Meet the woman who started up her own business offering the services she wishes she’d had open to her.
For many mothers, when you’ve had children, there’s a loss of identity, or at least a change in one. From high-flying employee to mum to a newborn requires a huge mental shift in lifestyle and perspective.
Clara Wilcox was no different. In 2013 she returned to work after over a year off following the birth of her youngest child after two losses. The struggle was real: in confidence and in finding the help she needed.
Whilst she had a good job and was fortunate enough to be able to negotiate flexible hours without impacting her career, she was looking for coaching support that didn’t exist.
If she felt like that and experienced those struggles with the support network provided by her employer, she questioned what others must feel like without that kind of support.
It provided the catalyst for her to branch off and start up her own business.
With a background in recruitment and skills and having worked hard at building up a great reputation in her sector, her job had been her safety net and her identity. She began setting things up whilst working four-day weeks, until remaining in a job she didn’t love seemed riskier than going it alone.
In 2015 The Balance Collective was born, a coaching, training and mentoring service to help parents find a work-life balance that works for them.
Her mission: to reduce parental unemployment. To help parents find a work-life balance that works for them; be it through employment or starting their own business.
Part of my time goes for free to help parents return to work after significant time away from the workforce.
– Clara Wilcox, Founder, The Balance Collective –
The Homeworker: What was the one thing that worried you most about going it alone?
CW: Money! Let’s be honest, going self-employed doesn’t always bring in the big bucks that is claimed on social media. I had the safety net of my redundancy and my savings to keep me going for a year which helped, but I was worried how things would be longer term.
I was also considered I would get lonely; I have always worked in teams and had that network around me for support and skills.
I was very aware of these upfront through, so made sure I had plans in place Keeping a close eye on my budgets, making sure I was charging my value, thinking twice before I bought the new shiny business thing and meeting people face to face!
What do you love most about your business now?
That I get to do what I enjoy everyday! That I help people create a life that works for them, that I can work when I want, with who I want. And that I am not bound my a job description – I am developing a whole range of new skilsl!
When do you do your work?
Both my girls are at school, so my core hours are 9:30 – 3, Monday to Thusday; I tend to keep Friday free for volunteering or other personal development things. I sometimes work in the evenings, if clients can’t make a day time slot or there is something I need to do! Over the school holidays, I am really lucky to have my parents near by so I work a shorter week, but longer days to have time with the girls; and a few more evenings.
Do you have a designated space to work at home?
At the moment it’s the dining room table. The benefit of technology and the way I work means I just need a laptop and my mobile phone. I can then pack up at the end of the day. It also means I can move – sometimes it’s the garden or a coffee shop! I am looking at turning my Conservatory into a flexible office space for the summer though!
I am a lot less stressed than I was in the corporate world. Even though money is tight and I have a lot more on shoulders, I feel 100% in control!
What do you find are the most challenging aspects of working from home?
Being on my own, I often miss of the buzz of other people and people to bounce ideas off.
What are your favourite things about being a homeworker?
The ability to be “at my desk” so quickly, I can do the school run and be back. Not having a commute is wonderful – I never thought I would have an opportunity to be around as much as I am for my girls too! The fact I can have music on whilst I work too! I often can be found doing some pretty amazing chair dancing!
What is your daily or morning routine to get started for work?
Because I have to leave the house twice a day to get my youngest to school, that helps me mentally walk into work. I start each day with a cup of coffee, and a list of the 3-5 key things I need to get done that day. Music one, email checked and then the day gets off to start.
Do you have a strict schedule for work or is each day different?
I timeblock my activities as well as my appointments; I rarely have a day where the “to do list” isn’t completed due to only planning what I can achieve .I try to stick to similar activities; so writing for my blog or other articles in on one day, and coaching is on another – but life doesn’t always work like that.
What have you discovered about yourself since setting up a business?
I have fallen back in love with writing! That was something I loved as a child but I let is slide as I got older. It’s mostly non-fiction at the moment ( for blogs and personal development book that is out later in 2018) but I have started working on some fiction work too!
I also can handle being on my own more than I expected but I miss being accountable!
Also, which is interesting, I am a lot less stressed than I was in the corporate world. Even though money is tight and I have a lot more on shoulders, I feel 100% in control!
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
“Just start”. I have waited to do so many things in the early days of the business, even actually starting it, as I felt like I had to get everything ready. Business is an evolution – and you haven’t got a business until you have a paying client!
Is there any advice you would give someone considering working from home and/or launching their own business?
Think about what you do well, what others need and what they will pay for. This will help you build a basic model of your business.
Consider what you are really scared of; fear of failure, rejection or even success comes up a lot. Work out what is the worst that can happen, and then decide what you can do to avoid that happening.
Be honest about money; what you need and how long for. You may need to have a portfolio career to plug the gap between 100% employment and 100% self-employment. That IS FINE.
What are your future plans or aspirations for The Balance Collective?
To start working with more organisations to support their staff back from parental leave.
To have my book as a Number 1 best seller.
To expand my online services to help more people across the world!
Biggest success or achievement so far?
I always struggle with these types of questions! I think just starting the business and taking the leap of faith is a massive achievement for me. I never saw myself as a someone who would go into self-employment. It just seemed too big a risk! But now, I can’t imagine doing anything different.
The achievements and successes day to day can vary; being shortlisted for awards, picking up new clients, being asked to feature in articles to clients telling me the work we have done has helped them with their job, return to work or business.
What are you most proud of so far?
That I made the decision to run The Balance Collective as social enterprise; part of my time goes for free to help parents return to work after significant time away from the workforce.
How have your family reacted to you running your own business?
Very, very supportive and proud. I was very aware of the financial uncertainty that my change of direction would bring, but my husband is 100% behind me. He always knows I am “scrooge McDuck” when it comes to money management (heck, I was the student with a savings account at Uni) so he knew I would make it work financially!
Among your clients do you find many mums looking to return to work are seeking a different direction or a fresh start with a new job or setting up their own business?
Yes, a lot of parents I work with, especially when they have had break, want something new. Often though, this is from lack of confidence, so I do a lot of work helping people see how their whole life and work experience is valid and relevant. I advocate the importance of understanding your transferable skills!
Parental guilt, particularly mum guilt, can be pretty strong when trying to balance a career and raising a family, what do you do to combat those feelings?
Remember we are role models. It is a fact of life that we need to work to live; even if that work is unpaid! If we can show our children, and those around us, the value from doing something that brings up confidence, value and worth, it is showing them that work can be enjoyed not endured.
What do you think is the secret to raising a healthy business and raising a healthy family?
I’m still muddling my way through that myself! I think it’s about communication, quality time and the ability to admit that sometimes we make mistakes!
How would you advise somebody working from home to set boundaries between home life and work life?
OUT OF OFFICE! Decide when your working hours are, and use your technology to communicate them.
From your email signature to putting on your out of office when you are away from you desk. I have been VERY strict about this since I started, and not only to clients and contatcs respect that, they have been influenced in changing their communication about their boundaries!
What do you think the secret is to achieving work/life balance?
Knowing what YOUR version of work-life balance is. Don’t be restricted by other people’s expectations, and be open to it changing are you and your families needs change.
Find out more: