Grow, baby, grow: starting a business while on maternity leave
At a glance
Here’s a snapshot of the advice from our interviewees:
- Create networks, but start by roping in friends and family for that much-needed initial boost.
- Use social media and partnerships strategically to help increase effectiveness of marketing on a budget.
- Prepare to multitask your way through every day and celebrate the small wins.
- Up your game when it comes to accounts – your business success could depend on it.
Maternity leave can present a liberating opportunity for women to reconsider their priorities and their work opportunities. But starting a new business during pregnancy and the early months of new motherhood can take the challenge of managing work-life balance to a whole new level. Here four mothers and small business owners share their tips for mastering the ultimate juggling act.
The expert networker
A month and a half after giving birth to her second child, Katie Martin got a call to tell her she’d been made redundant. Fortunately, knowing it was a possibility, she’d already started her business plan and was on her way to launching Absolute Web Design.
Creating a network would prove crucial to the success of her business but required some expert time management.
“With two small children at home, I had to be very strategic when it came to networking as I was limited with my time and with the in-person events I could attend,” Katie explains. “I had to continue to build my network of people who could help promote my business and find a way to effectively network online to gain clients.”
Friends, family and old colleagues played an important role in the early days.
“They are great promoters and while they don’t necessarily buy from you or even understand what you do, they genuinely want to see you succeed and will help to share your name and business with anyone who will listen.”
Then it was a matter of creating and nurturing a variety of online networks across different platforms.
“People buy from brands and people they trust, so creating and growing your online presence is a crucial foundation to building trust,” says Katie. LinkedIn would prove especially useful for building deeper connections with people after an initial engagement in person or via email.
“It not only gives them direct insight into your work history and capability, it also helps establish your credibility.”
Facebook business groups were also a valuable resource to Katie in establishing her expertise early on.
“It isn’t just about making a sale,” says Katie. “Sharing your knowledge for free – say in response to a question on a group page – gets eyes on you and your business, and can often lead to another person getting in touch directly.”
With all that knowledge shared in the hopes of gaining business, the flipside is knowing where to draw the line and value your expertise. Katie’s hardest won lesson: “Setting boundaries with yourself and your clients, sticking to them and learning to say no”.
And as for launching a small business with a young child and newborn?
The self-care and socials pro
Avalon Fynn-Quirk discovered early in her days as a first-time mum that opportunities for downtime were few and far between.
“My only place of solitude to rest, recuperate and re-energise was during my daily bath or shower.” These healing moments became the inspiration for her new business, KIND BOD, a luxury bath and skincare brand.
“Using my time strategically was everything! I worked during the night and while my daughter napped. I wanted to make sure that every minute she was awake I was present, and every time she was asleep, I was working on the business. Who needs sleep, right? Ha!”
By the time her daughter turned one, Avalon found she needed more time to spend on the business, so she enrolled her daughter in daycare twice a week. Avalon invested her time prior to launch in building her social followings and an email subscriber list.
“I didn’t have the funds to splurge on expensive marketing so I wanted an engaged audience I could present my brand to,” says Avalon. “Consistency was key here. I was posting at least once a day, making sure to engage followers and the social community, as well as testing out TikTok.”
Collaborations would also prove a powerful way of building her audience.
“I teamed up with beautiful brands to launch a giveaway which was super successful for the brands involved as well as my business. It was the quickest way to gain followers and a good way to provide sneak peeks of our product. It also caught the eye of some amazing retailers who got in touch about wholesale opportunities.”
Avalon’s local mothers’ group was a great source of support, and connected Avalon to other small business groups of working mothers.
“They have been super beneficial to bounce ideas off and ask for advice, and helped build up a following and consistent engagement with my posts.”
So Avalon’s advice to other mums wanting to start a small business is to find their community: “It can be super tough when you feel like you’re doing it alone so surround yourself with supportive, like-minded people.”
The multi-tasking marvel
Previously a CEO in the manufacturing industry, Roxxie Myers started her company selling breed-specific dog grooming products, Serotoninkc, when she realised she was pregnant.
“My role was very intense and I didn’t want to raise children I never see,” she says. “I thought running my own business would be like being an employee except without the annoying parts – how wrong could I be! Everything has taken longer and been far harder than expected.”
Her advice to mums starting their own business? “Get ready to take multi-tasking to a whole new level.”
“This morning I posted some social content, set up Facebook pixels, bought baby wipes, packed and sent parcels, fed my daughter multiple times, ordered packaging and spoke to retailers. There is no longer such a thing as business hours. I laugh now about how difficult it was to send one email without horrendous typos in those early days.”
But Roxxie isn’t looking back. She has no regrets about leaving her CEO role as, she says, manufacturing can be a tough, high-stress environment and she wouldn’t want to miss these moments with her daughter. But there’s one thing she’d do differently with her business if she had her time again.
“With hindsight I would certainly have pushed harder and stayed focused to get my website up and running before I gave birth. My main tip for a mum starting their own business would be to get as much ready as possible while you’re pregnant because you’ll be lucky to get much done in the first six months. Even as we speak, I have a baby spoon of yoghurt in one hand and am getting the stink eye from my ‘boss’!”
“I really look forward to raising my daughter within a family business environment,” says Roxxie. “The skills and work ethic she will learn will be priceless.”
The constant learner
Previously a gas construction engineer, Susie Taaffe started her underwear business Missy Massy instead of going back to her job after maternity leave.
“I used all the frequent flyer points accumulated to book three trips to start the sourcing and product development for my business,” she says.
Her advice to mums starting small businesses? “Know your numbers. Make sure you get very friendly with an excel sheet or accounting program to manage cash flow, profit and loss, and your balance sheet. Even if you aren’t a numbers person, get taught how to master these three things and look at them regularly.”
Susie is a firm believer that, even if you’re going to outsource specific tasks, a small business owner should understand every area of their business.
“You need to know the scope of what you need and measure your return on any investment, whether it’s in digital marketing, website building or product development,” says Susie. “There are so many free courses and webinars on social media where you get the first bit of content for free before signing up – do a combination of free and paid courses whenever you need to learn more.”
Connecting and learning from other small business owners is also important – personally and professionally.
“You will spend a lot of time working by yourself which can be isolating so catching up for a coffee and talking about ideas and tips is mentally beneficial plus helpful,” she says. “Get out of the house. Utilise coffee shops with wifi to get work done so you’re not constantly looking at things that need washing or tidying!”
Even with that difficult juggle, Susie doesn’t regret her move. “It is incredibly worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
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