Today our guest post comes from Northumberland mumpreneur Kelly Oliver Dougall, Executive Director of North Tyneside-based Cygnet North East. In it she talks about the challenges she faced as a young mum and how she’s stronger than ever because of her experience.
I became a mother at a young age and spent many years bringing up children, fitting in learning, volunteering and work when they were older and I had more time for myself.
Being a teenage parent was challenging – not only did I have to deal with the challenges of being a parent, but I also had to deal with other people’s perceptions of young parents.
When it came to entering the workplace I found that difficult too due to a lack of work experience and having never really known what I wanted to be when I was a grown-up!
Returning to work as a single parent without any childcare other than that I paid for with the help of Tax Credits limited the work I could do on a Monday to Friday basis.
The kind of entry level positions available didn’t really fit around those time slots – those roles were mainly for evening and weekend work. However in some ways I was lucky as I was able to find work in a shop and also a job in care that allowed me to work in between those hours.
Once I had some work experience I was able to progress into a role supporting people who’d formerly been on inactive benefits to return to the workplace. This meant they had been on a benefit due to ill health.
This role didn’t require very much evening and weekend work and I was able to plan my own diary. It was still challenging because I was based 18 miles away from home and I still had to do the school run before and after work.
From this role I moved to a job closer to home but it was made redundant and I found myself looking for work again! I managed to secure a short-term role covering maternity leave for six months, but then that role also went into the ‘redundancy at risk’ pool!
I finally secured a job that was funded by the lottery for three years, which was great and by the time this role ended, I no longer had childcare commitments. It was time to spread my wings.
Due to working in the voluntary sector and the short-term work I had been involved in, I felt stuck and that if I didn’t take my career into my own hands I would be in a cycle of constantly job-seeking forever.
That’s when I set up Cygnet North East. I wasn’t sure what I could sell because I’d never really been required to ask for money for the work I did in the past – I was used to working on funded work with disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
I decided the work I had done around employability was the way to go and I started to market these services in November 2014. By February 2015, I had secured a contract and Cygnet North East started to swim!
I worked on that contract for around 18 months and when that came to an end, I realised I needed to change my strategy as the contract had taken up all of my time and I hadn’t looked at growing other aspects of the business.
After a few months of floundering, I met a business coach who helped me think bigger, and that was when Cygnet Serenity was born! Cygnet Serenity is the wellbeing part of Cygnet, which includes meditation, reiki and counselling (but may include more in future).
One of the strategies that has worked for me to get clients is to network and there are plenty to choose from. I feel most comfortable in the mumpreneur groups I am part of. I don’t really class myself as a mumpreneur in some ways as my son is now 21 and he mostly looks after himself.
I admire all the other mams in the group though, because I know how challenging it is to bring up children, and I know how challenging it is to set up a business. So to set up a business when your children are younger than school age is a double whammy.
I admire all those mothers who are taking control of their careers and making it happen – employment flexibility tends to be on the part of employers not on the part of employees so for many mothers it is the best option.
It didn’t occur to me that I could set up my own business when my children were young, but I wish I’d been inspired and empowered to do it. It wasn’t even something on my radar!
I love running my business – it gives me the freedom to work when I want and get a work life balance and it challenges me so that I now find opportunities to do things that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in the past.
I love supporting and empowering others, and in essence that is what Cygnet is about. When I needed help the last thing I wanted was to be rescued, but what I needed was for the people around me to encourage me, challenge me and empower me to find my own solution.
That’s what all of the services Cygnet offers aim to achieve. In empowering others to find their strengths, that’s where we will see the best results in society, its how people will feel more fulfilled and I believe its where we will all find happiness.