A few years ago, in my late 30’s , I was in a real career slump. I had a relatively well paid job as a Project Manager in a public sector organisation, but was frustrated at the complete inability to progress any further. I had hit the glass ceiling. After my first child was born 11 years ago, I made the decision to work part-time. I wanted to work, but I also wanted to be at home with my daughter. My employers were brilliant and the transition to part time was an easy one. I was still ambitious though and had great confidence in my ability to deliver at work. When a role came up for the position above mine, I was told that I should apply, but to understand it was a full time role only. No job-share, no part-timers, no flexible working…
I knew I had relatively few options – one was to return to work full time, and start climbing back up the career ladder, the second was to continue as I was, suck it up and live with the choice I had made to be able to work AND pick my kids up from school. I know there are amazing employers out there who will not let part-time hours stand in the way of career progression, but that was not my situation. Not in reality anyway.
What was an ambitious working mum to do? I decided to create my own job. I already had some entrepreneurial experience – I had started a crafts supply business when I was on my first maternity leave 11 years ago – initially online and then opening a bricks and mortar store which I ran in and around my part-time job and my kids. The shop didn’t pay its way, and I closed it after 2 and half years which was a very tough but liberating decision.
With three kids under the age of 11, I am pretty risk averse – I was not going to walk away from a good salary and depend on my other half to keep the family going (who was going to pay for gymnastics/piano lessons/my annual girl’s weekend away?)
Having run a business which didn’t make me any money (it paid my staff and covered the business bills, but that was about it!) I decided I needed to try building up a business and seeing if it could actually replace my salary. Three years ago, I started Social Bee NI – under the advice of an amazing mentor Nuala Foley, who had seen the social media profiles I had built up for my craft shop and suggested that maybe I would be better spending my time working on something that a) I enjoyed and b) was good at!
I joined my local business networking group, took advantage of free workshops and networking events. Slowly and steadily I started to gain clients and some experience. Once I decided I was going to really make a go of it, I started to save all the money from the business. It took me a full year to save up enough money to cover me for a year’s salary from my ‘proper’ job. I could have continued juggling both my part time job and my business, but to be honest, it was starting to impact on my home life. Trying to do client work in the evenings once the kids were in bed is good in theory initially, but becomes pretty tiring – plus organising meetings with clients meant putting the kids into afterschools and with childminders, which went against the reason I wanted to work part time in the first place! The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the pure frustration of seeing other colleagues progressing up the career ladder when I knew I could not.
On one particular day last spring, on a phone call to my husband about yet another frustrating issue at work, he said to me – just quit. You’ve saved enough – your business is going really well – if all else fails, you can get another job somewhere else – you know you are employable!
Sometimes it takes someone else to be your cheerleader, and give you that extra little boost, or in my case, shove. I handed my notice in that week, with some fear and intrepidation – after all, I was leaving a good salary, a pension, a ‘job for life’ to go out on my own. I have to say, it was the best decision I have ever made!
Of course some weeks are tough, it’s not easy working for yourself, when top clients move on, and you are looking for your next big contract, but the sense of achievement and pride I have in owning my own business, and the flexibility I have to work from home and be able to pick up the kids while they are still so young, is unbeatable.
For any woman who is thinking of doing the same, I say go for it – find something you are passionate about, explore how that can be turned into a business – build yourself up a good network, find other entrepreneurs online and the world is there for the taking! Good luck!
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