Ad-Hoc Roles and Other New Supported Hiring Trends

This is the second of a series of 3 articles for returning professionals on new trends in returner programmes. Read on for trends in Supported Hiring, and see our previous post for new trends in returnship programmes.

If you’re looking to return to work after an extended career break, in a permanent role using your skills and experience, Supported Hiring could be a great option for you.

What is Supported Hiring?

Women Returners created the term “Supported Hiring” in 2015, to describe the process of bringing returning professionals directly into permanent roles with a wrapper of transition support.

When you join in a Supported Hire role at our partner employers, you will receive our Career Returners Coaching Programme, typically delivered 1:1, to give you essential support through your first 5 to 6 months in the role. Larger employers may also offer you a buddy to help you settle in, an internal mentor and training to help fill any knowledge or skills gaps due to your career break. See Career Returners at Allianz for an example.

There are several differences from a returnship (where you join on a fixed-term contract with a strong possibility but not a guarantee of a permanent role). These aren’t pros or cons of one format versus the other. They’re just different, and so (if you’ve a choice) the best fit will depend on your personal preferences:

  1. Joining in a permanent role gives you the certainty of an ongoing job with clarity from the start on your long-term objectives and responsibilities.
  2. Annual Supported Hiring programmes with larger employers typically run on a rolling basis, offering opportunities throughout the year, whereas returnships usually start at one fixed date in the year.
  3. Supported Hire roles are less likely to be ‘ringfenced’ for returners than on a returnship, so you’re more likely to be in competition with other external and internal candidates.
  4. You’re less likely to start as part of a cohort of returners, although you may well be connected with other previous returners at the organisation.
  5. Although you will receive support with Supported Hiring, it is often less structured than on a returnship.

Growth of Supported Hiring

Since the first Supported Hiring programme at M&G Investments UK in 2015, the market has grown significantly, albeit at a slower pace than returnships. By 2019 there were 17 UK employers running annual Supported Hiring programmes. A few multi-nationals such as AWS, Vodafone and UBS have launched annual Supported Hiring programmes on a global or multi-country basis over the last 5 years.

What isn’t reflected in this data, is that over this period there has also been major growth in ad-hoc Supported Hiring roles. These are often with smaller or medium-sized employers, who recognise the value of the returner talent pool but who do not have the volume of recruitment or the resources for an annual programme.

Trends in Supported Hiring

During 2020, we saw more ad-hoc Supported Hiring roles with larger employers. For example the Bank of England had a range of roles, starting at similar times, so brought returners into business-as-usual (BAU) roles, while offering a peer group Supported Hiring programme experience.

As more returnships restart in 2021 after a pause in 2020, we expect that employers will continue to use ad-hoc Supported Hiring as a way to widen the talent pool and attract returners for various BAU roles, maybe alongside a cohort-based annual returnship.

We’re excited to be having more conversations with returner employers about evolving Supported Hiring to become an integrated part of mainstream hiring. This is a larger-scale, longer-term aim. It involves not only a change in recruitment and advertising processes, but also the widespread reduction throughout the organisation in the hiring bias towards people without recent experience. However we are encouraging this ambition as a way to massively scale up returner hiring and achieve our goal of making career breaks a normal part of a 40-50 year career.

Read our returner programme success stories here to hear from participants themselves about their experiences. Some examples of supported hires are Kseniya at AWSFiona at UBS and Belinda at Clark Holt



Rolling Returnships and Other New Returnship Trends

This is the first of a series of 3 articles for returning professionals on new trends in returner programmes. We’re starting with returnships, and will be moving on to supported hiring and retraining programmes.

If you’re looking to return to work after a long career break, a returnship can be a great route back to a fulfilling professional role using your skills and experience.

In the last 6 years, the returnship market has rapidly accelerated in certain countries. In the UK, numbers grew from 3 programmes in 2014 to 53 returnships across 83 employers in 2019, in a wide range of sectors including telecoms, tech, media, local and central Government, legal, investment management, insurance, consulting, transport, engineering and construction. Returnships also grew rapidly in the USA and India, with pockets of growth in smaller countries such as Ireland and Switzerland. After an unsurprising downturn during 2020, programme launches are picking up again and we’re hopeful that the upward trajectory will resume post-pandemic.

As with anything new, returnship design has been a process of learning and improving. At Women Returners, we’ve evolved the structure of our partnership programmes to increase the likelihood of success for returners and the business, and have looked to create new formats to widen the applicability and scope of opportunities.  To help you keep track, here’s a recap on what we mean by a returnship, followed by a highlight of a few of the new trends.

