Founder of Netmums, the biggest parenting website in the UK, author and mum, Siobhan Freegard, talks about her early teenage rebel years. She has now moved on from Netmums and is happy to share the path that led her to the business success she enjoys today with Channel Mum.
Tell us about your dream job as a child
As a primary school child, I always wanted to be a teacher. I idolised my own school teachers, saw the difference they could make to children’s lives and wanted to be able to help people in the same way. But it all changed in high school! I became a school rebel, hanging out in the smoker’s corner, skipping school, thinking being cheeky was funny and basically failing all my exams. But with a twist of fate, by helping to set up two of the UK’s most popular parenting sites, I’ve been lucky enough to achieve my original dream of helping those who need it most.
Why did you go into business in the first place?
When I first started working, I didn’t have much ambition and certainly didn’t see myself as a business leader. I was paid just £50 a week for an office job at the tickets and event company Keith Prowse – it was enough to pay for beers and going out, and I was very happy with that. But within a year or two, I started to want more than being on the lowest rung on the ladder. My ambition kicked in, I went to evening classes, passed two A-levels and considered a degree, but instead found I was working my way up the ladder. By just 27 I was Marketing Director of the same company.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
The Financial Director of Keith Prowse became my mentor and friend. He taught me why the ‘boring accounts’ mattered and he was a ruthless in the way he pushed me to be the best version of myself. He regularly sent my reports and proposals back to me covered in red pen and crossings out. I learned that ‘good enough’ wasn’t actually good enough. I had to do my best work. Even now, when I complete something, I still think ‘would this get through hisred pen?’
What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?
The worst decision I ever made was going back to work after my first child, even though everything in me screamed that my baby came before the big career. I spent two years miserably pushing through until I made myself unwell. The best decision I ever made was giving up the big job. I cut back our household expenses to the bare bones so I could become a stay-at-home mum. Just a year later, I had the light bulb moment and started Netmums.“No matter how insecure or overwhelmed you feel, believe in yourself and your talents and go for it!” Tweet This!
What do you think is the most significant barrier to women in business?
We’re now a 24-hour flexible culture but at many firms, working hours are still stuck at 9 to 5, or in reality 8 til 8. This isn’t practical or desirable for many women who have other commitments from children to caring for elderly parents. Some firms still even practice ‘presenteeism’ where you have to be seen to be in the workplace at set times, rather than working flexibly or remotely.
For lots of talented women, and especially new mums, working that way doesn’t work for them so they take a lower job beneath their skill set with hours to suit or they step off the career ladder altogether. This is a huge waste of talent. Every company would do well to remember that women make 85 per cent of all purchasing decisions, so you need more women in your workforce, not fewer. Women – and mums especially – can give you the most amazing business insight for free, so don’t force them out but do all you can to hang onto them.
As an employer myself, I practise flexible working. I trust my staff to get the job done remotely and at hours that suit them – and it means I’m rewarded with a loyal workforce who always go the extra mile.
What’s the best advice you have received in business?
Get a good accountant.
What do you do for fun?
I love live music and gigs of any sort. I love being up at the front, with all these people coming together for a common love of the band and music. So maybe that school rebel hasn’t gone completely!
What did you most fear in the early days of your business?
Failure. It’s not a quality I am so proud of but I fear failure more than I want success. But I’m getting better with accepting failure as part of growing and learning that it can be a vital lesson.
What’s next for you and your business?
I am so very lucky to have the chance to build Channel Mum. When I built Netmums, I was an overwhelmed new mum, like all the other mums who joined the community. Now, I get to do it again, but this time I feel like the big sister who has a bit more experience and perspective.
If you could tell your younger you something what would you say?
Even the most calm, cool and sorted people can be insecure beneath the surface. No matter how insecure or overwhelmed you feel, believe in yourself and your talents and go for it!
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