Tell us your name and a bit about your family? When did you become a Mum and to whom?
My name is Karen Holden. I have been with my husband Trevor for 16 years and we recently celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary.
I have a 5year old little boy called Bayley who is in reception
My husband was fortunate enough to take early retirement in 2014 and so he now works part time , with me, so we can raise our little man together
What’s your business called?
A City Law Firm Ltd
Can you describe it in one sentence?
An innovative firm of solicitors in London that offers company/commercial and family legal services.
When did you become a Mumpreneur and what inspired you?
The business started in 2009 and I became a mum in 2011
In truth I started the business as I was so disillusioned about how employers and specifically lawyers operated. Clients had become numbers and billable hours were far more important than the quality and integrity of the work. I wanted to create firm that dispelled this practice . I also wanted to start a family and didn’t see how a corporate firm would allow me a work/life balance let alone continue to invest me as I felt that being a mum would be frowned upon
How did you fund your start up?
I had a small sum set aside to spend on a lease deposit , computers and insurance , which hardly covered the start-up costs.
Whilst setting up the practice I had no choice, but to also consult for other firms to keep my income coming in, which meant very long hours and a 4hr commute daily for 12 months
I took my clients with me when I set up and for this I was very grateful as they gave me the start I needed
There were months when cash flow became very tight due to delayed payments that I recall even putting salaries one month on a credit card which was very stressful and I am relieved this is no longer the case
How do you manage working around your children?
I start every morning with cuddles with my little one before I dress him and take him to school.
I try to ensure I am home at least 2/3 times a week to put him to bed if I can, but often my husband assists as he works part-time now to accommodate my business hours.
Weekends are for my family and I try more so now to switch off from my emails and phone and have quality time with them. This is a tough challenge but I am improving.
If I need to work extra hours it’s usually after midnight when the house is asleep and I can work without the guilt of being away from my family.
Quality time at weekends, holidays or days off make up for the extended hours I work in the week
Can you describe a typical day, what tasks do you have to get done, how do you manage your time?
After the school run , it’s the 30-minute train ride into work where I catch up on work emails , post my social media newsflashes or juggle my shopping and finances.
I manage a very productive team and handle client files , marketing and management on a daily basis. The best days are those where I meet with my start-up clients looking for investment or advice on the next stage and we create and implement a strategy that pays off – always a great boost to the week. I usually have 200-300 emails to address, a few articles to write and meetings with clients so it’s a very varied day.
Once the working day is done, I might head to a networking event 1-2 times a week and for the rest, I’ll get home in time to put my little boy to bed. My husband and I will then have dinner and a glass of wine before settling down to something on TV.
When I can I will try and meet my friends for a glass of wine and a catch up fun. I still like to socialise as often as I can with friends and my clients so it’s a full on schedule most of the time.
What challenges have you faced in your business and how have you overcome them?
This was not a smooth ride at all. I made the mistake of setting up with other partners who I had worked with only briefly. Their attitude to work and clients did not mirror mine at all and I soon realised it had been a mistake. As such I had the terrible mess of untangling myself from the newly established firm which could of costs me everything due to insurance costs, the clients that had come with me, the money I had spent. I learnt a tough lesson, which caused me serious stress and anxiety, but I was not prepared to compromise my values and working ethics so I started again.
The biggest asset to me was the support of clients who came with me, many I had worked for over 7 years at that time, they did not lose faith and stuck by me, now 13 years on they are still with me
I then became pregnant in 2011 and needed to take maternity time so setting up the practice to accommodate my absence was a huge challenge . I took in a friend to oversee matters for me and whilst the firm stayed afloat her working style was different to mine and personalities I the office did clash. I however, mended the bridges on my return and continue to have a thriving team
The next challenge was being out priced in the city for office space and wanting to expand. We took the plunge and moved to Shoreditch and acquired a 4 story building and sub-letted the offices. Risky strategy , but luckily this paid off and we have our name in silver letters outside giving us a real presence that we could not of achieved in serviced offices. The gamble could of easily caused financial hardship , but I have learnt you need to take calculated risks to succeed
What’s the best thing about being Mumpreneur?
I can afford to take time off for school plays and sports days when required so I never miss an important date.
The flexibility of being my own boss means I can work remotely so I can take my family off on holiday and sun shine whilst I still manage the business.
A work/family life balance is very difficult to achieve in the City and whilst I still work long hours I work these around my family rather than the office taking priority over them
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to stay active and continue to build the business , but my plan is to recruit / promote from within. My longest staff member who I trained has recently been appointed a director and I hope eventually more of my dedicated team will come up through the ranks and take on more responsibility so I can focus on business development
What advice would you give for someone just starting out in business?
Take advice from a good lawyer and accountant before doing anything – they can really save you so much . If I didn’t have a tight partnership agreement when I first started I would of lost everything when I decided to start again. Always agree terms with co-founders and document this because if a dispute arises this will be the only thing to evidence what you agreed.
Understand the best structure for you , if its not a limited entity be aware of the personal risks as if it doesn’t go to plan you are exposed personally
Cash flow – never take this for granted – manage your payment terms, monitor credit you are extending and can you full fill a contract if it is to be paid at the end ?
Be honest with yourself as to your weaknesses , learn from your mistakes and realise you will make them its how you come back fighting that counts so don’t beat yourself up , too much, when errors happen
Make sure you have a good support networking for the highs and lows, you will need them
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
The biggest compliment to me to date is
1. The firm won the award of Most Innovative Law Firm, London 2016. This means a lot to me because it was a result of them believing that we are a firm that thinks and acts differently, that never sits on the fence or is slow to react to the market and clients. We pride ourselves on our ventures and alternative thinking and it has been great to be recognised for this. Looking after LGBT issues such as surrogacy or HIV discrimination has always been different to other firms, and we have been awarded for our services in these areas as again we have always thought outside of the box. Then throw in advising on corporate bonds, equity financing, tech start-up and we move into another circle of innovation which we proud to leading in
2. I was personally nominated for a working mums champion award for my staff working arrangements , talks provided to mums and my discrimination work – it was nice my own team and clients felt that I had supported them in the work/life balance rather than it being something only for myself
3. We made it this year into the Legal 500 which involved client interviews and references and for such a new firm this is monumental and something we never take for granted.