Recap: What is a Returnship?

A returnship is a professional-level, competitively-paid placement for 3-6 months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme. Effectively, it’s a higher-level internship specifically designed for returning professionals. As part of a returnship, you will receive extra support to help you get up to speed as quickly as possible. That typically includes a buddy to help you settle in and navigate the team and systems, training to help fill any knowledge gaps and an internal mentor to help you understand the broader organisational context and be a valuable sounding board. Coaching is also often provided through the transition period: our Career Returners Coaching Programme supports returners throughout the returnship to help you to prepare for your return, weather the inevitable emotional and practical ups-and-downs as you transition back, and proactively manage the returnship to maximise your chance of an ongoing opportunity. Most returnships run annually with a cohort joining together on a fixed date.

Changes to Returnship Structure

  1. The typical length of a returnship is now closer to 6 months than 3 months. The early programmes were all 12 weeks, which some companies found to be too short to achieve the objectives of getting participants back up to speed and demonstrating their abilities in time to be offered a permanent role at least a month before the placement ends. Many of the new programmes are now 5 to 6 months long (although you will still find 12-14 week programmes, as some employers have found this timing works better for them).
  2. You’re now more likely to be doing a job on a “temporary to permanent” basis, rather than a project, with available headcount at the end of the returnship if it’s successful for both sides (this is always our recommendation).
  3. With a growing base of returner programme alumni, you may be allocated a ‘returner buddy’ from a previous cohort to add to your support team.

Importantly, the first two changes have led to much higher post programme retention rates in recent years. We’ve seen the conversion rate to ongoing roles rise from about 50% to closer to 80-100%, as programmes are increasingly structured with this longer-term perspective.

Cross-Company Returnships

A growing area has been the development of cross-company returner programmes: a number of employers in a similar geographic location, and usually in the same sector, join together under an umbrella returnship programme. We’ve run cross-company programmes since 2018 in the financial services sector, in professional services, in law and in the savings and investment sector. It’s an exciting new development as it enables organisations with smaller-scale recruitment needs, or who want to test out the concept, to run a programme. Employers get to share learnings and costs, and to collaborate to increase sector-wide diversity in recruitment.

If you join one of our partnership cross-company programme, you will apply to and have your placement in one of the participating organisations. You’ll have group coaching with other returners across the participating organisations, giving you the opportunity to build a diverse, rich and supportive peer network.

One UK example is The Diversity Project Cross-Company Returner Programme, advertising now for the second year. This is a returnship across firms in the savings and investment sector. We’re leading the programme in partnership with the Diversity Project, an employer-led body. The 2020 programme was really successful, despite Covid uncertainties and virtual working, with an 82% conversion rate into ongoing roles. Participating organisations have increased from 5 to 8 leading employers for 2021.

Rolling Returnships

We’re seeing a new returnship format emerging – we’re calling it a ‘Rolling Returnship’. In this case, the returnship runs on a rolling application basis throughout the year, with returners joining individually at various dates to suit the business needs. This makes it easier for employers to offer their BAU (business as usual) roles, which come up ad-hoc during the year, to returner applicants.

With a rolling returnship, you may be invited to apply for all jobs in the open market or for a selection of roles identified as suitable for returners (e.g. where up to date technical/business knowledge isn’t required). You may be in competition with non-returner candidates, or certain roles may have been ringfenced for returners. You will join on a placement, as with a fixed date returnship, with support on an individual rather than a cohort basis (although you may get a returner buddy as mentioned above). See the programme with Mazars for an example.

What do we think about these trends?

Part of our mission is for returner programmes to become a normal part of an organisation’s wider talent strategy, so continued innovations like these are essential to broaden the potential of the return to work market. Both rolling returnships and cross-company programmes are an exciting way of opening up more opportunities for returners. The key consideration is that they are structured to work effectively for both the business and the participants, including recognising and lowering the hiring barriers that returners encounter.

Read our returnship success stories here to hear from participants themselves about their experiences – get your dose of inspiration!



Five reasons why starting up a business is easier than you think

Are you considering starting your own business? Our guest blogger, Helena Stone, explains why it’s not as difficult as you might think.

Whether your bank account, sense of achievement – or both – need a top-up, you may find yourself ready to hop back on the work wagon. But possibly circumstances have changed and a 9-5 isn’t right for your lifestyle anymore.

This is when many women begin considering alternatives to returning to employment, such as starting up on their own.

The catalyst for me to go it alone was the loss of my brother. It made me re-evaluate my priorities. I realised that though I loved the excitement and challenge of my work, I wanted more family time, flexibility and a greater ability to grow.

