Running own business and having a baby - Advice needed from other business owners!

(65 Posts)
Saffra Tue 01-Feb-11 20:19:36

I am 6+1 weeks pregnant and have my own online business selling products. Business has been running for 18 months now and it's just me at the moment running it from home.

At the mo, although there is some flexibility, I work long hours to get everything done.

I'm worried about how I will cope in the future as the business is wholly dependant on me. Sales aren't high enough yet to employ anyone.

Will most likely use a childminder when old enough. But, really worried about how I will cope while the baby is newborn and very little.

Would love to hear any advice or suggestions from anyone that's been there.

Talkinpeace Tue 01-Feb-11 20:36:19
flowery Tue 01-Feb-11 20:40:01

I scaled right down at the newborn stage tbh, absolute minimum work. I am an HR consultant and had my second baby in November 2009. I stopped seeking new clients at about 6 months pregnant, and all my existing ones were very good about not bothering me if they could help it in the newborn stage.

I scaled everything right back and did no marketing, networking, project work or anything, literally just advising existing clients. That was until DS2 was about 6mo, although I could have stepped things up sooner if I'd wanted to.

Is doing something similar an option for you?

Saffra Tue 01-Feb-11 20:59:25

I'd seen those posts, thank you Talkinpeace but they didn't really give a solution as such to my situation - I think because I'm not a freelancer providing services, where I can tell clients that I'm on maternity leave.

In fact, I really won't be able to take any maternity leave off at all. DH will take 2 weeks off work, allowing me to be with the baby, so this will be my maternity leave, I suppose.

There are certain things that I can scale back on or outsource, like marketing work. I plan to do this for a good 4-6 months.

But, the business will still need someone to process/package orders, deal with customers by phone and email, etc. Although things are fairly automated, customers still need a degree of personalised contact because of the nature of their purchases.

I'm thinking about employing someone to help - even for 4-6 months to get me through - but don't exactly feel comfortable with having a stranger in the house while I'm perhaps in a vulnerable state! Besides, there's also the question of finances and the fact that baby crying etc. is not exactly an ideal working environment.

I can't close the business temporarily either.

Talkinpeace Tue 01-Feb-11 21:43:32

Saffra
you just keep going
same as I had to do when I had DS - HMRC do not move their deadlines!
the main thing will be to start scaling back in good time - reduce the range, explaining why.
Here is the website of an expert
www.thesoapycauldron.co.uk/
Sam had 4 kids by the age of 29 and the website did not miss a beat while she had no 5!
DAft as a brush she is :-)

m0nkeynuts Wed 02-Feb-11 19:43:53

Is there any possibility of moving operations out of your house - maybe by renting some warehouse/office space - so that you'd feel more comfortable taking someone on to help? You could perhaps take someone on through the Work Trial scheme (see here) initially, to keep your costs down during training until you are officially on maternity leave.

Alternatively, you could try a virtual PA to deal with phonecalls or emails, if you are able to train them on which questions need to be asked of your customers. Then you'd only have to deal with packing of orders etc.

Booandpops Wed 02-Feb-11 22:27:51

Have you any family members or friend with a responsible teenager that might want to work a few hrs for cash? I'm self employed and when my dd1 was born I didn't work for 6 mths but it was easy for me as I provide a service so just stopped taking bookings With ds2 I muddled through as work was at a good point and I didn't want to go backwards. It's bloody hard but babies do get easier and once dc is older there is always daycare or babysitting from nanny etc good luck xx

merryberry Wed 02-Feb-11 23:04:46

If I were you, do try and get someone lined up to do the routine stuff. Aim to keep the business alive, and not sending you into debt. Advertise in your local library, meet all sorts of folk who might work for minimum wage. Look at older, younger people. Do you have a local parents group? Join it, start making contacts amongst people with kids ASAP, they will likely have ready made options and contacts as the week and years roll by.

Include the housework in figuring out how to - do get a cleaner in so neither of you have to do it. Get them to change your beds, do any ironing, anything which will free you up for your health, family and business.

