If I was starting out as a work at home mum now, here’s what I’d do…

It’s now four years since the day I took my three-month-old daughter to visit a nursery and discovered I couldn’t leave her and go back to work full-time. It wasn’t the nursery, I just couldn’t stand to be parted from my baby. (If you feel that way right now, you might like to read my story here?)

Next week she starts school! That’s quite a milestone for both of us.

I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in those years and I was just thinking what I’d say to myself if I could go back to where I was back in 2008. So I decided to share it because if you’re a work at home mum who is just starting out, you might find it helpful.

I’ve got a list of practical tips coming up (that’s me, always practical!) but my decision to start a business from home was anything but practical. It was very emotional at the time. So the first thing I would tell myself is that it’s OK, you’re not going crazy. It’ll all be fine. It’s going to be hard work and there is a lot to learn, but you won’t regret taking time out with your little girl during those precious few years before she starts school. And I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but those years really do go fast.

you won’t regret taking time to out with your little girl during those precious years

Despite that, there will be times when the frustration of not being able to work when you want to will drive you bonkers. You’ll have a task you desperately want to finish but it’ll have to wait until toddler goes to bed (yes, when you’ll be shattered and struggling to keep your eyes open). That doesn’t make you a bad mum, so don’t beat yourself up. In fact resist the urge to be too hard on yourself whenever you possibly can.

So (clicking back into practical mode again!) here’s what you need to do next:

1. Work out what you’ve  got to give

As a work at home mum, there will be hordes of people trying to show you how to make money. Some are legit and honest, others are scams to be avoided at all costs. Some are party plans, others are training courses and books. When you feel strong you’ll be able to see them for what they are but sometimes you’ll feel despondent and you’ll let your bullshit filter slip. Be very careful when you feel this way as you are vulnerable.

what can I offer people that will make their lives better AND that they will pay me for?

Never forget that you are running a business (or will be running a business very soon). At the heart of business is the exchange of something of value for money. You need to think in terms of “what can I offer people that will make their lives better AND that they will pay me for?” not “how can I make money?”. Yes, money may be the driving factor behind your business and there’s no shame in that at all – we all need food on the table after all – but if you set out to make money it will run away from you. It’s the wrong mindset entirely.

So what do you have to offer? Look at your skills, interests, the time you have available to work. Things you’re good at. Things that people ask you to do because “Helen understands that stuff…”.

Many gurus will tell you do what you’re passionate about but this is a dangerous path. Yes, you must do something you enjoy or you’ll never stick to it through working all those late nights.  But there’s no guarantee that people will actually want to buy what you’re passionate about. And you’re already under enough pressure at the moment, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ve got to find your life’s purpose right now too. You haven’t.

2. Match that to what the market wants (and is prepared to pay for)

Now you need to take that list of what you have to offer and match it up to what the market wants to buy. This can be a messy process that involves going around in circles and then back to the proverbial drawing board. Don’t let it get you down.

Most people don’t do enough market research and that’s understandable. If you’re excited about an idea it takes on a life of its own and you just want to get started. And if it’s a low-risk kind of internet business where most of the tools are free (Mailchimp, WordPress etc) then it may be worth just diving in to see how it goes. But if you’re risking more than a little time and money, then do proper market research. Don’t just talk to people who you know will give you positive feedback (ie your mum!) talk to strangers who might want to buy your product.

Tough lesson: What people say they want, what they actually want and what they are prepared to spend money on can be entirely different things. You need to offer something they are prepared to spend money on.

Which leads me on to…

3. Test it

The rather fabulous Copyblogger talks about the  ‘minimum viable product’. That’s a prototype you create and sell to test if people are going to buy it. Once you know you’ve got a winner, you can invest more time and money and scale up. The trick is to get that product out as fast as you can, because if you listen to the perfectionist in your head it’ll take forever. You’re aiming at completion, not perfection here. If it’s going to fail, you want to fail fast so you can move on.

if you listen to the perfectionist in your head it’ll take forever

The protoype doesn’t have to be a physical product – it can be a service or a training course. In fact services are a great place to start because they are even faster to get out on sale than products.

Sadly, most business opportunities and ideas that came my way weren’t as good as they first appeared. Many, many business ideas would have meant I would have to work my socks off for just a few quid. Don’t settle for that, keep looking for something that has more potential. It’s like panning for gold – you throw away a lot of rocks. That doesn’t mean most business ideas are bad, just that many won’t be a good match for you personally and it makes sense to drop them and move on.

4. Grow it

Once you’ve got something that works, grow it. If it works but could be a lot better, improve it then grow it.

Speaking of improving things, don’t forget yourself. Don’t be afraid to pay for good training, but get it from someone who has been there and done it themselves. So many people are just regurgitating what other ‘gurus’ are saying.

5. Accept the goalposts will keep moving

Business changes constantly and so do the demands of young children. You’ll just think you’re getting the hang of things and your daughter will drop her afternoon nap and there goes your work time. Argh! Or you’ll have to learn to handle a business phone call with a small person saying “mummy I’ve done a wee” in the background. (I’ve actually got a recording of mine here…yes, really. Just a couple of seconds from the end. I almost got away with it.)

Hang on in there, you’ll get through it. Keep your sense of humour and don’t be too hard on yourself.

mummy I’ve done a wee

6. Get some rest

It sounds totally obvious that you don’t work as well when you’re tired, but that won’t stop you trying to work when you’re totally knackered. Now and again this is inevitable, but if you do it all the time you’re going to be in trouble. Naturally, you’ll get grumpy, frustrated and shout at the kids but you’ll also lose concentration, creativity and confidence. It gets harder to motivate yourself and make good decisions. You’ll end up wasting time by going up blind alleys. You’ll screw things up and it’ll take longer to fix them that it would have taken you to have a rest and do it right the first time. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming a workaholic. If you’re shattered, just go to bed early.

So there you have it – if I had a time machine and could go back to 2008, that’s what I’d tell myself.

If you’d like me to help you through your first steps as a work at home mum, then you’ll want to take a look at my new Work At Home Mum Fast Start course. Click here and I’ll tell you all about it in this video… (PS Go now because the price goes up on Sunday 16th Sept).

 

Comments

  1. sound advice as ever Helen! The test it /prototype is a good one which can be applied to online shops too. You’ll obviously need a product range to get you going but don’t have to go over the top & invest in huge amounts of stock – you can start small and grow organically in the way that suits your customers (not in the way that you think might suit them)

    • Thanks Julia! That’s a great example of prototyping. And I know of mums who have developed their own products who started out with just one product in their online stores (Big book Little Book Cardboard Box, Snoozeshade, Mamascarf). It’s tempting to think you have to follow Amazon’s lead, but starting with a small range means less risk and you can follow what your customers buy.

  2. Yes, nice one. If only you would have known. If I would have known what I do know now, after 2 years in, I might never have started. But I am glad I did and will continue to find ways of helping mums get better at combining work and children. Not something they will pay for, but I am piloting a host of other things this year that can fund my ‘helping working mums’ activities. Such as our exhibition for start_ups, the BIG Business get ready. Exciting, tiring and exactly what I want to be doing! Thanks for sharing

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