She may have become the latest contestant to be fired by Lord Sugar, but Rebecca Jeffery has already made a success of her time on The Apprentice and plans to use the platform to promote mums running their own businesses.
It’s a subject Rebecca knows a good deal about. After seven years at the Co-op, where she was marketing support manager, she set up a marketing and design company with her sister following her maternity leave.
Rebecca’s sister has two children and had been freelancing as a designer. During her maternity leave Rebecca [pictured right with her sister] helped her out with some copywriting. The two worked well together and decided to go into business together under the name Fi & Becs.
Their business model is child-friendly. The two sisters work from 9 to 3pm. They then pick up their children – Rebecca’s son is at a childminder’s – and then go back to work from 7.30 to 10pm. Rebecca says she does her copywriting work during the day and leaves the more creative work till later.
So far Fi & Becs have over 120 clients, including Matalan and Mothercare. Rebecca says that the fact both sisters are mums has been seen as a benefit by many of their clients. “It’s one of the main ways we get business,” she says. “It’s not just the big clients like Mothercare. We work with dentists, bookshops and beauty salons and a lot of them are targeting mums. We can give them good insight into that market. We never apologise for being mums.”
Rebecca is also a member of a parentpreneur network in Manchester. She says many are like her: they were looking for a different way of working which could fit around their children, but they were no less ambitious than before they had children. “We’re ambitious, but we just want to see our kids,” she says.
She adds that she gets upset when she sees women who are very able who are not using their skills because they want to work flexibly. She mentions a woman who was the former finance director for a major hotel chain who was selling Avon. “I asked her why she wasn’t using her finance skills,” she says. “A lot of people think you have to go off on a new venture if you start a business. They think you have to sell a product, but you can sell your expertise too.” The woman is now working as a freelance finance consultant.
Rebecca said she applied to the BBC to go on The Apprentice so she could win the £250,000 to invest in Fi & Becs and employ a network of other homeworking mums, including those who had taken a career break and lost their confidence. “My business plan was for a big recruitment drive,” she says. Despite being fired, the sisters have decided to stick to the plan, but do it more gradually.
Being on the programme has already brought them more clients and they have taken on four freelancers – all mums – due to the increase in workload. Rebecca says she would like to see more support for businesses like Fi & Becs that want to move from the start-up phase to business development.
Banging the drum
She plans to use the higher profile which the programme has given her to “bang the drum” for businesses that work around families. She has already done some guest speaking events and thinks it is important to talk about her own personal experiences in business. She is also keen to share advice based on her experience and to talk to schoolchildren about running a business.
She is surprised that she made it to week six of The Apprentice, saying frankly that the reason she got kicked off was because she didn’t win a task, had been in the boardroom twice before and had “not done anything that really shone”.
The experience taught her a lot, though – firstly, that she is not a salesperson. “I’m good at engaging people, but I’m not a shouter,” she says.
Asked if the programme favours salesmanship over other business skills, she states that the reason she was in it so long was perhaps because Lord Sugar saw something else in her. “I kept not selling, but I don’t think he wants just salespeople. I think he liked that I was level headed and not a loose cannon,” she says.
She thinks it was important to be herself on the programme. “You have to act very quickly in a pressurised environment. Your only fallback is on your own personality,” she states. She adds that she is happy with the way the show was edited and says her husband remarked that it was the real her. Her son is unphased by his mum being on tv and by local excitement such as requests for selfies from local businesses. At nearly four, he doesn’t see being on tv as a big deal.
Of those left on the programme, Rebecca says she would like either Frances Bishop or Courtney Wood to win, Frances for her salesmanship and Courtney because he is a good project manager who is easy to get on with.
Although ultimately she lost, and on a task that involved staying up at night – something that, as a mum, she is well equipped for – Rebecca is hoping that mums in business will be the big winners. “My aim is to spread the word that you can be a mum and run your own business,” she says.