By Oliver Milman
Monday, 20 February 2012
Although some areas of Australia’s economy look worryingly sluggish, there is an area that is clearly booming, and it has nothing to do with mining.
Home-based businesses are now the fastest growing small business sector, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It’s a trend that is being driven by an increasing desire for women to go it alone.
Indeed, Bankwest research from last year showed that women are starting-up businesses at twice the rate of men, while a separate study by Kimberly-Clark suggests that seven in 10 Aussie women have considered starting a business since becoming a mother.
While the falling cost of technology and flexible working arrangements make it easier than ever for mumpreneurs to start-up, many still face a severe challenge in juggling work and family.
“Running an SME is intense sometimes, as is family – often at the same time,” says Polly McGee, StartupSmart blogger, academic and all-round mumpreneur expert.
“Especially in start-up phase, the hours are long and hard. So friends, family and fools can invest in [physical and emotional] support rather than (or as well as) finance to get mumpreneurs over the line.”
So, if you’re looking to combine work with a young family, or are doing so but struggling, how can you strike the ideal balance? We speak to some of Australia’s busiest mumpreneurs to get five top tips.
1. Have a separate physical space
It may sound like an obvious flaw, but many women fail to set aside a dedicated space in the house for their business.
While moving around the house all day may feel like you are tackling everything at once, it’s often to the detriment of your business. You need an area where you can focus solely on your start-up, where your family are well aware that you are not to be disturbed.
“The kids are used to me working from, home, but they will still come charging in through the door when I’m on a client call,” says Natasha Hawker, founder of HR consultancy Employee Matters.
“You want to give the perception of being professional, so it’s important that you have a space where you aren’t being constantly interrupted.”
Whether it’s a study, spare bedroom or garage, create an environment where there’s a clear demarcation between work and family life.
2. Set clear boundaries – and don’t break them
While your routine will depend on factors such as whether your children are at school or not and the level of help your partner can provide, it’s essential that you set clear boundaries during your work day.
Mandi Gunsberger, founder of Babyology.com.au, divides her day up to encompass both work and family life.
“My children are four and five years-old,” she says. “I will get up at 6am, work until I take them to school and then until they need to come home.”
“I’ve always got my iPhone on me for calls and emails, but I put it away between 4pm and 7pm, when I’m with the children again. I then work from 7pm onwards, until about 11pm.”
“The most challenging thing is having any time left over. People think I go to the gym or for a walk all the time, but I can’t. I know women who do from 8am to 6pm every week and they would find my day irritating, but I enjoy the mix.”
Set a regular routine that incorporates work and family life and stick to it. Clients and suppliers are increasingly accepting of non-traditional work hours, so don’t be afraid to sacrifice some time during the day, as long as you’re contactable.
3. Be prepared for success
Many home-based businesses are born through a hobby or sideline that catches consumers’ interest and rapidly grows.
Unfortunately, some mumpreneurs cannot cope with this sudden popularity, leaving their family life to suffer as they work long hours to keep the business going.
“People prepare for failure more than they do for success,” says McGee. “Their businesses take off but they can scale them and they struggle.”
“It’s all about planning to succeed. Stop and take stock about what you are doing. Where do you want the business to go? How will you remain flexible to cope with the changing business and social environment?”
“The key is to not panic and to think of work/life as a flow, not a balance. Have a flexible business plan and think of contingencies, so that they don’t overwhelm you if the worst happens.”
4. Be wary of isolation
If you go down this path, make sure you take full advantage from the at-hand market research you can do with your own children.
But don’t let your family set-up become so enmeshed in your business that you lose sight of what the wider market wants.
You may love your idea for selling baby t-shirts online, but what of the many other businesses doing the same thing? Your kids could be big fans of your range of children’s iPad games, but what do others think?
“Use your family, mothers’ groups and Facebook friends for intel on your business,” advises McGee. “Think about using a co-working space and joining a networking group, Keep on top of the trends out there and be super flexible.”
5. Don’t be afraid to outsource
According to McGee, many entrepreneurial mums are reluctant to take on outside help, leaving them at risk of being swamped.
“Mumpreneurs want to be heroes and do everything, but they shouldn’t be afraid to pick up the phone to someone to ask for help, whether that’s to help pack stock or send some emails,” she says.
If you outsource smartly, you’ll be able to cut your workload while increasing your focus on the key drivers of your business that really matter – such as sales and new business opportunities – while having some time left over for your family.
Gunsberger has 12 members of staff, all work-at-home mums who put in 10 to 20 hours of work a week, lightening the load on the busy founder.
She says that it’s important for mumpreneurs to treat their homes like a business and realise that they can’t do it all.
“I outsource things like cooking and cleaning so that I have the time to do the fun stuff, rather than washing,” she says.
“It took a few years to not feel guilty that I wasn’t cooking my children a great organic meal from scratch every day, but they don’t appreciate the time I spend on it. They just want a good meal, so I found someone who could deliver to us.”
“The expense of outsourcing some tasks is more than worth it as it gives me more time and allows me to focus on the important things.”
This article was originally published at startupsmart.com.au http://www.startupsmart.com.