About the episode:
Jan Cavelle brings a softer tone today, as we get an inside look of the life of an entrepreneur that did it all – all while being a single mother. Learn today how your career can and will impact your kids and family, and how to make a statement doing so.
Listen to the podcast here:
About Jan Cavelle:
Happy freelancer and small business owner turned entrepreneur determined to succeed in growing a business for my children as a single Mum. I managed to scale to the multi-mill turnover. That brought me amazing opportunities, highs and of course lows. I learned huge amounts in the process both from experience and from some of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs. Since I semi-retired, I decided I missed writing too much; I kept on writing articles which was always a stress relief for me. I am now an author with Bloomsbury – Scale for Success out in the US 6th July
Watch the episode here:
The Real Life Of Being A Single Mom In Business: Now And Then | Jan Cavelle
For all of our female friends, if you know anything about me and have read my show, I am a huge proponent of women, especially women in business, so I have a treat for you. I’m speaking with a writer, author and speaker that was a happy freelancer that turned that into a successful entrepreneurship role, but here’s the kicker, as a single mom. If you’re reading, if you know a single mom or you are a single mom, this show is for you because I have Jan Cavelle. How are you?
I am great. Thank you very much. I’m thrilled to be here.
I’m so excited to have you. I hope your intro did you some service and portrayed my excitement so much. A single mom who decides to jump into this craziness that we call entrepreneurship, a lot of people think that people like you and me are insane, to begin with, and that we have a screw loose, but then here you are in the situation that most would say that you’re doomed for failure from the start. How did you feel? Where was that shift for you to where you’re like, “I’m jumping into this?” Were you a single mom when you made that decision?
I was. I’m not a new mom. I was a newly single mom and really broke. I was on social support and struggling, to put it mildly. My options were limited to provide for the children. It’s a question of, “Do I go out to work where there’s a daycare and all that fortune? Do I stay on social forever where I won’t be able to do all that much for them, or do I try and start something to generate a better life for us?” Initially, that was me at home trying to do a bit of a sales operation to put food on the table optimistically in the beginning. That’s desperately an exhausting idea at that point, but it’s to be able to keep us together.
I can relate to that too because my twins were born when I jumped into entrepreneurship. I was a new dad when this happened. The struggle to make money to put food on the table, that’s a very real thing to think about, especially when you’re caring for other human beings that can’t care for themselves.
It’s a huge responsibility, and you’ve got nobody to fall back on. You’ve got this limited amount of money to feed them. You’re also looking at working out how to stretch a cauliflower in five different ways. It’s tough.
That sounds like a new book you should write, Jan.
It does. I don’t know where that came from. That’s a good title. I should try it.
You’re a happy freelancer. That’s how you write yourself before you turned into an entrepreneur. What’s the difference between a freelancer and an entrepreneur? There has to be if you’re calling yourself two different things.
Planning to have a proper business that was going to stay around for a while is a bit more than I was doing as a freelancer. When I was freelancing in my late teens and early twenties, I have to say that I was avoiding doing a job and just getting some money to go to the pub. I thought, “I’m going to have a business forever and ever.” There were a few restraints on freelancing, and there’s someone I know. You’ve got the same thing as we have over here, lightening up on freelancers going on at the moment. In those days, you could freelance for the sake of doing something for a few weeks, drift off, doing whatever, do some selling for a few people or sell sandwiches. You do all these things. It’s free of responsibilities in life, which I loved. Obviously, 2020 was not the year to go traveling.
It sounds like the freelance thing is almost like you’re going from gig to gig, and all you’re concerned about is the next gig.
If need be, if I could put enough money together to go traveling soon, so it was always balanced because I wanted to do lots of things. I was still free, single and childless. Enjoyment was high on the list.
As an entrepreneur, you almost suppress the enjoyment to a certain level because you’re like, “The hardship, bring it on.”
There’s a certain amount of that. Though I have to say, in the first ten years I had the business or maybe year two, I had to boil over time. We had so much fun. You know how it was. It was later on as I’ve tried to some extent scale it, but it did not become fun. Startups can be crazy fun in an insane way. To practice is an insane thing. Maybe we are all insane.
At the same time, there’s almost a certain level of insanity to want to try to help so many people because it’s outside of the norm of thinking. If you’re doing a job, you’ve got your family that you might care for if you have a family working during the day, and that’s about it. As entrepreneurs, we always were typically focused outside of ourselves.
You have to be, but so many people and factors take into account from your customers, people working for you or your subcontractors. One of the dangers is that you get lost along the way.
You start to diminish your own self-care in the process. I’ve been guilty of that so many times.
Me too, and you as well. With twins, it must be such a challenge.
It’s been a fun ride and awesome to see the trajectory that I’ve been on too. How do your kids feel about what you’ve done? They were 8 and 5 at the time. It’s been probably years since that.
