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Have you heard the one about the businesswoman and the comedienne? Women have traditionally been told that humour is not a woman thing, but that is changing. Not only are more and more women becoming comediennes – Miranda Hart’s success being a case in point – but a comedy producer has begun running comedy workshops for businesswomen which aim to build their confidence and communication skills. Workingmums.co.uk spoke to Lynne Parker about it.
Lynne Parker, founder of Funny Women, says the Funny Women in Business workshops, which were launched last year, have proven popular. They are based on comedy workshops aimed at the general public which have been run for the past two years alongside the Funny Women Awards for up-and-coming comediennes.
She says women often feel less comfortable about being funny in a business situation, but it can be useful to know when and where to use humour effectively. “I have been in many roles, including on boards, and have always had a tendency to be a bit of a joker,” she says. “That is my personality, but I have had people tell me off. It can, though, be very liberating to use humour if it is used appropriately. It can also help defuse situations. In the current economic situation with everyone so stressed that can be very useful.”
She says more and more women are coming to the workshops which she thinks is a response to their rising confidence in business situations. “They are allowed to be more natural nowadays and more upfront,” she said.
The workshops are run across the UK and Funny Women also offers one to one coaching as well as tailoring workshops to specific events and organisations.
Lynne has been working in comedy for over nine years, but she came to it by a circuitous route.
She began her working life as a journalist writing about fashion and beauty for women’s magazines.
After editing a fashion trade magazine, she set up her own lingerie boutique which she sold before moving into a career in PR and marketing. She also worked as a TV presenter for cable tv channel Living.
Eventually she helped set up a PR consultancy with some other people, but she was pregnant at the time. She told her colleagues and they agreed that she should not be on the board because she was just about to go on maternity leave. After having her son, Alexander, now aged 22, she returned to work. Four years later her daughter was born.
She recalls her female boss telling her not to worry and to come back when she was ready. “After eight weeks I got a call asking me when I was coming back because there was a lot of work on and there was a temp doing my job. I panicked. I went into the office dressed in leggings and a mustard coloured jumper to cover my baby bump,” she says. “I had my hair in a hairband and a plastered on smile. The temp was at my desk and everyone was looking at their watch when I arrived at 10am. Soon after I had a nervous breakdown.”
Later she went freelance, working from home, which worked well around the children. In 2001, she had a client who was launching a comedy club in London. “I had worked with entertainment industry clients before and I had always been a comedy fan, but this was my first introduction to the live circuit,” she says. She was eventually pushed out when the club brought in a younger male friend to do her job. “I was a middle aged woman. I don’t think they understood what I was doing,” she says. She had, for instance, been questioning why the club didn’t book any comediennes. She was told there were no funny women. “My reaction was to create Funny Women.”
Two years later she launched the Funny Women Awards as an incubator for new talent. The awards have grown and grown – last year over 350 women entered and were judged on their live performance rather than videos. “It’s a fantastic brand and gives them a place to perform that is safe,” she says. “It is empowering for them to perform with fellow comediennes. They support each other and I see them develop, have families and come back to work. It builds a strong bond. It helps that I am a working mum as I know how hard it is for them and will work around babysitting issues. I’ve been there myself and want to help change things.”
Lynne says she is fortunate that her husband is very supportive and their relationship is very equal. The price has been that neither of them has done as well in their career as they perhaps could have. Her husband is a music composer. “For us the kids were more important, but we are now emerging from the years of bringing them up. We are not really money-oriented. For me it has been more important to follow my passion and do something I believe in. I love to see people I have helped succeed,” she says.
It hasn’t been easy, though. She admits that the last two years have been tough due to the economic situation. “I have been horrified at the treatment I have received from some people,” she says. “My sense of humour has carried me through, but I have also had the odd sense of humour failure. Comedy can help you to cope.”
She says she lost sponsorship for the awards which was a huge confidence blow and is looking for another sponsor. “I’ve been doing it all on my own for the last two years and working at full pelt. But my kids have been great. They are very proud of what I am doing. They are both quite arty. My son is a film-maker and my daughter wants to be a comedy actress. They may have not had much in money terms growing up, but they have had an interesting and secure upbringing.”
She says the family has become “a bit of a team” and recently her son made a film which her daughter acted in and her husband composed the music for. Although she worked from her Richmond home while the children were growing up, she has had her own office a few minutes’ walk away for the last three years. In fact, she says, the children found it harder when she was working at home and felt that she never stopped working. “They seem to accept my work more if I am doing it somewhere else,” she laughs.
Lynne is optimistic about the future of women’s comedy. The workshops are doing well and Funny Women’s regular comedy nights in London are coming to Brighton next month.
When Workingmums.co.uk spoke to her, Miranda Hart, who she has known for some time, had just scooped three awards at the British Comedy Awards. Nevertheless, she says, despite the success of Hart and Sarah Millican, runner up in the 2005 Funny Women Awards, she says there is still a lot of prejudice against women comedians. People still question if women can be funny, she says. “It’s sadly what you find in this world. Some people think that comedy has to be all blokey and rude.
Miranda has taken on a formula which is tried and tested and people love it. It is gentler than most of today’s comedy and harks back to earlier comedians like Morecambe and Wise.
What happens, though, is that the media tends to pick on one person, although we have lots of girls who are brilliant. They tend to go for people who look funny or weird. Sarah Millican, for instance, is like a young Mrs Merton. I hate the way they set up these ideas that you can’t be funny and pretty or handsome. You are either funny or you aren’t.”