The advent of high-speed broadband, cloud computing and e-commerce has made it easier than ever for people to start a small business. Using the Internet, entrepreneurs can bring their goods and services to a potentially huge market, with very little initial outlay. And for people with responsibilities outside of the workplace – mums in particular – this has opened up new avenues into self-employment.
Home working has become a viable option for a variety of professional people, including those who have started up their own enterprise. Since goods can be sold online and mailed direct to the customer, having a high street presence is now less important for small businesses. As a result, stay-at-home mothers are able to juggle their childcare responsibilities with running a company.
Technology has helped create new opportunities for female businesspeople, who want to progress with their career while playing an active role in their children's upbringing. So it should come as no surprise that the number of mothers running small businesses – or 'mumpreneurs' – is continuing to increase. Women in business want the best of both worlds, and they are working hard to achieve their full ambitions without the need for sacrifice.
Why are women starting up busineses?
Female business leader Yolanda Vega recently said there has been "a massive shift" of women leaving the corporate world to start up their own business in recent years. Writing for the Business Spectator, she revealed that women are starting up firms at almost double the rate compared to men.
"Technology and education has facilitated this trend and it will continue," Ms Vega explained. "Today, the new generation of women graduating from our universities – 60 per cent of graduates in total – are financially savvy and the first generation to consider owning a business as a career option."
In 2011, it is a well-established norm for female professionals to continue working after having children. Some may decide – out of personal choice - to give up their careers and stay at home, but there is no longer any expectation on their part to do so. Indeed, many are eager to return to work following maternity leave, despite their obvious love for their newborn.
But in some circumstances, women may feel as if they want more flexibility once they have given birth, and depending on their career choices, this may not always be achievable in employment. For some, starting a business and becoming a mumpreneur represents a way to take complete charge – to be their own boss and decide where and when they want to work.
Other women may feel as if they are not adequately rewarded for their professional achievements. Despite the introduction of equality legislation more than 40 years ago, a gender pay gap still remains in the UK. Emphasising the point, the Male Champions of Change movement recently claimed it will take another 179 years for women to become the exact equals of men in business. Mumpreneurs have no such worries – they can decide how much to pay themselves, and indeed any male or female employees they hire in the future.
Mumpreneurs - or just women in business?
There is an ongoing debate about the wisdom of being referred to as a mumpreneur – some people believe the term has positive connotations, others negative. According to Dr Polly McGee, who runs the MumpreneurIDEAS program, mumpreneur is an "affirming term" for a defined group of mothers who find "interesting and innovative ways to harmonies their many hats, while at the same time creating income for their families".
Writing for StartupSmart.com, she said such individuals choose motherhood as an opportunity to create a work lifestyle that allows family to be at the centre of their business and vice versa, and this should be applauded. In many cases, motherhood itself is the inspiration for creating a product or service in a traditionally entrepreneurial way, Dr McGee noted.
However, business coach Rebecca Jones warned that the label can sometimes give the wrong impression – that being a mum comes first, before being an entrepreneur. In reality, both aspects are extremely important to women in business. Ms Jones expressed fears that mumpreneur conjures up visions of a business owner balancing a baby on their knee as they work – and this doesn't accurately reflect the setup in reality. In order to make this working lifestyle a success, women need to be ultra-focused, organised and disciplined – and able to switch seamlessly between their dual roles.
Ms Jones' concerns stem from the fact that female entrepreneurs may be doing them disservice by branding themselves in this way – rather than simply as a business owner outright. She claimed that people who juggle parenthood with running a business are "amazing", and deserve all the success that comes their way. But for most business owners, the label does not necessarily matter. It is the reputation of the business, and quality of the goods and services on offer that is the real determinant of success. Being a mumpreneur may simply be part of the journey from home start-up to global corporation.
Balancing the competing demands of childcare and entrepreneurialism is undoubtedly a difficult challenge, but potentially highly rewarding if women are able to strike the right balance. Becoming a mother means, to a large extent, giving up your independence and taking on enormous responsibility, but becoming self-employed can help obtain a different type of freedom.
In order to make their enterprise a success, women need to work hard, plan thoroughly, set realistic goals and accept help when it is on hand. This may be assistance with the business, or it could be a few hours' babysitting. With drive, determination and courage – and a healthy dosage of self-belief – many women are realising their ambitions all at once. They are utilising their talents to the full, establishing successful businesses, while laying the foundations for a happy family life.