Hundreds of mums attended the first Manchester Workingmums LIVE event to find out about flexible work opportunities, including starting their own businesses.
Hundreds of mums attended the first Manchester Workingmums LIVE event this week to find out about flexible work opportunities, including starting their own businesses.
A range of family friendly employers from Santander, Nationwide and Hobbs to Northern Rail and the AA and a host of franchisors came face to face with skilled professional women looking for a better work life balance at the Lowry Hotel on 8th November. "We've had an amazing response already," said Julie Wilson, a franchise mentor at Bright & Beautiful, a top end cleaning franchise. That was just one hour into the event. "The quality of the people we have had conversations with has been great."
"It's only one and a half hours into the day and it's already been worth coming," echoed Rachel Ray, founder of top end cleaning franchise Bright & Beautiful and a speaker on one of the busy seminars about starting a business. Julie Wilson, a franchise mentor at Bright & Beautiful, added: "The quality of the people we have had conversations with has been great."
Jo Helliar of children's clothing franchise Captain Tortue said she was delighted with the response. "People have even placed orders with us which never happens normally," she said. "I have been very impressed by the quality of people coming up to our stand."
Trisha Hiley, European Talent Acquisition manager at electronics components firm Premier Farnell, said she has been impressed by the type of candidates who had approached her, including marketing people and a technical author.
"We're in a male-dominated industry, but we want more women in the business, especially engineers. We also offer the full range of jobs such as IT, marketing and sales."
The company hired a diversity manager a year ago who is pushing the flexible working agenda and educating managers internally about its benefits. "Five years ago in this business it was very different," said Trisha, adding that Farnell has been transformed since its new CEO, Harriet Green, took over five years ago. "We have completely changed our way of thinking and started to attract more women. Harriet has been an inspiration," she said.
The seminars on offer, from social networking to returning to work, were very well attended. Coaches Andrea Kilpatrick and Katerina Gould said the audience for their session on returning to work was lively. What came across strongly, they said, was how women's confidence levels dropped if they took time out of the workplace. "We tried to get them to talk things through and challenge their mindsets," said Andrea.
At the flexible working seminar, coach Jessica Chivers gave a run down of how to apply for flexible working and how to make it difficult for an employer to turn down a request. She counselled women to be realistic, think of their request from the employer's viewpoint, seek allies in their office, be ready to negotiate and to do the groundwork necessary to make the request look like a win-win for them and their boss. She said women needed to know what they needed to make it all work [this might be flexi hours or some flexibility around the edges] and how this differed from their ideal wish list.
Coach Amanda Alexander gave some tips on how to handle the work life balance, although she admitted that work life balance is a bit of a myth and subject to constant adjustments. Her tips covered everything from simplifying your life, saying no and "romance for the knackered" – ie how not to neglect your partner – to blocking out time in your diary for uninterrupted Mummy time and networking, which she preferred to call connecting. She said mums often try to be perfectionists and needed to realise that being good enough is fine.
The session on setting up a business addressed everything from going freelance to direct selling and franchising. Iain McIllwee of freelance group PCG said freelancing had a lot of appeal for working parents as it gave them freedom and more control over their hours. On the more negative side, it involved being fully accountable for your work and things like pensions and training.It also might have a knock-on effect on any new mortgage you might need. For employers freelancers offered skilled professionals on a pay as you go basis.
He advised freelances to start with the network of contacts they had already built up from previous jobs. He said that before starting freelances should "know their own worth" by checking websites like elance.com to see what the going rate was. He also covered the different types of trading set-ups for freelances.
Paul Southworth of the Direct Selling Association enthusiastically recommended direct selling and sought to explode the "myth" of direct selling just being about earning pin money and cold calling. Most direct selling now started with people's existing networks of friends and friends of friends and involved home demonstrations. "It's about having fun," he said, adding that people who made good direct sellers were passionate about their product. The maximum costs any DSA organisation asked people to invest was £200 and many didn't ask for any money.
Rachel Ray gave the lowdown on being a franchisee. She said it gave you the freedom to run your own business but using a proven model. She advised choosing a franchise which did something you enjoyed and to seek out businesses with a long-term projected growth. Franchises came in many varieties and franchise costs could range considerably, she said, so it was worth doing a lot of research and checking out which fitted your interests and your budget. After you have chosen a franchise, she said you should seek a prospectus, meet the franchisor and check out that they were ethical traders by talking to other franchisees, checking whether they were registered with the British Franchise Association and reading through the smallprint about what they offered franchisees. When drawing up paperwork, it was worth hiring a BFA-approved sollicitor.
Naomi Timperley of Baby Loves Disco gave a whistlestop tour of social networking and PR. She emphasised the need for those using social networking to commit time and energy to it [at least half an hour a day after you have set up followers and done your initial research] and to work strategically, choosing the people they follow on Twitter carefully. She advised against the hard sell on social networks and said it was more about striking up a conversation. "That's why it's called social media," she said.
The final session with Neil Lewis from Media Modo and Bernie Cox from the Women's Organisation explained the whole process of business planning.
Throughout the day CV and Interview Advisors offered one to one cv advice to mums. Mums who attended the event said they found the day gave them lots to think about. Louise Merron, who is expecting her second child and works for a charity in the public health sector, said: "It's given me more confidence and made me see it is about making opportunities rather than waiting for them to come."