Childcare costs forcing mums into business

These women improved family life and finances by becoming their own boss

Every year thousands of first-time mothers stop working for somebody else and start working for themselves. Many say the decision is triggered by the high cost of childcare.

The average salary of a full-time live-out nanny is £25,325, or nearly £35,000 in central London, according to nannytax.co.uk. There are cheaper alternatives, of course, but all are going to hit the family finances — unless the children have fit, healthy (and willing) grandparents who live locally.

For many women comparing their salary with the cost of commuting and childcare, as well as extras such as work clothes, the calculations simply do not add up.

Money visited a primary school near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, to meet six women who, like many other parents around the country, have set up their own businesses since having children. How has it been, we asked: heaven or hell?

Name Zoe Chapman
Age
39
Children
Oliver, 8, and Toby, 5

Zoe Chapman

Previous occupation Legal PA

Current occupation I run my own online retailer, selling handmade gifts and homeware such as washbags and lampshades (ollieandroo.co.uk).

Why did you decide to set up your own business? I wanted a career that was personally rewarding and could fit in with the demands of a young family.

What are the best things about being your own boss? Sitting in my garden studio listening to the radio and having the flexibility to make whatever takes my fancy each day.

And what are the downsides? You can’t clone yourself. I am constantly wearing too many hats — creator, maker, social media user, salesperson, accountant, customer services, and so on. Oh, and still being Mum and primary carer. If the kids are ill, the business stops, and it can be very frustrating.

What advice would you offer to other parents considering setting up a business? Keep a spreadsheet of all costs and sales, and keep all your receipts logged as you go along.

Name Joanna Stevens
Age 39
Children
Freya, 4

Joanna Stevens

Previous occupation Officer in Metropolitan police force

Current occupation I run a fitness and personal training company (motivatefitnessuk.com). I have classes of my own — kettlebells and “Ladies Who Lunge” — plus I teach kettlebells and bootcamp for a local company and have several personal training clients a week.

Why? My husband and I both worked for the Metropolitan police and we couldn’t manage the school pick-ups and drop-offs on our shift patterns.

We have no family nearby that we can ask for help and the cost of before-school and after-school clubs would soon have mounted up.

Best things Building my working hours around my daughter and her school day, and working locally so I’m nearby if needed. It also gives me the flexibility to take time off to fit around my husband’s shifts.

Downsides There is very little downtime. I have busy days and a couple of evenings a week, when my daughter goes to bed, I am out teaching. It makes for long days but it’s a small price to pay.

Advice It’s hard work and takes long hours and commitment to set up your own business, so if it’s not something you believe in, the long hours may get you down. Also, work out exactly what your outgoings are — for me, it is the costs associated with hall hire, equipment and insurance — and determine exactly how much you need to earn to make it financially worthwhile for you.

Names Stephanie Janice, left, and Becky Gunning
Ages 38 and 37, respectively
Children Stephanie has Joe, 10, and Olivia, 5. Becky has Alfie, 8, and Monty, 6

Stephanie Janice, front, and Becky Gunning

Previous occupation Stephanie was a customer relations executive for Virgin Holidays. Becky was a solicitor

Current occupation Founders of Jolly Scrumptious Parties, which runs cookery and cake-decorating parties and classes for all ages.

Stephanie also makes bespoke cupcakes and wedding cakes (jollyscrumptiouscupcakes.com).

Why? Becky: It would have been difficult to carry on with a full-time career in London and take care of our children.

I would have seen very little of them and would have had to spend a fortune on childcare, particularly during the long holidays.

Best things Stephanie: The overriding factor for me is that I am able to be there for school drop-off and pick-up, make every school show and every sports day.

Downsides Stephanie: The hours can be long. I certainly work more hours than I did when I was employed. In this industry, weekends are the busiest time, so my husband often has to look after the children. I don’t feel I ever truly have a day off.

Becky: You never know when a party is going to be booked, so the financial side of it can be very unpredictable.

Advice Stephanie: Be prepared for hard work and for long hours, especially in the early stages.

Becky: Be confident.

Nicola Wingfield

Name Nicola Wingfield
Age
38
Children
Seth, 6, and Tabitha, 3

Previous occupation Worked for Kent Wildlife Trust and managed the visitor centre at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve

Current occupation I run my own reflexology practice from a studio in my garden (soulrevivalreflexology.co.uk).

Why? I loved working in the field of conservation and Kent Wildlife Trust was a great organisation to work for, but with travel and nursery expenses it wasn’t particularly profitable to go back to my job. I decided to look at other opportunities and seize the chance to do something different.

Best things There are very few downsides. I love being able to help people feel better both physically and mentally; the flexibility is brilliant for family life as I rarely miss a drop-off or pick-up; and I love the satisfaction of having grown my own business.

Downsides In the early days, I worried all the time and thought about my business constantly. As it has grown and I have built up a good base of regular clients, I worry less, and have learnt to have faith that all will be OK. I don’t get paid if I am poorly or take holidays, and sometimes juggling admin and kids can be a bit stressful, because telephone calls and emailing often have to happen when they are around.

Advice Write a business plan and do your research before you start. Build a good support network and accept their help — I could not have built my business without my husband, sister and mum. Join a professional body if there is one.

Name Sarah Ward
Age
51
Children
Jake, 8, and Rufus, 6

Sarah Ward

Previous occupation Sales manager for Pol Roger champagne, actress and jazz singer

Current occupation I founded and run a business that makes alcoholic cocktail ice cream (boozyudders.co.uk).

Why? It’s that old adage: fate decided it for me. After having the boys, I thought about going back to acting or retraining as a child counsellor, but suddenly I found myself making this alcoholic ice cream and friends telling me I ought to make it into a business.

Best things Freedom to write my own itinerary; doing something that matters to me and that I am passionate about; feeling a little bit proud of myself — I haven’t felt that way for ages; not having to answer to a boss; and finding that people take you seriously again.

Downsides It’s very, very scary. When I first had the idea for Boozy Udders I had to eke funds out of the housekeeping money and use credit cards to pay for the pots, labels and initial ingredients. I kept it a bit of a secret from my husband, who liked the idea but who told me early on to forget about it because I could never make it work. Two years on and he’s as fully on board and as excited about it as I am.

Advice Have a clear vision as to what your idea is, what you want to achieve and where you want to go with it. Lots of people will like your idea and will have their own vision of it, and you may feel pressured to change your idea or mould it to their way of thinking.

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