I know it can feel like a big step and we can waste a lot of time talking ourselves out of taking the plunge.

So, here are five reasons why going it alone isn’t as difficult as you might believe:

1. Your experience as an employee counts. A lot!

Don’t think of yourself as starting from zero.

I spent twenty years in HR and change management. I specialised in these fields when I started my business but I drew on my experiences of delivering a service, people development and public speaking to expand my offering as a change management consultant, confidence expert and speaker.

That’s not to say your business idea has to be related to your previous career – far from it. Maybe you’ve got a burning passion that you’ve always wanted to turn into a job. Now’s the time!

Whatever your work history, so much that you’ve learnt as an employee is transferable – relationship building, leadership, crisis management. Draw on your bank of knowledge.

And don’t disregard the skills you’ve picked up during your career break.

Raising children, for example, tests your talents for logistics, listening, time management and multi-tasking…not to mention patience…

2. Perfection isn’t necessary …and actually, it’s not realistic.

As the slogan goes, “just do it”. If you put off setting up your business until everything is just right, you’ll never start.

What worked for me (and still does!) is taking daily action. Focusing on progress, not instant wins.

I’m a big believer in finding your ‘zone of genius’. It’s taken trial and error for me to uncover what really works but it’s meant my business and I have evolved and grown stronger.

Sounds like a corny reality show line but it really is all about the journey.

3. You can just be you

Some of us feel at home in a traditional office role and thrive in a world of structure, suits and management. For others, it’s a little restrictive. And some like a bit of both.

Whichever camp you fall into, creating your own business gives you the freedom to just be yourself. Want to set your own fabulous, funky dress code? Knock yourself out. Bit of a mad cat lady at heart? Perfect. Throw all that into the mix.

People buy from people they like. Combine professionalism with being authentically you and you’ll naturally make human connections – a crucial part of your sales pitch.

4. You can start up on a shoestring
Investing in your business is important but you certainly don’t need big bucks from the off.

In fact, in most cases, all you need is a laptop and phone.

Plus, there are numerous free on and offline support groups of like-minded people, willing to trade skills and help each other out. And really milk social media for all its worth! It’s not only a great free publicity tool but I find it brilliant for researching clients and testing the best ways to engage with them.

If you do have budget to begin with, a mentor or coach is an investment that will pay dividends. They’ll offer invaluable guidance, give the benefit of their experience and help provide focus and clarity.

5. You’ve got it in you…you just might not realise

Starting a business is scary especially if you’ve also had a lengthy period away from employment.

It takes resilience. But this is something you can work on.

Rather than being knocked back when something goes wrong, reframe how you view the situation. Focus on the positives – what have you learnt? What could you do differently next time?

Take a breather and clear your head. But don’t dwell on it or allow it to defeat you.

Bouncebackability builds resilience (plus it’s a great word). After all, think of all the famous entrepreneurs you know of – I’ll bet you can’t name one who didn’t overcome numerous hurdles to get where they are today.


Helena Stone is a change management consultant with a background in senior HR roles spanning 20 years. She works with organisations to increase productivity, efficiency and value in their business. 

She also delivers workshops on confidence and empowering women in the workplace.

Sign up to our free Women Returners network for more advice, support and job opportunities.

You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.


Routes back to work after a career break

Once you’ve made the decision to return to work, the next big question to ask yourself is HOW? There are many different routes back into the workplace. Here are some ideas to help you with your job search:

Employed Roles

Returner programmes – this is a generic term for initiatives targeted specifically at returning professionals, eg, returnships, supported hiring programmes, returner events, return-to-work fellowships and returner training programmes. You can read more about what these terms mean and find listings of both open and past programmes and roles on our website. And don’t forget to sign up to our free network to hear about the latest launches.

Applying for advertised roles – if you apply for online jobs, be aware that you may be competing with thousands of others for attention, so be selective and keep realistic expectations. Most organisations now use their own website as a recruitment vehicle, so identify those you are most interested in and see if you can sign up for alerts when new roles are posted. Some employers are now welcoming returner applications for a variety of open roles. You can also search for roles which are advertised on LinkedIn, making sure your profile is up-to-date. Another more focused channel is specialised job boards and recruitment agencies such as those listed here: recruitment agencies specialising in flexible/family-friendly roles.

Interim roles – joining an organisation in a distinct role for a defined period of time can be a great way to use your skills and experience without making a long-term commitment to returning to work. Short-term roles also usually receive fewer applications than permanent jobs. Opportunities arise as cover for maternity and long-term sickness and also when organisations are in transition and need someone on a temporary basis. There are established interim management agencies, however returners with longer career breaks usually find these kinds of roles through networking.

