I Started a Business With a Toddler: Li-ling Ooi of Xelium

Tell us a little about your business

We run an IT educational consultancy, Xelium. I believe the fancy term is ‘education technologist’, in essence we help schools, the school management and teachers work towards incorporating and applying IT into their lessons and try to encourage schools to move towards more technology—based methods of communication (e.g. emails, twitter). We specialize particularly in building, creating and supporting Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and building and maintaining websites. We are currently working on a set of navigational tools which will allow easier navigation within VLEs.

What was your job before starting your business?

I lectured in Structural Chemistry at University. This was where I had my first foray in to VLEs both from an academics and a students perspective. I also worked on a teaching and learning qualification here, which got me interested in how teaching and learning could be made more attractive to students.

How did you go from your old career to your new business?

Going back after maternity leave was very difficult, because the work environment simply was not supportive at all. I stayed there for about a year, before finally resigning. It was a big, big move and some personal experiences had helped to put things in to perspective. Between quitting work and starting a business, I wrote an undergraduate textbook on my specialism, Principles of X-ray Crystallography, published by OUP in Dec 2009.

What were your reasons for starting a business?

The business started as a natural extension to what we had been asked to do for some schools. We had for the past few years been supporting and maintaining some website for schools, and we were asked to work on VLE implementation and training for these same schools.

We progressively moved towards formalizing that relationship and started to take on more clients. I started the business on my own first, and then later on, managed to persuade my husband that we could do it together and make it work better. Unlike a lot of mums, I did not quit work to spend more time with my child, in all honesty I felt as if I was ‘backed in to a corner’ with no other way out apart from leaving.In hindsight though, I am really glad I did it, because I would have missed out so much with working fulltime and a child in nursery all day, every day. I must say though, staying at home, with a child, is so so so much harder work than actually ‘going to work’, although juggling work and child-care is an immense feat in itself! Hats off to all mummies out there!

An amazing wonderful plus, to working from home is having the flexibility and the ability to define our own working hours. Having said that, we only ever work at 50% capacity whenever G is at home. She’s used to having someone ‘entertain’ her.

Did you use any childcare?

When I was writing my book, she went to nursery 1 day a week, and the rest of the book was written in her nap times and at night after she went to bed. Now that she’s at school, we work the hours that she’s at school and continue after she goes to bed.

How did you get your business idea?

We were in part already offering these services to some clients who had requested them prior to us becoming a business.

What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

I think one of our challenges, still a challenge, as a business, is getting word out, about what we do. We have grown very organically mainly through word of mouth and requests, with clients passing on our information to other prospective clients. In an ideal world, I would love to have the business grow exponentially, but it has worked well so far and we have very good relationships with all of our clients.

What training, information or advice did you need to get started?

I looked up masses and masses of information online, particularly about starting up a limited company, and learning about taxation, returns etc. Surprisingly, the HMRC helplines are very helpful and businesslink.org.uk contains a lot of very helpful information. Whenever I have a question about something, I usually google it, and often find my way to some business forum, where I can lurk about and eventually find the answer to my question. It seems quite rare to encounter an issue that has not been asked before.

If you could give one piece of advice to a mum of a baby or toddler starting a business, what would it be?

I think the advise I wished someone would have been able to give me early on, was that as mums, we often are so used to juggling so so many things, and our to-do lists are infinite and down right scary! It’s so very important, to be able to take stock each day of how much you’ve accomplished in that day, regardless of how many to-dos have or have not been ticked off. Every day is a success, and even if you’ve managed to just do one thing for your business, you would have done so much for your children and family, whatever it is, it’s still an accomplishment.

I’ve also found it really really important to learn to ‘let go’ and live in the moment. For example, if I’m with Georgia at the park, I used to keep thinking about all the things I hadn’t done for work, but I’ve since learnt to just live in the ‘present’ and enjoy the time I spend with her or our time as a family.

One Reply to “I Started a Business With a Toddler: Li-ling Ooi of Xelium”

  1. I love all these stories you put on your blog for people to read. It is really interesting why people set up businesses and how they deal with the everyday challenges.

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