They’ve both gone on to be very career-minded and very independent people. One’s got their own business and one was gone off to Australia to live a new life. As a matter of fact, we run up enormous hours on Skype or wherever. The bits of them would rather have a normal family if I’m going to be dead honest but equally, they inherited those traits, which is giving them independence, which I’m glad about whatever they say. It gives them a choice of where to go in life.
How do you think they felt in the thick of things? They’re 8 and 5 at the time. Let’s pretend that they were 15 and 12, at that age, to where they have quite an independent attitude, “Here’s mom doing all these things.” How do they fare during that time period of their lives and yours?
They were fairly troubled and had a hard time in comparison to other kids in terms of joy. In different ways, they’re quite different, but you couldn’t work. They’re competing for their voices and their own spaces. By that time, I was beginning to build a business and get a smaller scale, quite well-known. It was quite a big umbrella for them to try and find this independence, but they did manage it. They were bucking trends to try and get out under the umbrella quite a bit from their early teenage years.
There are many more options because they see, “Here’s our mom who’s so very independent.” I’m sure my kids look at me the same way, but I tried to involve them in a lot of what I’m doing. They’re very interested in what I’m doing. I understand because it’s a different life period and it’s a different life that you, I and all entrepreneurs live to try to incorporate family into what you’re doing and still, at the same time, achieve this mission.
It’s like what we were talking about in the outward focus that we have. It’s not even just about our family. It’s about everybody else because we’ve got employees that we take care of and feel responsible for. If there’s no revenue coming in, the question is, “How am I going to make payroll?” My family is for sure, first and foremost, but then it’s like an extended family. All of my team and my employees have kids too. If there’s something that I do where I mess up, that’s going to have this ripple effect down the line, and I’m affecting many people in a negative way. Let’s try to figure out how we mitigate that. It’s not one set of teenagers. It’s like eighteen sets of teenagers that are looking at me.
I had a stage when I was growing this business. I guess there were 30 or 35 by that time on the payroll and somebody suggested organizing a day’s fishing. I don’t fish but with a barbecue, have few beers, socializing and bringing your families. It sounds like a lovely idea. They were organizing it, so I came along when that started. There were fishing ponds. There were people and children everywhere. I couldn’t even count how many children. All of a sudden, I thought, “These all rest on my shoulders.” All these people and kids are going to be homeless and in trouble if I don’t make sense of this. It completely ticked my head far worse than when I was just starting. It’s huge. There are so many people that you’re responsible for.
Jan, all these thoughts and emotions are coming up too just thinking about that because I’m starting to feel that weight even as we talk. We’re taking some big jumps and moving a lot into even greater things. Multiple hundreds of millions of revenues are the type of business that we’re building with acquisitions and everything. I feel like I’m adopting more kids.
As we acquire companies, there are two that we’re in diligence with, and I’m going to close soon. There are those that I’m looking at the people that are coming with them, and they have families too. It keeps going bigger and bigger. It’s like adopting these people and being responsible for more and more, but then also helping them understand that there’s mutual responsibility that exists here. I’m going to tell them to come to talk to Jan, is that okay?
Of course. It’s fascinating that that’s how you feel as well. It’s such a connection because I get it.
One thing that’s cool about you that my team dug up, and I don’t even think this was on your intake form, is you were chosen to be one of the first 50 Female Entrepreneurial Ambassadors to represent the UK and Europe. That’s incredible. Congratulations. What was that like?
It was an amazing experience. There was me, and I had serious business experience. I didn’t come from the corporate world or anything like that. I never expected to have a decent-sized business. All of a sudden, being selected for those things, somebody called my name from a local group of high-paying businesses. I don’t know how it happened, but I was chosen, but I did it anyway. The government selected 50 later on, but they chose the first 50.
We were charged with getting the first world of entrepreneurship out there because of that stage over here. We were slower than the states by catching onto entrepreneurship, and it wasn’t that well-known. We’re only just starting a TV program talking about entrepreneurship as opposed to business. Nobody thought it was possible for them. It wouldn’t have occurred to people that it was possible to some parts. Unfortunately, we seem to be reversing, but it doesn’t strike anybody that they could have done this journey. We were particularly charged with talking into the schools, colleges, business groups and putting it as an option. It’s not for everybody, but it’s saying, “Look at me. You could do it.”
That was exciting. I see some light bulb moments come on. We also went to the European Parliament and met up with fellow people in all the Java countries who failed hard with their entrepreneurship. The approach, too, was culturally fascinating. There’s one of my strongest memories, which was quite strange, but it could have been a complete coincidence, so I don’t know if it’s reflective of a culture or not. All of us made a huge chunk of the European Parliament being taken up by women only. In a contingency from Albania, the speakers lost their voice, and they have to have their husbands and men speak for them. I thought, “Did she run it?” It’s interesting. That was a while ago.
It was fascinating looking at all the other countries and hearing the different challenges. That’s where I became more involved with other business groups encouraging enterprise in Britain and another model for women, the Global Influence Forum, which operates on a global basis, encouraging women’s voices, which I’m quite honored to be involved in things like that.
