Mumpreneurs in Barcelona
I teach a group of Catalan Business students twice a week and we have recently been studying grammar and vocabulary centred around the theme of ‘starting your own business’. We have covered various aspects such as buying a franchise, raising finance, and choosing a suitable location. We spent a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of being your own boss and the general consensus among the class was that it was much safer to stick to your 9 to 5 and your regular salary rather than risk the dangers of going it alone.
In an attempt to prove that with the right amount of commitment, dedication and sheer hard work it could be achieved, I showed them a documentary I had seen on The Money Programme called Mum’s The Business. It featured several female entrepreneurs who had all started their own companies since having children, since working for themselves was the only way to obtain a lifestyle that was flexible enough to balance work and family. The documentary also explained that ‘mumpreneurs’ were now contributing £4.4 billion to the UK economy and were indeed the fastest growing sector of the small business community.
The statistics certainly impressed my students, as did the 3 women who featured in the documentary, particularly the Belfast mother-of-two who ran a haulage company with her husband and could turn her hand to anything from accounting and book-keeping to driving lorries with baby-in-tow and changing wheels in the middle of the night! The common motivating factor for these women to start their own businesses was to have the freedom of a flexible timetable – to be able to choose when to dedicate time to the company and when to dedicate time to the children. This, plus the added bonus of being able to work from home, was something that simply wasn’t an option before being self-employed.
When I asked my students if they personally knew of any mothers, or women in general, who had set up their own companies they all drew a complete blank. So, I started to tell them of friends and acquaintances that I knew, who had found themselves in exactly the same position as the women in the documentary, and as a result, had decided to take the plunge and go into business. Most of them are British expats living in Barcelona whose companies have been launched as a direct result of spotting a gap in the market for a product or service not previously available in Spain, believing that it would be beneficial to other expats as well as local residents.
For example, Julia Fossi and Julie Stephenson decided there was a niche in the market for traditional English cuisine and as a result, they opened their own Fish and Chip shop. Both busy working mums, they have faced many challenges since setting up the business 18 months ago, mostly caused by the obstructions of local bureaucracy, complicated legal issues and the lack of financial backing. On a personal level, running their own business has also been far from easy since their restaurant is open 7 days a week and over 12 hours a day. Julie explains that what makes it possible is absolute commitment and excellent teamwork; ‘As two mothers we can juggle children and work, paying someone to cover the hours between 5pm and 9pm so we can collect our children from school and spend some time with them’. But, despite the external barriers and the understandable stress and exhaustion from working up to 60 hours a week, they are both very proud of their achievements and agree that the emotional rollercoaster of setting up their own business has consisted of ‘mostly highs, exciting times, meeting great people, and creating a new service which people love and appreciate and want to be a part of.’ You can visit their website at www.fishandchipsbarcelona.com
Catriona Groves is another ex-patriot who moved to Barcelona 4 years ago and recently set up her own business, after noticing that it was very difficult to find attractive and original greeting cards. She explains that sending any type of greeting card is not really ‘part of Spanish culture’ and therefore she started creating her own and realized it was something she ‘could sell to other foreigners living in Spain’. So last November, Catriona, mum-of-two, launched an online greetings card website called barcacards which allows customers to choose unique and personalised cards from an extensive photo gallery. She describes her motivation for doing so as ‘a combination of looking for a more flexible lifestyle with a better work/life balance, wanting to be my own boss, and finding something I really enjoyed’.
It seems that the incredible growth of the internet has provided more and more women with young children the opportunity to start their own companies from home. In fact, according to the TV documentary, one third of all mumpreneur businesses are internet based. Kirsten Dirksen, started her website faircompanies together with her husband in order to combine their joint passions of the environment and the internet. The website focuses on environmental sustainability and while Kirsten explains that the wheels had already been set in motion before having their first child, she says that there was a definite ‘synergy in being ready to start a family and starting a home-based business’. Kirsten goes on to describe how running the website has not only been a business but has become a way of life. Having to ‘downshift’ their lifestyle as a result of not having a steady income for the last 2 years has lead to a more eco-friendly way of living which is exactly what the website is all about. You can learn more about eating a ‘flexitarian diet’ and using ‘flushable diapers’ by reading Kirsten’s blog.
Kirsten describes the main benefit of being self-employed as being ‘able to balance being a mother and being more than a mother’. She explains that the intellectual stimulation she gets from her work really helps to ‘balance all the toddler time’.
Sally Goodwill, mother-of-3 who runs a similar website selling ecological products called ecoliving says that the main benefit for her is having a flexible timetable which enables her to be with her children if they are ill or on holiday from school. Sally, who runs another online company called despertarnatural, which sells natural waking alarm clocks simulating sunrise, also commented that the biggest motivation for setting up both companies was to ‘be at home with my children’ and not have to ‘send them to a nursery’, which is something of a rarity here in Spain. On the reverse side, balancing childcare with business often requires working evenings and weekends, which for Sally is the hardest part of going it alone.
Laia Sanmartí, also a mum-of-3, was working as a freelance interpreter and translator before she decided to set up her own Interpreting and Translating Agency - eulalos (Eulalos – Greek for well-spoken). She agrees that managing her own working time with family time was the main reason for wanting to be her own boss: ‘The main benefits for me are being able to stay home with my three children and organizing everything from home.’ Despite ‘constantly getting phone calls’ and dealing with ‘all the bureaucracy involved’ she says that the rewards, both personal and financial had been worth it 100%.
When asked what advice they would give to other mums who were also considering going into business they all agreed that being able to set realistic goals, both personally and professionally was vitally important. Catriona added that you also ‘need to be dedicated and passionate about what you are doing as there will inevitably be many moments of doubt’. Kirsten seconded this by saying ‘Find something you love because when you do get those hours to yourself you’re going to want to feel satisfied by what you choose to do with that “free time” from the kids.
And would they do it differently if they started all over again?
Sally’s response summed up the overwhelming sentiment of all the mums: ‘No not really. I have made mistakes along the way but they are all part of the steep learning curve.’