This week, I wanted to feature a topic that I know many solo business owners struggle with. But it’s something I have absolutely no knowledge of. Which kinda makes it tough to write about…
The challenge of balancing being a Mum and being self employed.
Now, I don’t have kids. So unless you want an article about how to run a business and look after a very needy Cocker Spaniel, this isn’t something I can offer a whole lot of advice on. But it occurred to me that I do know somebody who does have children and is also self employed.
Not only does she run a business, she also blogs, vlogs, writes magazine columns and more. So she definitely knows how to balance being a Mum and a business woman, with the best of them.
I’d like you to introduce you to the lovely Karen McConnell.
Karen is a 37 year old mum of two and the owner & manager of KA Equestrian, a busy training and livery yard in Perthshire, Scotland. Karen is also an accredited British Dressage coach, a dressage competitor and an equestrian vlogger. And when she isn’t doing all of that, she writes for both Haynet and Toggi and has a monthly column in Horse Magazine!
And here’s how she does it all…
The Peaks & Troughs of Life as an Equestrian ‘Mumpreneur’
By Karen McConnall
First up, I can’t believe I’ve just used the term ‘mumpreneur’.
It’s a word I’ve never used until this point and not one I’ve ever identified with but by definition, I am a ‘women who combines running a business enterprise with looking after her children’, so I’m happy to own that.
How working for yourself is actually a benefit when it comes to looking after kids.
Working for yourself has so many perks; being able to dream big and take massive action on a daily basis, having a greater degree of control over your future than when you’re employed by someone else, and to a point have more flexibility in your working hours to fit in with other commitments you have and that’s what makes running your own business a real benefit when it comes to raising a family.
When the kids were very young I could spend their waking hours with them and get work done when they were napping or in bed at night. Many times they’d fall asleep in the car on the way home from toddler group or soft play and I’d sit in the driveway with the engine running answering emails and doing development work.
That was my moment and I couldn’t risk trying to lift them from the car into the house without them waking. It was a little unconventional but it worked!
Now that they’re a little older (5 and 4), I can get a good amount done while they’re at school and nursery and they’re often happy to come and help me on the yard when they’re home.
Use the help you’re offered and find good people!
I was, and still am, extremely lucky to have a lot of support from my husband, my parents and my in-laws and without their emotional and practical help, running and growing a business with young children would have been a much more challenging proposition.
KA Equestrian was only 18 months old at the time I became pregnant with my first child Cora in the early part of 2011. We were running out of a rented yard and had about 12-15 horses in for training at any one time.
Then, when I was about 3 months pregnant, we bought our now home Fossoway Stables and increased our capacity to 21 horses. We made the decision to use half the stables for full livery and the other half for our backing and schooling service.
I had a fantastic number 2, Kelly O’Connor, who did a fabulous job helping to run the yard while I was pregnant and while the kids were very young, and we brought on a number of extra staff as well to cover my absence and the extra work created.
I say absence, but I didn’t take any maternity leave during either pregnancy per se which I regret looking back.
I wasn’t out on the yard mucking out stables or riding horses, but I was still coaching the riders from the ground, overseeing the horse’s training and completing all the administrative and development tasks that go on in the background of running a business.
Callan was born 18 months after Cora so those few years were a bit chaotic personally and professionally. I did however, always prioritise time with the kids and that meant although I worked throughout, it was only at times when the kids were napping/sleeping or in the capable hands of their dad or grandparents.
We were in the very privileged position to be able to chose not to use childcare and that made working infinitely easier knowing they were only ever with people who loved them dearly.
Choosing and managing staff without always being present on the yard was the hardest part and looking back now, I’m not sure I always did it very well.
I found it extremely hard to relinquish control and really struggled when clients had an issue with how things were being done on the yard when I wasn’t there. This period was really tough for me. I felt completely torn between my young children who I needed as much as they needed me, and the reputation of my business which I’d worked so hard to build-up and that I felt was slipping away.
Staff would call in sick and I’d be left with 21 stables to muck out with a baby in a pram and a 20 month old tottering about. It was a nightmare and I really didn’t feel I was being a good mum or business owner in those moments.
In retrospect, it probably wasn’t as much of a crisis as it felt at the time but we did restructure the business to be less labour-intensive which took the pressure off a bit.
Guilt and Frustration
Though the kids were absolutely planned, I do remember feeling a little frustrated that I couldn’t push forward and use the momentum that I had built up with KA Equestrian at that point in it’s development.
I wanted to be able to do as much as I had been doing before having the kids and found it really hard to accept that I couldn’t.
Simultaneously, I felt enormous guilt for feeling like I was missing out on something with the business while I was so so lucky to have, what turned out to be 2 beautiful and healthy babies.
The reality is that before I had human babies, my business was my ‘baby’ and I felt I had neglected it badly.
Then when I was working, I felt like I should be with my little humans. This isn’t a new conundrum and for as long as women have worked, this feeling of guilt while their away from their kids has existed.
When you work for yourself however, you feel guilt when you’re not working on your business as well. It’s something you get better at dealing with but now and again I feel a little overwhelmed and feel like I’m not excelling in any area of my life.
Whenever my kids need me, regardless of what I’m doing, I am there without question and the time I have with them I protect.
My business fits in around them completely and now that they’re a little older, I have plenty of work time without interruption while they’re at school and nursery so everything is much more manageable.
Running my own business has allowed me to never miss a school or nursery play or ‘stay and play’ session, it means that when they’re sick I can re-organise my week and stay and snuggle with them on the sofa and it means that in the holidays they can have time to play here at home rather than be in full time childcare.
Once you have children, you’ll never have the same amount of time to dedicate to your business. And for me, there was a moment of making peace with that fact.
There was also a mindset change for me when they were born, that meant that nothing was ever going to be as important as their happiness.
Things do get easier as they get older and you become better at juggling everything that is required of you but I’m not sure anything can prepare you for the impact having children can have on your life and business.
I LOVE being a mum, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, the role I value most in my life and these two little people are my favourite people in the whole wide world. I cannot imagine what my life would be like had I not had them.
Every working parent will have a different set of circumstances but I genuinely believe everyone does the best they can to balance their priorities. If you’re the type of person who has or is thinking of running your own business, then you’re the kind of person who likes a challenge, who has a can-do attitude and who cares about something enough to help it grow, develop and thrive – they’re skills also required to be a good parent so, to my mind, the roles sit pretty well together even though it can be challenging at times.
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