Workingmums go LIVE

Tomorrow is our second flexible jobs fair Workingmums LIVE London. As we gear up for the event, Gillian Nissim, founder of Workingmums, talks about what the event aims to achieve, the launch of Workingmums Business Zone, the history of Workingmums and its plans for the future.

Tomorrow is our second flexible jobs fair Workingmums LIVE London. As we gear up for the event, Gillian Nissim, founder of Workingmums, talks about what the event aims to achieve, the launch of Workingmums Business Zone, the history of Workingmums and its plans for the future.

WM magazine: What is the aim of Workingmums LIVE and how have you built on last year’s successful event?

Gillian NissimWorkingmums LIVE brings to life everything we offer on our website and more – putting women in touch with family friendly employers and franchises as well as offering advice and support on everything from negotiating flexible work to setting up your own business. Last year we launched Workingmums LIVE in London and held another LIVE event in Manchester later in the year. At London LIVE this week we will have more seminars and workshops than ever, including one to one legal clinics and cv advice sessions and there are over 40 exhibitors, ranging from the big corporates to franchise organisations. The aim is to provide something for everyone. We are also delighted to be launching our new Workingmums Business Zone to give working parents all the tools they need to start up their own business.

WM: What is the Workingmums Business Zone?

GN: The Workingmums Business Zone was set up in response to our annual survey showing a huge number of women had considered setting up their own business, primarily in order to get a better work life balance. It offers a range of tools for self-employed working parents, including advice, inspirational stories and a business directory. We want to give working mums advice and support across a full range of work opportunities so they can choose what suits them best.

WM: Why did you set Workingmums up?

GN: I launched WMs in 2006 off the back of my own experience – and that of my peers – and basically because I needed the service myself. Like many of my peers, I’d built up my career over the best part of nine years, latterly as a senior manager in large financial organisations. After having my first child I wanted and needed to go back to work. However, I wanted more flexibility than Monday to Friday in office could offer (whether that was working compressed hours, or being able to work from home some of the time etc). My employer at the time couldn’t offer any kind of flexibility and so when I started looking for jobs that did offer a degree of flexibility I found it very frustrating not to have one place I could go to find that kind of opportunity. Nevertheless, I knew they existed – in companies of all sizes.

For example, as anyone who has run or runs a small business can tell you, you very often need people with certain skills or experience – a financial controller or high level marketer, for example, but don’t need one or can’t justify paying someone to work full time or from the office. Indeed my husband, who at the time was CEO of a small business himself, had precisely that problem and found it hard to find the quality of people he needed, who were also prepared to work part time or to work from home. It was that and the birth of my second son and the desire for even more flexibility in my own working pattern, which provided the catalyst for Workingmums.

WM: What does Workingmums do?

GN: The aim of is to provide employers with a high number of very skilled and motivated professionals who have a wealth of experience across many industry sectors. We also give working mums access to employers who can offer jobs and opportunities on a flexible basis to help them balance work and family life, whether that means full time jobs with flexi hours, the ability to work from home or to work part time or some other combination.

In return for offering the kind of flexibility women – and many others – are looking for, countless research studies show employers get more motivated and loyal staff who are prepared to go that little bit further in times of need. The employers represented on our site have done the maths and realise the business case for offering such flexibility. They are not charities bent on doing favours for their staff. They understand that it makes business sense not to lose experienced, talented staff and that the long-term picture for increased growth clearly indicates the need to retain women and to promote diversity at all levels of their organisations. Indeed it is becoming increasingly clear that this style of flexible or agile working is precisely what is needed in our globalised, dynamic business world.

Our jobs cover everything from positions at all levels with top corporates, through to SMEs as well as franchise and self-employed opportunities. In addition – and where we differ to traditional jobsites – we have strong editorial content on the website, including news and case studies relevant to working mums. In the last two years we have also branched out into events – both employer and candidate focused.

WM: How many people are registered on the site?

GN: We now have over 168,000 candidates registered and work with hundreds of employers.

WM: How did you go about setting it up?

