Inspirational Woman: Sarah-Jane Butler | Founder of Parental Choice

SJ (2)Sarah-Jane Butler has established a strong reputation in the field of employee benefits and childcare solutions. Using her 10 year legal career with firms such as Linklaters and Freshfields as firm base, Sarah-Jane founded Parental Choice in 2011 dedicated to meeting the childcare needs of working parents and providing companies with a value added benefit for their employees. She is passionate about enabling parents develop their careers whilst managing the highs and lows of family life, including the changing childcare needs of their children. She firmly believes that companies can retain their talent and provide family friendly policies and support without compromising their bottom line. Sarah-Jane has delivered key note speeches on leadership and management to diversity groups and women’s networks across the UK and has worked with various Government policy groups aiming to improve childcare nationally.

In 2014, Sarah-Jane was recognised by Brummell Magazine as one of the City’s Top Inspirational Entrepreneurs 2014: whilst Parental Choice was short-listed for the SME Employer of the Year Award by WorkingMums:

The greatest reward is the ability to spend precious time with my children whilst building my own company.

What inspired you to start a business?

After having my first child and realising the difficulties in finding the right childcare, I wanted to support other parents to avoid the stress and hassle I had encountered. I also firmly believed that many companies were losing valuable talent and experience through parents leaving work due to lack of childcare and the complications of combining a career and family.

I also was keen to use my legal background and years of city experience to support others and make a difference.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

The greatest reward is the ability to spend precious time with my children whilst building my own company. Parental Choice is like my third child and as such it provides the same stresses and strains that a child brings but also days where I feel immensely proud of what I have achieved.

The greatest challenge is juggling all the various elements that Parental Choice involves: clients, marketing, financial planning etc. Although our team is growing, we still don’t have all of the support that a larger company would have and as such I am always learning new skills and encountering new challenges. The small decisions can be just as important as the large ones.

What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?

There are always ups and downs in a career whether you are running your own business or following a traditional career path. The key is to not be disheartened and not to give up. There were times when I felt the only option was to give up and return to the City. I made personal sacrifices in order to set up Parental Choice, financial as well as emotional. I often felt I had let my family down but I really believed in what I wanted to do, and my family were immensely supportive and gradually bit by bit the successes began to outweigh the failures. There are still bad days but if you have determination and self-belief and always try your best, you can’t ever say you have let yourself down.

Networking is not for the purpose of seeing what you can get out of someone, although you never know who knows who, but also how you can find support, advice and tips that may prove invaluable in future.

How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?

I haven’t had direct official mentoring or coaching but I have been lucky to talk to two amazing and inspirational women since setting up Parental Choice: Vanessa Vallely, founder of WATC, and Laura Tenison, founder of JoJo Maman Bebe. They both gave me some very useful tips on running my own business and whilst being mothers themselves have inspired me.

When I did work in the City, I also worked with Tamara Box, now partner at Reed Smith, who frankly never gave up and always had a smile on her face. I learnt a lot from her networking and management skills and also her sheer determination. She treated the people who worked for her well and inspired loyalty and confidence and that is the kind of boss I aim to be.

What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?

Networking might not be the same once you have children, simply because you don’t have as much time and evenings are harder to manage and yet it is vital not to underestimate the importance of networking whether it’s amongst the parents at the school gate or at a conference in the City. Networking is not for the purpose of seeing what you can get out of someone, although you never know who knows who, but also how you can find support, advice and tips that may prove invaluable in future.

What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?

A business can often grow organically with seemingly little direction. The key is not to be afraid to move the business forward, whether that is taking on new staff or moving to new premises. If you hold back the company, it will remain small and bijou. If you allow it to grow and take a few calculated risks, the business can grow to the scale you want it to. Parental Choice now has over 425 clients that we have helped and supported. We are focusing our attentions now on the corporates to see how they can support their working parents and retain the talent they have nurtured. As part of that drive we are recruiting and moving to new offices to enable us to continue providing the bespoke attention our clients deserve.

What does the future hold for you?

I would like to continue growing Parental Choice and be recognised as the long-term childcare solution provider for companies as well as individuals. I had thought of an exit strategy after five years but having lived and breathed Parental Choice for the past three years, I am very much attached to it and have loyalty to our clients and my team. I cannot now envisage not letting it grow to its full potential.


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