Tuesday, 22 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK GUEST POST: On why motherhood and entrepreneurship can be the perfect fit

Emily Guille-Marrett is a mother of two young boys and founder of new company ReadingFairy.com. Here she talks about how having a baby changed her life and gave her the flexibility, creative space and confidence to set up her own business.

From strategy meeting to motherhood

“I have to go to the hospital for an urgent check up. I hope to be back for the strategy meeting at midday, otherwise I will be induced. I’ll ring and let you know.”

These were the last words I recall saying to my publishing director before going on maternity leave with my first baby.  I had pre-eclampsia in the late stages of pregnancy and my baby had stopped growing. My blood pressure was high and, for both our sakes, it was time to give nature a helping hand and welcome my son into the world a little early. No-one could have prepared me for this life-changing experience and its impact on my career and family.

A new life and new opportunities

Fast-forward a few weeks and I had resigned from my job, sold our family home and planned to relocate from Oxford to Whitstable on the Kent coast. All my work colleagues, family and friends were shocked. I was the last person on earth they (and I) thought wouldn’t be returning to work after having a baby. An ambitious publisher, fiercely loyal and satisfied in my job, I had found myself in an impossible situation. Unlike many mothers and fathers who manage the balance between work and home life brilliantly, I knew I would find it difficult to set boundaries between working for someone else and the demands of motherhood. Having been separated from our underweight baby at birth because he’d been in special care meant that my husband and I were unwilling to compromise on the natural-parenting style we’d unexpectedly fallen into, which wasn’t reasonably compatible with the expectations of contemporary office life.

I had spent my career inspired by incredible women in publishing such as Dame Marjorie Scardino at Pearson, Kate Harris at Oxford University Press and most recently Kate Wilson at Nosy Crow. They had taught me the importance of embracing change, accepting and learning from failure and above all being brave and resilient. It was time to apply this knowledge and find the inner strength to set up my own company and work for myself.

The story behind Reading Fairy

Having been a publisher of books and software to help children learn to read, I found that friends wanted advice and practical tips to support their child’s reading at home. What started off as a light-hearted chat with friends over coffee turned into a passion for wanting to pass on my expertise to help parents and carers give their child a head start for learning to read. I presented my ideas for Reading Fairy to the School for Creative Start Ups and was awarded a place with funding from Kent County Council. Bookings for classes, parties and bespoke events are now available in Kent and London. 

Babies and Business – The Highs and Lows

1.     Finances

It took a while to adjust to having only one regular income. We took some of the pressure off by selling our home and relocating to Whitstable on the Kent coast. There’s no doubt that we have had to make material sacrifices in the short term. But the value of what I’m doing, as a mother, partner, provider and reading expert, far out-ways the immediate financial loss.

When I think of the loss of salary and perks of being a publisher, it can feel quite overwhelming. No regular income. No company car. No pension. No private healthcare. No maternity leave with baby number 2. No childcare support. The list goes on. But when I read in Forbes that Manhattan Nannies can earn up to $200k a year, my friends and I in a similar position to me joked that this was the amount we were saving our family on childcare. Suddenly, it didn’t feel quite so painful!

Whatever happens, don’t let motherhood stand in your way of seeking financial and business advice. Being on maternity leave is a great time to both bond with your baby and seek new opportunities. The great thing about setting up your own business whilst parenting in the way you want is that you can create your own boundaries. I have fed my newborn baby in meetings about business funding and pitched for investment with my baby in a sling. I can’t quite believe I did that now, but it certainly helped me get to where I am now.

2.     Childcare

I couldn’t have got to where I am now without the support of my husband and the grandparents in assisting with childcare. My parents-in-law generously help us with childcare on a regular basis – and my boys love being with them. My parents in Jersey were called upon to drop everything and assist with childcare during the Reading Fairy launch at Selfridges. Quite what people do without that kind of support I don’t know!  

My husband and I never feel we’ve quite got the home/work balance right between us. Setting up a business whilst raising small children is not for the faint hearted. Sleep deprivation, ambition, sacrifice, passion (and housework!) all converge to create fireworks every now and then. But we know where we are, where we want to get to and we’re proud to say we’re following our dreams – as individuals, together and as a family. All family set ups are different, and I know many successful single mothers who, with a strong network of family, friends and the right childcare support, are hugely successful in balancing work and family life.

