Working mums is a business entirely founded on homeworking. All staff work from home and are working parents. How did we get started and how does it all function?
What do you do when your children are off sick or there are medical checks, clinics to attend, inset days or other myriad child-related appointments to keep? There are only so many days you can take off work, as many mothers have discovered. Homeworking can seem the only solution for mothers who want or need to work. But some mothers have taken homeworking a step further, setting up their own home-based business and employing other home-based workers.
One business which combines all of this with a campaign to make homeworking more available to working mothers is jobsite WorkingMums.co.uk.
Set up by mother-of-two Gillian Nissim in April 2006, the site puts a huge bank of qualified professional women in touch with family-friendly employers who offer flexible working conditions and work which utilises their skills. Many women find that flexible positions are often equated with unchallenging, low-paid work.
Nissim decided to start the business after the birth of her second child. She had been working as a senior manager in internal communications for ten years and had gone freelance after the birth of her first son due to her company’s inflexible working patterns. "I realised that I would struggle to combine a full-time job with being a relaxed and dedicated mum," she says. "While I wanted and needed to work, I also wanted flexibility."
Gap in the market
While freelancing and trying to find work that fitted around her family life, Nissim spotted a gap in the market for a recruitment service offering flexible work to mothers. She researched her target market of mothers and employers online and face to face to gauge demand and to find out what services both groups wanted. With the support of friends and her husband Leigh who remarked on his own problems finding suitably qualified staff for freelance and short term projects, she wrote a business plan and got in touch with web development company Wide Area Communications who then helped to build, develop and maintain the website.
Nissim is very passionate about the business. "The huge upside of working from home is the flexibility it gives me to be with my young children. Although I’m working pretty full days, I’m much more present and available than I would be if I was office-based. And I don’t have to battle against rush hour traffic and am not at the mercy of the tube – which is much more time efficient and significantly reduces my stress levels" she says.
WorkingMums has steadily increased its income and the number of mums registered on the site is currently over 27,000 from across the UK and across 26 industry sectors. There are around 2,700 employers registered nationwide and the number of new registrations can be as many as 90 a day. In recent months the numbers have been rising fast – at the beginning of 2007 there were just 2,000 mums registered. The calibre of candidates registered is high – they include chief executives, lawyers, accounts managers, IT executives and editors, many with between 10 and 20 years’ experience. Mums register for free and can file their CVs while employers pay to post jobs on the site and contact candidates.
Working mums as employees
As business has increased Nissim has taken on more staff. In early 2007, there were just two members of staff. Now there are eleven plus non-executive director Simon Smith, a recruitment expert, and Nissim’s husband Leigh who does the accounts and is non-executive chairman. All the staff work from home and are working mothers. They are all linked through the WorkingMums content management system and the central phone line can be diverted to one of the account executive’s homes.
Nissim is a big advocate of employing working mothers. "I’ve always employed working mums," she says. "I find them more focused, they have a greater sense of what’s important, and they have more to prove – that they can be a mother and be good at their job. And certainly in the case of the Working Mums team, they’re passionate about what they do."
The first member of staff to join Nissim was mother-of-two Julie Harwood, who started in May 2006, having worked in sales and operations in the broadcast media industry. She is the company’s account manager. A more recent recruit is Annika Williams, who joined in July 2007 as marketing manager. She had been working for a media company, marketing publications, websites and events for nine years. She wanted to go freelance to fit around her daughter’s school timetable. She still works one day a week for her old company in London as a consultant, but the rest of the week she is at home. "I work at 32-35 hour week, but I feel I am more productive as my work has my entire focus and I have more energy for my daughter," says Williams, who has recently gone on maternity leave.
Ups and downs
The influx of staff has generated more publicity, more links to other related websites and more face to face meetings with employers. The site is also about to undergo a facelift to promote new postings better as well as growing editorial content such as blogs, news and expert advice. The site’s expert panel answer readers’ questions on everything from employment legislation to childcare and financial matters.
Nissim says there have been both ups and downs to setting up a home-based business – for instance, both her children came down with chickenpox just as the site was launched. She also says working from home means she misses some of the sociability of going into work. However, she tries to compensate for this by making as much face-to-face contact with employers and business partners as possible. She has also had to learn a range of new skills from accounting to marketing. But the upside is the flexibility of the work and doing something she feels passionately about. "The key is being really organised and planning things in advance," she says. "That sounds very regimental but it also means planning in plenty of time for relaxing and having fun. It helps not to stress out if things don’t quite go to plan. If you end up looking after one of the kids who is poorly all day rather than working then don’t worry, everything will get done sooner or later and you’ll find a balance," she says.