I am Michelle Westgarth-Graham, I am married with five unique children who are full of life and character. I have two girls and three boys ranging from 19 years old to 6years old. Some of my children have diagnoses, disorders and additional needs.
I had my first child when I was 26 and my last child when I was 38. I did a law degree when I had my first child, and by the time I had my last, I had ‘fallen’ into owning my own business.
My company is called Happy Tokens and my business was never intentional (although I love what I do and wouldn’t change it now).
When my children were younger I found it a struggle to discipline them. Not punish them but teach them consequences, to keep up with their social learning and be able to guide them efficiently. There was no timetable and no way to ensure each child got what they needed. And they needed such different things, and in different ways.
I was always an advocate of Reward Charts helping to guide child behaviour but as I used them I began to find gaps I couldn’t bridge for example Reward charts don’t allow for negativity, they don’t allow for consequences (again not to be confused with punishment). But these were values I wanted to teach my children in a loving, nurturing way.
Looking around I couldn’t find the parenting tools I needed so I filled that gap myself and designed one. I studied every component of rewards, of behaviour, and of positive and negative reinforcement. I studied, I gained qualifications, I researched, and I worked out an answer suitable for my household, my children and my parenting.
Very quickly friends and family saw my system and its success and wanted to try it for themselves and that is how it all started. I chucked together a company name, a FB Page and a Paypal account and just rolled with it.
It has worked out really well and has grown with my family, so the more time the kids are at school the more time I have to spend on my business.
In the second year I got a start up loan to buy a large but essential piece of equipment which was nerve wracking but that loan getting approved made me realise that I could do this and that other people believed I could do this.
I’ve now expanded, moved into bigger premises and extended my range. I am well established in providing schools with House Systems and consulting on child behaviour and have developed resources and aides for children with additional needs.
Most of my daytime is spent behind a computer screen and when the kids go to bed I’m working on my phone but that means I get to drop them off at school everyday and pick them up and make stay and paly sessions, school plays and all the other things that working mums often miss out on.
A couple of times a week I get to go over to my workshop and actually make up all my orders. I love that part of my job because I know what I’m sending is going to greatly help a family. Being hands on with making the products also lets me be creative and explore how to improve or expand what I do.
In the summer I can open the big wooden double doors on my workshop which means the kids can pop in and out helping counting things out or sealing up parcels. I like to involve them in my job and this has resulted in me giving a business loan to them and each developing their own business and earning enough to pay me back and keep a company running.
The hardest part of working for yourself is never having time off. I care about my customers so even if my life is falling apart, I have tofind time for consultations, meetings or deadlines for getting those products out. Even when I’m not actually at work I find I’m thinking about it but I love what I do so it’s worth it. I’m really lucky as my husband works for himself too so I have someone to share with.
Another challenge working for yourself is all the different hats you have to wear: marketing, advertising, bookkeeping, customer service, legal adviser, health and safety. I’ve found it is vital to network if for no other reason than to share information and fight overwhelm. I think all the hats you have to wear as a mum has definitely prepared me for mega multitasking business-wise and I see having 5 children as a real asset to me being able to build a business.
There are many stumbling blocks along the way when working for yourself but it is certainly worth it and self-worth and self-belief play a massive part. I’m glad my early days are behind me and I’m much more comfortable with who I am and what I can achieve. I can enjoy the benefits, see what’s important and am looking to simply expand what I do so that many more families can experience and enjoy my Happy Tokens.
You can find out more by visiting the Happy Tokens Website