Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Part 3: Stay at home mum starts her own business

In Part 1, Stay-at-home mum Melissa, discussed her values and goals with a career counsellor. In Part 2, she began studying and discovered that she loved learning and the course she'd selected, but faced some unexpected obstacles including unemployment. In Part 3, Melissa has thought about her transferable skills and now puts it all together! 

Melissa begins her own business
“I used my research skills to find more about being a personal concierge and found iCALM which was really helpful. And so now I’m a personal concierge and my business is called Allow Me To Assist." www.allowmetoassist.com.au

Finding the right name
"It took weeks to get a business name I was happy with. I wanted the name to tell the story and wanted a logo that fitted. It had to be easy to read, appeal to older people and not be ambiguous. I’d never had thoughts of having my own business, but it’s the door that opened and I love what I do, even though it’s not what I’d planned."

The importance of trust
"One of the important things is to meet people and make genuine connections. I usually set up a personal meeting first and that’s my client’s opportunity to check me out and get a sense of my trustworthiness.

My clients need to feel ok with me, to see if I’ll fit in with what they need. People might need me to fill a gap when life has got overwhelming, they might ask me to do their banking, shopping, take their car for a service or feed the cat! They need to be able to trust me with their credit card or car, so building trust is a large part of what I do."

What I do
"I’m getting known now, and have some really good client testimonials which is great. Some of my regulars call me their fairy godmother, because I’ve helped out during family emergencies. 

Not everyone has access to extended family to call on when things get too much for them, and they need to be cloned to be in two places at once. I have your back, and can get you out of time related trouble.

I’ve got my weekly and fortnightly regulars; I take some elderly people out for mid week morning tea and specialty shopping, or even to medical appointments because their children are working in the city. Others call on me occasionally when something major is happening, like a 40th birthday party, when I help with the organising, invitations and decorations.

I also do packing support, debriefing, making coffees and supplying food when someone has just shifted. I’ve reminded businessmen that important family events are coming up, and am always very discreet! Tact, diplomacy, and confidentiality are important.

Some people are intimidated by doing things online – I’ve shopped and sold things on eBay, I’ve booked a cruise, and even sold a car. It’s extremely varied!”

What a journey! From a stay-at-home mum wondering what to do with her life, to studying, to running her own business, Melissa has been challenged, overcome unexpected obstacles and found a rewarding work-life balance which complements her personality and supports her personal and family values.  And for her to say “I couldn’t have done it without you, Sue” is a very humbling thought.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Part 2: Stay-at-home mum returns to study as a mature aged student!

In part 1, Melissa spent time with her career counsellor.  After those meetings, she reflected quietly, and thought long and deeply about what we'd discussed as well as about which options best supported her values, her finances as well as the time she had available. She decided that further study, although challenging, would be right for her.

Melissa begins classes in Criminal Justice at TAFE!
"I was so, so scared that first day. I found where I had to go, took a seat and tried to be invisible. I felt so out of it and so different to everyone else that I felt sick; it was horrible. But we started with a meet and greet game which broke the ice. It was funny! In the afternoon the teacher got us  moving around which was good, because it broke up the little cliques that had started forming.

The students were chatty and inclusive, they were young, helpful and supportive. It was amazing!

I discovered that I was a thorough researcher and the other students really appreciated that, and enjoyed working in a group with me which was an unexpected surprise! They had things to teach me and I had things to teach them. It was fantastic and I loved it all!

At 42 I wasn’t one of them, but I was included.  I felt like a woman with a brain and not just a mum. I was so excited to be studying something I loved."

... and describes the experience of further study:
It was like someone had opened a door in the small, comfortable house I was very familiar with. But even though I knew the house very well, and had lived in it for many years, I’d never noticed a little door hidden in one of the walls.

I opened this door which had been hidden, and it was extraordinary! Beyond the door I found a mansion – a whole rich, amazing area with so many incredible rooms that I’d had no idea were there. It was wonderful, and it was welcoming me.”

Melissa isn’t the first person to describe this amazing sense of wonder and tearful joy when they realise that further education is something they can not only do, but embrace wholeheartedly. It opens a whole new world of possibilities and the joy is almost overwhelming. 

But back to her description:
“I felt important, valued and engaged. Our society needs to encourage all sorts of people to retrain and use their skills. I studied with a diverse group which made debates interesting - lots of passionate people argued and had to explain their point of view clearly.  They had their opinions challenged and changed by someone with a broader or different experience. It was great!”

"I had to learn to hold my tongue and not jump in with an opinion too quickly, I had to listen and try to work out where a different opinion comes from. As a parent my perspective was valued, and because I’d read widely I was able to enrich a lot of discussions. The young students were respectful which I hadn’t expected.”

and assignments …
“My first assignment was given that first day! I had to do a powerpoint presentation. I had no idea what to do or where to start. The bloke next to me knew all about them which terrified me. I went home and googled them – I watched a YouTube tutorial and worked out how to do one, then I had to learn about the topic and put the two things together!  I got a HD (high distinction) on that first assignment – it was like a wholesome drug and I wanted more HD’s! I loved putting it all together and seeing the result. IT WAS GREAT!!

