Is it possible to bring up a family and start a business at the same time? Yes, says Transmit Start-Up’s communications consultant Laura White – and the timing might just be perfect.
Not everyone starting their own business has ambitions to take over the world. For some, like me, the aim of the game is just to have a bit more control of their own little universe.
Unlike some business owners I know, I didn’t start out with a burning desire to make a million, or a staff of hundreds. But I knew I wanted to change the way I worked when I became pregnant with my daughter Nina, and self-employment seemed a smart choice.
Nina was a much longed-for baby. A baby I wasn’t sure I’d ever be lucky enough to have. I was determined to find a way to spend as much time at home with her as possible. So, when I went on maternity leave from the job I loved at a big, city centre communications agency I realised that chapter of my life was over and a new one was about to begin.
I needed a new plan!
For the first few months of Nina’s life, just getting us both through the day was achievement enough. But about six months in, I took a phone call from a former colleague who asked if I was interested in some freelance work - and I surprised myself by how much I wanted to give it a go.
Just a couple of days later someone else from my network got in touch about another project, and then a third, and suddenly the idea of making a living this way started to feel like a real possibility.
Although I was loving being a full-time mam (read: mum, if you’re not in my native North East!) work was still important to me and obviously pretty fundamental to helping to keep a roof over my family’s head. This seemed to me a way of getting a balance of the two.
How did I go about it?
Things moved really quickly from those initial calls and I did it all on a shoe-string. From my spot on the carpet next to baby, I researched the self-employment essentials.
My first move was to invest some time in seeking the thoughts of a couple of trusted friends, who are also business owners. Their frankness and insight into the pros and cons of taking the road less travelled was invaluable.
Their words of wisdom and warning helped me navigate my way through the early obstacles and I’ve returned to their advice time and again since.
Next, I got registered as a sole trader, signed up for a crash course in self-assessment basics and sought some formal Government-funded business support. Work was lining up so rather than turn it down through lack of equipment, I initially borrowed a computer, software and a printer from family members to get started.
I managed surprisingly well with very little!
But after a time with basic equipment, I knew I needed some financial assistance to get the essentials and considered my options. Back then there were a number of Government grants to encourage start-ups in my area and I was fortunate enough to secure match funding to help me afford the basic equipment I needed.
I know this grant assistance has all but dried up now across the country so in today’s world I guess I would have looked at a Start Up Loan instead, like those offered by Transmit Start-Ups.
I put my mind to drafting a business plan and, with the help of a marketing advisor, created an initial brand and a simple single-page website as a calling card.
My only goal at first was to ‘buy’ myself out of employment, to avoid having to rely on formal childcare for my daughter. Other than that, to avoid putting too much pressure on myself, I didn’t set myself any targets. I was also careful not to talk up my decision to become my own boss to friends and family, so I didn’t have too far to fall if it didn’t work out!
I figured that every day I could spend at home with my daughter was a bonus. I went from week to week at first. Before I knew it, months had passed, and then years.
November 2018 marked my tenth year in business.
How did I make my business fit my life?
I’m lucky because my type of work can be done from pretty much anywhere and means I can be flexible with where and when I work. As long as I have a notebook and pen, a phone, laptop and internet connection I’m good to go. This was especially useful in the early days and meant I could fit around playgroups and play dates.
I relied heavily on what I called my Golden Hour – the only time in the day I knew Nina would have a nap. Between 11am and noon I’d power through a phenomenal amount of work and always scheduled phone calls and interviews for that point in the day, when I knew I wouldn’t be disturbed.
As long as I had my notes in my book, I could return to them after I’d done bath time and bedtime. I’d then usually do the equivalent of half a day’s work and I’d really enjoy the change of intellectual gear after a day of feeding and playgrounds.
Having come from a slick agency with a focus on client services, I was initially really nervous that my set up would come across as unprofessional. Rather than shy away from this, I was upfront with clients about the way I worked and was pleasantly surprised by how accommodating and supportive they were.
Many were parents themselves and understood my motivation for wanting to work this way. Now most people work from home to some extent so it’s not out of the ordinary.
I’ve grown my business as Nina has grown. As she’s become older and more independent, I’ve taken on larger and more complex projects. I’ve remained flexible with my working patterns to fit around my family and have occasionally dipped back into employment if a nice opportunity has come my way. My free spirit always seems to call me back to doing my own thing eventually.
What about the money?
Working for yourself definitely demands a change of mindset and it really makes you value your time. At first, I didn’t dare think too far ahead. I scaled our family spending right back and I’d avoid financial commitments to avoid putting pressure on myself to secure work. I’d save up money and be reluctant to spend it in case work suddenly dried up.
Regular returning clients and plenty of word of mouth recommendations gave me the confidence to be a bit braver and start to consider my income as reliable. That nervousness never quite leaves me though, and I try to plan family spending to accommodate a drop in my income just in case.
My income has always been at least on a par with what I’d be earning as a full-time employee. I definitely work harder for my money than I ever would as an employee but the flexibility is well worth the extra effort.
The first cheque I paid into my business bank account was a lovely moment. I pushed my daughter down to the bank in her pram and felt amazing when I handed it over to the cashier.
It was a major milestone in my life, and it was really empowering to know I didn’t need to rely on anyone else to pay me a wage – I could do this myself.
And the next chapter of my story?
I’ve no idea what’s next for my business and that’s the way I like it. I’ve become somewhat addicted to the twists and turns. I love not knowing what opportunities are waiting around the next corner and I can’t honestly imagine going back to the nine to five.
I’ve experienced things I’d never have experienced as an employee. I’ve met some amazing people and I’ve learned more about myself and what I
can do. I have some fantastic clients, I’ve had the pleasure of working on some fascinating projects and I’m really proud of the results I’ve delivered. Most importantly, I’ve never rarely missed a sports day, school nativity or dental appointment.
This didn’t start as a career move. It was done out of necessity and a desire to spend as much time as possible with my baby. But in some strange way I now know I was always entrepreneurial.
Motherhood just gave me the chance to discover a new side of myself – and the chance to bring up two babies at the same time!
About the author
Laura runs her own PR company, Laura White PR, and is part of Transmit’s communications team.
‘Give it a go 2019’ is our streamlined start-up loans process which specialises in awarding loans of between £500 - £5,000 to help those that want to become self-employed realise their dreams this year.
It’s perfect for those that want to explore becoming self-employed, either while still working full or part-time and/or by turning their hobby or skill set into a full-time business.