‘I sat on the sofa and cried — I couldn’t do everything I did before and run a business on top’

·4 min read
Steph Douglas, founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers (Don’t Buy Her Flowers)
Steph Douglas, founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers (Don’t Buy Her Flowers)

Steph Douglas founded Don’t Buy Her Flowers in 2014, after receiving eight bunches of flowers when she had her first baby and realising new mums didn’t need another thing to take care of. It’s now expanded to gift baskets for all occasions, from corporate presents to birthdays and bereavement. Turnover hit £2.5 million last year but here Douglas honestly sets out just how difficult juggling a company and home life can be.

“The invisible workload of women is the huge, long list of ‘to dos’ that in most cases falls to us – perhaps not in every household, but certainly most.

“‘Is there food in the fridge? Who needs new shoes? What day do the kids need PE kit? Need to organise seeing friends/family... Must buy a present for that kid’s party on Saturday!’ In Brigid Schulte’s book ‘Overwhelmed’ she describes it as a constant ticker tape, like the ones on news programmes, running across your brain.

“There’s a lot more discussion now about equality at work but it’s not possible to ‘compete’ with men in the workplace if we’re also responsible for the majority that happens at home.

“When I started Don’t Buy Her Flowers, I was self-employed and working at home while my husband went to an office five days a week or travelled for work. The majority of the school run fell to me: I worked in the hours my kids were in childcare, and then got back to it after I’d put them to bed, packing orders on the bedroom floor. I ran the business from our house for the first two years, so there was very little separation between work and home life.

“A few months in I sat on the sofa and cried. It was nearing midnight and I had just put the laptop away, exhausted, and realised we had no food so I was getting the laptop back out to do the online shop and just felt so overwhelmed.

“My husband and I had both slipped into those roles where I had the mental load. We had no role models to show us a different way of doing it. It’s taken some work (and ongoing conversations!) to get a better balance.

“I think a lot of it is to do with the traditional roles we perhaps saw our parents in: provider vs primary carer. That’s what we know and learned, but we’re living in a very different world now. Many women work and we don’t really know how to better balance it in our relationships, and that’s before you even get to single parent families who are doing the lot.

“Being an entrepreneur can be easier and harder to juggle alongside kids. I remember when I left my job to start DBHF thinking: ‘Right, I am READY, I’m going to set the business world on fire!’ Then one of the kids had an upset tummy and couldn’t go back to nursery for a week. As I wasn’t ‘working’, in the sense of going to an office and having an employer, I was at home with a child. There was no fire being lit.

“However, I didn’t answer to anyone. An upside was I could be at the school play, for example. As the business has grown that’s slightly harder: I have a team of more than twenty and that is a big responsibility. I can’t decide to just not bother one week. It’s still a balancing act, to ensure I give my family as well as my business what they each need.

“My parenting/working worlds merge a lot – I can be responding to WhatsApps from the team on the way to or from school, I’ve been on work calls with kids in the same room, trying to time the mute button. But in a post March-2020 world that’s pretty normal, isn’t it? Now everyone who has kids and has worked from home has experienced that joy!

“In the early days I had to take the packages in my car to the parcel shop and the kids would help me load and unload boxes. They thought I was some sort of postwoman. My eldest is eleven now and is quietly impressed at the idea of his mum having a warehouse and a team.

“I’ve learnt that you can’t do everything you did before and run a business on top. Starting a business takes a lot of energy and focus and you’ll need to take some things out or find someone to help share the load. It might be a partner or a family member or you might have to work out what support you can afford to bring in, like a cleaner or after school care. Your social life might take a hit, dinner might be beans on toast.

“I see so many women online saying they’re frazzled, but still trying to uphold standards that they had pre-children or starting a business, and it’s no wonder we’re all a bit burnt out and that there are far more men successfully starting businesses.”