Returning to work: from investment analyst to on-line entrepreneur

Amanda Seabrook is a 38 year-old mother of 3. Returning to work to work after a 7 year gap, she founded Workpond, a new online job site for flexible work. Her story isn’t short of large amounts of juggling, much frustration and a lot of determination, as she explains how she has got to the point of starting her own business on-line.

I imagine there are many mothers out there who, like me, have felt the frustrations of not finding work flexible enough to fit in with motherhood. I started my career in the financial world in 1996 and worked my way up the ranks. Having worked in Sydney at ABN AMRO Asset Management as an Investment Analyst, my husband and I decided to move back home to the UK when expecting our first child in 2003. Being four months pregnant, it was hard to look for a job from scratch, so we decided that I would take a career break and face the challenge of raising a family head on.

The Career break

Once all three of my children were born, what I had intended to be a short career break had become a 7 year gap. Like most mothers, I had spent much time wondering what I could do once the kids were at school, believing that I would need to start my career again from scratch in a more flexible industry, or where I could be self-employed. What I really wanted was to use some of my existing skills. I felt strongly that my job should:

a) not be full-time, to allow for school holidays

b) not involve a time consuming commute, and

c) allow flexible hours so I could manage the school run.

Starting a new business – get all the help you can!

My interest in the flexible employment market (or the lack of one) quickly became a passion and I began researching it in depth. It soon occurred to me that there is great demand throughout the country for flexibility, both from men and women at all stages of their career and from businesses large and small. I thought that I would have a crack at helping these people by making it simple and low cost for businesses to find them and give them the opportunity to market their skills to businesses.

With the blessing of my husband (once he had scrutinised my business plan) and the help of a part-time nanny, I scraped together as much money as I could find, and went about setting up the company. At first I felt daunted but within a few weeks I felt exhilarated by my new role and having the freedom to work through problems at my leisure. After 7 years of raising children it was a luxury to be able to work again. Luckily I had an army of friends willing and able to help – accountants, editors, PR, HR and marketing professionals, computer science graduates, experienced entrepreneurs, management consultants. They all stepped in willingly and lent me their experience – the vast majority of whom were sourced from the playground.

With all the planning and web-design completed, we were ready to launch. Workpond is an online marketplace helping businesses find experienced professionals who want to work flexibly and high calibre individuals find stimulating flexible roles, but on Day 1 it had no candidates and no roles. I quickly had to learn marketing from scratch, so to help me I brought in an expert – another mother of 3, Sara Acworth, with a terrific marketing background. With her she brings not only skills and experience, but enthusiasm and ideas. Prior to Sara joining, my husband had to endure the regular evening download – absolutely the last thing that he wanted – and a far cry from the good old days when I would welcome him home with his pipe and slippers! Having Sara to share it with means that I can now spare him the detail!

Very quickly Sara got us all hooked up onto the different social media platforms, and we got working on face-to-face marketing to businesses. Steadily the numbers of candidates have grown, the majority of whom have fantastic professional experience. We are marketing these high calibre professionals to start-ups and high growth small companies that can gain enormous benefits from employing flexibly. As a result we have a broad range of fabulous roles coming onto the site.

So, where are we now?

We are still right at the start of our journey and have a long way to go. We are receiving support from partners, who believe that flexibility will play a large part in the future of work.

Where are we going?

We aim, to make it simple and affordable for businesses to access the skills of experienced professionals on an interim, contract or part-time basis. As a result, we hope to act as a catalyst for the flexible employment market.

Am I enjoying it?

Absolutely – sometimes I feel that I could do with fewer ‘balls in the air’, but I am my own boss, working flexibly from home – perfect.

How does the family feel about it?

My husband believes in Workpond, so supports me in it. He helps me keep the work/ life balance that I had aspired to, but now find hard to achieve. My youngest, who is 2 would really love to have more time with me, so I try to make sure that he gets lots of one-on-one when I am not working.

My elder two, who are 7 and 8 hardly notice as they have fairly long days at school. They are very interested in Workpond and ask a lot of questions, which I always answer. I can see early entrepreneurs in them both – trying their luck at selling home made nettle-tea to the brave and cleaning our friends’ shoes.

What would I say to anyone considering starting their own business?

  • Keep it simple
  • Make sure you have the support of family and friends
  • Make sure you are happy with your childcare arrangements
  • Make sure you can afford it – most businesses are much slower to generate revenue than you have forecasted
  • Make sure you are resilient – there will be downs as well as ups
  • Listen to advice, but only follow the bits that you really believe
  • Once all those are in place GO FOR IT!

Author: Amanda Seabrook is the founder of Workpond, a new online market place for part-time and flexible work. Find out more about Workpond and how we can help you with your career.

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