3.      Motherhood and Sisterhood

I think it’s sad that for over a year I was deemed unemployed by society both as a stay at home mother and person setting up a business. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. And I’ve not been entitled to any childcare support as for some time I was deemed self-employed. There are many women in this situation. 

Whatever your parenting style or work/life situation, it’s important to surround yourself with supportive friends. In the early days of motherhood, I knew which of my friends were feeding their babies on demand through the night so I could support them to get sleep and vice versa. I would arrange playdates with friends who were setting up businesses and had young children. We would go to one another’s houses, talk through ideas and childcare swap. Sometimes a large cup of tea and a big hug was all we needed. Many neighbours call on us when their child is ill or needs to be collected from nursery or school – and they’re there for us too. I have a fantastic social media network of supporters and advisers – for motherhood and business. This has and continues to be invaluable. 

Get out there and meet people

The most important thing I recommend anyone embarking on motherhood or setting up a business is to get out there and meet people. Share your knowledge and others will share theirs. Network and you’ll find support. Communicate and you’ll find opportunities. If you get out there and start believing in yourself then you’ll build your confidence.

What I have found incredible is how many other mothers felt similarly to me. Many had re-located, were in the process of setting up a businesses or working freelance. All are talented and continue to experiment with ways to balance work and motherhood – for some that’s about staying at home. Whatever you do, it must make you happy, fulfilled, content and valued.  

Here are just a handful of inspiring businesses set up by talented mothers I know to inspire you. 

My Top Tips for starting a business

·         Be an expert
·         Embrace social media
·         Know the value of what you do
·         Skills swap. Share expertise.
·         Don’t be afraid of failure and learn from it
·         Trust your instincts
·         Stand focused
·         Network and connect people
·         Know when to say No!
·         Understand your customers
·         Do something creative every day
·         Believe in yourself and stay positive

Much of this can be applied to motherhood too! Good luck.

You can follow Emily on twitter @EastKentMum @ReadingFairyLtd and if you would like to find out more about Reading Fairy, go to ReadingFairy.com and facebook/ReadingFairy.  


  1. Emily was the catalyst for me working with Oxford University Press on the Oxford Reading Tree Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters programme which is proving to be enormously effective for teaching youngsters to read, write and spell. I first met Emily at my home/office and we swapped ideas and brought together the Oxford Reading Tree programme and my tried and tested designs for a systematic and incidental synthetic phonics programme. Emily was inspirational and visionary and I am not entirely sure whether she is fully aware of her vital input in the early stages of a teaching and learning programme now spreading internationally.

    It's wonderful to see Emily and her business coming along in leaps and bounds - and I just wanted to celebrate this with her - and also to describe to people just how far-reaching her expertise and vision is regarding reading and its importance for children.

    All the best, Emily - and very, very well done.


    Debbie (Hepplewhite)

  2. I am so touched to be named in this blog post! It's been such a privilege to see, even at a distance, the evolution of The Reading Fairy, and I couldn't endorse the aims of the business more, having been involved in BookTrust's Bookstart book gifting scheme for many years. I took longer to come to being an entrepreneurial mum than she did. My children were 10 and 8 when I set up what has turned out to be an award-winning company turning over several million pounds (my children were 10 and 8) a few years ago. I only wish I had done it sooner! For me at least, moving from being employed to being an entrepreneur, while as challenging as it was positive, was rather less of a dramatic and overwhelming (in a good way) change than becoming a mother for the first time - also challenging and positive! I am endlessly cheered up, impressed and supported by mums who have made their own businesses. I congratulate Emily and wish her every success.

  3. Like Kate W, I am touched and flattered to be referenced in this blog post. I love the Reading Fairy concept and believe that it will make an important difference to children's reading. It was a privilege to have Emily on the team at OUP. I valued hugely her creativity, energy and willingness to work beyond boundaries. As a mum I worked in and out of the corporate world, with a five year period working from home when my children were very small. I wouldn't change anything about that time which taught me loads about myself, my priorities, and my resourcefulness. I wish the Reading Fairy a long and magically successful life.

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