I am passionate about encouraging, empowering – inspiring – women to set up their own businesses. I honestly can't think of anything better to do in terms of work. Now (as I hear the cries of dissent already) I totally understand that self-employment isn't for everyone – and if we were all doing it then life may be a little tricky, and vast swathes of society probably wouldn't work very well – but, for those of us who can, it really is a positive life choice.
Particularly if you're a single mum.
And again, I hear the cries of dissent…
Let me explain why.
Juggling kids and work is one of the most problematic bits of being a lone parent. In fact, when I became a single mum in May 2005, it was my biggest problem. I had no support from my family (no parents or siblings to take the strain) and my child's father wasn't interested in helping either. It all fell on my shoulders. However, I needed to work and provide for my child so I had to make it happen. Cue many early morning starts and late night finishes; stressful phone calls to my boss when I was running late in the morning, and the childminder when I was stuck in traffic on the way home; desperate searches for holiday programmes in my small town when my childminder couldn't have my child (sum total of – yep, you guessed it – none) etc etc. This will, no doubt, be familiar to many mums up and down the country.
I was, literally, pulling out my hair due to the stress. And then I had a revelation. Why not work for myself? Now, granted, I had done this before so it wasn't new to me. But being on my own, the only person bringing £ into the house (no maintenance payments for me!) and childcarer…that bit was more tricky to justify. What would I do if there was no money coming in? How would I pay the bills, get to meetings to bring more money in – feed my child?! That was a real risk to take.
I had no savings, no overdraft, no credit card, no friendly family members to dole me out some cash – remember it was just me – but I knew, deep down, that this was my only answer. I couldn't cope with the childcare stress any more.
So, I fell back on my strengths and experience – sales, business development, great people skills, a cursory yet eye and opportunity-opening year in recruitment – and set up my own agency from home. It meant that I could work around my child (still more early starts and late nights but there was now a reason) as well as bring in an income.
It was tough. I'm not going to lie. There were definitely sleepless nights, and moments where the income and the expenditure didn't quite tie up on the same day but I got through. And each day got easier. However, what I hadn't accounted for was the loneliness. Being on your own all day and then all night, day in day out, is very hard. In fact, that's what made me go back to ‘proper work' as one person put it.
But the breathing space was so useful. My child had got a year older, and a year more responsible, so childcare was less of a problem. I'd been able to help through the tough times of Dad not being around, and the questions why, as well as bring in (just enough) money to keep the wolf from the door.
I managed to find myself a job that was closer to home, in fact a 5 minute walk, and this made life even easier for us both. And I had masses of extra skills to boot.
And, as I sit here writing this now, having – once again – left the rat race for the lure of setting up my own businesses, I know that I wouldn't want it any other way. The freedom, the opportunities, the chances that you gain from being your own boss are so precious and potentially lifechanging that any other alternative is unthinkable. To me anyway.
And to all you single mums out there who think that you could NEVER run your own business.Take 10 minutes out and look at what you do on a daily basis. Look at how you run your household, negotiate with your kids (and others!), how you communicate with difficult people (ex-partners and the government instantly spring to mind), how you organise everyone and how you go the extra mile……And then tell me you don't have the skills, potentially, to run your own business at some point in the future – and achieve your wildest dreams.
Being successful is also about networks, and knowing the right people. Link with me today. Email me. Call me. If I can help, I absoutely will.
Ali Golds is Managing Director of Operation Enterprise and The Juno Project.