Apprenticeships – there is usually no upper age limit for apprenticeships and the advantages for employers – who are able to bring in new expertise and experience by hiring older apprentices – is clear. You can find information on higher and degree level apprenticeships on this Government website.

Self-employed options

Freelancing – this can give you flexibility and may be an ideal solution for those of you with significant family commitments. However, lack of security can be an issue and many freelancers find they have peaks and troughs in their work. For practical advice, see our blog on how to set yourself up as a freelancer and the freelancer resources page on our website.

Associate work – if you have a specific skill or expertise that you want to offer, associate work can provide advantages over freelancing: as an associate, the company you contract with is normally responsible for winning new work. However, companies which use associates rarely guarantee the amount of work, so consider having different associate relationships.

Project-based work – although organisations rarely advertise this kind of work, offering to work on a project can be a great introduction to an organisation. It may open doors to a full-time role or you could discover that you enjoy working in this way and develop your own consultancy.

Starting your own business – sometimes this can develop from freelancing or project work, or you may have an idea or a hobby that you want to develop into a product or service. In previous blogs, we gave some tips for starting a home business. You’ll also find links to many useful resources for starting your own business on our website, such as Entreprise Nation.

Other routes

Strategic Volunteering – Volunteering can be a great way to refresh your skills and networks. a LinkedIn survey found that 41% of the professionals surveyed said that when evaluating candidates, they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience. Do think strategically if you decide to look for a volunteering role, looking for opportunities to develop new skills or brush up on the ones you already have. You could also use a volunteering role as a way to explore a new area that you may be interested in working in.

Retraining/further study/updating your skills – if you decide that study is the best route for you, you’ll find links to useful websites here. There are also many vocational retraining options, such as those listed here.

There are many examples of different routes back to work in the Success Story Library on our website. Remember that the route back can be a windy one and that it’s likely to take more time than you think.

Returnship or Supported Hiring? Choosing the best route for you

In the UK, there are over 420,000 professional women on a career break who want to return to work at some point (and this is only women who are not earning and taking a caring-related break). Given the variety of experience, length of career break, reason for break, and so on, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all route back. The path you choose depends very much on your own experience and personal situation.

One route back to work is via a specific returner programme within an organisation, usually a ‘returnship’ or ‘supported hiring’ programme. If you are looking to return to full-time or part-time employment, this path can work well, as it provides specific support and training for people who have been on a long career break (typically 2 or more years at the time the programme starts).

What is the difference between a returnship and a supported hiring programme?

While both target returners, and both offer a supported transition, the main difference is the structure of the programme:

  • A returnship is a higher-level internship for experienced professionals returning to work following an extended career break. It is a fixed-term contract (usually between 3 and 6 months), with a strong possibility but not a guarantee of a permanent job at the end of the programme. Typically, returners start as a cohort at the same time in the year.
  • Supported hiring, a concept created by Women Returners in 2015, brings you in to permanent roles from Day One. Companies may open all their roles on this basis, or may select those roles that do not require up-to-date skills and experience. Some supported hire returners start as a cohort but more usually roles are offered on a rolling basis, with individuals starting at different times.

Advantages of a returner programme

Let’s start with the advantages that apply to both programmes:

  • Support: Key people will be made available to support you internally. As well as your Line Manager, there is usually a Programme Manager and often an internal mentor. For Women Returners programme partners, you will also receive our structured Career Returners Coaching Programme, led by one of our returner coaches, during the transition period.
  • Variety: While returnships were only pioneered by Women Returners in the UK in 2014, and supported hires in 2015, the number of programmes has grown significantly, and they are now starting to cover a wide range of sectors, including finance, tech, construction, telecoms, and local and central government.
  • Suitable-level work: Returners can sometimes lack the confidence to apply for jobs at a similar level to their pre-break role, which can lead to boredom and frustration. Returnships and supported hires are designed to support you back to a role in which you can utilise your former skills and experience and work at a similar level as you did in your previous career. You may get back to this level immediately or, if you’ve had a very long break, there should be a plan to help you to get back to where you were.
  • Professional salary: Unlike some other routes back to work, such as entrepreneurship, strategic volunteering and freelancing, both returnships and supported hires offer a guaranteed salary, which is in line with the professional nature of the work.

Which is the better option?
There are pros and cons to each, and the choice you make depends on your own situation.



