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Mumpreneurs’ secrets of success – StartupSmart

They might be juggling naptimes, school runs and mashed banana, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for starting a business.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women make up 33% of small business owners and the number is steadily climbing. This is being fuelled by the growth of mumpreneurs – women who decide to launch their own business after having children.


In the UK, a 2010 survey by BT Business of 1286 mums found that 15% had started their own business and another 10% of those surveyed were planning to become a mumpreneur. It is the ideal option for entrepreneurial women who want to be based at home with their children. Two thirds of the women on SmartCompany’s 2010 list of Australia’s most successful women started their businesses at home, with 80% starting with capital of less than $100,000.


There are other drivers too. Although parts of the corporate world have been slow to reward this, there are simply more highly-skilled, business-savvy women in the position to start-up a company than ever before.


Women are generally having children later too – the ABS states that women are now most likely to have children between the ages of 30 and 34. By this age, many women have the well-honed skills, contacts and experience required when launching a venture.


The barrier to entry has been dramatically lowered by the advance of the internet. A mumpreneur with broadband, relevant skills, a modest amount of funding and a good idea can launch a successful business, aided by low overheads and increased flexibility.


Having children can prove to be a watershed moment for women who have a long-held desire to develop a passion or idea into a business. Time away from work provides the ideal opportunity to assess whether to return to the workplace or go it alone.


This trend could be accelerated by paid parental leave rules that come into force at the beginning of 2011. Eligible ‘primary carers’ of children will receive 18 weeks of parental leave pay at the national minimum wage, which is currently $570 a week. Many new mothers may re-think plans to return to previous roles during this time.


We speak to three of Australia’s leading mumpreneurs – women who have juggled motherhood and entrepreneurship and achieved stunning success. From breaking open a new fashion sector to making $100,000 profit in an HR start-up at the height of the GFC, this trio explain how they have taken on the business world.


Cult jeans for real women

Embody Denim

Est: 2006

Founder: Natalie Wakeling

Funding: “All my savings”, topped up with credit cards

Biggest investment so far: almost $40,000 for a new website (online sales are booming so it was worth it)

Biggest lesson so far: “If you have the passion, you can make it work.”


Mother of two boys, aged five and 10, Natalie reckons she was always going to do her own thing. A top plus-size model, a working trip to the US opened her eyes to the size of the plus-size fashion market in the US, where shopping malls have dedicated areas for plus-size fashion to cater for the estimated 62 million women over size 12. “The market is worth about $47 billion annually in the US alone,” she says.


Natalie pinpointed plus-size denim for women as a great business opportunity. The seed was planted and Natalie had found her calling, following her parents and sister into the ragtrade, initially from her hometown of Mudgee, New South Wales and now from her new base in Sydney. Her label Embody Denim was funded with savings from her modelling years.


Despite being told by all and sundry that manufacturing in Australia was “crazy”, she persisted only to discover how secretive rag traders are about their suppliers.


She found one by “harassing” local fabric suppliers, cold calling. “They really tested me out for 12 months,” she says. Her first run was just 200 pairs. It wasn’t until Natalie “grew some balls” that she built good business relationships with local manufacturers.


A New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) grant was a godsend in the early days, with $400 a fortnight covering the basic overheads. Natalie’s home became denim central, with Natalie and her husband sleeping surrounded by piles of jeans.


After 12 months of running the business, turnover tipped a respectable $100,000, with all profits being ploughed back into the business. Natalie knew she needed to extend the range so she did what many start-ups end up doing, applying for another credit card to tide her over.


From the start, Australian women loved Embody Denim. “Women were waiting for it,” she says. Embody Denim has 14 Australian and seven New Zealand retail distributors, however online is the heart of the business.


After winning a Textile Clothing and Footwear industry grant, Natalie has invested close to $40,000 in a new website that already accounts for 70% of sales. Her long-term dream is to open a retail store and take the brand offshore. Next up is a research trip to the UK.


Life as a mumpreneur “is always frantic,” says Natalie, who admits to bad days. “But if you have the passion, you can make it work.”



Taking on Baby Einstein

Life For Beginners

Est: 2008

Founders: Sonia Orchard and Martine Corompt

Funding: Remortgaging their family homes

Biggest investment so far: manufacturing and packaging In the Garden CD in Hong Kong

Biggest lesson so far: the value of experienced printing and customs brokers


Since the advance copies of Life For Beginners’ first product, a CD and flashcard set In the Garden, arrived from Hong Kong this spring, three years of hard work (without pay) for Sonia and Martine looks like it is going to pay off.


“Every retailer we have gone to see has said ‘yes’,” says Sonia. In quick succession, top-tier Melbourne bookstores and retailers such as the NGV and the Royal Melbourne Zoo have signed up as stockists.


The website went live at the end of September 2010 and Sonia’s home office is a sea of bubble wrap, packing tape and boxes. Martine is now hard at work on the second CD.


In the Garden introduces very young children to nature. “It’s David Attenborough for toddlers,” says Sonia, who had tried David Attenborough with her first daughter Sunday with no success.

This buzzing start-up is a long way from its origins. Melbourne-based Sonia and Martine met at a local mothers’ group when Sonia’s first daughter Sunday and Martine’s first daughter Violet were just four weeks old.


The baby talk was quickly replaced with a mutual interest in developing In the Garden. Sonia, a successful author with experience in environmental education, and Martine, a media artist and animator, joined forces.


