Don’t tell me I can’t… start a business after having a baby

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  • Nikki, 50, lives in the Lake District with her husband Mal, and their three sons, aged 20, 16 and 14.

    She juggles parenting her three boys with maintaining her blog, midlifechic, and running her own successful creative agency with her other half, which she set up after the birth of her second child – and now she’s teaming up with JD Williams’ Colour Council mentorship scheme to show other women that they can do it too.

    Here, she tells us about the challenges she faces as a mother and a business woman, and how she manages to make it work regardless…

    It was after the birth of my second son that my husband and I knew that we needed to leave London.

    We realised that even on a good salary, we couldn’t afford two sets of nursery fees, and the long hours of our permanent jobs at fashion chain Selfridges had become a nightmare. Even though the company was really flexible, rushing to the nursery for six o’ clock pick up was horrific!

    It made sense for us to work for ourselves, and our skills were a natural synergy – he’d been head of the creative studio, whilst I was head of marketing, so we both left within six months of each other and decided to make a go of it with our own creative agency. Obviously, I had my doubts; the trouble with setting up your own business is that you don’t have the guaranteed income, the paid holidays, the sick pay. You do have bad months, and that’s really scary, especially when you’re in it with your husband, so it’s all of your income – yet we found that what we lost in worry, we gained in the ability to juggle our hours to be at sports days and school assemblies.

    We started it up in 2002, and a little over a year after we kicked off, I was pregnant again – news which came as a bit of a surprise! The company had just taken off and it was really thriving, and so it was a shock, but I carried on working regardless. A few months later, when I was due to give birth, we lost a really big contract, because I wasn’t going to be able to fulfil it, and there was nobody else at that time – but when our third son came along, he was, of course, more than worth it.

    Eventually we made the decision to move up north; the schools were outstanding, and we knew that it meant we could reduce our housing and living costs as well. We cut down on our old lifestyle – what was once three holidays a year soon became one, for instance, and a lot of the ‘high life’ that we had in the city was sacrificed for our new, improved work-life balance.

    In the past, some people have doubted my ability to be both mum and business woman, and it has been difficult – especially when I had to be at the school gates – to manage things like meetings; clients often weren’t very understanding about me having to be back for 3pm. However, there’s nothing more satisfying than proving them wrong and doing a brilliant job, and when you’re working for yourself, as long as you don’t miss a deadline, the client doesn’t need to know if you’re doing it at 5 in the morning or 12 at night. I’m the first to admit that I’m bad at switching off – I spend more time on my phone than the boys! – and once I’ve had a meal with them and done any homework that they need, as soon as they’re off to bed it’s back to work. But I’ve had the meal, and helped with the homework, and that’s the important thing.

    I do have moments of mum guilt – during the school holidays, even though they’re teenagers and they’re happy enough on their Playstations, I always feel as though we should be out doing something together. At the end of the most recent break, my youngest was the last to go back, and usually when this happens we do something special together – but I had an invitation that I couldn’t bring myself to turn down, and so I couldn’t give him what he always called a ‘mum day.’ I still feel bad thinking about it now! However, deep down I also know how proud all of my boys are of me running both my blog and a business, and bringing them up simultaneously. They realise how hard I work and what I’ve put into it all.

    I’m also very lucky that I’ve got the option of going to the office or working from home. A year ago, I went back into an external business for three days a week to help them with a rebrand, and it was a real eye-opener. It was almost like the women with children were punished for having children; there was absolutely no exception made. I was amazed at how hard they worked and the way that they didn’t get any extra time off – if their children were sick they had to take holiday. One woman’s son got his GCSE results while I was there, and she couldn’t be there with him that morning, or even take his call. Of course, that’s not always the case – Selfridges were great when we were working parents – but it made me feel very grateful my situation. It’s still a very hard workplace for women out there.

    My advice to any mother who is thinking of breaking out from that world and starting a business of her own would be if you can, start slowly – if you’re already doing a job, try and set something up over a period of six months in the evenings and weekends, which is really tough when you’ve got a family, but the long-term benefits will be there. When you work for yourself, you probably work twice as hard as you do for an employer, but it’s on your own terms.

    Things always fluctuate – you’ll have a run of about six good months when it’s all going really well, and a run of six months when it’s not going so well, and so you start panicking and thinking, ‘this is it, we’re going to have get jobs’.

    And then every single time, just as you’re about to give up – something great will happen. It almost tests how much you want to stay in what you’re doing!

    Over the years, I’ve learned that you can’t have both freedom and security, but for me, the freedom of running my own business outweighs the risk. You just have to be brave and take that chance.

    JD Williams champion women to live life to the full – encouraging you to lead a colourful life and take on new challenges – and they understand the moments shaping your lives.