Startup Diaries: Achieving Work-Life Balance As An Entrepreneurial Mother!

Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande, Founder of online members only travel club Passepartout Homes Ltd, explains how launching her own business was the answer she was looking for in terms of balancing her work and family life, and shares some of the lessons she has learned along the way.

I’ve come a long way. Since launching my business in December 2012 and concentrating on it full time since April 2013, I’ve come a long way. The site, Passepartout Homes, started with just 5 properties; it now offers over 60 fine holiday rental villas around the globe.

I have learnt to cover everything from web design, copywriting, marketing, PR, advertising, accounting, solving IT issues, understanding social media (and trying not to waste too much time updating my posts), researching the market, writing a blog and more.

I also discovered along the way that to be picked up by the press you have to buy your way in. Who would have imagined? I thought you just had to be good looking and interesting to grab the attention of journalists and bloggers. I have had some nice press coverage though. Most recently I have been interviewed by A Luxury Travel Blog and a couple of our properties have been mentioned by this very well respected travel site as among the best places to stay.

I am still in that phase when you get very excited by every new Facebook like, Twitter or Pinterest follower or new member that signs up to the site (if anyone holds the secret to obtaining hundreds of Likes and Followers, please share with me!).

The learning curve is steep, the road bumpy and the risk of failure daunts me every day. Was this the right decision? How many new companies have started up and shut down rapidly? How many went bust?

There are many more companies that shut down compared to those that succeed. I am still trying to run the business and keeping costs down to the very minimum; this requires lots of creativity and negotiation. I no longer have access to the large corporate marketing budgets and every spend I make needs to be triple justified. Is this what they call entrepreneurship?

Two weeks ago I went for lunch with the Founder and Director of Our Man on The Ground, a luxury travel blog. He also left his secure corporate job to follow his dream. He told me ‘Paola, you know, we are entrepreneurs’ and I replied ‘Really?’ I associate the word entrepreneur with Richard Branson & Co and God; I am so far away from emulating the King of Entrepreneurship.

Is leaving your secure, paid employee job to found and direct your own business enough to be called an entrepreneur? Or simply a fool?

Is becoming a solo-preneur the only way for women to achieve the much debated perfect work-life balance? For me it was. I could not be happier in life. It is very exciting to create something from scratch. I am writing this post by the pool on an occasional afternoon while my business is slowing down and getting ready for the beach. I am sitting in the sun, my girls splashing in the water in the background, birds chirping.

In my employee days I would now be in an air-conditioned office. Probably twiddling my fingers as July and August in my corporate days were quite lazy months. I can now balance my workload better. I can use my working hours much more efficiently and my working hours don’t have to be strictly dictated by the office policy. If my job requires it, I may be working the entire weekend or deep into the night, but then I may take a day off during the week to carry out personal and family duties. 

Managing your own business is intense. I haven’t picked up a novel since the website launched last December. 

If I have 5 minutes free to read, it is likely to be a business- related article that may help my business grow. For those mums trying to combine entrepreneurism with the duties of raising a family, I share the following nota bene:

You will need to be extra organized and self-disciplined. It will be very easy to get distracted by all sorts of events surrounding your kids’ lives and the full laundry basket waiting to be emptied. Write a daily/weekly/monthly schedule of what needs to be done both professionally and personally, but be prepared to be flexible and adaptable;

Unless you have childcare, you may not be able to sit at your desk from 9 to 5 or for long stretches at one time. Your working day may be very fragmented; you will be jumping from a conference call with an important client to driving your little ones to afternoon school clubs. You may be working while your kids are at school, stop for a few hours and then pick it up again when the children are in bed;

You will have a feeling of being always on holiday and always working at the same time. You will no longer have holiday entitlement (or sick leave!). You will be clocking in your hours with a different working pattern and this may mean working for a few hours a day but 365 days a year. Again, unless you can afford childcare, the most challenging times will be when your kids are at home due to school holidays, with the summer months being the hardest. If your job allows it, try to work extra hard during the year and slow down during the summer months, as you may have very little time available;

Learn how to delegate as much as possible. There is only so much than one can carry out single-handed. Delegate to co-workers or outsource. At home, if you can afford it, have a cleaner (it will be money very well spent) so that if you have 5 minutes free you can go back to your desk rather than to the Vileda mop;

Be prepared. Your job will become your life and you will need to learn how to separate your work and your private life.

I have come a long way since the website was launched. The road ahead is interesting but uncertain. Managing your own company is much harder than any other employee job. The sense of responsibility and level of anxiety are far greater than when I had a boss to report to. I am now sitting in the driving seat of what looks like a scary roller coaster.

But for now, being an entrepreneur seems like the only way forward for women who have to juggle work and family duties.

Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande is Founder and Director of Passepartout Homes Ltd, an online member's only club offering beautiful holiday homes around the globe. After working in various European countries, she moved to the UK over 13 years ago and has worked since then for major international publishing and news companies, most recently for Bloomberg. She holds a Bachelors Degree in German and Russian from the Catholic University in Milan and a Diploma in Direct Marketing from the IDM in London. Her dream is to go back to Italy one day, after having visited all of Passepartout Homes first! 

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