Mumpreneurs – new thing or just what we’ve always done?

22 06 2010

The July issue of the3rdi magazine will focus on working from home and in advance of that we have posted to find out about different peoples experiences and opinions.

As part of this process, and to stimulate debate, I thought that I should wade into the area of mumpreneurs. Well, when I say wade in I really mean jump in with both feet.

Firstly, I dislike the word. I am an entrepreneur. Really. I am. I have started at least 5 businesses in different business areas, using different skills and different technologies.  This qualifies me to use the term entrepreneur. And I am a mum. These are separate and unrelated parts of my life. The two do not fuse. I am a mum and I am an entrepreneur.

The prefix mum, it seems to me, has been deliberately chosen to confer some sort of protective shield around the word and hence the person. Everyone loves mums, like we all love apple pie, don’t we. It’s a given. And woebetide anyone who critises mums.  How many times have you heard the question asked, “Do you have kids?” and if the answer is “no” the respondent is given a sympathetic look and told, “You’ll understand when you have kids of your own.” It’s as if having a child, as long as you are not one of those demonised single-parents on sink estates, confers a cloak of invincibility. This is plainly nonsense.

For me the act of childbearing is a natural act unique to my gender due entirely to an aspect of physiology. Having a child may have altered my perspective on what was important in life but it did not change my understanding of business, the universe and everything and did not raise my intellect by a single IQ point. In other words being a mum had no affect on my entrepreneurial abilities.

As women we are often reluctant to criticise other women, especially mums and the mumpreneur seems particularly immune from critisism. I’m going to buck the trend.

Let’s accept that those that call themselves mumpreneurs are, in fact, mums. Many display their kids on their websites, blogs, books and across social media platforms so I’ll accept that the mum part is true. But are they also entrepreneurs? In the main I think not.

There is a huge difference between entrepreneurship and enterprise.

Lots of women decide that they are unwilling or unable to follow a career in full-time, paid employment once they have had a child. This is completely understandable as the demands placed on home, family and a full-time career can be intolerable. It is not surprising, however, that the previously successful and energetic woman, finding herself at home 24/7, should seek to find something to occupy them beyond changing nappies and watching ceebeebies. So many mums start a home-based business.

But here’s the thing. This is nothing new! This is home-working. Women have done this for generations. They have taken in washing, done ironing, dress making, knitting, book-keeping, writing kids books from home for decades. They use the skills that they had at work to make money from home. This is not entrepreneurship – this is enterprise.

My own mother started a number of very successful playgroups when my brothers were small. She took what she knew, looking after kids, and turned it into a home-based business. She would not consider herself to be entrepreneurial and neither would I. She was extraordinarily enterprising –  and successful.

Modern stay at home mums have the benefit of new technology to access larger markets for their enterprise but the principle is the same. If you write a book about bring up baby you are an author not an entrepreneur. To get that book reviewed on Womans Hour is enterprising, not entrepreneurial.

For me an entrepreneur sees new market opportunities and develops and grows businesses and business skills to exploit those opportunities. An enterprising individual builds a single business on the skills they already have. For example, someone who has worked in the HR department of a large corporate and goes on to run a small HR company from home while bringing up kids is enterprising not entrepreneurial.

Now I should say that I am not being derogatory about enterprise. Far, far from it. Enterprise is hugely important and I value enterprise just as much as entrepreneurship. Enterprise can find a new angle, a new niche a new way of working and build strong businesses. Entrepreneurship requires a different skill set and while it may have bigger rewards there are often larger risks. Mums are often unwilling to take these risks, which is why they focus, quite properly, on enterprise.

I know mumenterpriser isn’t as catchy as mumpreneur but it is nearer to the truth. The use of entrepreneur when we mean enterprise devalues both.





Closure

16 06 2010

What an odd word and an even stranger concept.

I was listening to the Today Programme on my way to the station this morning and the discussion centered around The report of the Saville Enquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings. Several people who were there at the time or who had been involved in the process of reconciliation since were asked whether the publication of th ereport could provide closure for those whose loved ones were killed in 1972.

I had been thinking about the concept of closure and how you could possibly hope to recover from such a violent and unexpected change to your life following the recent shootings in Cumbria. Closure for those left in the wake of the Cumbria murders cannot be achieved by the burial of their loved ones and clearly this ritual did not in any way constitute closure in Northern Ireland in the early 70’s.

So, is closure about finding an answer to shocking, dramatic and unexpected events? In 1972 thousands took to the streets in a Civil Rights march and hundreds were caught up in the violence and 13 people never returned home, having been shot by British soldiers. The heightened stress that soldiers will have felt in the atmosphere of fear, distrust and hatred in 1970’s Northern Ireland is well documented but is insufficient explanation or excuse for the decisions that the soldiers and their commanders took in opening fire on unarmed civilians. The investigation should shed light on who fired, when and why. It has taken 12 years of the Saville Enquiry and almost 40 years of campaigning and protest from those directly affected by the killings to get close to answering these questions.