Maybe keep the phone contact stuff for yourself to do in the daytime, new babies sleep lots, if only in small patches (mine both did about 40-45 minutes every 1.5-2 hrs for a few months). You can fit a customer call into each of these if you need to? When they passed about 12 weeks they would have 2-3 hour long sleeps 2-3 times a day for several months.

Make sure you have a hands free headset. Practice with it, make it second nature. Set up a feeding area and keep what you need in reach.

The most stressful time of day IME with infants is from about 1700-1100. Don't expect to do anything then. It's a combo of you and dh being tired, babies being fretful and/or feeding like demons for hours around that time. TBH with both of them, all being equal, your health being good etc, the days can yawn on a bit, especially with just one and you may find that having a bit of business to manage makes the days turn over quicker, and all the life changes around becoming a mother less of a stark contrast than my experience of it.

In summary, hard hard work, certainly not for the faint hearted, but with possible benefits and start practising this mantra now - 'this too shall pass'

congratulations on your BFP

Booandpops Wed 02-Feb-11 23:16:06

Merry berry makes a great point about getting a cleaner. Saves tonnes of Man hrs!!! I have one every fortnight. It's lush. When my Dcs are both full time school I will stop but for now it means my Youngest son only does two days in daycare and the rest of the time we get to spend together doing fun stuff

Saffra Thu 03-Feb-11 12:22:52

Thank you so much for your suggestions, I will definitely give consideration to these ideas.

Hopefully I'm not going to out myself here(!), but I think it will probably help to explain a bit about my business.

I sell high end bridal accessories and jewellery online, and, as such, image and service are very important. It's an industry that is very brand orientated, so the professionalism and service aspects are very important.

My due date is in Sept, so this will coincide with the quieter season, which is definitely a good thing! But, as the business is still growing, it's hard to know how much help I'll need at that point.

I definitely won't need warehouse space, but might need to store the stock elsewhere to (a) make room for baby related things (b) perhaps separate it from the living area of the house to make it more appropriate if getting outside help. This would mean some building conversion work though, so need to think carefully about it. Would be worth it if it was a solution for the medium term too.

I've contacted a virtual PA type company for a quote. Not sure how they will deal with calls, as many of the calls are asking advice on products/tracing parcels, etc. I think a single person that can be trained would maybe suit much more than a call centre type service.

I've had a think about family members, and feel that perhaps my mum can maybe offer some very basic help in the short term. But, she's totally computer illiterate, and she definitely would not want to deal with customers on the phone/email. Hmmmm!

Other 'available' family members are similar. (The ones that I would consider much more capable fit in the employed/not retired category). But, she was willing, my mum would be able to sort out daily collections and pack orders. And, crucially, be available to mind the baby in the house so that I can do some work during 9-5. I have no real experience with babies, never mind tiny ones, so have no idea if this is even a semi-practical idea. Would my baby want to be held and need attention 24/7??

The cleaner and someone to do the ironing is a great idea, I think that will be a definite. Perhaps even a dog walker too for my high energy dog.

Perhaps I just need someone that can do all the above - from customer service to dog walking to ironing?????!

Re calling customers back, how on earth could I ensure that they don't hear baby noises? Is that even possible if they are in the house? My house is semi open plan, so noise travels ridiculously. Have even thought about sound proofing a room to make telephone calls possible.

Thanks for the congrats on the BFP smile - don't think it's sunk in properly. Due to previous problems, I've been for early scans. Have a third one on Monday, so crossing fingers it's all good. Perhaps then I'll allow myself to get more excited!

Talkinpeace Thu 03-Feb-11 14:06:29

Phone calls:
Get an answerphone with a simple message
"Saffra cannot get to the phone right now but please either send an email (link on the website) or leave your details and I'll call you back as soon as I can."
Then you make your calls when small person is asleep.
As they get older you tell them that those phone calls pay for the things they like.
They learn to stay quiet.

I once had a howling 2 year old while haggling with an HMRC lady. She got more upset than me because her DC was in day care and she started to really miss him!

But also, many people planning weddings will value the fact that you can call them back in the evening when they are not at work, which is when baby can go conko.

Saffra Thu 03-Feb-11 16:00:59

I know the advice sounds simple, but I'm not sure that just having an answer machine and callign them back at a time to suit is going to cut it.