  • Trial period: If you’ve been out of the workplace for a long time, this could be the perfect way to test out a return to work to see if it is the right decision for you. This is particularly important if you have childcare / eldercare to consider, as it gives everyone the opportunity to try a new routine. It’s also a great way of finding out if a new sector/organisation/role is a good fit for you before committing.
  • Group support: You are likely to join as part of a returner cohort, giving you a ready-made peer support network. With a larger group, the induction and training programme may also be more structured.
  • Returner competition only: Returnship programmes are only open to people who are returning from a career break, which means that you are not competing with people who have not taken a career break.


  • Uncertainty: A returnship is not just a trial for you, but also for the company. This means that there is an element of uncertainty as you won’t know for a few months whether you will be offered a permanent role.  This can also make it harder to organise any caring cover you may need. [If you don’t transition to a permanent job within the organisation for any reason, you will still gain fresh skills, recent experience and a new work network]
  • Integration challenges: It may be harder to fully integrate into the team when your longer-term position is unclear.

Supported Hiring


  • Certainty: The greatest benefit is that supported hiring roles are permanent from the start, meaning that you can make more long-term plans both within the organisation and in your home life.
  • Immediate integration: If you join a company through a supported hire programme, you are viewed by your colleagues as ‘just another’ new joiner, with a clearly defined role within the team.


  • Competition from non-returners: While a few supported hire roles are ring-fenced for returners, most are open to non-returners too, meaning that you are competing against people with recent experience for the job.
  • No trial: You don’t have the structured fixed-term test period you would have for a returnship.
  • Less structured support: Most supported hires join individually, rather than as a peer group, so the support may be more ad-hoc.

If you would like to read about some real-life experiences of returnships and supported hiring programmes, read the many return-to-work stories on our website.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, please do sign up to our free network if you would like to find out about the latest returnships and supported hire roles.

Returnships aren’t just for mothers

Do you think that returnships are just for mothers who’ve taken a break to look after their young children? Think again! Women and men take long career breaks for many other reasons, such as caring for elderly relatives, personal illness, and relocation.

Andrew Bomford from the Radio 4 PM programme came along to the first Balfour Beatty Career Returner workshop and spoke to the returner group, as well as to Anna from Women Returners. He also interviewed Clare who’s now back in full-time work as a Senior Manager at O2. Listen to the clip below for a snapshot of the wonderful diversity of the returner community, as well as an illustration of how returner programmes can work for the individual as well as the organisation.

Posted by Julianne

Building a Portfolio Career

Do you want to develop a portfolio career after your career break? Are you not quite sure whether you’d be suited to it?  Our guest blogger, Ally Maughan of People Puzzles can help.

‘Portfolio career’ is a phrase that is gaining traction and popularity, but it’s meaning is often still a little murky. Defined as having several part-time jobs at once, rather than one full time role, it has the potential to be very flexible, varied and immensely satisfying. So why aren’t more people doing it?

At People Puzzles we have built our business on hiring HR Directors who have left a busy, often national or international corporate role, who want to work in a different way, whether that is to facilitate more time with the family, a better work-life balance, or is the start of a journey into retirement. We help our team to develop portfolios of clients, typically working with between six and 10 different companies, working with each between three and six days per month.

That means we spend a lot of time thinking about who is best suited to a portfolio career, how can we help people succeed, what are the challenges, and how do we find brilliant people who can quickly adapt to a different life.

Start with the why.

We always start with why someone wants to build a portfolio career. It certainly is not the easy option: imagine trying to find five jobs at the same time instead of just one! Recruiters don’t typically work in this market, your CV is usually designed for a corporate role, and you are often offering services to people who don’t have a budget, don’t know they need what you have to offer, or have never heard of someone working in a portfolio way.

That is why the why is so important. You have to be absolutely committed to this way of working. To knowing you value flexibility, usually over income in the short term, and sometimes in the short term. You often don’t get a benefits package, paid holiday or sick leave. What you can get is lucrative work, full flexibility, more availability in school holidays, and such a variety of work that no two days are the same.

Here are five top things we think you will need to be successful:

1.     Aptitude
Not every personality type or behavioural approach is suited to portfolio working. There is a lot of juggling, switching attention between your different roles and responsibilities, which are usually in different locations meaning every day is in a different place. How do you react when there is a problem at one of your clients? Can you quickly prioritise, act and problem solve? How do you manage working for three or more different bosses without going quietly mad?

Portfolio working can often work best when you have expert skills to offer, you can keep the roles you have long term, and you can quickly build and maintain relationships in each role. Seriously consider if this describes you and the way you approach work, otherwise a permanent full or part time job may well suit you better.

2.     Energy & enthusiasm
Building a portfolio is a time consuming business. If finding one job normally takes a couple of months at a senior level, finding three, or even up to 10 can take a year. You will need to be overflowing with energy, enthusiasm and optimism to build your portfolio. This will also help you land opportunities as, in our experience, people buy a smiling, positive person over a glass half empty kind of person.

3.     Your proposition
What is it that you are really selling? Who will buy it? How much will you charge? Having left a career as an employee, moving into selling your services in a different way can take some careful thought, development and testing (there is a reason there are so many Focus Groups on The Apprentice!). As People Puzzles has grown, we have had the luxury of spending a bit of money on senior marketing people. They have helped us to develop what we sell, who buys it, why they buy it, what problems we really solve, and why clients would buy from us not from someone else. Think about what makes you different, what value you deliver and what problems you solve. Buyers typically want problems to be solved rather than pie in the sky dreams to be fulfilled. Take a day out and really hammer this out if you are going it alone.

4.     Routes to market
Any good marketing strategy covers how your buyers will find you. If you are starting a portfolio career the easiest and cheapest way to get started will be to go and join someone else’s business that is already offering this. Of course you will have to share in the fees, but this is often very cost effective when you consider the costs of a website, blogs, networking, setting up a sales function etc.

If you are committed to trying it on your own, think about what partnerships you will need, how you will meet your clients, what events to attend, and whether digital marketing is going to deliver you good opportunities. If you have a lump sum, you can always buy a franchise, but remember you will still need to do most of the sales work yourself.

5.     A network
Without a doubt, being established as an expert in a network is of crucial importance to quickly growing a portfolio. And that network needs to be relevant to the services you are offering right now. If you are well known in corporate circles, can you sell back in to that market? We estimate it takes 1-2 years to build a network in the SME market, so build that into your plans for getting busy.

It may seem a daunting challenge, but for those that persevere, portfolio working can be an extremely rewarding and flexible career choice. When it doesn’t work, our advice is to go and find something else that you enjoy and that is easier to maintain. However, if you really understand what you are selling, and have the contacts to maintain a steady stream of opportunities, it can be a way of working that you maintain over decades.

Ally Maughan, Founder and CEO of People Puzzles, provider of portfolio HR Directors. People Puzzles is part of The Liberti Group, a global provider of high calibre part-time professionals with opportunities for portfolio FDs, Marketing Directors, IT Directors, Financial Controllers and Finance Managers.

Ten Tips for Starting Up A Home Business

When we spoke at a recent back to work event, we listened to Debbie Blott,
Founder of The DecorCafe HomeBizClub, talk about how to start a home business. We’ve invited Debbie to share her advice for women who are interested in starting their own home business as a route back into work
after a career break.

1. Be Authentic: Taking a career break offers an opportunity
to rethink what you do. The most successful start-ups are founded on passion.
Knowledge builds confidence and confidence attracts customers.

Sarah Betteley, co-founder of Fruits of The Fridge, took the
opportunity of her career break to change from working as a lawyer to creating
catering company Fruits of The Fridge. Passionate about providing good
wholesome home cooked food she has built her business on her own way of life,
as someone who thinks nothing of putting together and packing up a complete menu of delicious food for a week’s holiday. (see Fruits of the Fridge).
2. Create Your Vision: Be realistic about what it is you
want to achieve and how much time you have to give. Is it a business to give
you an interest alongside caring for your family or do you want to grow and
sell a multi-million pound business?
3. Choose the most appropriate business structure: Setting
up as a sole trader is quick and easy. Creating a limited company separates
your personal and professional identities and protects you by limiting your
financial exposure to your business investment.
4. Set Simple Goals: It is easy to be immobilised by
planning and re-planning. Once you have decided what you want to achieve, set
achievable goals and an action list. Review regularly as you progress.
Jane Michell, founder of the UK’s leading delivery diet,
Jane Plan knows what it is like to struggle with your weight and initially
trained as nutritionist to build her skills. She describes herself
first and foremost as a mother of three children rather than a qualified business woman. She didn’t start with a complex business,
rather she had a clear vision and some simple goals and progressed step by step.
Following her passion to help her clients lose weight with medicine
from and transform their lives she has grown her
business, from preparing weekly diets for friends from around her SW London
kitchen table to more than £4 million in just 4 years. (see Jane Plan).
5. Make Space at Home: The lines between home and work can
blur. Put a structure in place to ensure that you can close the door on work,
ideally literally.
6. Build Your Brand: For many people working from home, your
brand is you. Ask yourself what is distinct about what you do and your values
and communicate it clearly and consistently.

Virginie Dunne worked as a
nurse, but had to stop when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she
began to recover she decided to retrain as a lighting designer to quite
literally share her joy and shed some light and so she named her company,
Splash of Light. (see Splash of Light).
7. Become an Authority: The most effective way to market
your business is to become an authority. Build strategic partnerships with
complementary businesses, write relevant articles for press, get involved in
local online forums and spread the word through social media.
8. Seek Support: You may miss the water-cooler conversations
in the office but you are not alone. Join local networks and you will find many
like-minded people who collaborate and help each other. Employing a business
coach or mentor provides valuable extra support in the early years. Join
networking organisations of like-minded people.
9. Stay Legal and Protect Your Ideas: Don’t forget to tell
the tax people that you have set up! The law is on your side and can help you to
protect your ideas and business if you put confidentiality agreements,
contracts and trademarks in place.
10. Get started! There is only one way to find out just what
you can do and you will learn quickly. Good luck!

About The DecorCafe HomeBizClub
Based in SW London The DecorCafe HomeBizClub is a
collaborative community of people starting up or running their own home
business. All about connecting, building skills and sharing ideas, they provide
ongoing inspiration and support to make building your
business more fun and less stressful. They welcome anybody who is interested to
come along to one of their sessions to find out more.
Posted By Donna

Tackling the Paradox of Choice

I read a review this week of ‘Not Working’ a debut novel by Lisa Owens. It’s about a twenty something woman who gives up her job in marketing career to find out what she wants to do with her life. Rather than quickly finding her ‘passion’, she procrastinates, faced with too many options and too much time to think, and her morale plummets: “If I can just digest enough TED talks, self-improvement
podcasts, overviews on the Aristotelian sense of purpose and first-hand
accounts of former City workers who set up artisan businesses from their
kitchen tables, then surely the answer will reveal itself?”

This may ring bells for a few of you – it took me back to my
own uncertainties when I was trying to work out what to do with my
life after my career break. I wrote this blog post back in 2013 about how I got past
the ‘choice paralysis’ …

When I was on a career break after stepping out of my first career in strategy/marketing, I realised after a while that being a full-time at-home mother was not for me. I knew that I wanted to do something enjoyable and flexible and spent many hours dreaming and chatting with friends about what this might be. One month a friend and I got excited about importing baby equipment from Australia … then a few months later I was inspired to set up a family-focused travel agency … then it was a flexible childcare business … then studying psychology. I was never short of ideas but the interesting thing was that the more options I thought of, and the more I talked about them and researched them on the internet, the more problems I could see and the further I became from actually doing them. Eventually I was reluctant to share my next great idea with my friends as I had stopped believing myself that I was actually going to make any of them happen. Somehow having too many choices was stopping me pursuing any one option more seriously.

When I went on to study psychology, I found that my experience is so common that it has a label: the Paradox of Choice. Too much choice in everyday life can make us confused and paralysed. The psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book and TED talk on this topic explained “with so many options to choose from, people find it difficult to choose at all”. As no choice is perfect, we can always imagine that we will find a better alternative. And the effect can be stronger with more complex choices, such as career decisions. We are less likely to hit ‘choice overload’ if we are clear on our preferences or have a simple way to compare between options.
What got me out of the choice paralysis was realising that first of all I needed to develop some decision criteria to work out what I wanted from my life, so that I could weigh up my alternatives. While all options were appealing, with some positives and some negatives, I was unable to prioritise. When I became clearer on what was most important to me and where I could compromise, I was able to discount many of my ideas and to focus on the one that seemed the best fit. Then I needed to push myself to stop thinking/talking and start taking action. I dipped an exploratory toe in the water by enrolling on an introduction to psychology course and that was the first step on the road to retraining as a psychologist.
Some of the returners I meet also see too many possibilities and may have been thinking and talking about all the things they could do for years without making any concrete progress. One woman had a list of the pros and cons of the 16 options she had been considering – unsurprisingly she felt very confused about where to go next! If you too are hitting choice overload, aim to narrow your focus to get down to a manageable number of choices to investigate:

  1. Work out what is most important to you in your future job. Fine to start with 1) flexible 2) pays enough, but then go beyond that. What are you missing about work (is it using your brain, the achievement, the social aspect, …), what are you really interested in, what are you good at and love doing?  If you’re wondering where to start with this process, look at some of our other posts on these topics or at Build your Own Rainbow.
  2. Use this to work out what you want from work, decide what are ‘must-haves’ and where you can compromise. You can then choose a few possibilities that really appeal and seem like they could be a good fit for you. And don’t fall into the trap of looking for the perfect job as all jobs involve trade-offs.
  3. Critically don’t spend more time thinking – practically reality test your short-list: talk to people in the area, maybe take a short course, go to a conference, work shadow, do an internship … test your ideas and learn along the way.
Having choices and being open to possibilities is a great thing – don’t let it keep you stuck!
Further Reading
Posted by Julianne