But even if the answers found are clear cut and accepted across all off the communities involved, will that be sufficient to allow closure? I suspect not, and that prosecutions will be sought and prison sentences given to those who fired the fatal shots before closure will be achieved. Answers and punishment for the guilty are probably what most people are looking to establish before a tragic event can considered to be closed.

And so to the events in Cumbria. How can we possibly know what was going on in the head of the killer? We can  guess at what drove him to kill those he knew but what of the victims selected apparently at random? If the killer himself appeared to have no reason how can we possibly get answers for the loved ones of the victims? And with the killer dead any retribution that society may have deemed to be appropriate cannot be administered.  So if we accept that closure comes from answers and punishment then how can you achieve closure here?

And if closure is attained in this way, is it lasting?  What about when the guilty are released? The mother of Lesley Ann Downey, victim of Moors Murderers in the 1960’s, often stated that the only reason she lived was to kill Myra Hindley if she was ever released from prison. So is the death sentence for killers the answer?

In the Zen Buddhist tradition there is encouragement to live in the moment. The past cannot be changed and the future cannot be guaranteed so let go of the agonies of the past and don’t worry about what the future might bring.

Perhaps, in that context, closure is the answering of sufficient questions for us to be able to put aside the wrongs of the past and to get on with living our lives…to not let an event, however awful, define us.  From the moment that Lesley Ann Downey was killed her mother became defined by that event. It consumed her. It became her life to the exclusion of everything else. With the killing of Lesley her mothers life ended too.  I know two women who were widowed tragically early and very suddenly. One is a widow and has lived her life in the shadow of that event. The other is a woman getting on with the rest of her life.

I hope that the survivors of the soldiers actions and those whose lives have been suddenly and tragically affected by the killings in Cumbria do find enough closure to allow them to continue with their lives and not forever be defined by these events forever.





Net-working beats networking

7 06 2010

When I think of networking I think of the plethora of networking events and in this respect I am neither a natural or enthusiastic networker. I say this knowing that to most of the hundreds of people I meet each month this will come as a big surprise and may even be heretical for someone in my position, particularly this month, when networking is the theme of the magazine.

I attend many networking events, as delegate or speaker, and have no difficulty approaching people and chatting away. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy the whole networking thing. I don’t. But I do love meeting people. I am genuinely interested in people, how they think, what makes them tick, their hopes and aspirations. This is one of the reasons I love working with the3rdi magazine. There are so many interesting women and businesses out there, all with their own fascinating stories. However, you rarely meet people for long enough at most networking events to gain these sort of insights. I make an exception here for Athena. I am a fan. Here there are small groups within the larger grouping and there is a real opportunity to establish long-term business relationships.

However, most networking events are like mornings in the zoo; lots of voices clamouring for attention, all needing to get heard in order to get their reward. In the zoo this is breakfast. For the networker this is the exchange of business cards.

The swapping of contact details, rather than listening to the other person, is the driving factor. Most events will exhort you to bring £10 for coffee and lots of business cards when attending an event. They are more speed dating than long-term relationship. That’s not to say that it is not possible to make a great new contact at a networking event but surely there is a better way to meet your prince than kissing hundreds of frogs?

And that brings me to social networking. What I am going to say is counter-intuitive. I know that as only 6 months ago I was a complete sceptic, no more than that, I was a denier. One of my first blog posts was called Twitter Ye Not, and I detailed my objections to social media in general and twitter in particular. As you can read, I was unconvinced but you will see from the postscript added a couple of months ago, I am now persuaded of the value of social networking for business.

And actually it is more than that. Twitter suits me!

When I first considered the benefit of hearing what anyone had to say in just 140 characters I thought it unlikely that they could say anything of interest in that few words. I reckoned without human ingenuity…..and most communication is managed without annoying teenage textspeak abbreviations. You do have to pick the accounts you follow carefully. The amount of banality and vacuuos nonsense out there is truly mindblowing – there are only so many times I can read “today is the first day of the rest of your life” and other such ludicrous platitudes before I want to throw myself out of the window, taking the tweeter with me!

But the big positive for me is that by following short posts on twitter over a period of a couple of days you can get a far better insight into the person than you can in the business card frenzy that is the networking breakfast. You can choose, from the comfort of your own seat, whether to engage with that person or not, as opposed to being wedged into a corner of a second-rate hote room by a used car salesman or aromatherapist. And most posts come with a link so that you can instantly find out more about the issue, business or person. At an event you have to wait until you get back home and visit the website described on the business card to find out that the international grain merchant you spent the whole event talking to actually runs a bird seed shop in Peckham.

So, I’m a convert, to twitter at least.

If you have got a twitter account yourself then let us know and we can follow each other.

You can follow me at http://www.twitter.com/kebirch and the3rdi at www.twitter.com/the3rdimagazine

See you there