Why would you start a small business at home leaving behind a 16-year-old career? How do you start a small business at home with a 5-year-old to look after? For Samira Pillai, the answers lay hidden in a conversation. Samira Pillai hails from a media, communication, and publishing background. Recently, she also spent some time in the education and training space working with both corporates and students. In early 2019, Samira decided to combine her passion for content and publishing, and her interest in meeting people from all walks of life, by setting up a company called StoneMill Consulting. In this heart-to-heart with HerMoneyTalks, this brave mom shares her unique story.

StoneMill Consulting helps individuals and companies with profile building, branding, content, design, and publishing services. “Just like a millstone, we process the raw data given to us and transform it into a pure and refined product,” laughs Samira.

As a freelance writer in the middle of her career, Samira had found it challenging to find work that paid well. Clients would want quality content at bare minimum prices. “I started small. A project here, a training there, then a part-time job. And finally I started my own business. And I am thankful for it. It has given me wings, and I can’t wait to mature and begin to fly!”

Penning the first chapter of business building

Samira says that when she started StoneMill, she began reaching out to clients and was taken more seriously. “I don’t think it is so much about being a woman, as it is about being an entity and not just a freelancer.”

According to her, the most difficult part of starting a small business at home has been understanding the legal and financial ropes. The learning curve was the steepest on these two fronts. Pricing of services and offerings was the most critical decision.

Confidence levels in the beginning were quite low and there was always temptation to undersell just to get some business in.

“Confidence levels in the beginning were quite low and there was always temptation to undersell just to get some business in. But with constant discussions, debates and communication, I have found my bearings one year into the business,” declares Samira confidently.

StoneMill is a bootstrapped startup. Samira’s husband supported her endeavor to be a businesswoman by investing the initial seed money. Her parents have supported her by letting her convert part of their home into office.  The initial seed fund was primarily used for building the infrastructure. “This means I had no money to employ regular staff. I could only collaborate with professionals on a project to project basis,” recollects Samira.

The initial months of her business were focused on building capital through various one-off projects. At that point, she aimed at bringing in clients who would be able to pay a retainer. Now after 10 months into business, Samira has slowly begun to invest in human capital for StoneMill.

When your family helps co-author your career

Husband and parents have been a major source of support and advice on the business front for brave Samira. Her in-laws have been a constant backbone as they have been looking after her young daughter. “Running a small business at home while raising a family, and maintaining work-life balance has been possible because of this support,” says Samira.

While most work-from-home moms gripe about the difficulties of managing work at home environment, Samira thinks it all depends on how you make your family members understand. Talking about your business and work with family, including your toddler at home, and bringing them on board, really helps.

I had a client meeting one afternoon and my daughter was with me that day. I was wondering what I’d do if she asked for my attention during the meeting.

Samira recollects a sweet incident. “I had a client meeting one afternoon and my daughter was with me that day. I was wondering what I’d do if she asked for my attention during the meeting. To my pleasant surprise, when my client arrived, my daughter gently took her grandmother’s hand. She then led her out of the office area to the residential area announcing, ‘Nani, let’s go. Mumma has a client meeting now!’ Of course, she also takes me to task if I use my phone outside of working hours. And that is how it should be!”

“There were a few small gaps in my career, especially when I became a mom. Post-partum depression, the challenges of first-time motherhood, no income, no work – my self esteem and self-worth took a big hit. As my daughter grew up, I knew I needed to get my bearings back. If not for me, surely for her,” reminisces Samira. “If I wanted her to grow up to be her own person, I needed to be my own person too!”

Samira’s Money Hacks

(1) Take nothing for granted

(2) Focus on building your brand, vision and mission; Money will follow

(3) Respect time and effort – not just yours but of others as well; Time and effort itself is money

“I do meet a lot of talented women through my work, who have limited access to funds, or support. In such instances, it helps to build a tribe of like-minded friends with different skills and who are interested in what you are doing,” says Samira.

Samira’s closing advice to wannabe businesswomen is simple: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “We don’t have to be superwomen capable of doing it all. Your village, your tribe, your circle of ‘persons’ is waiting to support you. Simply extend your hand and be willing to take the support.”

Solid advice, that!