This issue of the3rdi magazine will focus on working from home and in advance of that we have posted to find out about different peoples experiences and opinions. As part of this process, and to stimulate debate, I thought that I should wade into the area of mumpreneurs. Well, when I say wade in I really mean jump in with both feet.
Firstly, I dislike the word. I am an entrepreneur. Really. I am. I have started at least 5 businesses in different business areas, using different skills and different technologies. This qualifies me to use the term entrepreneur. And I am a mum. These are separate and unrelated parts of my life. The two do not fuse. I am a mum and I am an entrepreneur.
The prefix mum, it seems to me, has been deliberately chosen to confer some sort of protective shield around the word and hence the person. Everyone loves mums, like we all love apple pie, don’t we. It’s a given. And woebetide anyone who critises mums. How many times have you heard the question asked, “Do you have kids?” and if the answer is “no” the respondent is given a sympathetic look and told, “You’ll understand when you have kids of your own.” It’s as if having a child, as long as you are not one of those demonised single-parents on sink estates, confers a cloak of invincibility. This is plainly nonsense.
For me the act of childbearing is a natural act unique to my gender due entirely to an aspect of physiology. Having a child may have altered my perspective on what was important in life but it did not change my understanding of business, the universe and everything and did not raise my intellect by a single IQ point. In other words being a mum had no affect on my entrepreneurial abilities.
As women we are often reluctant to criticise other women, especially mums and the mumpreneur seems particularly immune from critisism. I’m going to buck the trend.
Let’s accept that those that call themselves mumpreneurs are, in fact, mums. Many display their kids on their websites, blogs, books and across social media platforms so I’ll accept that the mum part is true. But are they also entrepreneurs? In the main I think not.
There is a huge difference between entrepreneurship and enterprise.
Lots of women decide that they are unwilling or unable to follow a career in full-time, paid employment once they have had a child. This is completely understandable as the demands placed on home, family and a full-time career can be intolerable. It is not surprising, however, that the previously successful and energetic woman, finding herself at home 24/7, should seek to find something to occupy them beyond changing nappies and watching ceebeebies. So many mums start a home-based business.
But here’s the thing. This is nothing new! This is home-working. Women have done this for generations. They have taken in washing, done ironing, dress making, knitting, book-keeping, writing kids books from home for decades. They use the skills that they had at work to make money from home. This is not entrepreneurship; this is enterprise.
My own mother started a number of very successful playgroups when my brothers were small. She took what she knew, looking after kids, and turned it into a home-based business. She would not consider herself to be entrepreneurial and neither would I. She was extraordinarily enterprising – and successful.
Modern stay at home mums have the benefit of new technology to access larger markets for their enterprise but the principle is the same. If you write a book about bring up baby you are an author not an entrepreneur. To get that book reviewed on Womans Hour is enterprising, not entrepreneurial.
For me an entrepreneur sees new market opportunities and develops and grows businesses and business skills to exploit those opportunities. An enterprising individual builds a single business on the skills they already have. For example, someone who has worked in the HR department of a large corporate and goes on to run a small HR company from home while bringing up kids is enterprising not entrepreneurial.
Now I should say that I am not being derogatory about enterprise. Far, far from it. Enterprise is hugely important and I value enterprise just as much as entrepreneurship. Enterprise can find a new angle, a new niche a new way of working and build strong businesses. Entrepreneurship requires a different skill set and while it may have bigger rewards there are often larger risks. Mums are often unwilling to take these risks, which is why they focus, quite properly, on enterprise.
I know mumenterpriser isn’t as catchy as mumpreneur but it is nearer to the truth. The use of entrepreneur when we mean enterprise devalues both.