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Motherhood and Business

(from the Succeed March/April 2003 magazine)

It takes a certain kind of individual to run a business from home successfully. For an increasing number of women who want children but are unwilling or financially unable to relinquish their careers, it is an ideal solution that allows them to almost have it all.

However, as any freelancer or small business owner will tell you, it is not without its risks. You carry the can when business is slow, which could mean that you do not draw a salary for a few months. If the business employs others, you are still responsible for their salaries, irrespective of your cash flow at the time. Paid maternity leave and end of year bonuses only happen if you have planned well in advance and if your business can afford it.

Going on your own can be tough, lonely and scary, but for many women it has worked extremely well and they would not change it for anything.

Gail Petrie started her own company, Gap Advertising, 10 years ago and has not looked back since. She had always wanted to have children and knew that the long hours required of her job with a large clothing retailer would not be compatible with the kind of mother she wanted to be. “I did not want to give up working but at the same time I wanted to be there for my children – to look after them when they were sick, to be around when they were on holiday and to be able to fetch them from school,” she explains.

Today Petrie has two sons, aged six and four, and combines being a full-time mother with a very successful business. Her offices are attached to her home so she is close by if the children need her.

“I’m very good at prioritising what needs to be done – both in relation to work and the children,” she explains. “I did a course in time management several years ago and that has been really useful in my own business. Mornings and early afternoons are reserved for business. The children have their time from mid-afternoon until they go to bed and then I carry on working if I need to. It has worked very well for me and I would not change it for anything.”

Marie Yossava is the owner and founder of Grapevine Communications, a successful communications consultancy company that employs five people. Like Petrie, Yossava has combined a career and running a flourishing business with motherhood. Grapevine Communications is housed in a separate building on the same property as her home.

“In order to have more time with my children, I am very disciplined about the time I have in the office,” reveals Yossava. “It works if you have a separate area in which to work so that you can ‘go to work’ as far as the children are concerned. I tell them that I am going to work and that I will see them later. I work regular hours and have a strict routine.

“Clients are not interested in your personal circumstances. They do not want to hear babies crying in the background. If you are charging a fee for your services then you have to be professional. If clients are coming to your office then you need to be even more professional. A separate entrance to your home office is a very good idea if at all possible. Business is business and you are either in the game or not – there is no in-between,” maintains Yossava.

She says if she is at home or in the car with the children she does not answer the phone. “I would rather find a quiet spot five minutes later and return the call than have clients hear children in the background. It is important to always maintain a professional image as far as your clients are concerned.”

Yossava admits that it is not always easy running a business from home. “It is high risk and you do without certain benefits you would automatically get working for a corporate. The benefit is that you are much more flexible and it really is an ideal way of spending more time with your family.”

Kim Keel is another entrepreneur operating from home. She started her own corporate gifts company, Belle Regalo, two years after she had lost her job. “It was really hard in the beginning, and let nobody tell you it is not scary to start your own business,” she says. “Many people doubted my ability to make a success of my own business but I had a dream and I was determined. I have never been afraid of hard work – and starting your own business is very hard work!”

To add to her challenge, Keel became a single mother in August last year. She was finishing off a job the day the baby was born and was back at work a week later. “I know that is not the way it is supposed to be but this was my peak time and I really needed the income. In my line of business you cannot lose momentum without losing revenue.

“I have learned that you have to be really disciplined and that there are times when you are running on an emotional empty. However, you always need to project a collected, competent and calm image to the client even though behind the scenes things may be falling apart.”

Keel has joined a networking group and a business women’s association where she does most of her prospecting. “It is difficult to start prospecting with a baby in the background so these meetings are ideal for me,” she says.

She laughingly says she is going to write a book called 'How Moles Climb Mountains' one day when she has the time. “In your own business it is very important to keep your eye on the goal and to take a step back every now and then to measure your success.”

These three women have two things in common: a determination to make their businesses work and the discipline to get the job done. Running your own business from home is not for everyone, but for those who are doing it successfully the rewards are enormous.

Marie, William & Nicholas Yossava

Kim & Margret Keel

Gail Petrie