Hello and welcome back to another week of Mama You Can, a series started to started to share inspirational stories of Mama’s who have changed career direction, started their own business or negotiated a more flexible role to fit in with family life.
This week we hear from Jo Mackay who runs the business Bookings For You. This story is well worth a read as I think it will resonate with many of us, it certainly did for me. Jo says that “Stepping off the corporate ladder has truly been one of the best decisions I have ever made” so read on to see the story behind why that was such a good decision for her.
Mama You Can: Jo Mackay
I’m Jo Mackay. First and foremost I consider myself a Mum to 2 children – Ben (14) and Lucy (11) as well as a wife to a very busy husband! And then secondly, I am the owner of Bookings For You, a holiday rental agency specialising in villa rentals in Italy and more recently, in France. Pre children and long before the idea of Bookings For You was born, I used to work for Procter & Gamble as a Sales and Marketing Manager. I started work for P&G after studying History at Edinburgh University. I worked for the company for 5 years before becoming pregnant with my first child and have to say, loved every minute of it up to that point! They were a great company to work for and I enjoyed the challenge and variety of the varying roles I did for them. The level of training they provided was also exceptional. However, my plan was always to take as much maternity leave as possible so I took a year off to be with my son when he was born before going back to work 3 days a week. I have to say securing the company’s agreement to a 3 day a week role was pretty tough….until I fought for it, part time had always been considered to be 4 days a week but for me, I was determined to have more of the week at home with Ben than in the office. In the end, P&G were very good and trialled the first ever job share. Myself and another lady coming back from maternity leave each worked 3 days a week with one day overlapping. In reality though, this job share just didn’t work out…. as it was the first time it had ever been attempted, the support simply wasn’t there and interestingly, when I left I was replaced by someone working full time hours so in that respect it was probably doomed to fail from the start.
I stuck this 3 day arrangement out for about 18 months and then took the decision to leave. By this point, I was certainly leaving without any regrets. I always knew that I would be happy being a full time Mum and my husband and I always managed our finances pretty tightly so I had the option to leave should I wish to do so, but I felt it was the right decision to go back and at least try part time work. If not, having loved my career with P&G pre children, I always felt I would have been asking myself ‘what if….’ if I hadn’t tried to return. However, as it turned out, I really didn’t enjoy being back after having my first child. It was very much a case of feeling guilty all the time… feeling I wasn’t doing my job as well as I could as I was no longer able to stay in the office until 8 or 9 at night. But equally feeling guilty that I wasn’t spending all the time with my son. And getting extremely frustrated when work encroached on the 2 days a week I should have been at home with him. Every Monday was a volume meeting at work and every Monday I would have to call in on my day off to try and predict what shipments would be made that month… whilst chasing my son around a table or stopping him from causing absolute carnage at home! I’d still work far more than the hours I should have been but I was surrounded by young, career driven graduates who just couldn’t relate to my own choices and couldn’t understand that I was only supposed to work on those 3 days!
I have to say, before having children my gut feel was that I would always try and stop working and to be a ‘stay at home’ Mum for as long as I could so, in some ways, the decision to leave felt rather inevitable. However, once the decision to leave was announced, I almost felt nervous. I did have a few last minute doubts as to whether I had done the right thing. After all, I didn’t know what else I was going to do at that point. I knew I would want to do something else but it hadn’t become clear what that ‘something else’ would look like and so I was leaving feeling rather in the dark. However, looking back on that time now, probably my overriding sentiment is that I wish I had done it sooner. If anything, I regretted sticking it out for so long in an attempt to make it work losing time I could have been spending with my son. But isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing!!!
I then spent time enjoying being a full time Mum whilst also trying to work out what else to do with my life! I always knew that I wanted the challenge of work but wanted very much to be going back to work on my own terms. And very soon, the realisation dawned that, for me, that meant setting up my own business. I couldn’t work for another big corporation that didn’t give me the flexibility I needed to put my family first. Plus, anything I set up would have to be an online business, allowing me to work flexible hours. And so the idea of Bookings For You was born. I lost count of the number of other ideas rejected up to that point. I am a passionate cook and most of the ideas revolved around food but they just didn’t give me that crucial flexibility I was looking for and wouldn’t have fixed the reasons I left the corporate world in the first place.
When I started the business, we had literally a handful of properties in a single area of Italy – the Italian Lakes. We now have round 350 villas and apartments in regions of Italy and have also recently expanded into France. I absolutely love running the business… the training I received from P&G has proved to be invaluable even though I am operating in a very different market. But, most importantly, I love the fact that I can run the business around my children. My children are now 14 and 11 but I still appreciate the fact that I can always drop them off and collect them from school, always attend school events and can always be there to hear about their school day. I also think that its good for the children to see me working and I genuinely love being able to help people plan what is one of the most important events in their annual calendar. I feel a genuine responsibility to get their holiday right for them.
My advice to anyone thinking about a change to their working life is definitely to take the plunge. I will never forget being forced to miss my son’s nativity play due to an unnecessary work trip to Geneva when with P&G and have never had to make those horrible choices whilst running my own business. Working for myself has always given me the flexibility to attend all of my children’s school events. I’ve also never again had to experience those same feelings of guilt that I felt when working part time post children and have never had that ’Sunday night’ feeling of dread about having to go in to work the next day.
Stepping off the corporate ladder has truly been one of the best decisions I have ever made and setting up Bookings For You and working for myself is incredibly rewarding. Whilst I was able to apply many of my existing skills to the business, I have learned so many new ones along the way too. My approach is that, whilst I may outsource some of the work as I am by no means an expert in everything, I should always have a basic knowledge of any work being done so I can challenge those doing the work and try to add value and ideas to whatever work is being done. This has pushed me out of my comfort zone on occasion but that’s a good thing! I’m also really proud of what I have achieved with the business. We have so many happy clients each year and it’s so rewarding when we get an email or phone call after their holiday to tell us how much they have enjoyed it. It genuinely feels a real privilege to help people with their holidays.