Mothers who know how to cope with business

WORK DAY: Fiona Kyle, Gabriela Castro-Fontoura and Emma Colley with children, Leonardo Smith, three, Amelia and Joshua Kyle, ten months and three, Carlos Smith, one, Isla Colley, four. 'Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
WORK DAY: Fiona Kyle, Gabriela Castro-Fontoura and Emma Colley with children, Leonardo Smith, three, Amelia and Joshua Kyle, ten months and three, Carlos Smith, one, Isla Colley, four. 'Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
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THE rise of the ‘mumpreneur’ is gaining momentum. Mark Butler looks at the phenomenon and how they could be key to the country’s economic recovery.

WHEN Fiona Kyle returned to her successful career in communications following the birth of her first child, she thought she’d achieved the ideal work-life balance.

Juggling motherhood with business meetings in Geneva was stressful but satisfying, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. But then her baby son Joshua became ill – and everything changed.

“He had to go to the hospital for tests, and work wouldn’t let me have time off to go with him,” says Fiona. “I wanted to set a good example of what a working mum could do – and show I was reliable – so my husband had to go instead.

“I felt terrible. I was stuck at work, and all I could think about was what was happening to my one-year-old boy. I never got over that.”

After this incident Fiona became determined to seize control of her working life, and she has now made the transition from working mother to self-proclaimed “mumpreneur” – launching her own copywriting, editing and proofreading company.

Fiona, who lives in Skipton with her husband, ten-month-old daughter Amelia and Joshua, three, feels liberated by this move.

“It’s important for me to pick up my children from nursery and go to their plays, but it’s also important to have something else in my life,” explains Fiona, 32. “Starting your own business allows you to take control and concentrate on what’s really important.”

It seems a growing number of mothers agree with this philosophy, and are turning their backs on the rigid demands of the workplace to set up their own businesses. So prevalent is the trend that Fiona is now launching a networking group for fellow mumpreneurs in the area.

“This is a chance to tackle some of the challenges that women in business face, and offer support to people in similar situations. Entrepreneurs aren’t just Alan Sugar types anymore.”

Indeed, while David Cameron may have been urging would-be-entrepreneurs to set up new businesses to help the economy recover, it appears the nation’s mothers are already well ahead of the political rhetoric. A study published last year coined the term Kitchen Table Tycoons to refer to a new breed of enterprising mothers who have set up businesses from home, with the report noting that these businesswomen generate a combined turnover of £4.4bn in the UK.

Carried out in conjunction with the London School of Economics, the research also discovered the vast majority were motivated by a need for greater working flexibility after the birth of their first child. As economics expert Tim Leunig put it: “An increasing number of mums dream of a career that they can enjoy in tandem with motherhood.”

“To be able to set your own working hours is a fantastic gift,” agrees Emma Colley, 32, of Embsay, who has been running her homeopathy business since 2007. “I take my four-year-old daughter Isla to playgroup and pick her up, catching up on work in the evenings when she’s gone to bed. You have to be smarter with your time than other people. Sometimes I’ll work until 11pm or every evening. But I have the flexibility to work around the needs of my child. The beauty of it is that I can provide for myself and my daughter and not have to answer to anyone else.”

Due to continued economic uncertainty the rise of the mumpreneurs may become even more prevalent in the coming months, with working mothers due to face increasing pressures at the office and falling financial support as a result of the public spending cuts. A report by workplace provider Regus in January revealed that employers are becoming more and more reluctant to hire mothers in the wake of the recession, while a survey by Netmums found that more than half of working mothers will be forced to drastically reduce their working hours, or stop work altogether, as a result of government cuts in childcare support.

In such a climate, the greater flexibility and independence associated with self-employment may make it an attractive option for many more mothers. “It’s a growing phenomenon,” says Sarah Chapman, 42, who runs the South Yorkshire branch of networking group Mum’s The Boss. “These are tough economic times and women worry about job security after they go on maternity leave.

“Setting up a business gives you an alternative option, by harnessing the power of the internet you can grow one from home easier than ever before. The web has played a huge part in this.”

Mum’s The Boss provides networking, support and advice for mothers with businesses, and Sarah – who set up her own PR consultancy after the birth of her daughter – launched a Sheffield group in January. Just a few months on, 25 women regularly attend its meetings. “I think a lot of mums have experienced the same ‘lightbulb moment’,” says Sarah. “For years I’d been in a busy, demanding role, working long hours for big-name clients. Motherhood was a big change and it made me re-focus. I wanted to be as good a businesswoman as I could be and as good a parent as I could be – so I needed a more flexible way of working.

“Motherhood makes you hugely resourceful. I have to work smartly with the time I have and concentrate resources in the right places.”

Business consultant and mother-of-two Gabriela Castro-Fontoura, 31, agrees.

“In the past, women have used entrepreneurial skills for things other than business – such as raising money for charity or organising community projects. Now they are turning their skills to the business world.”

Gabriela, a friend of Fiona’s, recently set up her own company Sunny Sky Solutions, which works with UK businesses looking to expand internationally. Gabriela says that she and Fiona both drew inspiration from entrepreneurial mothers they met while organising a local Baby Fair.

“We saw that 70 of the 76 businesses exhibiting were women-led,” she explains. “One woman from Settle, Hannah Evans, set up her own ethical clothing company from scratch after being made redundant, and now she’s operating in 27different countries.”

Gabriela dislikes the term mumpreneur, arguing that it does a disservice to the professionalism and skills of the serious businesswomen it labels. “It implies someone in a kitchen juggling babies, the housework and a career, but I keep these things completely separate. Women can be very committed and professional and passionate about their jobs, whether they have children or not.”

“I think people will soon associate it with driven, committed businesswomen,” says Fiona. “I want to be proud to be called a mumpreneur.”

MOTHERS WHO BLAZED THE TRAIL

It was shortly after the birth of her second child that Michelle Mone launched Ultimo clothing, a brand is now worn by Hollywood stars and valued at £48m.

Looking to support herself and her two daughters while her husband was away in South America, the late Dame Anita Roddick opened the first Body Shop in 1976. Thirty years later, the company was sold to L’Oréal for £652m.

Mum’s The Boss is holding a one-day conference in Leeds on Saturday June 4. For more information visit www.mumstheboss.co.uk

To contact Fiona Kyle, email fiona@wordsbyfionakyle.co.uk