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
Babies and Business – The Highs and Lows
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.
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.