When buying into a franchise, mums demand both flexibility and a sense of community
Throughout Britain, legions of mums are waking up each morning, making packed lunches for their kids, doing the school run and managing the household finances – all while running their own businesses. These so-called mumpreneurs make up a huge part of the economy. According to independent researchers at Development Economics, Britain’s working mothers generate around £7.2bn and this figure is projected to rise to £9.5bn by 2025.
For many women, franchising has been the solution they were looking for, allowing them to find balance, have more control over how many hours they spend away from home and ease themelves back into working life after maternity leave. Some franchises were built with women – and mums – in mind, while many more are trying to cater to mothers and adjusting their policies so they don’t lose valuable talent. But what do mums want and expect from the franchisor?
One of the most obvious demands, especially if they have young children, is flexibility. “It was a lightbulb moment for me after giving birth,” says Vicky Matthews, co-founder at Pink Spaghetti, the personal-assistant service. “I didn’t want to be checking emails while pushing my child on the swing.”
Unfortunately, not all women have a positive experience when they try to return to their job after maternity leave and their need for flexible terms can sometimes be treated as an inconvenience. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, three-quarters of pregnant women and new mothers experience discrimination at work, while each year 54,000 women who return to work after having a baby are subsequently pushed out of their jobs. And even those who are welcomed back with open arms can often struggle to make it work financially. A study of 1,600 businesses conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce found that nearly one in ten firms have lost employees who found themselves unable to afford the nursery costs.
Getting back on the ladder
For many of these women, a franchise can offer a softer transition once they’re ready to ease themselves back into work. After being made redundant from a corporate job during the 2008 recession, Catherine McKinnon, franchisee of Pink Spaghetti South Manchester, was more than ready to work after having two children but struggled to find a job that would justify the hours. “It was really hard: there was nothing that worked for me financially or in terms of the commute,” she says. “When I did the maths and factored in childcare, it just didn’t make economic sense.”
But rather than start her own business, which can often be even more taxing in terms of time and resources, McKinnon opted for franchising because it gave her a formula that had already been tried and tested. “I knew that they’d already been through all the mistakes you might make early on,” she says. “It felt like starting a business that had been going for 18 months and had all of the wrinkles ironed out.”
Most importantly, franchising offered the mum-of-two the chance to pick her own hours. “I started out just covering my costs but now I’m able to focus on growing the business and put more time in,” McKinnon says. And that evolution of needs is something she thinks every franchisor should consider.
Every mum has a different situation and the hours they want to work can shift over time. Some, like Mckinnon, might start out putting in two or three hours per week and ramp up thereafter. Others are happy to do 20 or more but then need to wind down if they decide to have another child or want to devote more time to their family. “Everyone works different hours, returns to work at different times and has their own unique needs,” says Matthews. She and her co-founder Caroline Gowing go out of their way to accommodate mums, whether it’s conducting interviews over Skype or offering franchisees remote mentoring and training videos that can be accessed at all hours, meaning mums can log on at 9am, 12am or the middle of the night between feeds if need be. “Flexibility is the number one need for working mums and I know that first hand,” Matthews says. “It’s so important that they‘re able to choose their hours and be their own boss.”
But while financial stability and flexibility are important, job satisfaction for mumpreneurs is more complex. Many women find that their priorities change after having children and they don’t necessarily want to go back to the way things were. “When you become a mum, the type of work you do is so much more important because you’re sacrificing time with your children,” says Sarah Jones, a mum of two under-fives and franchisee of LushTums Abergavenny, the yoga franchise. “I wanted to do something meaningful and feel that at the end of the day I had really helped somebody.”
So as a franchisor, it’s not good enough to stop at offering flexible working: you need to treat mums as individuals with individual needs, not a single entity. “Life happens so sticking with people and understanding their circumstances will make them stay with you in long turn,” says Matthews.
Similarly, Clare Maddalena, the founder of LushTums, has built her business with mothers in mind and even offers parenting classes to make sure that the mums in her network are happy and supported both at home and at work. “Some women have had bad birth experiences and come to us looking for personal healing,” she says. “We help them figure their stuff out. I’ve worked with over 5,000 women and I’ve learned how to listen to people and acknowledge them as individuals.”
Let’s get together
There’s something else that mums tend to look for that the savvy franchisor would do well to cultivate: a sense of community. Because many mothers have given up an office job to work from home, they may find themselves missing office gossip and the impromptu help they might get from a colleague sitting at the next desk. For all its ills, the office can stave off loneliness and venting to colleagues offers a valuable outlet. “It can be quite lonely working from home and not having that office banter,” Jones says.
However, it is possible to help women feel like a part of a wider culture – even if they’re working from kitchen tables spread across the country. At LushTums, Maddalena makes a point of recording videos and podcasts to connect with her yoga instructors and organises regular meetups. “It’s really amazing what happens when you get a group of women together,” she says.
But when meeting in person isn’t possible, social media can play a pivotal role. At Pink Spaghetti, mums connect in a private Facebook group to share funny stories, troubleshoot problems and swap skills. “While I don’t see everyone every day, with social media I feel that I’m part of a much bigger company,” McKinnon says. “It’s like a miniature MumsNet.” Jones is equally enthusiastic about the power of technology to bring mums together. “Even though not everyone has met in person, we feel we know each other and that’s lovely,” she says.