I guess it would be different if I was selling through ebay or etsy, because people would have a lower expectation on the service they get. You almost expect most of these businesses to be part time ones really, and you wouldn't think it too odd if they happened to call you outside of hours with baby noises in the background. This is where my situation is different as the business brand image is luxurious, customers wouldn't know that I worked from home.

I just wouldn't feel comfortable with a baby crying while I'm on the phone to a customer I(it wouldn't be appropriate at all in my instance, I don't feel). TBH, it would be different though if I was talking to my accountant or someone like HMRC, as it's not so important to maintain that impression (facade?) of professionalism.

I think I probably need to lower my expectations of what is achievable - hugely stressed already!

Talkinpeace Thu 03-Feb-11 16:11:41

Saffra
I am an accountant. I am expected by my clients to be professional and up together all the time - 8.30pm on a Friday was pushing it a bit! I have never pretended not to work from home or that I had small children.
Set your sights high, but be HONEST with clients.
They will respect you more for it.
Suggest sorting out simpler details on email "as then I can be sure I am giving you my undivided attention and can check my thoughts as I go"

DH charges a lot more per day than most people for his time - if needs be he just says
"sorry about the small irritating people in the background, they are my future roadies"
once the client is laughing with you, you can get away with being more relaxed and therefore more personalised professional - which is of course what Brides want for their big day.

Saffra Thu 03-Feb-11 16:29:32

I do consider it different TBH as the people I deal with are customers, not clients. I also do some freelance work too (unrelated field), which will be treated totally different. I know the few clients that I have will understand as I have a relationship with them.

m0nkeynuts Thu 03-Feb-11 17:50:40

Any chance of arranging regular childcare for a few hours each day (someone who could take baby out for a walk, to baby group, etc. - somewhere out of earshot of the phone??) - then you can set those hours as your telephone hours, with contact at all other times to be by email. You don't have to say it's for child-related reasons, just that you are designing/creating pieces at other times and it requires your full attention.

I do see where you're coming from - I tried the answerphone/callback technique when my youngest was born but it's not ideal. Firstly, if it's a new business enquiry, there's a good chance they just won't leave a message. Secondly, you can try your hardest to time the return call for when baby is asleep, but there's no guarantee they'll STAY asleep for the duration of it grin

Something has to give - either you hire someone to take your calls, or you hire someone to keep your baby entertained while you work!

merryberry Thu 03-Feb-11 18:07:25

Does the baby need holding all the time?
Depends on the baby. Truly it does.
And your own confidence levels in caring for a newborn.

You might not want to put baby down.
r you might get one of the type which needs holding close and tight to feel safe. or the type which lies there happily drinking in the world with it's eyes. I've had both types, and they took different mothering for sure.

Both of them were unsettled from tea time til supper time though, one of them would only not cry while walked incessantly, preferably over cracked or cobbled pavements. There's a good time to take the dog for a walk

merryberry Thu 03-Feb-11 18:14:55

Another way of managing the phone call side of things is setting up a 'make an appt for a phone call'. Treat them as solemnly as if they are face to face meetings, and use childcare for those times.

I've done this usefully before. Then I take the approach Talking's DH does for unexpected or panicked calls to me, I'm just very calm and any child sound I take in my stride and expect them to as well.

Don't over-think all this though. There are so many things you can't gauge too well yet, like everyone's health and mental robustness after birth, your reactions to being a mother and feeding a newborn etc.

The toppest tip of all is to limber up mentally for change, for the unexpected, for loss of control, for humour, for taking things more as they come while keeping your eye on the big prizes.

Saffra Thu 03-Feb-11 19:05:38

From a practical point of view, I think I will probably need to arrange some form of childcare each day, even if it's with my mum, to take the baby for a walk or similar. I have no idea whether that's feasible from near newborn though. It sounds far too young to me personally, but I don't know. Is it? I was thinking of using a childminder from the age of 4-6 months, but I guess that would completely depend on how the baby was at the time, and how quick I needed to be back focused on work again. It'll start getting MUCH busy again when the baby is 6 months old, so will definitely need a plan at that stage.