The plan for the 30-minute video started out as a hobby, but it morphed into a business as the project gained momentum. Sonia would write and produce the video, Martine would do the animation. In 2009, they raised capital to commercialise In the Garden, drawing down on their mortgages to fund the manufacturing stage.


The project has had great local support along the way. Graphic designers, musicians, composers, sound designers and photographers worked for love rather than money after seeing early rushes of In the Garden. Martine and Sonia are on target to pay their collaborators by the end of 2010.


The first print run will cover all start-up costs and initial costs for second DVD production. The pair has not investigated government grants but that is something that is on their short-term list of things to do. There are also plans for an In the Garden iPad app and more iPhone apps – handy for parents in traffic or supermarket queues.


Both came to the project with expertise but neither had business experience. Sonia has overcome many skill gaps by simply asking smart people for help, tracking down business experts and picking their brains.


From her experience, most business people are happy (and flattered) to have a coffee and share their knowledge. That’s how she found out about printing and customs brokers that have simplified two crucial production processes – their fees easily covered by savings on printing and customs costs.


Similarly, Martine agrees, there is no point bluffing if you don’t know about something. “Accept that you need as much help as possible rather then being intimidated by what you don’t know,” she says.



The HR Guru for hire

HR Innovations

Est: 2008

Founder: Alicia Gowans

Funding: savings and a personal loan

Biggest lesson so far: Always have an exit strategy in business partnerships


Despite lucrative salaries for experts with her kind of senior executive experience in HR, Alicia always knew she wanted to start her own business. “If was not if but when,” she says.


With a young son, she was working full-time, travelling interstate and dropping him off at daycare at 7am, with her mum taking on a lot of childcare responsibilities.


Hidden Market, launched by Alicia with two other partners, was hatched over a series of coffees with top Brisbane recruiter Mark McCalliog, who had tried to headhunt her.


For four years they would meet up to throw ideas around. He was sick of working for a multinational so they teamed up to form Hidden Market, sharing a serviced office in Brisbane. A third partner also came into the business.


During this time, the business model for her second start-up business HR Innovations gained shape. It would be Alicia’s own concern, within the larger business. It was set up late in 2008 as a separate entity – “my complete concept, my tools, my IP and my resources”.


Despite starting up during the global financial crisis, the business made a healthy $100,000 profit in its first full year of trading. The first client was an HR audit of a local business that led to a lengthy, lucrative assignment.


Small recruitment jobs morphed into larger consulting jobs – she was hired to come into companies to assist with restructuring, new recruits, training and development. “From one piece of work, one appointment turned into eight months of revenue and 40% of the first year’s turnover,” she says.


Alicia ended up completely selling out of Hidden Market in early 2010 to concentrate on HR Innovations. Alicia instinctively knew she wanted to step back from Hidden Talent to concentrate on HR Innovations and left the business partnership, wiser to the complications of business partnerships.


“You can never predict how much input or passion someone else is going to have,” she says. Her first experience as an entrepreneur saw her get burned, but the lessons from that start-up have fueled the success of HR Innovations.


“You have to limit your risks,” she says. That means investing in the best tax advice, the right insurance, doing the utmost due diligence and working out the accountability of what each director brings to the business. “You don’t want to be in a situation where you are working hard and the others aren’t.” For Alicia, going solo has been much simpler, and far more lucrative.


Business has come through word-of-mouth and Alicia’s particular blend of targeted networking.


“I never have to do cold calls,” she says. Instead she makes lists of potential clients in key areas and attends industry events, sitting down and listening to managers.


HR problems are never far from the surface. “It’s about understanding the industry pain. Everyone wants to increase productivity, drive performance and reduce overheads,” she says.


That’s her cue to offer her suite of HR services. “I get a meeting with them, have a conversation,” she says. So far, Alicia’s conversion rate has been “great”.


Becoming a mumpreneur has lightened Alicia’s workload. She is able to spend more time with her 10-year-old than ever.


“The hours are the best I have ever worked,” she says. “The most flexibility, the most time with my son.” So much so, this mumpreneur is now thinking about adding to the family in 2011.



Top 10 tips for mumpreneurs:

  1. Get the best advice you can at every step of the way.
  2. Take advantage of government grants such as the NEIS program.
  3. Never underestimate the importance of PR and marketing – it is never something that can be put on the backburner.
  4. If the start-up is a partnership, always have an exit strategy and ensure accountability for all business partners.
  5. Take a long-term view. Don’t expect to be drawing money in the first financial year.
  6. Be confident rather than intimidated when discussing business with experts.
  7. Accept the fact that with young children, mumpreneurs’ working hours will be broken up, ie. during nap times and in the evenings. Time management is crucial.
  8. Look after your support network – spouses, family, carers and friends. Without them the business cannot survive.
  9. Tap into local and international business networks including StartUpSmart, Show Mummy the Money, mumpreneur blog The Secret Dreamworld of a Mumpreneur and useful podcasts such as Mullionaire Mumpreneurs, and the bestseller Supermummy: The Ultimate Mumpreneur’s Guide to Online Business Success by Mel McGee (Lean Marketing Press, 2009).
  10. Remember what Benjamin Franklin said: diligence is the mother of good luck.

Emily Ross is the co-author of 100 Great Businesses and the Minds Behind Them and 50 Great e-Businesses and the Minds Behind Them (Random House).

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