Guest Post: The Ups & Downs of Mixing Motherhood With the Start Up Life
Today I am honoured to have a guest post that is a little bit different. It’s from a female non technical founder, who shares her experiences as a “Mumpreneur” as she worked towards launching her Business Art Buds. I met Anna when I presented at the Social Media Women event last year, and am particularly honoured to see some of the tips I gave to the attendees beings ones that she has also taken on board & mention in her list below.
Anna mentions some great places to look for support/events/advice in the Startup community here in Australia. In addition to those she mentions I always suggest Startups join some of the great online communities we have here in Australia to Support startups such as http://www.the-entourage.com.au and the online discussion group: http://groups.google.com/group/silicon-beach-australia - these are a fantastic way to connect with other local startups and hear about upcoming events. The Anthill Online Magazine is also a great resource for keeping up to date & getting great tips for your business: http://anthillonline.com/ and www.TheFetch.org is a great source of all the events happening in your local city.
Thanks Anna for sharing your personal experience and lessons learnt – I hope everyone enjoys reading this as much as I did – and be sure to check out http://shop.artbuds.com/ to pick out some amazing artwork for the special little people in your life!
I think running a start up business is like having a baby. There's a lot of build up, preparation, anticipation and excitement until the actual birth/launch. Hopefully a beautiful afterglow and sense of achievement follows. Then there are lots of compromises, troubleshooting, lack of sleep and stress but somehow love and passion keep you going. The rewards do feel worth it if you are consistently nurturing and dedicated.
Yep, it’s definitely a real up and down path, full of challenges and accomplishments. There is a lot of advice and support available, but in reality nothing is set in stone. You take bits and pieces of information from a range of sources and you learn as you go. Common sense also goes a long way…
So as a mother and start-up entrepreneur of ArtBuds – Contemporary Art for Kids, (http://shop.artbuds.com/) I’d like to share my experiences of running an online business with a toddler in tow.
#1: Who am I - now?
Let's start with the 'before' baby and running a business persona. I have always thought of myself as a great multi-tasker and action woman. If I had a goal I would generally achieve it. This included realising my teenage dream of living in Paris, to leaving my comfortable life and long term job to move interstate, to running my own brand insights consultancy whilst undertaking a Masters in Art Therapy. I also moved to Madrid with my Spanish husband and created a job for myself in a market research agency, despite not speaking Spanish or having a professional European network.
But this was all in my own time, in my own office where I had choices to work in silence or with music, have lunch or work through, stop and start at my own pace. Even working within the constraints of professional deadlines doesn’t quite prepare you for skills required to negotiate nap time, the level of patience for toilet training, the anger management needed when dark red lipstick is applied to cream carpet, texta on the walls…Now I have to multi-task around my toddler’s needs and routine which is generally much more noisy and unpredictable than you can ever plan around.
But just as kids are not robots, the online world moves so rapidly that we have to be agile and keep abreast of the trends, or more importantly create the trends.
My lesson: Giving birth is life changing, so my life and attitudes have also had to change. Whilst being goal oriented is necessary, it can be a bit rigid. It feels more liberating and productive to let go of what “used to be”, and focus on the now. I prefer to live in the present and adopt a broader forward thinking approach.
#2: Wanting quick success (AKA maintaining anxiety levels)
Although I would love my business to be further along its life cycle, it’s still really in the early stages. In the short 5 months since launch we’ve been tackling SEO and all its permutations, social media, content creation, video production, product development, PR and marketing angles, networking, market research and partnership opportunities.
There’s still so much to learn, and I think it’s realistic to say the business is at the same developmental stage as my toddler. Toilet training! It's a bit daunting, anxiety provoking, potentially a bit complex but a necessary and natural step we need to master so we can mature and advance. It really is time based and could take a few weeks or months, but we'll move onto the next stage when the time is right.
My lesson: It's all about being adaptable and flexible and dealing with the situation at hand, which sometimes changes tack without warning. Rather than getting anxious it’s also about being patient and remembering to celebrate the small steps that will help to maintain momentum when it gets a bit overwhelming.
#3: Working against the biggest challenge: time
My daughter goes to pre-school 5 days/fortnight. This roughly equals 10-15 hours of quality block time to work, sans any noise and toddlerville antics. Except for public holidays, school holidays or if she is sick, where those 10 hours a week can easily dwindle to no hours of clean lovely quiet time.
My priority has always been to put my daughter's needs first, otherwise why be a parent and why work from home to be with her? This is easier said than done! I am also conscious not to overuse the TV as a babysitter... so it's always a fine line providing a quality parenting environment and getting my work done to a decent level.
My lesson: Aim to work more efficiently and smarter not longer more stressful hours. It's taken a while to really learn this, and remains an ongoing challenge.
