What to do after maternity leave is a tough choice, particularly with the cost of childcare and long hours to contend with. Many women dream of starting their own business but don’t have the confidence to do it. PR guru Melissa Talago tells Petite Bonita it is possible, and how you get started.
Melissa: Following maternity leave after my first son, I was torn. I had a great career but there was no way the long hours working at a London-based PR agency were going to work with a baby. My employers weren’t willing to offer flexible working. I had a choice of getting a full-time nanny and never seeing my baby, or giving up my job.
I gave up my job.
Millions of women still face this situation every year despite improvements for flexible working and shared parental leave, which has recently kicked in (April 2015). Finding a job that fits around children is a challenge, which is what makes becoming your own boss so appealing. But how do you do it?
Firstly, decide what type of work you’d like to do, and then there are some key things that you need to consider to make it happen.
What to do?
Decide what it is you want to do. Not all jobs are suited to working from home, so adjust your thinking. For example, if you used to be a nurse, but can no longer manage the shift work or long hours, why not use your knowledge to create a first aid course for mums?
Make two lists: one of all the skills you have and another of things you like to do. Where is there an overlap? The more passionate you are about the thing you do, the more likely it is to succeed. Obviously there will have to be a need for the thing you’re offering but you’ll be surprised at how versatile your skills are when you list them all.
Become a freelancer:
Many professions are suitable to going freelance. In other words, you do what you’ve always done, but now you work for yourself and outsource your skills. Probably the quickest and easiest way of becoming self-employed, it’s a great way to get started.
It’s what I did after my maternity leave ended. I used my existing contacts at my old PR company to get freelance work. Sites like Peopleperhour or ELance.com are also good places to find work, or try your industry body. There are plenty of websites with advice on how to go freelance and it’s a great way to dip your toe in the self-employment waters.
Spot a gap in the market:
After the birth of my second child, I set up a PR company specialising in the parenting sector. At the time, there were hardly any PR companies focused on this space, yet it was a thriving sector with countless new baby related products being introduced. I realised there was a gap in the market to offer low cost PR to these mumpreneurs who needed publicity in a crowded sector. To have a successful business, you need to identify a problem and come up with a solution for it.
Buy a franchise:
There are many different franchise opportunities out there. My advice is do your research carefully. After I sold my parenting PR business, I invested £10,000 into a franchise which I thought looked good. I should have done better research. Had I spoken to some of their other franchisees, I would have found out what it was really like. I eventually lost the £10,000 and had to walk away from the franchise. I should also have realised that I’m not franchisee material. I like to make my own rules and plans, whereas franchise opportunities tend to give you the plans and rules to roll out.
That said, there are many excellent franchise opportunities, so don’t be put off. You’ll need money to invest, you’ll need to be willing to work hard and you’ll need to accept that you don’t have as much freedom to do your own thing as you might with your own business. But it’s that very security and feeling of not being alone that makes a franchise appealing to some people.
Many mums go this route – whether it’s selling jewellery, cards, beauty products or clothes. And many make a really good living doing it. But while the network marketing companies are good at putting a glossy sheen on how much money you can make, they often fail to mention just how long that will take and how hard it is to keep finding people to sell to. Go into this with your eyes open. You will need to love selling to succeed.
Making it happen
Whatever route you choose to becoming your own boss, you have the power to make it happen. Key things to take into consideration are:
- Investment: Starting up a business doesn’t have to cost a lot. You can even get away without a website initially by using a Facebook page for free. But you will need to have some money to live off until you get set up, and there will be expenses that you’ll need to plan for. You can do things on a shoestring to start with, but to grow you need to invest at some point
- Registration: You’ll need to register as self-employed with HMRC.
- Just do it: Don’t wait for things to be perfect. It’s very easy to convince yourself that you need to learn something new or create something else before you can launch. Just get started and learn as you go. It’s the best way to learn.
- Childcare: Working for yourself doesn’t mean you can get away without childcare. You can do work around baby’s naptime and in the evening, but ideally you will need to get someone to help look after your child for at least one day a week.
- Network: Whether it’s face-to-face (often tricky with a baby) or online via LinkedIn or Facebook groups; to get support, advice and company.
- Plan: Start small but plan big. Think about what you might like this business/role to look like in five years time. Keep that vision in your head as you build and grow.
And finally, be kind to yourself. When you run your own business you have to do everything, from IT to HR, marketing to accounts – not to mention the actual service you’re offering and being a mum. Don’t expect miracles. Do congratulate yourself every time you make a sale or get a happy customer.
You are being brave and making it happen for yourself. And that is awesome!