Parents enter self-employment for the kids
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 24, 2013 06:00 am
When Donna Emsley locks the door to her local café in the afternoon, she’s just in time to hit the water park or take her kids to karate and dance lessons.
Eighteen months ago, the mother of two quit a profitable government job and opened up Java Mama, a family-oriented café in Campbell Business Park. Like many other local entrepreneurs, Emsley decided to leave a steady career to find more time for her family in self-employment.
“There was no work-life balance whatsoever,” she said about her previous job. “You had a Blackberry on your hip and you had to be ready for a phone call at any time so I just decided it wasn’t something I wanted to go back to.”
Java Mama Café is designed to provide a place where parents and caregivers can meet while their children spend time in specially designed play areas. Emsley, who lives in the northwest of Edmonton, said she decided to open the café in St. Albert because it filled a niche, but also because her children have many activities in the community.
Despite the added responsibility of running a business, she now has more time to take them to school and spend time with them after work, she said.
“Sometimes my kids can come to work with me,” she said. “I had most of July off to spend with my kids and I finish at three during the summer.”
There are many people who work hard to integrate work and family life, said Dar Schwanbeck, managing director of the Northern Alberta Business Incubator (NABI). While he couldn’t say how many St. Albert residents start a business for that reason, he expects that expensive daycares and improved computer technology are two of the major reasons why people become self-employed.
“I think the technology makes it possible and maybe the issue is that the workplaces don’t provide the enabling policy,” he said. “I think people move home and find jobs because the one they are at won’t allow them or doesn’t allow them to take their work home.”
He added that many business owners desire to be their own boss, seek more creative independence and prefer working on their own schedule. Alberta has about 500,000 home-based businesses, 300,000 of which are run by one person. In St. Albert, the number of home-based businesses is 955 though the city does not keep statistics on stay-at-home parents.
Schwanbeck expects the number of small businesses will continue to rise in coming years as employees split from their companies to go independent.
“New ideas come up all the time and unless you are really on top of how to manage your organization those employees are going to leave and start their own businesses,” he said. “And the first place they start is at home.”
When Jodie McFadzen decided to open her St. Albert, home-based business Penzen Limited eight years ago, she was on maternity leave for her second child and held a steady job as a legal assistant. Similar to Emsley, McFadzen said she wanted to schedule her work around her children.
“Someone else got to see all the firsts and I didn’t like it,” she said. “I wanted to be the one to see that. If they are sick I don’t have to worry about calling in to a boss. I can just stay home and not feel like I’m in a jam.”
McFadzen found her niche in the construction industry. She writes architectural and mechanical maintenance manuals and recently expanded her business to offer bookkeeping services.
But getting started was difficult, she said. Women are often stereotyped not to be knowledgeable in the construction trade. She said she spent many hours on the phone and in interviews introducing her work before receiving a steady paycheck.
She also separated from her husband two months into her second pregnancy, which left her with limited resources and dependant on her family while building the company. Had she not left her other job, she may have never started the business, she said.
“In the situation I was in, I don’t know if I would have done it until I knew that the kids and I were okay,” she said. “But I took a chance and it worked, thank God.”
McFadzen added self-employment requires a lot of motivation and dedication to learning. She took private accounting courses and spent her first year working late at night before she got settled into a steady workflow.
She also joined the local chamber of commerce to meet other business owners and to network though she finds that many start-ups don’t know what resources (such as NABI) are available to them.
In Emsley’s case, help came from other businesses in the community. There’s an entire network of entrepreneurial mothers, she said, who sell products and belong to different organizations that work together. Some of these products are now on display at Java Mama, while another local business practices dance lessons in her upstairs room. That gets the word out about her café, and helps them sell more products, she said.
It’s not only the mothers who approach work and family life with more balance though. There are a growing number of men who visit her café, she added, working from their laptop while the kids are at play.
As a mother, she added the job is not only about bringing in that extra paycheck or spending more time with the family. It's also using an education and being a good example to the kids.
“I think it’s important to show my kids that I am their mom and I love them but I am also a business owner, or I also enjoy golfing, or whatever it happens to be," she said.