First steps towards a board role

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have just released their new report on board appointment practices in the UK’s largest 350 listed firms. More than 60% of these firms have not met a voluntary target of 25% female board members. If you’re interested in boosting these numbers, this week’s post by Rowena Ironside, Chair of Women on Boards UK, explores what types of roles you can seek in the boardroom, how to go about it, and what you can bring to the table.

Some of us are fortunate to get an insight into the
boardroom early on in our career. In my case this was thanks to being an
executive director of a start-up business at the age of 30. But for most people
what goes on in the boardroom remains a mystery until very late in their
career. And if you don’t know what boards do, how do you know if your skills
are relevant or if the role is one that you will enjoy?
Women on Boards (WOB) exists to fill this information gap.
Our mission is to influence a measurable increase in the proportion of women
both on boards and in “pipeline” roles at the executive level. And to achieve
increased transparency in the board recruitment process, because at the moment
the majority of board roles (public sector aside) are never advertised.
The good news is that the single most valuable asset in most
boardrooms is common sense. Accompanied by the courage to ask tough questions
and challenge the status quo from time to time.
Boards exist to challenge and support the executive
team. They add value through a combination
of collective judgement and the deep, specific expertise of each director. As an individual board member you don’t need
to know everything; you don’t even need to have expertise in the “core
business” of the organisation. As long as you bring a specific skill,
experience or network that is valuable to the organisation at that point in
time. For example:
  • Don’t assume that you need to be a
    horticulturalist or an environmentalist to join the board of Kew Gardens. They may have a gap for digital marketing or
    event management skills on their board this year.
  • First board role? Not everyone around the table
    needs to have years of boardroom experience. A board that is explicitly searching for past governance experience is
    not going to be anybody’s first board role. But most boards are equally
    interested in your breadth of experience and professional skills.
A common mistake is defining your options too narrowly by
thinking you have to stay – or at least start – in “your sector”. Some charities need asset management and
M&A experience and you may find that a Public Sector board is in need of
your technology or risk management skills.
Women on Boards is there to help you navigate this
complexity. Our resources and support are designed to provide a structured
pathway to a board position that is right for you. As Clara Durodie, one of our members
described it last year: “It
felt as if someone was holding my hand, guiding me with care and skill”. WOB provides:
  1. Workshops, events and masterclasses that combine
    strategic insights and pragmatic advice. Our Getting Started: Realising your Board Potential workshop is a
    fast-paced tour through everything you need to know about directorship and how
    to do yourself justice as a candidate. Our Boardroom
    are designed to “open the curtains” so that you can be
    inspired by the opportunities on boards in a sector you haven’t previously
    considered, or for in-depth insights from current non-executives in an area you
    are targeting.
  2. Access to board vacancies across all sectors –
    most weeks we have at least 150 non-executive director, trustee and governor
    vacancies on the WOB Vacancy Board.
  3. Feedback on your Board CV. Writing a non
    executive profile that does you justice takes time and requires insight into
    what board members actually do. We will help.
  4. Personal advice, connections and encouragement. This
    is WOB’s USP. We will support you with
    targeted interventions at key points along the way, like when you are preparing
    for a board interview. We also do hugs if you are recovering from coming
    second for that role you really wanted.
  5. A rich Resource Centre of reference materials,
    research, articles and success stories. Our On Board page is my personal
There are thousands of different
boards across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. WOB believes that there is a board role for
everyone who wants one and that you are never too young to understand what goes
on at the top table. The boardroom is
where capital is allocated and where the moral and ethical standards for
organisations in all sectors are set. We
need more female voices at the table.
For more information about strategic volunteering, read our previous post here.

Rowena Ironside is
Chair of Women on Boards UK, a non-executive director of the Digital Catapult
and sits on the Governing Body of Hughes Hall, Cambridge. Before “going
plural”, Rowena spent 25 years in the ICT industry, starting her career writing
software in Australia; building and selling an IT services business in London
and finally running several multi-national professional and managed services
businesses in the software and hosting industries. She took a year’s break in
2002 to complete the Sloan Masters at London Business School.
For more information
on Women on Boards, join The WOB Network.

Posted by Muriel