The balance: running an international e commerce business while raising six children

Working mum balance

Niamh Barker , Founder,

After getting married in 2002 I acquired four young stepchildren and we quickly went on to have another two of our own (as no one was getting any younger!).

At the time I was working in a senior role at Pfizer, travelling regularly and juggling all the balls of corporate life. The Travelwrap Company was a tiny seed of an idea that had been in the back of my mind for a couple of years so when I was offered voluntary redundancy because of an office move, I embraced the opportunity with my metaphorical hands and started to scribble my business growth plan. I could finally start my own business.

Six kids and a business isn’t always going to be the perfectly balanced cocktail for running a scalable business, but my goal was always to do something that would fit alongside our family life whilst building more than a ‘kitchen table’ business. It’s taken time, grit and persistence but we are now a thriving international business with a global brand presence. Here are a few of my learnings along the way:

 Never apologise for having a family

I am never apologetic about my family and will happily tell my Financial Director I can’t make a Skype call because it clashes with the school run (although to be fair he does the same to me which I think is a positive sign of the times). I always find it is good to normalise family life and demonstrate where your priority lies rather than trying to play out a business stereotype. Our core team are parents themselves with busy family lives so flexible working arrangements are de rigueur.

Be open & inclusive

 I am a creative, determined and self-motivated individual, and definitely an ‘expressive’ leader. I am responsive, open & energetic which allows me to bring people with me. One of my strongest skills is finding ‘the right people on the bus’ and ‘putting them in the right seat’. Finding the right people is more important than the right skills; those can be learned.

Look after yourself

 I used to work every hour in the day that I could feasibly squeeze in but in the last few years I have started working on the principal that it all starts with physical and mental wellbeing and the rest is optimized as a result. My pharmacist background makes me obsessively ‘evidence led when it comes to this dictate and there is a growing body of evidence that physical and mental wellbeing is most likely the best magic wand there is. As a result I now ring fence time in the morning (my day starts just before 6) to read, meditate and run; it makes me feel ready for the day ahead. I am also obsessed with sleep which I think is the most important pillar of health in wellness. If I manage to start my day with a good night’s sleep behind me, 15 mins of Headspace, half an hour of high intensity exercise and reading, it gives me a better starting point for the day.

Location , location

 The Travelwrap Company continues to operate in an office located beside our house which serves me well in cutting commuting time but also allowed me to work from home when the children were younger. I have resisted the lure of an off site office for this reason and we have even invested in new offices in the garden to house our operations as we grow. The other thing that keeps office requirements at a minimum is that most of the team we work with are based off site & work contracted or consultant hours.

…& fit the hours in where you can

I worked out early on that if I got a few hours work in before the school run I could shift my day forwards allowing me to do as many hours as I would have done in a ‘normal’ working day, but more flexibly around the school run and singing lessons. A little creative thinking goes a long way when trying to juggle the balls.

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