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Mum-of-three Lara Morgan set up a business in her small cottage and guided it towards global recognition.
Here, she tells Workingmums.co.uk about the development of her company and gives advice to mums who are interested in starting their own business.
Lara’s latest initiative is www.company-shortcut.com, where mid-size companies can access practical advice, templates and frameworks to ensure that frustrated business owners can achieve accelerated growth.
But she well remembers what it was like to start off a fledgling business from home. A survey by Workingmums.co.uk published earlier this week showed working mums don’t want to simply rely on a salaried income for a number of years from the same employer – they have high aspirations and want to do what Lara did.
Our poll found a quarter of respondents said they already had a business idea, proving creativity and new thinking aren’t in short supply, while one third wanted to start a business/franchise alongside their normal work.
”I’m passionate about entrepreneurism in Britain,” says Lara. ”I was single and didn’t have any children when I started up my business in one room of a cottage.
The hardest part of the business was definitely the first two years.”
Lara, now 43, had left school at the age of 18 and worked in Hong Kong selling business gifts to airlines and banks.
Three years later she went to the Middle East where she became national accounts manager for Yellow Pages.
But in 1991, Lara moved back to Britain and set up Pacific Direct in her cottage, selling business gifts. In 2002, she was runner-up in the Ernst & Young national entrepreneur of the year awards.
Her company became a global success and supplies luxury branded toiletries to hotels, cruise lines and airlines, with manufacturing plants in the Czech Republic and China, and offices around the world.
She took all of her staff to Barbados for a holiday to celebrate a £1m profit in 2005, before selling a majority shareholding in the business for £20m in 2008.
Lara and husband Charlie, 50, are parents to Katie, 12, Natasha, 10, and seven-year-old Tamsin. Despite her commitment to the business, Lara was adamant she would have a healthy work-life balance.
”I was very determined to grow my business,” she said, ”but there were certain boundaries because of having children. I made sure I never missed a Christmas play.
The level of organisation that you need in order to be successful has to be absolutely exceptional, if you are not going to miss all the important stuff.
You have to have a determination and strength of character to say ‘no’.”
Lara is realistic about the impact on her business when she had children.
”I accepted I would be less ambitious about growth and budgeted for it because I knew there would be a few months when I couldn’t achieve the same for the business,” she said.
However, she carried on with her business duties while she was breastfeeding and recalls once having to express milk whilst being ferried in a taxi in Paris.
”I breastfed in front of customers and staff and breastfed in meetings,” she said. ”If you’re reasonably sensitive about it and assertive to some extent, you can do it.”
When it comes to childcare, Lara says mums have to be completely clear about their expectations. She says she employs someone she views as a ”supporter” who can respond to her needs, which can include impromptu travel and business meetings, long hours, disrupted travel plans, etc, so she requires flexibility on the childcare front.
Top tip from Lara for working mums: It’s very important to look after your fitness. ”You must make sure you invest time in your own health to be able to run a business and see to your family commitments.”
”Not everybody can run a business,” states Lara, practically. ”The amount of work it requires is extraordinary.
If anyone has a dream of having a business, they should calculate that it will take twice as long to achieve success and be doubly as hard.
It’s like having a house re-decorated – the budget is always higher than you originally think it will be and it takes longer.”
It’s a time to ask yourself difficult questions and give totally honest answers, points out Lara. You need to work out exactly how much time you will have available to devote to a new project
Setting goals for a business is crucial. ”Even if you are working from home, you have to run it professionally with a budget,” she says. ”If you’re a mum and you only have so many hours you have got to be realistic about how fast you are going to grow the thing.”
Her advice is to start off as inexpensively as possible – she warns that from the outset you must have financial awareness and understanding at some level – and recommends business start-up programmes from the likes of Sage costing around £40.
”You need to know when you’re making a profit, and not just trading for fun,” she says.
Top tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. ”A lot of people are frightened of just asking people for help,” says Lara. ”But it’s human nature that people like to pass on advice and talk about what they’ve done when they’re asked.”