Is the so-called 'mumpreneur' myth over?

Prue Houston training a client.
Prue Houston training a client. Photo: Supplied

There's a lot of smoke and mirrors around 'mumpreneurs' – mothers who are entrepreneurs.

There is a naïve perception it's simple to build an app or come up with a product to sell online. Once you've done that, all you need to do is run the business while the kids have their afternoon kip. The reality is quite different for most women in business.

Research backs this up. A study published last year by Sydney University academic Meraiah Foley found many entrepreneur mothers were isolated socially and professionally. They lacked career direction and many had taken a significant pay cut compared to when they had a real job. Without holiday and sick leave, almost two-thirds had stopped contributing to their super. Sobering findings indeed.

Of course there are plenty of successful female entrepreneurs who also have a family. But from my experience talking to mums with businesses, making a go of a family and a company at the same time requires considerable sacrifice. Put simply, the dream of having it all is just that.

Prue Houston knows all about this. She has three kids, an 11-year-old, a nine-year-old and a baby. On leaving her advertising career when her first son was born, she re-trained as a fitness instructor after losing 30 kilograms. Then she started her own personal training business for women, Pretty Fit.

"I was working out of my garage and the business took off. Not long after, we opened a boutique women's gym with a shopfront. Coming into the second year of running that business, I'd gone from working in the garage from home, where I could duck in and out and look after my kids, to working early morning and also late at night," says Houston.

"As much as I loved it, when I eventually got home I would collapse in a heap. I was throwing my heart and soul into the business and not leaving much in the tank for me, which is what a lot of women do," she adds.

Four years in, Houston called it quits. When she closed the business she had around 50 members of the gym and was making about $70,000 a year. But the business model she had chosen proved challenging.

"We had this idea to revolutionise fitness by making it accessible to women without making them feel pressured to sign a contract. But there's a reason why gyms sign people to contracts. When you're managing overheads, council fees and insurance, certainty about your cash flow matters.


"I'd work early mornings, go in in the evenings and I was supplementing my income to try to get on top of things with part-time work, which added to my stress. Also I wasn't exercising very much and I'd lost my way a bit," she says

Houston says when she closed the business there had been an expectation among her clients another venue may have been on the cards in the future.

"We were going really well, we had a great base of members. But it wasn't something I could manage as a sole operator, it was getting too big."

She looked at bringing in extra trainers to shoulder some of the workload. But Houston says her clients wanted her to train them.

"We looked at a few avenues to change what we were doing, but once you're deep within a business it's hard to come up for air and look at options. After we closed, for a long time I thought I failed in some way. All these great ideas came to me after I was out of the thick of it."

In the last few months Houston has resurrected the business in a measured way. "I don't want world domination of the fitness industry. I want to connect with the women I really enjoy working with. I want fitness in my life again, I want to be able to control how many hours I'm putting in and what I'm getting out of it."

With a baby at home, Houston's business is built around her family. She has a core squad of 10 to 12 women who train four times a week at her house.

"I took all the things I really enjoyed about my business and gave it some balance. I just want a little foothold and it's wonderful."

Clients find her through her Instagram profile and blog. "I talk a lot about leaving the business the first time and the changes I went through having a third baby and getting back into fitness after burning out."

Houston's advice for people trying to get a bit of balance in their lives is to step back and look at what really makes you happy.

"The whole mumpreneur thing came about when I had my first child 10 years ago. I think it's the rod that's broken our backs, because it sets you up to feel like you constantly have to fulfil something."

Her advice is to concentrate on what makes you happy. "Focus on keeping your balance in check and everything else will fall into place," she says.

Do you believe in the family and business dream? Post a comment below.