Mother’s Day special: combining business & motherhood

We talk to mums whose kids were the inspiration for their business ventures. This week it’sEmma McNeilly of Expressions Australia.

What inspired you to start the business?

Like many entrepreneurial mums, I started Expressions when planning to start my family. I wanted a business that would be flexible enough to let me earn a reliable income, raise my family and allow me to be actively involved with my children during their school years.

Prior to starting Expressions, I was involved with a firm that specialised in fundraising for schools and childcares. Before this I didn’t even know such a market existed and if you don’t have children or work in childhood education, why would you? The project coordinators I spoke with were always looking for new ideas. The market was there and all I needed was a business model that satisfied its needs.

At the time a lot of fundraising involved selling something sweet and I saw an opportunity to instead use childhood mementos to raise this much-needed money. Parents and staff alike confirmed that there was a definite market for a long-lasting, client-centric and environmentally sustainable product and service and Expressions was born.

I really do love bringing a simple, stress-free solution to vital community fundraising and am proud to say Expressions has become a trusted name in the community fundraising world. We specialise in printed tea towels, aprons and bags, designed using children’s hand drawn self-portraits or handprints and then we use these keepsakes to help others raise much-needed funds. Our products provide a personal, profitable and sugar-free fundraising option for schools, childcare centres and community groups.

What makes your products unique?

My business provides a win for everyone involved at every stage of the process. There are funds raised, proud children, delighted clients and a healthy business. Everyone really is a winner and Expressions has a genuine feel good factor.

Our projects are easy to run, everything is supplied, and everybody loves them. We have thousands of glowing testimonials. A testament to our service is a near perfect Net Promoter Score. Half of our annual workload is repeat bookings and hundreds of coordinators have worked with us over many years, as their children have moved through from playgroup to day-care, on to primary school, and even their local pony club or dance group. Our practical products make a lasting memento and the designs encompass a real sense of community which means they sell well. 

Top tips for combining motherhood and a successful business?

When the time comes to employ people, choose someone who is better at something than you are, then let them do their job. Document all your procedures, so it is easy to train, then trust in your decision and the staff you chose to do a great job. The aim is that your business can operate without you.

In the business or at home, outsource if you can, hire a cleaner, engage a bookkeeper, whatever works for you.

Have some quick, easy dinner ideas in your arsenal. I keep some staples in the freezer and am a big fan of the slow cooker.

When the mother guilt creeps in, remind yourself that you are showing your children how to work hard for what they want and remember the reasons you do it: to be flexible, fulfilled and financially stable.

Best advice your mother gave you?

Don’t wish away any time with your kids, before you know it they’ll be gone and you’ll have plenty of time to yourself again. 

Best and/or worst Mother’s Day gift received?

The best was a long letter from my teenage daughter in which she wrote beautifully about what I meant to her and how much she appreciated me, needless to say there were tears. One year when the kids were very young I got nothing, definitely the worst!

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?

Learning the art of delegating. It is a real challenge, it took me many years to let go of doing it all myself, but to allow your business to grow and keep enjoying your life you need to learn to hand over some of the workload. Once I embraced this it was a life changer.

Future plans for the company?

To diversify our product range and give our existing clients the opportunity to earn more. We are working on complementary products in consultation with current customers that will result in an even higher return on investment for them with little additional effort.

The fundraising space is seasonal and continues to become highly competitive. To combat this, we are strategically expanding the business, providing high quality customised merchandise and commemorative products in three new areas: retail, bridal and promotional.