When Jennifer Singh discovered she was pregnant with her first child in 2015, it was an especially significant occasion. She and her husband had been struggling to conceive for three years.
Two weeks after receiving the happy news, Ms. Singh learned that she had been laid off from her government job. Perhaps surprisingly, she only felt relief – the job had required an hours-long commute from her home in Brampton and she had a limited support system with no family living nearby.
Within the next two years, Ms. Singh would have another child. But in that span of time, she also began to build her own business, one that would enable her to care for her kids while also performing fulfilling work. She’s Newsworthy Media, a public relations and coaching business aimed at amplifying women’s voices in media, was born.
“I thought, ‘How do I design a business that’s going to work for me as a mom?'” recalls the journalist turned entrepreneur. “I was in a situation where I was asking myself, ‘Do I make money or do I go pick up my kids?’ I’ve had a Zoom account since 2018, I was very online. It was the only way that I could make money without having to leave my house.”
After a few false starts, in 2018, six weeks post-partum, Ms. Singh went “all in.” She hired a business coach, and soon found herself strategizing while pumping breast milk.
A vital piece of the mindset training she did at the time was just believing that she and her business plan mattered.
“It takes inner work,” says Ms. Singh. “What changed the trajectory for me was knowing that you are the only person responsible for your success.”
Today, Ms. Singh has grown her company into a six-figure business. She no longer works evenings and weekends and often takes Fridays off too. She acknowledges, however, that it takes more than motivational talk to build a business while being a mother raising young children.
Asking for help when you need it
Moms in the Canadian workforce are in a bigger spotlight than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2020 Royal Bank of Canada report, mothers with children under the age of six accounted for 41 per cent of the workforce in February 2020 but accounted for two-thirds of those who exited the workforce in the months following.
“The first thing I always tell working mothers is it’s not your fault,” says Allison Venditti, mother of three and founder of Moms at Work, a Canadian support network for working mothers. “Often, these are women who have multiple degrees, who had successful careers and were forced out of the workforce” because of pandemic-related repercussions such as school closures and layoffs.
When building a business with small children, asking for help is essential, Ms. Venditti says, whether it’s from your partner, parent, friends or other mothers. She says that kind of support is the foundation of Moms at Work and similar networks, which can provide essential resources for women starting a business during such a busy time of life.
Ms. Venditti notes that most women don’t build businesses to “make a billion dollars,” they do it to help other people. “We [can] make a better society by helping women start their own businesses,” she says.
Consider, for instance, Kathleen Cameron, a Barrie, Ont.-based registered nurse turned entrepreneur who built an eight-figure life coaching business in the two years after quitting her day job. Now, she makes it her mission to help other women follow in her footsteps.
“Look to the women that have all of the responsibilities and are still achieving success,” says Ms Cameron. “Those responsibilities aren’t hindrances, they’re things that make you stronger and better at what you do. Me being a mom is an asset. I’m able to connect with people in a different way because I have those responsibilities.”
Still, says Ms. Cameron, things do fall by the wayside as an entrepreneur with children, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
“You’ve got to let things go. I built a successful business, but I didn’t have a very clean house and I’m not ashamed of that,” she says. “I put my energy into the things that I really wanted. Today, we can afford for someone to come and clean our house for us.”
Strategies to focus and save time
Ms. Singh says that a key strategy has been focusing on revenue-generating activities: getting invoices paid, following up on proposals, networking, sales calls, pitching. By spending the start of each of your workdays focusing on what will directly bring money to your company, you can ensure you are achieving your goals, she says.
She also suggests having standardized systems in place for things like receiving and sending invoices to eliminate the hassle of endless emails and calls. Time-blocking, too, is a big strategy for her. For instance, she might see clients only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or just do marketing on Thursdays.
“It helps you stay in your zone and be as high-performing as possible, because if you’re working from home and you’re being pulled in 50 different directions, you’re going to get interrupted,” says Ms. Singh.
“As women, we feel like we need to cater to everybody else’s schedule. [But] we need to set our own boundaries and say, ‘No, sorry, I am not available at that time.’ Sometimes we think that if we do more, we’re going to get it all done, but that’s how we burn out.”
Ms. Singh notes that she is “extremely privileged” to be able to sit in her office from 10-to-five and have her husband – a stay-at-home dad since losing his job during the pandemic – watch the kids.
“But I’ll still hear them screaming,” she says. “I can either get up or I can continue working. I’m setting those boundaries.”
Another simple tip, says Ms. Venditti, is to educate yourself through affordable resources, such as taking free business webinars at your local library. Similarly, Ms. Singh suggests listening to podcasts while nursing, cooking or cleaning to get some extra value from these routine tasks.
As for Ms. Cameron, she says it’s important to always “work from a place of desire” when things begin to feel insurmountable, because those moments will come.
“You’re not going to be as persistent if you don’t really want it,” she says. “I made a decision that I wanted an extraordinary life, meaning I didn’t want the traditional Monday to Friday, nine-to-five drive into the office type of life. And when that desire was big enough, [that’s] when I started to take action.”
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