When you were speaking to these groups of people and you’re saying, “I’m like you. If I can do it, you can do it,” do you ever notice sometimes that it’s a little bit more difficult to be relatable to them? At some point in time, you’ve achieved a certain level of success. The people you’re meeting in that moment had seen nothing about you up until that point in time, none of the struggles of being a single mom and having the 8-year-old and 5-year-old when you launched this. How did you make yourself relatable when you were encouraging everybody?
It was a real challenge for lots of reasons. I probably failed quite often. It was easier when I got out to more national business groups or farther away from where I was based. That is where I was faced with the company I had. It was a very industrial, unionized and masculine-dominated area. The women were the power inside. While I probably ought to start where there were lots of ways to start with, at that time I was doing this, I was even older there than anywhere else. People didn’t catch it and didn’t relate at all to understand where I come from.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie, The Matrix. It’s almost like a lot of entrepreneurs are like Morpheus and saying, “Here, take the red pill or the blue pill.” There’s a lot that wants to take the blue pill, just want to go back and live life, but it doesn’t stop me at all because I know that for every 100 blue pill takers that I find, I’m going to find 1 or 2 red pill takers. That’s what I’m going after, which is awesome. Even these two groups have very synergistic effects too. If we have the crazies like us, we need some of the same people around in some way or another.
You’re also right in saying it is incredibly rewarding. I remember doing a small group of this thing. We’re probably just bashing our heads against a brick wall. I got some business people I knew from the country to come in and be available as possible mentors and invited everybody in the area to come along with any business. Incredibly, for that very first evening that we opened it, there was a business there planning to start a repair business for mobile phones, specifically iPhones, but cheaper. You could get your Apple technician to repair your phone. It’s a very popular thing to get done. Ironically, I’d asked a mentor who was into that thing and he invested. That thing took off from that evening. I watched him start employing people. We were thinking, “I’ve done something worthwhile in my life to be able to pass that point. That’s incredible.”
I was reading somewhere along here, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you had this amazing entrepreneurial journey and then went back to being a writer.
I did. This is one of the interesting things about entrepreneurship that people don’t talk about. You started all filled with enthusiasm. You might be in your twenties or whatever. If you hang on to it because not everybody has a sensible exit plan, you can get to the stage of burning out or monitoring what you’re doing anymore.
You’ve caught my attention big time because you will burn out if you don’t have a sensible exit strategy.
Particularly for me, I’d fallen into this business, not with a great love of manufacturing. I never thought we will be a manufacturer. I was doing it for the children, and I came to love the people who worked there in the early days. I care for them and their families. Once it had got bigger and everything else, kids left home. I didn’t have that why anymore. I kept on thinking this is a sensible thing to do. I must go to work. Not that I don’t want to, but I must. That’s a recipe of burnout if nothing is. In the end, it’s got all too much. After twenty-odd years, I had to give up.
I don’t know if I’d call it giving up. I would say that it’s more of a transition forward into something because that’s when you wrote Scale for Success.
It’s a little bit after that. I was fairly burnt out. I did nothing for a few months, but then I’d been writing articles, which I loved. I do so much writing when I was a kid. I’ve been writing these articles for stress relief for a digital business publication for years. I have more time. I’m not focusing on a business. I retired. I did become ready for that. There must be a way that I’ve always wanted to, so why don’t I give the idea of my childhood dream of writing a book a go? It took me a while because I wasn’t quick about it to work out. Logically, the thing I knew about was business and the entrepreneurial stuff. I’ve done a business book to help other people. It was a pretty good guess where to start. I started off with this thing and decided to see what I could do. To my amazement, I’m published by Bloomsbury.
Where do you go from here?
You can help me. I don’t know.
Why are you guesting on shows?
It’s difficult. I’m still talking about the book. Hopefully, it’ll be around for a while longer. We’ll get to the states when we’re speaking. Most people will be out by the time. There’s some amazing wisdom in the book. Not from me necessarily, but I have a lot of help from brilliant entrepreneurs who share astounding stuff. That’s going to help people, as well as entertainment. I’m going to try and get the message out for a while. It’s going to have to be what to do with a cauliflower split in five ways for a little bit.
That’s your next book. We came up with another show, how to split a cauliflower in five ways. Jan, your book is Scale for Success. Everybody can find you on Twitter, @JanCavelle. Your website is JanCavelle.co.uk. I’m so excited for this to come out, and I can’t wait to see some of these things that you’re writing about. Thank you so much for being on the show.
It’s been my absolute pleasure. It’s been fascinating. Also, knowing that you have twins, that’s amazing. I don’t know how you cope with two at once.
At that point in time, I didn’t know any better because they were first, so you just did. They’re a boy and girl, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better for real. Thank you for being vulnerable too and opening up. I’m sure it’s going to help a lot of people who are going through some of the things that we went through. Thank you for being on.
It’s my pleasure. I enjoy chatting with you.
- Jan Cavelle
- Scale for Success
- @JanCavelle – Twitter