Thinking of starting your own business? Maternity leave’s the time to go for it

Always dreamed of starting your own company, but never had the time (or money) to do it? Well, your new pregnancy may be just the nudge you needed to kick-start those yet-to-be-fulfilled ambitions…

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If you’ve always wanted to start your own business so that in the long-run you can fit work around your new lifestyle, finding out you’ve got plenty of maternity leave ahead of you may be the perfect time to get started.

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“A big change in your life, such as becoming a parent, makes you re-evaluate your priorities in life and think about what you really want to do with your career,” says Paul Lancaster, Web Development Executive at Shell LiveWIRE and dad of 2-year-old toddler Jake.

So where should you start?

The most important part about starting your own business is the idea, so take some time planning before doing anything else.

  • Match your skills to your passions

Focus your idea around all your skills, talents and hobbies. Most people start their own business by taking their income and their hobby and combining them.

  • Talk to as many people as possible

Grab some free advice from your friends and family, visit your local council, who usually have a specific department that try and help businesses start up in their area, and arrange a meeting with a professional business adviser. The more feedback you get, the better business you’ll be able to create in the long run

  • Read everything

There’s a lot of good literature out there providing advice on starting your business so use it! Go to your local library or bookshop and ask for the self-employment section

  • Write a business plan

Paul stresses that your business plan doesn’t have to be a massive book, but just the answers to the following questions:

  1. “What is the business?”
  2. “Who am I?”
  3. “How will I bring money in?”

“Try and do your planning when you’re still in your job, because if you know you’ve got time off coming up and you’re going to be paid while on maternity leave, then you’ll have some free time. Depending, of course, on how easy-going your baby is!” says Paul.

What are the benefits to becoming self-employed?

  • Freedom to choose what you do As the number one decision-maker, anything goes. Remember, this is your chance to make your mark on the world.
  • Flexibility to choose where you work From home, in an office or abroad – it’s up to you!
  • Flexibility to choose your hours Balancing your own business with young kids? Want a long holiday? Need to take a day or two off for pregnancy check-ups? Self-employment allows you to work around both, and the ability to be on call if there’s ever an emergency.

Are there any disadvantages to being self-employed?

There are, of course, good sides and bad sides to everything – including self-employment:

  • Lack of monthly wage
  • Long hours, especially at the beginning
  • May be tiring balancing home life and work life
  • Can be lonely working on your own if you’re used to a big team

“It can be quite scary to start your own business if you are a person who is used to being employed and receiving a set pay cheque at the end of each month. However, it can also be very liberating, knowing that you can potentially do whatever you like. I’m a big believer in anything’s possible if you put your mind to it,” says Paul.

Do you have to quit your job to be self-employed?

No. However, be careful about choosing a product or business idea similar to the job you’re already in.

If you are in effect competing with your own company, then you definitely need to speak to your employer as soon as possible. Tell them what you’re thinking of doing and say, “This is what I’d like to do” and “This is why it’s not going to be a conflict of interest” just so it’s clear.

As long as you do that in the early days, hopefully you can come to an agreement and then there should be no confusion over your plans.

Is it a good idea to go into business with your partner or best friend?

Think about what skills a partner would bring to the table. If you’re really good at the communication side of things, then a partner who’s really good at managing money may be a good asset to have on your team.

If you do decide on a partnership, whether it’s with your other half or a friend, work together at every stage, from choosing your idea to writing your business plan.

Where can you get funding from?

Like many things, starting a business needs money and how much funding you need will depend on what type of business you’re setting up.

“Plan your business first, but keep in mind funding. Do you have savings? Are you going to get a loan from the bank? These are the questions you need to be able to answer,” explains Paul.

Think outside the box too. Some companies, such as Shell LiveWIRE, offer monthly award programmes for new start-ups, with prizes of up to £10,000.

So you’ve got your idea and your business plan, what’s next?

You need to register as self-employed with the HM Revenue within three months of trading.

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For further information on self-employment and maternity leave benefits, DirectGov is a good place to start.

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