should have had childcare to allow me to sleep first and then start the business slightly later.
Two years on and it is very different – Jim has settled into a different nursery for 3 half days a week (with plenty of extra hours when needed) and goes to his beloved Nanny for two further days. I work much more than full time, contracted for approximately 3 days a week with different clients and studying towards an MSc in Managing Business Creativity and Innovation. I love my work and I love being a portfolio worker.
The big challenges have all been personal
have spent so long outside of my comfort zone I can’t remember where I left it. I had often been successful in my career pre-baby and feared failure. I had imagined that motherhood would be manageable and satisfying. Oh dear. The horror of childbirth and my complete failure to feed the poor little fella blew all my ideas clear out of the water – I struggled so hard in those early days. If you have managed to survive the early days of motherhood there really isn’t much you can’t do. I have taken more personal risks post baby than I could imagine doing before and most have paid off.
If I were to offer any advice I would urge Mums to be brave, rest up and throw away the guilt. Your child wants you to be happy.