When Vicky Matthews took voluntary redundancy from a high-street bank after the birth of her second child, she vowed no-one she ever employed would suffer the same inflexible and negative experience she’d endured since becoming a mum. She really needed flexible work.
Now, seven years on, Vicky employs three very happy part-time staff in the head office of her personal assistant business, Pink Spaghetti, all of whom work around their busy family commitments.
“I’d worked in project management for the same high street bank since starting as a graduate trainee,” explains Vicky. “When I became pregnant, I requested a three day working week after maternity leave. This was declined and I was told four days was my only part time option. A job-share was never considered.
“An even bigger blow came when I was told my current senior management position was not feasible on a part time basis and that I would need to take on a new, lower, middle management role.
“I had been their golden girl but when I returned from maternity leave, I felt my position within the company was tainted. My opportunities for promotion and recognition were gone, so after the birth of my second child three years later, I took voluntary redundancy.”
A New Start – Flexible Working
After taking time out to spend with her young family for a couple of years, a chance meeting at a baby swimming class saw the beginning of a partnership that would see Vicky’s dream of creating flexible employment come true. A poolside chat with her now business partner, Caroline Gowing, revealed the pair had all-too-similar experiences and after discussions about their respective talents and experience, the foundations were laid for an award-winning business venture.
In 2009, three years after their first meeting and with Vicky’s youngest child still at home, the friends launched Pink Spaghetti, a home-based, pay-as–you-go personal assistant service. Clients aren’t tied by a monthly retainer and only pay for the hours they need, which is a major selling point for the predominantly female, home-based clients who are often juggling work and childcare.
Pink Spaghetti, whose strapline is ‘Let us be your 25th hour,’ will take on any task from its clients and to-do lists frequently include the bizarre alongside the mundane. Sourcing reindeer for a Christmas event and attending a client’s wedding as a paid witness have featured alongside travel booking, running social media accounts, holiday cover, managing email newsletters and book keeping.
Growing the Business – Franchise Holder
The formula proved a resounding success, so much so that after three years of steady growth Vicky and Caroline decided to grow their business through franchising and now operate in 10 UK territories, from Chester to Portsmouth.The flexibility the pair needed in their own lives has proved a major pull for franchisees, almost all of whom have children and tales of inflexible employers forcing them out of the workplace.
“Our franchisees come to us with years of valuable business experience and yet find themselves unable to find a job that fits around their families,” says Caroline. “We have franchisees from all backgrounds, but they all share the same desire to not have to choose between work and family.
“From our own experience, we knew that our business model works as both a part time opportunity, to fit around the school day or nursery hours, and that it can also be scaled up as the children get older.
“One of our franchisees has proved just how scalable the business is, by buying a second neighbouring territory and taking on employees of her own. We also have franchisees with very young children who work just a few hours each day. They know that the opportunity for expansion is there once it suits their family.”
Flexible Work from Home
Ever since that first meeting in the swimming baths, flexibility has been the driving force behind Pink Spaghetti. As owners, Vicky and Caroline have the flexibility to manage their business in a way that suits them. For clients, the Pink Spaghetti service frees up much-needed time, and for franchisees, Vicky and Caroline’s model allows them to grow their franchise at their own rate and fit in work around their own commitments.
But, more importantly, the pair have been able to provide flexible employment to busy working parents. Pink Spaghetti’s head office, in Northwich, employs three part-time members of staff. Lucy works school hours four days a week. Katherine does three days, two to fit around school times and a third shorter one to allow for a nursery pick up. Leigh-Anne is currently on maternity leave, but before the birth of her second child she was able to work two long days at the office in order to make the most of her son’s hours at nursery. When she returns from maternity leave, Leigh-Anne has opted to switch to two short days.
This flexible and family friendly approach was cited as a best practice case study in a report handed out at a recent Working Families conference. The charity was greatly encouraged that employees can pick their own working hours, and are able to change them at short notice, where feasible.
“By accommodating our employees’ needs for flexible working we are offering them the kind of benefit that money can’t buy,” says Vicky. “In return, employees work harder and have more work satisfaction as their needs are being met and their voices heard, which is key for retention.
“After what I went through in my previous job, I feel very strongly that I want to set an example to other employers.”
But what about Vicky? Her business is providing a positive work life balance for her employees and franchisees, but has she achieved the flexibility she was striving for?
“I work from home, I can do the school drop off and pick up and I don’t have to miss important milestones like special assemblies and sports days.
“I love my work, both servicing our own Pink Spaghetti clients here in mid-Cheshire and supporting our franchisees to grow their own businesses. When I took voluntary redundancy seven years ago, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. It’s been a fascinating journey and I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Author: PR Agent on behalf of Vicki
Attached picture (left to right) Aylesbury & High Wycombe franchisee Rachel Martin, Pink Spaghetti co-owner Vicky Matthews, Luton & Bedford franchisee Anne Little, Pink Spaghetti co-owner Caroline Gowing