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Suffolk: Meet the Mumpreneurs who are juggling family life with running successful business empires, all started from the kitchen table

PUBLISHED: 19:00 17 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:45 18 March 2014

Alona Ochert

Alona Ochert


They say necessity is the mother of invention – and it seems a new wave of enterprising Suffolk mums is proving the old adage.

Fiona Mortimer-Wood Fiona Mortimer-Wood

The group, dubbed mumpreneurs, are also leading the charge towards economic recovery in the county.

Spurred on by a desire to contribute to the family coffers and fuelled by rising childcare costs and the dream of flexible working hours, all have launched mini-businesses from their kitchen tables.

And, according to the Office for National Statistics, across the UK this breed of savvy supermum is now contributing £7.4 billion to the economy a year.

Recent research by The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair claims one in three mums used their skills, creativity and initiative to make money in 2013.

Jackie Biswell Jackie Biswell

This explains why the number of female entrepreneurs is rising at nearly three times the rate of men and there are now more than 1.2 million self-employed women in full- and part-time wor

Here we speak to a selection of Suffolk’s mumpreneurs about their lightbulb moments and ask them if running a business is the best way to balance family life.

Any mum with a good idea should have a go

Jo Kerley Jo Kerley

Alona Ochert is mum to seven-year-old Zack and Lila, four, and lives with partner Robert, who works in shipping. Before she had children, she directed television documentaries but realised the job, which involved 90-hour weeks filming on location, was not conducive to family life and started an aromatherapy massage business – Alonatherapy − from Decoy Farm Clinics in Melton.

She said: “My life revolves around the kids and will continue like this while they are still little. I gave up my last career to have children but, once they were born, I wanted to find a way to work and spend quality time with them.

“During stressful periods in my life I turned to aromatherapy and massage to help relax, so it made sense to me to find a way to explore this. I completed a diploma in holistic aromatherapy and now treat conditions like chroni back pain, depression and insomnia. 
“It’s been hugely rewarding to be my own boss and balance family life, and I would advise any mum with a good idea to give it a go.”

Mums can juggle more than most

Samantha Barnes Samantha Barnes

Fiona Mortimer-Wood, 40, is married to Jamie, a corporate financial advisor, and they have two children: Bella, three, and Millie, five. She quit her job as a PA, took a course in reflexology and started business Energy Treatments.

She said: “With the rise in unemployment and the recession, coupled with the cuts that squeeze finance over the last few years, I think many women are seeking a way to boost the family income and some of those, like me, have found a way to best utilise their skills to formulate their own business.

“It is such a brilliant alternative to the 9-5 and fits in with my family. I am there for my kids at teatime but during school hours I am busy with my business.

“Women are great at multi-tasking but mums can juggle more than most. It’s about time management, motivation, and knowing when to switch off.”

Hayley Churchyard Hayley Churchyard

You have to get the balance right

Jackie Biswell, 42, runs Lowestoft-based firm Apex Roofing and is mum to Rebecca, 12, and wife to Gary. She has been in the industry her whole life but thought starting up on her own would give more time with her daughter. However, her business has become so successful it often threatens to take over family life. “In our first year of business we had already hit the six-figure turnover benchmark and there’s no doubt that we have made a mark in the industry.

“Running my own company can be hard on Rebecca sometimes. We make a big effort to spend time together when we can. I don’t think my family have suffered, but I have learnt that prioritising is crucial. Can women have a successful business and a family? I don’t see why not. But you do have to get the balance right.”

I was inspired by my family

Petra Napthine Petra Napthine

Jo Kerley, from Ipswich, is mum to Jess, nine, and Ben, seven, married to husband Tony and owner of the children’s suitcase brand PlayAway. She recently featured on BBC2 television programme Dragon’s Den, where she won the financial support of Duncan Bannatyne. Her cases are now sold across the UK. Not only is she a mumpreneur, but she employs other mothers to help her run her business.

She said: “The PlayAway case was inspired by a family holiday. My husband and I took our children on a flight and discovered just how stressful travel with children can be. I found that I needed something that eased the stress, so as treasurer of the PTA at our local primary school I tested my ideas out on 300 willing children and over 60 families, who took to it straight away. I knew then that if I didn’t act on the idea right away, that I’d miss a great opportunity.

“Everyone involved in PlayAway has come from the school playground and it’s amazing the latent skills that exist.”

Having a child doesn’t have to be the end

Kelly Anne Byrnes Kelly Anne Byrnes

Kelly-Anne Byres, 25, lives in Woodbridge with her husband Andrew, a Royal Engineer in 61 EOD sqn, and her son Logan, 13 months old. She started her own accountancy business, KBLAccounts, when she found out she was pregnant. She said: “I worked full-time and every evening through my pregnancy to build up clients and then had Logan and worked throughout my maternity leave. It meant I could be there with my son 24 hours a day but still keep working. It hasn’t been completely plain sailing but the benefits outweigh any of the stress of being your own boss. I’ve seen my company grow and now I provide end-of-year accounts for sole traders, partnerships and limited companies as well as corporation tax, VAT returns, payroll and book-keeping for a number of clients.

“Having a child does not have to be the end of your working life.”

I can’t imagine how miserable I’d be if I stopped doing this

Samantha Barnes, 42, is an artist who opened her own gallery in Clapham, London, but gave it up to have children and move to the coast. She lives in Suffolk with husband Carl Stickley, a film and media lecturer, and children Martha, six, and Hugo, nine, and runs a business selling her prints online.

“I love the concept of the mumpreneur. It means that finally we working, self-employed mums are making a proper difference to the economy and society is giving us a real leg up. Having said that, my journey has been painfully slow since I became a mum and there have been times that my turnover has been so low that when my tax return was due I found myself wondering if it was worth all the effort. Times like those I just had to remember that I work around my beautiful children, so the hard work, patience and my continuing effort are what will bring the rewards. Running my own business means I am a nicer, happier and more fulfilled mum. I can’t imagine how miserable I would be not doing it.”

My life is all about time management

Hayley Churchyard, 48, from Martlesham, set up her first business seven years ago, when her children – Abi and Tom − were at secondary school. Since then she branched out with a second: a power plate studio in Martlesham which now boasts an extensive client list and is going from strength to strength.

She said: “Juggling children and work is never easy but there is a lot to be said about being your own boss.

“The downside is that you do not get things like holiday pay and sick leave but you can be flexible about when you work and ensure you are around for your children, and don’t miss out on them growing up.

“I chose to open a power plate business because it’s a form of exercise which I enjoyed doing when I became a parent − mainly because you can do an incredible effective workout in a half-hour slot. My life is all about time management, but I think that’s the same for most working mothers.”

Being a full-time mum wasn’t enough

Petra Napthine, 49, is a jewellery designer and owner of Red Lollipop. She is mum to Oliver, seven, and Emily, four, and is married to Mervyn, 49, a maths teacher.

They moved to Suffolk from London when Petra was pregnant with Emily and had to quit her job as an auditor.

“I did love my job but I was trying to balance my home life with a very demanding role and I was exhausted. Family is very important to me but being a full-time mum wasn’t enough. I started spending more time on my hobby – making glass bead jewellery for friends. Then my daughter really started showing interest in pretty things, so I started designing children’s jewellery. I found there was a gap in the market for colourful and fun glass bead necklaces, bracelets and rings for girls, and I started selling through market stalls before developing my website.

“The best thing about this way of working is that it fits around my kids. We are all happier and function better as a unit.”

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