“It’s hard not to talk in stereotypes men are often focussed on meeting outcomes but women generally have a more flexible mindset and they are more prepared to spend time finding the right solution. They like to find more value in their work.”
Fiona was a policewoman serving on the Dundee force then she had children and found that was the toughest job of all especially in rural areas. Living in Orkney and then Inverness Fiona saw first-hand the challenges parents living in rural areas faced in finding accessible childcare.
“We were living on Orkney when my eldest entered pre-school education just as the government were formalising child care and making it available for all. I’ve not always lived rurally so I noticed quickly that childcare is a huge barrier for parents in rural locations. It can stop them pursuing education, employment or even socialising. It can be really isolating.”
Direct was born in 2004 to deliver out of hours childcare to families, helping them to get into work, education and to have a break when they need it.
Six years later Fiona had spotted gaps in the childcare market and a need for more flexible crèche services. She set up Smart Childcare as a social enterprise to provide and market mobile crèche services to parents. Smart is based in Inverness and takes childcare to parents wherever it is needed from weddings to campsites and the company generates income that is ploughed back into Direct.
“You might expect our service to be of a lower quality as we deliver anywhere and not in a custom built facility. But we pride ourselves on our high quality of childcare be it in a marquee and The Royal Highland Games or someone’s living room.”
“It’s all been so great watching Direct and Smart Childcare get off the ground. I guess it’s my baby and after two years we’re at the toddler stage. All parents know what that means. It’s pretty full on!”
Fiona’s tip to others thinking about setting up a business? Make time to develop your ideas into practical plans.
One of the challenges of running three businesses is having time to focus on future. Fiona had an idea for a new service but it wasn’t until she sat down with like-minded entrepreneurs that she developed the idea into a real strategy.
“Our ideas quickly grew after our Social Enterprise Academy programme. It completely reshaped where we were heading and gave us loads of new ideas for our trading arm. I went to a 4-day Leadership Residential with one of our directors and that was it. We rewrote our business plan in my hotel bedroom at night! Two years later Smart has grown and that plan is still helping shape the business.”
Fiona also set up Care and Learning Staffbank which manages 198 casual workers and is about to launch a completely new service after a successful pilot. Plus one provides one-to-one support for new mums running up to and in those first few weeks after birth.
“For our pilot a grandmother had bought the service for her daughter. Her daughter’s husband was in the army and was going to be away as their second child was born – she had no family around and a toddler to look after too. It would have been tough doing it all alone and she really appreciated us being around.”