Page last updated at 07:23 GMT, Friday, 8 August 2008 08:23 UK

Mum's the business

By Amanda Austen
BBC Money Programme

Tanya Rostron driving a forklift truck
The lives of female entrepreneurs can change dramatically after childbirth

Mothers are increasingly fed up with jobs that do not allow them to spend enough time with their children.

So instead, they are starting their own businesses.

The number of women working for themselves has leapt by nearly 20% since 2000, according to official figures, and now tops a million.

And an opinion poll commissioned by the government shows that the most significant factor in the increase is a desire among women for a better balance between work and family life.

The biggest motivation for going it alone - according to 70% of those polled - was to be able to work more flexibly,

Three out of four people said that the balance between their work life and family life was better when they ran their own business, according to the YouGov survey.

Saira Khan, who shot to fame as a finalist on the BBC television show The Apprentice, travelled round Britain to report on the phenomenon.

Mothers who do run their own business make an important contribution to the UK economy

Once keen to work for Sir Alan Sugar, one of Britain's most demanding bosses, when she got married and decided to have children, she realised that working for someone else wouldn't work for her.

Two years ago she set up her own business selling natural skin care products for babies and then in April her own baby arrived.

Different priorities

As a new "mumpreneur", she wanted to find out how businesswomen with young children manage to juggle both aspects of their lives.

She visited the winner of the Mumpreneur of the Year award - a contest organised by the internet magazine Mother@Work.

I didn't want her to be with a childminder all the time. I wanted to have my baby with me
Tanya Rostron, Water at Work

Tanya Rostron, a single mum-of-two, employs 11 people at her firm Water at Work in Nottinghamshire, which supplies water coolers throughout the East Midlands.

She confessed to having once been a boss from hell herself when she worked as head of marketing in a major leisure company.

She required her staff to turn up for meetings as early as 7am and as late as 7pm, regardless of family commitments.

"If somebody wasn't doing those hours, maybe they weren't committed to the company, which now sounds horrendous I know," she says.

But when she got married and had children, she was determined to escape the restrictions of the conventional workplace.

She set up Water at Work so she could spend time with her new baby daughter Frankie.

Saira Khan and her son with Erin Thomas and her children
The main motivation for starting a business can be to improve family life

"I'd be rocking her on the desk, slightly more vigorously if she woke up when I was on the phone. I didn't want her to be with a childminder all the time. I wanted to have my baby with me."

She reckons she now gives her staff plenty of leeway to look after their kids too.

Most of her team are parents and they back up her claim.

"She's not like a boss," says water cooler engineer Fiona Gray.

"She's very flexible, very easy going."

Wendy Shand is typical of many mumpreneurs, in that she sells solutions to mum problems.

Various hats

She set up Tots to France, an internet based lettings agency which specialises in child-friendly holiday homes, after her toddler Barnaby fell into an unguarded swimming pool on holiday in France.

She lets out holiday homes for owners after vetting them for safety features - and takes a cut.

Her business is also typical of the mumpreneur because it makes use of the internet.

I do absolutely everything and anything, whatever's needed
Erin Thomas, H&T Transport

The web has provided numerous opportunities for people to make money from home - and that benefits mums in particular.

After starting three years ago, Tots to France is now expanding into Italy and its owner predicts a turnover of nearly 500,000 this year.

Mumpreneurs have made inroads into all different types of industry.

Erin Thomas runs a small haulage company in Northern Ireland called H & T Transport and knows how to multi-task.

"I do absolutely everything and anything, whatever's needed," she says, listing her duties as including admin, marketing, changing tyres and changing nappies.

"The children will go to bed at eight, half eight. I'll go straight up to the office. I'll catch up on my emails, I'll write some letters, follow up invoices and accounts and I can keep going maybe until about midnight or one o'clock."

At the end of her journey, Saira concludes that mumpreneurs probably work harder than if they were employed by somebody else.

"They work the hours that suit them and their children and not the boss," she says.

"They were living proof that you can combine devotion to your business with devotion to your children."

The Money Programme: Mum's The Business, BBC2 7pm, Friday 8 August.

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