How to turn redundancy into a thriving business

This article is originally published in Mums & Co.

It is sad, sometimes illegal and always frustrating when a mum on maternity leave is made redundant. Yet at the same time, it is also a common experience – our recent Mums in Business survey revealed that 11% of mums are made redundant while pregnant, on maternity leave or shortly after they return to work.

Regardless of when redundancy happens, there’s no doubt that it can be absolutely gut-wrenching. And while just about everyone ends up back on their feet in some way, shape or form; few would say their redundancy was life-changing – in a good way. But one mum we spoke to, Sandy Hutchison, said just that. Sandy, a former HR executive, was made redundant and used her experience to inspire her successful startup, Career Money Life, which, amongst other things, aims to revolutionize the way employees experience redundancy.

We chatted Sandy about all things redundancy and how she managed to make the transition from unemployed mum to successful entrepreneur:

Making people redundant – how did it feel? 

When Sandy was made redundant in 2014, she was no stranger to redundancies. In fact, as an HR executive it was a process she’d been involved in countless times. Yet she said she never found it easy:

‘Every time I was involved in a redundancy…it was always a difficult decision and I always tried to ensure the best outcome for the individuals affected. I can honestly say that I never slept well the night before making someone redundant.’

Even though redundancies were never easy, Sandy said that companies often had good reason to perform them, in that mergers, acquisitions or technology meant that roles simply weren’t needed anymore. Despite this, though, there was sometimes a ‘grey area’ when it came to whom should be made redundant:

‘Redundancies are not meant to be based on performance, but in reality, if a manager has to select someone from their team they are more likely to choose the weaker performers.’

‘Unfortunately, I have seen that part-time and flexible workers, and those on maternity leave, are seen as easier choices for redundancy. There is sometimes even a view that the company is “doing them a favour” by giving them more time at home.’

‘What they don’t realise is how hard it will be to find a new job with the flexibility they need.’

Sandy’s redundancy 

Throughout Sandy’s successful HR career, redundancy became more or less part of her role. Despite this, when she got the news of her own redundancy, she was still, understandably, surprised and sad.

Her redundancy came as a particular surprise as she’d been called out as a star performer. She said:

‘[I was shocked by my redundancy] as I’d had a successful career, I was one of the youngest partners in my firm, and one of the very few female partners. I’d received a Global CEO award not 12 months earlier.’

‘It was hard to reconcile this experience, that of being valued talent, to suddenly not being needed.’

The timing of Sandy’s redundancy was far from ideal:

‘I was actually told I was officially being made redundant by my boss, who was overseas at the time. It was early in the morning and it was my son’s birthday, so not the ideal time to get the news.’

Who am I if not a something, without a business card and a title? 

As any mum who’s been made redundant will know, the time following your redundancy is always a period of intense questioning. And not just questioning how you’ll get a job and pay for your life, but questioning who you are and what you want.

This is exactly what Sandy experienced following her redundancy:

‘I had always had a strong connection to my work, having been with the same company for 16 years. [After it sunk in that I wasn’t going to work there anymore] I started to struggle with who I was.’

“Who am I, if not something, with a business card and a title?” I thought. How do I introduce myself to new people, what is my value? Am I still part of the working mums group, or am I now a stay-at-home mum?’

Even though Sandy was questioning herself, fortunately, her children were most certainly not. In fact:

‘I explained to my kids that my role was finishing and that I’d be home for a while. They were very happy to hear this. I also made it clear that nothing was going to happen to them and that we could manage on one income for a while.’

A business idea is born

While some mums want to jump straight back into working after a redundancy, many find they need some time out to reflect and think about what’s next. Sandy was in the latter group. She recalls:

‘[After my redundancy] I took some time out, travelled with my family, and got myself recharged. This turned out to be the best thing I could have done.’

Taking time out allowed Sandy to focus on what was next, which was pivotal in helping her come up with the idea for her business:

‘After I got back from travelling, I started thinking about the value of having flexibility in the support you receive if you’re made redundant.’

At that stage, Sandy was still receiving support from her previous company, and she was able to access different options once she expressed an interest in starting her own business:

‘Once I decided to start my own business, I was able to access different services, for example, a business coach who provided me with good practical advice on how to structure my business.’

Validating her idea 

Once Sandy decided to start her business, though, it wasn’t as easy as just working with a business coach. She spent a lot of time validating her ideas; something which she says is key for all mums:

‘Once I had decided that I’d like to try to use technology to give people access to more choice during redundancy (and in other career areas), I started doing lots of informal research in the space.’

‘I spoke to lots of HR people, employees who had been made redundant, etc. I spent 6 months exploring and discussing the idea and getting input and feedback before I proceeded.’

Clients and success…but not overnight 

Sandy’s business, Career Money Life, is a marketplace platform, so once she’d validated her idea, she had to hire developers to build it, as well as add suppliers. All in all, this took her a year. After that, it was still some time until she got her first clients. Of this journey, she says:

‘We officially launched Career Money Life in September 2014, but we didn’t get our first clients until 2016. Getting companies to go first, to try something new, isn’t easy, it takes lots of patience and persistence.’

Fortunately, patience and persistence was something that Sandy and her team had in droves. As of 2018, they now have a large portfolio of impressive clients, including Virgin Australia.

Be aware – entrepreneur life does have downsides 

To date, Sandy says that she’s really enjoyed her entrepreneurial journey. However, she thinks it’s important to warn other mums that the journey can have downsides:

‘[Starting your own business] can be lonely. It can challenge your sense of worth and value; it can be the hardest work and longest hours; it can draw on skills and capabilities that you didn’t know you had, and sometimes don’t have. So you need to be prepared and realistic.’

To ensure you’re prepared as possible, Sandy recommends:

‘Spend time upfront doing planning. Research and build a business plan, as well as a realistic and worse case budget.’

Despite the challenges involved, Sandy says that building a business has been deeply rewarding, but she is always thinking of the future:

‘[Coming this far] has been very exciting. It’s empowering to create something you are deeply passionate about. I’m really glad I’ve gotten this far, but I know I’ve always got to be thinking about what’s next. You can’t stop and rest on your laurels.’

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