I’d wanted to work in law enforcement, or in the courts with welfare agencies. I’d think of one thing and it’d open more doors. I’d love to have gone on and done criminology, but it was just too expensive.

I quickly realised there weren’t openings in the police force after the change of government and changes to funding. There were so many who’d lost their jobs or been redeployed that I didn’t have a chance.

Job hunting
After graduating, I spent the next 12 months applying for jobs and going for interviews. It’s hard when you don’t even get email acknowledgement after you’ve submitted a complex job application that’s taken hours to do. It’s soul destroying to apply for job after job and hear nothing at all, but after all that study, it was really nice to spend time with my family again!

I kept wondering what else I could do to get a job. I was getting desperate and began to wonder if I could possibly create a business myself using my new skills and my previous work experience.

I itemised my skills and thought long and hard about my transferable skills. I began looking at job trends in the US, and what new kinds of job markets were opening up there. I figured if it was early stage there it’d come in here pretty soon. I read about personal concierge which gave me a term that I could research further.

In Part 3, Melissa puts everything together and creates a small business from scratch.



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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Part 1. Stay at home mum wants to return to work, but doesn't know what to do.

From stay at home mum to business owner: Melissa Gemmell

It’s not every day you answer the phone to be greeted with “I’ve been wondering how to introduce myself. You won’t remember me, but …”

However, some clients are memorable and I hadn’t forgotten Melissa! When I saw her about four years ago, she was a vibrant, enthusiastic stay at home mum, keen to re-enter the workforce when her children entered primary school.

She followed on by saying: “Seeing you changed my life, and I’ve been meaning to phone and thank you.”

Well if that’s not an invitation for a lengthy follow up over coffee, I don’t know what is! 

Melissa clearly had a story to share, and her frustrations, challenges and ability to overcome obstacles with good humour, and then to look at her transferable skills creatively, is well worth retelling.

We’d planned to spend an hour together, but that extended into more than two!

The frustration of being a stay-at-home mum
Four years ago Melissa was full of energy and ideas, but completely lacking in direction.  She was frustrated with her inability to focus on something that would strengthen her skills, support her values as well as earn an income; so she’d called me for some career counselling, to work through her ideas and learn more about what motivated her.

Melissa had left school and had gone straight into a job without any formal training. She enjoyed a variety of administrative positions and changed employers with little conscious thought of career progression or what her options were.

She married and had two children 18 months apart, but found that the change of pace from a fun, hectic work and social life to being home alone with young boys lacked the challenge she craved. She loves her children dearly, but “kid world” though rewarding, wasn’t fulfilling on its own, and she dreamed of something to “break the monotony of being at home.”

“Parenting is such hard work, it’s relentless and exhausting. I was consumed by being a mum and ‘I’ disappeared. I wanted to find myself again and have friends and a social life.”


Many women who long to re-enter the workforce express similar sentiments to Melissa. They find their personal needs are put on the back-burner for such a long time that some forget who they are; they yearn to rediscover some balance where their needs are not only acknowledged, but fulfilled.

Melissa’s experience of career counselling.
“Sue gave me a deck of Values cards and working with them changed my life. I sorted them and then we discussed them. The process seemed simple, but it encouraged me to think deeply about what’s important to me in the long term. (There's more on this process here)

I know myself much better now after doing those cards. I’m far more self aware and that’s been really important in thinking about what career would support my values - even though it didn’t work out how I’d planned.

I’m now aware that part of me really loves the bubble of a group. I love bouncing ideas off others.  The Values cards were a guided way to improve my self awareness.  It’s brought it all into consiousness. It challenged my thinking and it started the lifting of the fog of parenting.

I sat with it all for along time. I couldn’t have forgotten or ignored what I’d learnt about myself – I’d changed and it was great!

One thing Sue asked me was “If you only had 5 mins to read the newspaper what would you read?” “I gravitate to human interest and crime, the background stories to victims.”

All of that got me thinking deeply. Jobs that seemed suitable for a mum (I wanted to be home for the boys after school) and a follow-on from what I’d done before I had kids, wouldn’t be satisfying now.


I’d have gone crazy with cashiering. It wasn’t intellectually stimulating – which is what I need! Career counselling helped me see and accept that I also need human contact and something fast paced. I now know and acknowledge who I am, and what I need.”

Choosing a course to study
I had an interest in criminal issues and found a course in Criminal Justice at the local TAFE. It sounded good!

I was so scared when I queued up with all the young people who had their parents nearby to pay their fees. I felt I didn’t know anything and wouldn’t fit in, it was so long since I’d studied at year 12!

How much would it cost? Would I be able to keep up? Would I be overloaded if I enrolled in full time study? It all seemed so intimidating and I didn’t want to set myself up to fail, so I chose to go part time.

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