The word 'mumpreneur' was added to the sixth edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011 - a tribute to the growing numbers of women in the UK who regularly don two hats, one as a business-owner and the other as a mum, usually with young families. According to research released last year, the UK is home to more than 300,000 mumpreneurs who contribute as much as £7.4 billion a year to the economy.
I'm very much part of this group and proud to be called a 'mumpreneur'. I started my company Lente Designs in the summer of 2010, spotting a gap in the electronic accessories category for a range of quintessentially British, more feminine tablet cases. Before I started my business, I'd been working in London for twelve years in a demanding corporate job, but when I had my son, I decided to give it all up and move to a house in the country with my husband. I had always wanted to set up my own design business and this gave me the perfect opportunity to focus on making that happen. Within a few months we had set up Lente Designs, built a website and launched successfully on online platforms like Amazon Marketplace.
While setting up a business sounds simple, the reality was anything but! The last four years have had their fair share of challenges, but have also been immensely fun and fulfilling. Looking back, if someone had sat me down and had a conversation with me about what setting up a business would involve, I would probably have been much better prepared.
If you're in the same place as I was four years ago, and are trying to decide if you should take the plunge and start your own business, here are my six top tips and lessons I've learnt from being a 'mumpreneur'.
1) Love what you do- I cannot stress how important this is. I was in the corporate rat race for more than a decade, which was both mentally demanding and creatively unfulfilling. I had always been a frustrated designer - my first work experience placement was at an interior design office making curtains for yachts. Playing with colours and fabrics had always been my forte. Looking for cases for my gadgets that would turn them from something metallic and sterile into something that represents me and my personality, is what gave me the idea for my business. While setting it up, in the first few months I was working all hours of the day and night, including weekends, but it's amazing how you can train yourself to keep going when you're excited and buoyed by something you love doing.
2) Use the right channels - Early on we started selling online via Amazon as it seemed straightforward with no risk and reduced overheads. It also brought us in contact with a massive base of potential customers, and before we knew it, we were flooded with orders. It was so exciting to see people buying my designs and this continued to spur me on. Recognising and using the right channels to expand your business is crucial to the initial kick-start that every start-up needs. Work out what works best for you - selling direct, via a distributor, to big retailers or direct to the customer - and then go with it.
3) Talk to people, engage & use support networks - It's a cliché but talking does really help. I was recently at the Mumpreneur Conference and Awards 2014, an annual event recognising mums in business. I met so many dynamic women -bloggers, photographers, multilingual book sellers and other mums owning online businesses just like me. Everyone had a story and everyone was trying to get that balance of being a mum, wife and businesswoman just right. I was inspired with a new sense of confidence and pride in how far I have come. The value of engaging with and sharing experiences at the event was incredible.
4) Find a good accountant - A small but absolutely vital step. Find an accountant you can talk to, who speaks to you in a language you understand, and who can give you numbers and important information in a way you feel comfortable with - not just in a way that they think is best.
5) Invest in marketing - Don't forget to promote yourself! With the advent of social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, this has become a lot easier. If you're unable to find time to do it, invest in a good marketing adviser or agency as the money is well worth it. We missed some great marketing opportunities in the early years and this is one of the key lessons I have learnt.
6) Make time with your family- Last but by no means least, ensure you "log off" from everything over the weekend. Leave the laptop at home and go and get some fresh air or run around the park with your children. It gives you much needed energy and perspective before you re-immerse yourself in work on Monday morning. Running your business from home can become stressful, especially when you're trying to work but can see the washing up out of the corner of your eye! In the beginning I found it hard to get the work-family balance right; I was rushing around packing and dropping off orders, picking up and dropping off my son at school and keeping up with emails and accounts. But over time I devised my own system. Most days I start work early so I feel happy stopping late afternoon to become mum and wife. I then work for a couple of hours in the late evening to tidy up my inbox. Most women with young families soon work out a schedule that works for them, while keeping their work-focus intact.
These six steps are the basic building blocks for me; most crucial is a 'can do' attitude though. Taking the plunge and starting your business can be daunting, not least when you are juggling a family. I hope these words provide the advice and inspiration needed to go for it! I did and I have never looked back.
Helen Rolfe is founder of Lente Designs, a company that produces design solutions for tablets and e-readers in the UK.