Although it's not like the phone is ringing all the time, phone calls/emails will definitely need to made every day and they are always time sensitive, i.e. need to respond in a couple of hours really. Hopefully I can get a virtual PA type service that can help with taking messages and giving basic assistance.

I have just spoken to DH about soundproofing the dining room or converting the garage. The soundproofing thing is a no go and the garage conversion would be very expensive. We've said that we'd get some quotes when I'm 12 weeks.

I realise that, no matter what plans I make, I will always need to be flexible. A really good friend of mine has had a LO with serious health issues - very sad and has a big impact, and you can certaintly never forsee such things.

You're probably right, Merryberry, I may be overthinking things a little. I probably have the worst case scenario in my head TBH.

And....the thing is I already have a baby: the business! I've worked incredibly hard to cultivate it to where it's at and it's still very much in its infancy. I know I will find it hard to lose control, but I guess it's totally inevitable.

"The toppest tip of all is to limber up mentally for change, for the unexpected, for loss of control, for humour, for taking things more as they come while keeping your eye on the big prizes."

^ That's brilliant! ^

I love the part about 'keeping your eye on the big prizes' too.

merryberry Thu 03-Feb-11 21:49:21

You're welcome.
I'll keep an eye out for you, I hope your pregnancy is a wonderful time for you

Watersign76 Sat 05-Feb-11 08:44:41

It sounds like you have lots of good advice already.

Try not to get stressed, you are thinking early on about this and planning is surely the best way to deal it. I think also preparing for a few different senarios - so baby is a dream and sleeps a lot and you feel ok through to baby never sleeps and you cannot really work on the business.

My friends have a business and use a telephone answering service when they are away, they are happy with it. It creates the impression that they are very busy "No, sorry x isn't around, but can I take a message". Different line of business from you though.

I just wanted to add that don't underestimate the potentially amazing people that are out there who would love to do a flexible job, even if it includes being in a house with a screaming baby.

You could always look for a self employed person (maybe a freelancer who has a time gap in their schedule)to reduce the risks around having an employee. So whilst it won't be their business, they would do a good enough of looking after your 'first baby' whilst you look after your 2nd!

Good luck with it.

WS

Saffra Sat 05-Feb-11 11:45:50

Thanks Watersign76 and Merryberry

I guess I need to continue to research my options, so I have different scenarios covered when the time comes.

Been looking at outsourced customer services/virtual PA services, who can do more than take phone calls (as a basic tel msg taking service is def not suitable). If anyone has any recommendations, I would love to hear them!

If anyone is a similar boat to me, I would definitely recommend reading the book 'The 4 Hour Work Week' by Timothy Ferriss. It's a bit extreme as a true 4 hour work week could only apply to a few business models/jobs. But, it's thought provoking in any case. It's made me think abit harder on how I can outsource/streamline, etc. Hmmm, how I can squeeze my 12 hour days into a max of 4 hours per day....?

In the meantime, thank you so much for reading and thanks for the great ideas and advice.

Saffra Tue 08-Feb-11 13:39:26

After another early scan yesterday, where they found the baby's heartbeat, I decided to tell my parents today that I'm pg, and they are thrilled! smile

But....my mum can't/won't help with the business. Not even for 4 months.

<Deep breathe>

Deeply stressful! Stress, stress, stress!

Talkinpeace Tue 08-Feb-11 16:39:09

You'll cope.
My Mum and MiL live 150 miles away so it was never an option.
As I said to a friend on the phone today
Cross each bridge when you get to it.

thomasbodley Tue 08-Feb-11 18:33:33

Whereabouts are you, Saffra?

If you're in London, the Portobello Business Centre helps small businesses with all kinds of challenges.

One thing that occurred to me was if you were to take on a (grown-up!) work experience person who wanted to learn how to run their own online retail business for a 1 year training period. It's something I've been trying to arrange myself, and I know I'd happily be paid minimum wage if I was learning all the stuff I needed to know.

Another thing you could perhaps consider is taking on a business partner.

Saffra Tue 08-Feb-11 18:52:09

Thanks Talkinpeace, I know I should calm down and take it as it comes a bit more. But, being a forward planner type, I've always found that SO SO difficult to do!

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