Roger Trapp: The desire for freedom leads to a DIY boom
Running your own business is proving a popular alternative to trying to juggle work and family
Sunday 28 May 2006
It is the sort of juggling act that will be familiar to many of us at a time when not just our work schedules but also the extra-curricular diaries of our school-aged children are much more demanding than anything our parents knew. Technology - particularly the arrival of the BlackBerry and other similar devices - are helping a great deal here in enabling busy office workers to attend sports days at the same time as satisfying clients. But there is still a need for much more flexibility on the part of both organisations and the people who work in them.
Which is why, as survey after survey tells us, so many people are setting up on their own. They do not necessarily want to be the next Alan Sugar or Richard Branson - though many probably would not mind if they were that successful. They really want freedom to run their lives in a more orderly, less stressful way.
Of course, running your own business is not everybody's idea of reducing stress. But it might not be as stressful as trying to combine a conventional career with responsibility for childcare and running a household.
This is certainly what Claire Dossett found when she tried to re-enter the workforce following the birth of her son six years ago. Unable to find a suitable job that she could fit in with childcare, she found herself creating her own job. As she explains, the start came "purely by chance", when a former colleague contacted her to offer her a job. It did not provide her with the flexibility she required, but she offered to see if there was anybody else she knew who might be interested.
When she came up with a suitable client, the company offered to pay her the fee that would otherwise have gone to a professional recruiter and her own recruitment business was born.
Based initially in the classic back bedroom before moving to the equally iconic kitchen table ("because the light was better"), her business turned over £55,000 in its first year as Dossett set about matching people to jobs. She believes her lack of previous recruitment experience (she had previously worked in IT) enabled her to see the business in a different light. "It's a matchmaking game," she says. This fresh perspective also led to her adopting different business practices. In particular, she put a lot of effort into finding out as much as possible about the company looking to fill the position and put similar work into researching the candidates. As a result, she passed on to companies shorter lists of candidates than they were used to. "I think they appreciated me sorting through the applicants rather than sending in hundreds," she adds.
Moreover, she believes that her method of working - being based at home meant that her overheads and hence the amount she charged for her services were lower, and her readiness to contact people in the evenings because of the flexibility she had gained during the day - actually helped the business.
If Dossett had just carried on in this way, this would just be one more story of an individual regaining some control over their busy life without having to give up everything. But she saw an opportunity to extend the approach.
Inspired by the interest she attracted at the school gate, because she was sometimes casually dressed and sometimes dressed for the city and always seemed to be making business calls, she has set up a franchise operation designed to give women - and men - the chance to build on their experience at work while still giving them the freedom to fit in other parts of their lives.
The business she is developing with Antal International, an established global franchise recruitment operation, is only just getting going. But Dossett is confident that there are enough people out there like her to make iworkLife (the "i" stands for "intelligent") a success.
Indeed, by offering the chance to be part of an organisation as well as flexibility, it could appeal to many people who might otherwise be put off by the risk and she might have the stress of dealing with something bigger than she imagined.
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