Many mums aspiring to a better work-life balance are turning their backs on everyday companies and setting up their own businesses. By Amy Birchall
Open a 2012 Collins English Dictionary to the letter “M”, and you’ll discover “mumpreneur” is an official word in the English language. Flick through business reports about mums and microbusinesses and you may also realise mumpreneurs are not just part of our everyday vocabulary: they are also big business.
With BankWest research revealing women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men, while online marketplaces such as US-founded Etsy targeted at women thrive, mumpreneurs are redefining the way women work. Even big corporations are behind the phenomenon – Huggies recently ran a “Mumspired” competition, which gave five mums $20,000 each to help fund their business idea.
Emma Welsh knows what it is like to be a mumpreneur better than most. The former head of consumer marketing at NAB and mum-of-one abandoned her corporate career to start premium juice company Emma & Tom’s in 2004 with friend Tom Griffith.
The company, which started out selling juices direct to high-end cafes, now brings in about $5 million annually and employs 20 staff. It is not a bad result for two people who “weren’t natural entrepreneurs,” as Welsh claims.
Welsh juggled the launch of Emma & Tom’s with the birth of her son, Alexander, but says her “work- life balance is fantastic”. She believes mumpreneur businesses are on the rise because mums are looking for flexibility other industries cannot provide.
“If you want to go into business as a mum and have time for your family, you have to think about the type of business you want to set up,” she says.
“If you set up a retail store, you’re tied to working retail hours. Running your own business, particularly in the product industry, gives you flexible hours that you can’t find elsewhere.”
The desire to work flexible hours on their own terms has led many aspiring mumpreneurs to start selling products or conducting business online. Online handmade marketplaces such as Etsy have exploded in popularity in recent years as mums and other microbusiness owners combine to use their collective power to sell goods.
With more than 875,000 active shops and 15 million members worldwide using Etsy – many of them mums running their own microbusinesses – they wield considerable collective power.
In fact, mumpreneurs are so prominent on Etsy that parenting website Babble compiles a top 50 Etsy Mums list every year. Last year’s winner was American Amy Stringer-Mowat, a mother-of-one who spends 50 hours a week running her Etsy store. She started selling cutting boards in the shape of US states on Etsy after losing her job as an architect during the recession. Within a few months she was featured in several magazines and holiday gift guides, and is now considered one of Etsy’s most successful sellers.
Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson says microbusinesses that retail online, of which mumpreneurs make up a significant proportion, are on the rise because people can start their own business with next to no overheads. He claims this shift has caused the decline of retail and the emergence of a new economy.
“People are buying and selling from each other, not from corporations. It’s as much about building relationships as it is about building a business,” he says.
However, he is realistic about the fact that success doesn’t come overnight.
“If you want to be successful, work 12-16 hour days for 16 years. That’s sort of the truth.”
Emma & Tom’s Welsh agrees. She warns that deciding to be a mumpreneur does not guarantee success or a stress-free lifestyle.
She had extensive business and marketing experience and completed an MBA prior to starting Emma & Tom’s, but says this did not prepare her for what to expect when starting a new business.
“We had to learn about sourcing the quality fruit that we needed, not the stewed kind that other companies rely on; about bottling; about maintaining quality,” she says.
“If I had my time again I’d be more thrifty. Coming from a corporate background I was used to spending lots of money. And initially we spent a lot of money because we had it.
“It took four times longer and cost four times as much as what we’d expected – which sort of set the tone for the rest of the things we do in business!”
Secrets of a successful mumpreneur
Emma & Tom’s co-founder Emma Welsh says it’s best to think hard about the type of business you want. “If you want flexibility or to work your own hours, consider what industries will be best for you,” she says.
“It’s also important to love your product. I’m really proud of our product. It tastes fantastic, it’s high quality. When you’re passionate about something, it shows.”
Her top tip? Choose your business partner wisely.
“You don’t need a business partner to succeed. It’s better to have no business partner than one who you don’t trust, doesn’t respect you or share your vision. but if you find a partner who has those things, it can be a real asset.”
Mt’s top mumpreneurs
Janine Allis, Boost Juice: Allis launched boost Juice bars in 2000 in adelaide. The company has since expanded internationally with stores in Asia, Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Its revenue is $135 million annually.
Carolyn Creswell, Carman’s Fine Foods: Creswell, a mum of four, bought a small muesli business for $1000 at the age of just 18. She has since grown carman’s into the leading muesli brand in australia.
Natalie Bloom, Bloom Cosmetics: Bloom left her graphic design career to launch her own stationery and giftware company in 1993. there are now more than 300 products in the bloom range, which are stocked internationally.
Naomi Simson, RedBalloon: Inspired by the dot- com boom, simson created online gifting service redballoon in 2000. today, RedBalloon is a $36 million business.