This article was written by Emma McNeilly, Expressions Australia
2017 Silver winner of AusMumpreneur Regional business category
Australian women are re-defining the traditional model of business success. The latest statistics from the Australia Bureau of Statistics show that just over a third of Australian business owners are now women, with nearly half of them combining their business-building skills with raising children.
It’s not an easy juggle, in fact it can be love hate, but with organisation, hard work and self-belief you can successfully balance business and motherhood.
I founded my company, Expressions Australia, known to many as ‘the tea towel company’, in 2000. My aim was to create a positive business that would be flexible enough to allow me to be actively involved with my children, while enabling me to earn an income.
I started as a one-woman operation, working with a handful of schools from my back bedroom. Today, we are a nation-wide business that has grown to be a leading supplier helping schools, child care centres and community organisations raise much-needed funds. We have worked on over 18,000 community projects, helping to raise many millions of dollars along the way.
My company specialises in printed tea towels, aprons and bags, featuring children’s hand-drawn portraits or handprints. The children’s artwork is compiled to create gorgeous mementos of childhood friends and teachers, which provide a personal, profitable, and sugar-free fundraising option. The final products embrace a real sense of community, so they sell well for our clients.
Working from home … the early days
When my daughter was born, I was back at work the day I came home from the hospital. I juggled customer calls around nap times and had many late nights putting designs together. The business kind of ran from sleep time to sleep time, not a traditional 9-5. I also needed part-time help, to assist with some admin and post office runs.
When my first son arrived just 14 months later (and 7 weeks premature), I needed more support, this time at home a couple of days each week, allowing me to work. I was still right there if needed and for feed times, which I enjoyed, but I did crave the separation of work and home. It you can carve out a separate work space for yourself, I recommend you do it.
Finding enough time in the day was always a challenge. For many years I managed by doing a lot of my work load in the evenings, once the kids were in bed. Now that I have staff I can trust, it’s a very different story. I employ a team to manage different aspects of the business and embrace a flexible family first working environment, committed to supporting other mothers to balance career and family – we have 5 working mums in our team.
Balancing business and family
The key to balance for me was learning to let go and delegate, I found this very challenging in the beginning. But I realised that for my business to grow and for me to keep enjoying life, I needed to hand over some of the workload.
In the business, or at home, I believe in outsourcing if you can – hire a cleaner, engage a bookkeeper – whatever works for you. Once I embraced this, it was a life-changer.
Now my children are older (16, 15 and 9 years) life is a lot easier, however, I still fit work around my kids, and make family my priority. I enjoy being available for them and even enjoy playing mums-taxi, that time together to talk in the car keeps us connected.
It hasn’t always been easy building a business and being a mum, but the hard work has been worth it. My work is satisfying, and I relish the flexibility I’ve created.
I am proud of what we’ve built and love that everyone wins with Expressions – funds raised, proud children, delighted clients and a business with a genuine feel good factor.
My top tips to succeed at motherhood and business
1. DOCUMENT all your procedures so it’s easy to train, then hire people that are better at something than you are and then let them do their job. The aim is that your business is secure and can operate without you.
2. SYSTEMISE your business – establish clear processes for all your business functions to ensure you run efficiently. Define a system that works, then simply do it again and again.
3. Have your DIARY with you always so you can successfully juggle everyone’s commitments; including time for yourself, whether it be a run or catching up with friends for wine time.
4. OUTSOURCE if and where you can, it will change your life.
5. TEACH your children to pack their things away, to pitch in with household chores and to cook. It helps now, but it also sets them up with skills to be successful in life!
To learn more about Emma and Expressions Australia, please visit