Natasha Stewart would like to send a thank you note to the man who fired her from her last corporate role.
While the experience left her feeling worthless, confused and traumatised, it also pushed her into starting a number of startups and pursuing work that would actually fit with her life.
Stewart believes she was fired because she had a young daughter at home and needed flexibility. While she won’t name the employer, she says she was pulled into a meeting suddenly and fired on the spot with no warning, no discussion on her performance, and no specific reason for the dismissal.
“I asked him to tell me what I’d done wrong and was told, ‘You need to go. Don’t push me on this or you are going to regret it’,” she says.
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Stewart’s experience is one example of a story I’ve heard many times before. When I ask why she didn’t push the matter further, her reasons are also all too familiar: “I was in my twenties, when you’re trying to find your way into the workforce with a baby and a new family and you have this big man boss saying, ‘Don’t test me on this,’ it’s confronting and conflicting,” she tells me.
Now a number of years later, Stewart sees the experience as a key defining point that’s put her where she is now. While the experience immediately sapped her confidence, it also led to a shift in mindset.
“There was a transition that occurred in my mind, me saying ‘I’m better than this’. I realised that I didn’t deserve to be treated like that. In hindsight and now with some clarity, I can see that it completely re-aligned my life. I decided I was going to be in control and work for myself, so that I’d never have to put myself in the position again of having my life dictated by someone else.”
In December 2015, Stewart created Business Jump, creating both custom and pre-made online businesses for one key customer group: mums.
It’s a business she developed after creating (and selling) a couple of her own online businesses in the years since she was suddenly forced to leave the corporate world.
Those startups taught her a number of lessons about scaling a business online and managing your time effectively — especially after she found herself working “like a crazy lady” and then developing post natal depression following the birth of her second child. Sleep deprivation and stress didn’t help, nor did her expectations regarding how she’d manage a business with a baby at home. “I thought he’d sleep peacefully under my computer, that it’d be sunshine and rainbows. I didn’t want to take maternity leave because I loved working.”
With a team of 15 and growing, Stewart now has what can be described as a freedom-first, lifestyle business that suits her home life and fits her mission to create more flexibility and opportunities to other mums.
Although she’s running a busy team, Stewart makes time for travel and still works less hours than she was previously doing. “When I work in between school hours, I know I’m fitting a ten hour day into just five hours.” She believes the key is to limit interruptions — be that kids, your phone, Facebook or something else. “Once your train of thought is interrupted it can take a long time to get back into the zone.”
She also outsources. “I always ensure I’m working in my zone of genius, so I outsource the areas that I’m weakest in – sending it different ways depending on the task or how I’ve hired. For basic stuff, I use websites like Upwork and Fiver. For more complex things, I find more specific freelancers.”
Her team is made up of mostly mums with kids of all ages who all share a desire (and need) for flexibility. With a project manager overseeing all work, the team works remotely, using project collaboration tool Asana to track tasks. “That really leaves me in the driver’s seat to always be able to check in, but to also work on strategy,” she says.
Back when she was still applying for corporate roles, Stewart believes she had more luck and positive feedback from those doing the recruiting when she quit wearing her wedding ring to job interviews and stopped talking about her new daughter.
Her business is now entirely about employing mothers, and working with mothers as clients.
It’s a model that seems to be working very well for her.
Stewart shares her four strategies for those who’re looking to reclaim their time below.
Swap ‘balance’ for ‘harmony’
“We put so much pressure on ourselves to get the right work-life balance; it often ends up causing more stress than it should. Why give yourself another reason to feel guilty? Try striving for work-life harmony over work-life balance as balance is just another (often impossible) yardstick we are measuring ourselves against.
“For me, it’s about making sure my kids are happy and knowing that if I need to stop, I will. My passion for what I do gives me the drive to not only be a better businesswoman, but helps me be a better mum, too.”
“Working smarter, not harder, is the single most important factor for staving off the chaos of time constraints in the running of a business. Automate, outsource, and systemise everything you can, and streamline all those admin-heavy tasks that weigh you down. This frees you up for the big picture tasks, and gives you the space to allocate quality time with the kids.”
Identify (and champion) your ‘why’
“I’m focused on providing a roadmap for other mums to enjoy the same flexibility and business success as I do (something that stems from Stewart’s own wakeup call when she was running a business from home with two young children that resulted in a sever bout of postnatal depression) . Having this overarching framework gives me passion and motivation to stay the course. Find the things that make you tick, and make them an integral part of your business.”
Get selfish about self-care
“Time is a vital resource in keeping your mental and physical health on point, and sadly for many time-poor working mamas, self-care is the first thing to go. The times I experience the most ‘mama guilt’ are invariably when I have decided to do something for myself with my free time instead of the kids, but let’s face it — if you can’t look after you, then nothing else is going to be cared for when you eventually snap. There’s a reason we’re taught to fit the oxygen mask to ourselves first in an emergency.
“Make time for that walk on the beach, massage or yoga session—your kids will reap the rewards of a healthier, happier you.”
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.