#4: Managing Workload
Whilst my husband and I take responsibility for all the important aspects of our daughter’s development and wellbeing she also spends time absorbing knowledge and new experiences from various people. She goes to pre-school, my mother helps out and on occasion we get in a babysitter or friend in, so we can remember why we got married in the first place.
Similarly, as it was advised to me early on, it's best to keep on top of all the important aspects of the business, and get support for the smaller tasks. I now delegate some tasks to a small team of uni students, but the important parts, like the finances and customer contact I retain direct responsibility.
My lesson: Don’t be too precious, delegate and get help wherever possible, so I can focus on the key aspects of the business. It’s also nice to feel like part of a team.
#5: Maintaining Big Picture Focus
It is amazing how innately babies and children are programmed to know what to do. When my daughter was about 5 months old she started to rock on all fours. She would do this movement every night for about 2 months, avoiding sleep at the excitement of preparing her little body for the bigger reward – crawling, then walking.
It's so easy to have high expectations with the immediacy of social media. Through social media, you may have great buzz one day but the next day it’s another story receiving attention. My mentor warned me about this at our very first meeting. There might be spikes of interest along the way, but it’s about finding strategies that build and sustain these levels of interest.
My lesson: Keep focused on creative ways to build online marketing strategies that incorporate social media, but do not only rely on this for PR and marketing traction.
#6: Being Too Emotionally Involved to be Objective
As a qualitative researcher I've spent many years talking to consumers, and advising companies about their brands, products and services. Think I could do this for myself? No way! It's too personal, I'm too close to it and I don't have the skills or expertise at this early stage.
My lesson: Get a mentor! You don't need to do it all, there are lots of experienced people who can help you. PushStart are fantastic and free.
#7: Trying to do it all
I believe the ‘supermum’ ideal is a farce, no matter how many successful mothers appear to “have it all”. I’m still unsure what that means…but it’s just not possible to give quality parenting time, focused business time, not to mention partner time, domestic affairs and general life - without something giving way.
It’s almost a no-brainer that to fit in quality time why not work at night after the kids are in bed, or at obscenely pre-dawn hours, to get it all done. Well I did do this, for about three months. Then I got really sick with a terrible virus but still kept trying to do it all, until I eventually broke my big toe and got mouth ulcers and infected gums. Charming. Then under strict medical orders I had to rest for 2 weeks without doing anything, or risk serious illness…a really excellent situation for parenting and running a business.
My lesson: Make health a priority, without feeling guilty for taking time out to exercise and unwind. It provides crucial headspace and clarity. Some of my best ideas are from walking along the beach in the morning. It’s so obvious but also quite difficult to remember and action this.
#8: Feeling connected offline
As a new mother, when your baby cries a lot it can feel really debilitating. With sleep deprivation and no previous experience it can sometimes be hard to cope. Fortunately in Australia there are so many great organisations, nurses, doctors that can help during this time. Unfortunately, many mothers aren’t aware of them, or don’t want to appear helpless and suffer unnecessarily.
Similarly, as a new start-up with no previous experience, it’s impossible to glide along without any hiccups. There are so many organisations and experts willing and ready to offer support, and generally at no cost. It can also get overwhelming and sometimes isolating if you’re working from home. Reaching out to some of the numerous experts and general start up community by attending industry events and meetings can be so enriching and normalizing. Some great (Sydney based) ones include:
My Lesson: Get out to as many networking events as possible. You meet inspiring people, make great contacts, learn a lot and/or feel reassured you’re on the right track, and make potential friends in a similar situation. It feels good to get out and wear some heels too!
#9: Getting the parent vs business balance
This is the trickiest one of all for me. Drawing from my art therapy experience (http://shop.artbuds.com/pages/meet-our-team), transference and counter transference (http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/6/1/57.full) is evident in any relationship we encounter. It's impossible not to get stressed as a parent, or running your own business, but projecting this anxiety, anger and potentially resentment onto a little person can have serious long-term ramifications. Their formative years are so crucial to shaping how they behave and who they become. I am reminded by the expression, "give me a child till he is 7 and I'll give you the man".
Just in case I lose my way, as can easily happen being a first time mum and new to online start-ups, my daughter guides me. Recently I had a lot of tasks to complete. I was feeling under pressure and my patience was being tested. I did many things that I shouldn't have: allowing too much time watching Cinderella and other Disney films, and losing my temper too often. Putting all this together - she said she was Cinderella and I was the stepmother! (NB: no offence to blended family stepparents).
My lesson: I love my business, but my daughter will always remain my best creation. Getting this into perspective has really allowed me to be a better mother and strive towards more efficient time management. As Zappos entrepreneur and motivational guru Tony Hsieh (http://about.zappos.com/meet-our-monkeys/tony-hsieh-ceo) advocates, find the happiness medium and success will follow. I know I’m on the right track when my daughter says, “Mum, you’re not the stepmother anymore, you’re the mummy and I love you”.