Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

By: Fiona Humberstone

Date: 7 April 2011

Fiona HumberstoneLike many women I meet, having my daughter was the turning point for me. It made me realise I wanted to get off the corporate treadmill and start my own business.

Six years ago, at the age of 26, I began searching for a more rewarding, fulfilling role that I could build around my family commitments. I wanted to get back to the things I was good at, be my own boss, call the shots and start something that would give me more financial freedom than being employed could.

When I put it like that, it's been a real success. I run a design and marketing agency – Flourish – which specialises in creating engaging brand identities and websites for small businesses. We have a great reputation, some really inspirational clients and a fantastic team. I genuinely love what I do and find my work fulfilling and rewarding. The business has grown by 30 per cent over the past year and while I'm unlikely to ever be a millionaire, I'm really happy with the balance between my income, the work we do, the team we've built and the hours I put in.

I'm simply not prepared to work 70+ hour weeks and sacrifice many of the things that are important to me in the name of business growth or so called financial success. There's more to life than work, and that's something for which us women (and especially mums) who run businesses should give ourselves more credit.

That said, running a business and being a good parent isn't easy. My own mum gave up work when she had me and has only just resumed her career in the last ten years. She devoted a huge part of her life to bringing us up and although I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have done at the time, I now fully realise the value of what she did for us. I often feel guilty that I haven't chosen to do the same thing for my own children.

Having my first child at 25 was always going to mean we weren't as financially settled as many of my friends ten years older than me. We chose to live in one of the most expensive areas of the country (Surrey) and I can't imagine ever moving. But that puts a lot of pressure on me financially. My husband is a policeman, so it really is down to me to earn (in three days) the bulk of our income.

I'd be kidding myself if I didn't feel enormous pressure to ensure the business performs financially. I don't just have my own family to worry about, but a team of seven, an office in Guildford and some pretty staggering overheads. Some of the team are starting to have their own families; there are mortgages and rent to pay. People rely on my business for their livelihood. Sure, they could get other jobs but they have become a part of my life and I don't want to let them down. I wonder if non-mums feel that same responsibility towards their team?

Like any working mum, I am also constantly juggling the demands of work and home life. Am I spending enough time on the business? Am I being fair to the team? Am I doing myself an injustice by not working today? And by the same token, have I spent enough time with the children? Should they have watched TV while I wrote that blog post? Shouldn't I have been just playing puzzles with them instead? And so it goes on…

I'm not sure I'll ever catch up with the admin, letters, permission slips and requests for money that regularly come home from the school and various clubs. There is never enough time in the day. And while I only officially work three days a week, I will often catch up on emails or blog posts in the evening or – until last week – while my youngest sleeps at lunchtime. I have no idea where that time's going to come from now!

But enough moaning. I've developed a business I'm passionate about, with a team I love, doing work that inspires and motivates us. We've sought out the types of clients we really want to work with and I'm now financially secure enough to live in a lovely house in a lovely village and get to every assembly or sports day without feeling the need to answer to anyone.

I do feel guilty that I work. I'd love to devote myself to my children full time in the way my mother did, but I think you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. As my own mum said to me when I'd just started my business: “I don't think you ever look back and feel you got it right”.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing