Finance Small Business How maternity leave can kick-start your career

How maternity leave can kick-start your career

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If looking after a baby, managing a career change and starting a business all at the same time sounds exhausting to you – well, it is exhausting.

But many new mothers, dissatisfied with their options in the traditional working world, are using their time away from the office as an opportunity to strike out on their own.

Faced with inflexible workplaces, lower salaries and the prospect of missing out on promotion, a growing number of women are not only using their maternity leave to care for their newborns, but also to carve out new careers.

For the new breed of mumpreneurs, self-employment allows them to balance the demands of family life with the personal fulfilment of a role in the wider world.

Suzi Dafnis, CEO of the Australian Businesswomen’s Network, says it’s relatively common for women, especially first-time mothers, to start a business from home.

“They can balance their home commitment with their work commitments a little better,” she says.

“What entrepreneurship does is give you the freedom to have more flexibility and also overcome gaps in pay [and] not needing to ask or beg for promotion. It gives autonomy.”

Nearly one million Australians run a business from home, according to the federal government. And Dell’s Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index, released last year, ranked Australia as the second-best place in the world to be a female business owner.

From corporate PR to shoe retailer, TV presenter to maternity wear inventor and librarian to green energy entrepreneur, here’s how three women embraced a career change, started a business and found success.

Stephanie Waters

From corporate communications to online shoe retailer

Former corporate communications professional Stephanie Waters was forced to change careers when her former employer, a finance company, wouldn’t allow her to return to work part-time.

The Melbourne-based mother gave her employer the flick and founded a business importing high-quality Italian shoes sourced from family-run producers.

“The idea was inspired after a family trip to Italy,” she says.

“I went to Florence and all over Italy and discovered there were beautiful shoes, well-made, at such a reasonable price compared to what you could get in Australia.”

Waters took just 10 months to turn from concept to reality.

The company launched in August last year, when Waters was 38 weeks pregnant with her second child.

In Stephanie’s own words:

It lets me:

It’s such a blessing to have that time at home with the kids, but I needed something to stimulate my brain. By having an online retail business, I have the flexibility to achieve my personal goals and enjoy bringing up the kids.

I couldn’t have done it without:

My husband Ben, as we relied on his income while I was setting up the business.

My parents, as they come over to my house or I go to their house and work on the laptop.

My advice:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think the key thing is to network for those things you need and reach out to women who can help you.

Christine Kininmonth

TV presenter to inventor of the BellyBelt for pregnant women

Christine Kininmonth invented the BellyBelt when she couldn’t find suitable maternity wear for her work as a television news presenter at Channel 7 in Sydney in the 1990s.

“I was trying to squeeze into suits which looked smart on air and it wasn’t working out. I started cobbling together what ended up being the prototype for the BellyBelt,” the mother of four says.

While still working as a news presenter, Kininmonth decided to build the baby product online retail business Fertile Mind.

She initially contemplated starting out at markets, but then decided to go big.

“I read this interesting article in a Westpac brochure that said women think small and men think big and then I thought, ‘No I can turn this into a real business,'” she says.

It wasn’t easy, juggling a job as a newsreader, starting her business and caring for four daughters: “It was beyond difficult. It was the worst of all worlds – I didn’t give my heart and soul into any of the areas.”

As Fertile Mind took off, Kininmonth was eventually able to quit television presenting and took on a judging role at ABC’s The New Inventors.

Photo: Supplied
Christine Kininmonth juggled four kids, a job as a newsreader and a new business. Photo: Supplied

In Christine’s own words:

It lets me:

Eventually, I was able to earn enough money to dictate my own hours. The benefit was the flexibility: when my children were on school holidays, I was too. You can just transfer the work home.

I couldn’t have done it without:

When I was starting out, I ran out of money and sold my car to pay for a $10,000 packaging bill. The man who came to buy the car, Peter Hooker, was so excited about my business idea he invested in that instead and is still a 50 per cent partner in Fertile Mind.

My advice:

Read the EMyth by Michael Gerber. It’s a fabulous book and a wonderful starting point for any business to begin to think of your business in the future before you even start.

Also, try to keep some balance. It’s very easy when you’re starting out to neglect everything else around you.

Jenny Paradiso (and David Hille)

Librarian to SunTrix solar energy company

Working as a librarian and then for a library software company for more than 16 years, Jenny Paradiso decided to change careers after the birth of her first daughter Violet five years ago.

Along with her husband David Hille, she started solar energy company Suntrix

The South Australia-based company now employs 23 staff and has an annual turnover of $25 million.

Paradiso says she and her husband came up with the concept because of their interest in renewable energy.

“We imported products ourselves, got someone to install it for us who was accredited and then started doing more for people we knew,” she says.

“Word of mouth spread, so we kept working on the business.”

Paradiso and Hille have won multiple awards, including the 2013 Telstra South Australian business of the year.

Jenny Paradiso and David Hille both went part time to care for their first child and start their business.

In Jenny’s own words

It lets me:

It’s definitely more flexible. The kids pop in on their way home every day and I take time off to go to all their events at school.

There’s a big-picture benefit too. I think I’m a good role model for my children, most of the time. I’m glad that I’m raising them to be resourceful, opinionated thinkers who show initiative and who aren’t scared to try things. I’m also really proud they draw their houses with solar panels on!

I couldn’t have done it without:

My husband and I both started working part-time after our first child was born.

Our joint decision to work three days a week allowed us two days to care for our child and start our own business.

We also mortgaged everything to fund our start-up.

My advice:

Start small and test the waters – but don’t be scared to grow. I still remember when we gave up our jobs and went to Suntrix full time and it was one of the scariest moments of my life.

Be prepared for success. In our first year, we went from $250,000 in revenue to $7.3 million. It grew very quickly – I was working on my days off, evenings and weekends.

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