"Mummy, can I say hello?"
Uttered by a persistent three year old almost a year ago as I was talking to a new client about the intricacies of WordPress. I jumped out of my seat so that the phone was out of reach and flapped my hand around in a manner I hoped he’d understand meant “not now!!”. Instead he interpreted my ‘mummy means business’ eyes as ‘please pull on my skirt and repeat your question over and over at increasing decibel levels’.
Eventually I gave up and admitted that right at that instance I was in fact working at the kitchen table surrounded by tractors only for an admission from the lady I was speaking to, that she was not actually sitting in an office as I’d presumed but taking the call in the garden as her husband and partner in business was noisily trying his hand at DIY.
This year we were kindly nominated for the Cumbria Family Business Awards.
We weren't shortlisted but it did make us think about the meaning of 'family business'. Particularly when we realised that a significant number of our clients were also nominated.
A large proportion of our clients are what you could define as family businesses. From small startups like our own a couple of years ago to long established businesses that involve multiple generations.
I hadn’t necessarily thought of Freshspace as a family business but more of a way of balancing family and business. Nevertheless Darren is my partner (soon to be husband) and very much my family. We deal with the joys and tackles of living and working together every day with the kids thrown into the mix. In fact the more I thought about it the more I realised how much family is at the very core of our business.
When we first started out I felt like I was frequently apologising, as though juggling business around your family is a bad thing. Whether it was pulling a lego wheel out of my bag in a meeting instead of a pen, or frantically trying to get into another room to take a call when the kids are playing ‘Christmas’ (game of the moment - better than Fight Club), I always worried it was a mark of unprofessionalism.
If anything has helped change that it has been our client base who are often understanding and, most notably, empathetic in equal measures. I now often notice the frequency with which people begin with an apology when it comes to kids or a comment such as "we're just a family business". If anything it makes me even more proud to be one.
Many of our clients are in the same boat and choose to work flexibly. As a result expectations are fair and realistic - we work flexibly together and the whole process typically feels a lot more relaxed.
The sheer range of people we work with, with their own unique quirks and approach to business, even their relationships around it, cause us to re-evaluate our own approach regularly.
We feel proud of the relationships we have with our clients and the shared understanding around family we typically establish. It has led to wonderful discussions and even the presence of Will, a 4 month old in attendance at a meeting, who I must say was a gurgling delight. We joke with other couples and often share knowing looks/raised eyebrows around the intricacies of working with the one person you know the best. We’ve politely drank tea made with tepid water by a pre-teen; something I would not recommend but like all parents we know what it’s like when your kid is trying to impress.
All in all we’re happy to be a family business and long may we continue working with others. It’s inspiring learning how some of our clients have started with limited expectations about what they can achieve only to grow and morph into something great, sustainable. I admire this in equal measure to those who are small but dedicated with vision, knowing exactly who they are and will continue to be.
As for us, well we will continue marching to our own unique beat too and we’ll provide you with an excellent service in the process.*
* includes a complimentary conversation with an enthusiastic 3 year old about tractors.