SME Baby And Me
What’s the difference between raising a baby and running your own business? One involves sleepless nights, cleaning up lots of mess and dealing with tantrums and crying fits, the other is having a baby. If you have a drum kit within easy reach, feel free to add a quick ‘badum tish’ at this point. The truth, however, is that it’s a fairly bad joke but a pretty good point.
Whilst the (usually male) owners of SMEs can frequently be heard strafing the airwaves with woeful laments pointing out exactly how difficult it is for them to employ women of ‘child bearing age’ (itself a grotesquely agricultural turn of phrase), the fact of the matter is that many of the skills necessary to make a decent fist of raising a baby, whilst at the same time retaining a few shreds of your sanity, are easily transferable to the task of running an SME, and that the round the clock nature of both jobs, particularly in the early years, makes them a much better fit than most people might imagine.
Business and Motherhood
The topic of business, motherhood and the nexus between the two has been in the news again recently following the news that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is pregnant with twin girls, due to arrive in December. The announcement of the happy news was bolstered by a promise that, as was the case when she gave birth in September 2012, Mayer, aged 40, would be working through the two weeks leave she takes following the birth, before returning to her job full time. Given that Yahoo, as a company, provides 16 weeks of paid leave to all new mothers, this might be looked upon as an example of placing psychological pressure on staff, rather than, as is doubtless intended, leading from the top. While it would be unfair to speculate on the details of Mayer’s personal situation, it’s probably safe to assume that the CEO of a major player like Yahoo has access to the kind of help and resources that make this type of dedication to the cause far easier to achieve than is the case for the average worker or even the average head of an SME.
Statistically speaking, the fact that many younger mothers are helping to spearhead the rise in new business start-ups in the UK has been picked up by a range of different surveys. Once such survey, carried out by Startup Direct, which offers government backed loans to new firms, found that the number of SMEs run by women has risen from 14% in 2008 to 20% today, and that general enquires to Startup Direct from women over 30, many of whom were returning to the workplace after breaking to start a family, had risen from 25% to 57%. In some ways, this is a sad indictment of the inflexibility of corporate culture and the high cost of childcare in the UK, with the average cost of a 25 hour part time nursery place being £6,000 and often much more. It is also, however, an indication of the fact that the world of the SME, particularly now that the growth of technology has made it easier than ever to work from home, offers the perfect environment within which those women juggling family life and work can flex their entrepreneurial muscles. It’s often far from plain sailing, of course, and any mother embarking on setting up an SME is bound to end up calling on whatever support network is available.
A survey carried out by the RBS Group in 2013 found that, while 300,000 more women had become self-employed since the downturn of 2008, businesses run by women had been marked by a higher ‘churn rate’ (i.e. start-ups and closures), with business failure most likely to be blamed on ‘personal reasons’.
Despite the undoubted toughness of the task, examples of women who have successfully combined motherhood with entrepreneurship abound, from Petra Wetzel, who started the West Brewery in Glasgow in 2006, and now presides over a turnover in excess of £10 million, to Rita Sharma, who started a travel business in her garage with capital of £4,000, and is now worth an estimated £100 million. Angela Benton, a single mum at the age of 16 and now CEO of NewME, a company which has raised over $17 million in venture capital funding, offers these words of inspirational advice:
“Being a single mom comes with a wealth of skills that do well in entrepreneurship like: multitasking, creativity, managing and/or operating on a budget, and problem-solving to say the least. I don't know about you but I'd put my money on someone with these skills rather than a new college grad. “