GN: Having thought through the idea in more detail, the first thing I did was research – and that research was key to developing my business plan. In the early days in particular I made a lot of use of my professional and social network (something I still do today!) and certainly pulled in a few favours! On the client side, I had a number of face to face sessions with large corporates through to small businesses and “one man bands”. On the candidate side – the mums side – I used viral marketing. A survey monkey email to 100 of my friends and fellow nursery and school mums quickly got forwarded on around the country to other mums. This research not only provided me with valuable information, but also with a ready-made database for launch.

Putting a business plan together was key – it’s stood me in really good stead as the business has grown too. Initially a lot of the advice I got was largely online, through , for instance, Business Link. It was through Business Link that I was put in touch with my first mentor, through a mentoring scheme run for pre-start ups. I found this invaluable, talking to an incredibly experienced business person, who could be completely objective about my business plan and aims and objectives.

WM: How did you fund it initially?

GN: I self-funded the business initially. My start-up costs were very low and there was just me. In the early days, I let employers advertise for free to drive traffic to the site, build the database and thoroughly test the concept. Very soon after launch, we benefited from some fantastic PR and from then things started moving more quickly than I’d anticipated. Early on I’d envisaged that I’d grow the business slowly and organically, working from home while the children were still at nursery. However, it quickly became clear that there was real opportunity to move faster.

Within a year I had a handful of staff working with me from their homes around the country – all recruited through the website, and all very talented and experienced individuals, and the business was growing quickly. More opportunities were presenting themselves and I recognised that I needed to take things to the next level. At this point I also got in touch with the FSB which provided another great source of information and I’ve also found some of the additional services they offer – from insurance to the legal advice line – invaluable.

WM: How hard has it been running a business during an economic crisis?

GN: The business has continued to grow despite the challenging economic environment and we continue to innovate and offer new products -including by going “offline” by launching two events – our Top Employer Awards, which we launched in October 2010 to recognise employers who are particularly innovative and leading the way in flexible working and diversity and to share best practice, and Workingmums Live.

WM: How big is the WM team?

GN: The WM team has grown and evolved considerably since we launched in 2006. From being a wholly home-based business with all the team working from their home, we now have a small office in central London where most of the sales team are based, but everyone else continues to be home-based. Having the office works in terms of the sales team bouncing off each other and because it means we are near the majority of our corporate clients – and to national railways / motorways etc. Everyone has an opportunity to work flexibly whether they are parents or not. The benefits of having the rest of the team being home-based is that it’s opened up a talent pool that wouldn’t otherwise be open to me. I am not just limited to people who can work in London.

Managing remote workers can have its challenges. Communication is key and technology is a huge enabler – we work on a remote desktop system which means that we can log into our systems, emails etc from wherever we are – home, office, holiday. It also enables us to share files and data. We have Blackberries and use teleconferencing, all of which helps to facilitate a truly flexible and mobile workforce.

WM: Do you work flexibly yourself?

GN: In terms of the day-to-day running of the business, I work the equivalent of a full-time week, but how and where I work varies. Within the business we try to practice what we preach. I try to work from home a couple of days a week. Running your own business is a 24/7 job and can’t just be slotted into Monday-Friday 9-5, which actually can be a benefit, although holiday or not, you do tend to always be “on call”. Now with a larger team and senior management support it’s a little bit easier.

It can be all-consuming and in that respect it can be like having another baby. You need to be prepared to put the hours in, but the beauty is that there a degree of flexibility when you’re your own boss. And I really value the fact that ultimately I can control the hours and way I work – and it’s small things that make a big difference to me as a parent and to my children: being able to do school drop offs for example, and being able to work from home regularly also means I’m more present for the boys than I would be if I was office-based five days a week and cuts down on travel time. I can also go to things like my children’s assemblies and sports days, knowing that with my Blackberry, I’m still contactable if I need to be.

WM: What are you plans for the future?

GN: I’m very proud of what has achieved in a relatively short time, but I’m keen that we don’t rest on our laurels. We plan to constantly evolve and rely on regular feedback from those who use the site. One of the popular parts of the site is our Advice and Support section where we give careers advice and one to one expert advice on issues ranging from childcare and career progression to employment law. With our new Business Zone we will add a whole channel of information on setting up your own business or franchise. Over the course of the last few years, our experts have helped hundreds of women and some are providing one to one advice at our Live events. Our aim is not just to help individual women by providing them with advice, but, through our case studies and work with employers, to promote greater cultural change so that they can use their experience and skills in ways that fit around their family life.

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