The office of the future, where stay at home mums rule
JODY Allen doesn't fit the stereotypical businesswoman mould. She swears. She's a bit naughty. She's disdainful of people who aspire to keep up with the Joneses and try to paint a phony picture of glossy families and perfect children.
And perhaps her personal appeal is part of the reason her Stay At Home Mum empire is now the biggest online network for mums in Australia, with 750,000 unique visitors and more than 460,000 Facebook followers.
The Gympie mother of two's unwitting path to mumpreneurship started in 2009, when she was made redundant while pregnant with her second son, Flynn.
She and husband Brendan figured out that to survive on his wages alone, they could only spend $50 a week on groceries. Allen took it on as a personal challenge. She upended her shopping, cooking and storage habits to cut costs, and started posting Facebook status updates about her experiences. Then something happened. Friends started liking and sharing her posts with other friends, who shared and shared alike, and before she knew it she was attracting a huge following from other mums trying to save a buck.
"It was never meant to be a business - it was just for shits and giggles," Allen said. "I was sick of going to mothers' groups and hearing about everybody's perfect children. And at that point I didn't have anyone to talk to about scrimping and saving.
"I'd love to know why (my Facebook following) exploded, but it did. It was going up by hundreds a day. I wanted to start a website but I didn't know how. So I rang around."
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On the other end of the phone she found a whole lot of polite "thanks but no thanks" until she got to local website designer Alan Caulfield, who saw something the others didn't. He designed a basic website for her and Stay At Home Mum was born in 2011.
"I was able to pay him back in two months," Allen said proudly.
That website was created four years ago, but it seems a world away from SAHM today. For a start, the site is now in its fifth iteration, and the business has grown to the point it has its own in-house designer. Regular articles are posted on topics from parenting and cleaning advice to bullying and boob problems. And Allen and her husband - who left his job managing a motorbike store to join the business full time last year - now employ 18 full-time and 12-part-time staff.
But SAHM isn't like one of those glossy tech start-ups that explode into a sleek new concrete-and-glass office on the back of its newfound success, only to crash and burn later.
Instead, the office is the Allens' home on 1.2ha in the quiet area of Pie Creek, just outside Gympie in Queensland.
"I still work from home in my spare room," Allen said with a laugh. "Stay At Home Mum has taken over my whole house. The only space I have to myself is my bedroom.
"I'm a fairly private person, so having people in your house took a bit of getting used to. But because they're in my house, I just employ on personality and train them up."
That house, by the way - there's no mortgage on it. Through walking the talk, Allen is in the enviable position of being 40 years old with no debt on her home or her cars.
There are other differences in this office too. There's a treadmill for staff (many of whom are friends and neighbours), and it's clear there's a jovial and close-working relationship among them.
Go to the About Us page on the website and you'll see the team members describe themselves - apart from by their job titles - with tags such as "kitchen wench", "office eye candy", "ugly shoe wearer" and "sleeps with the chief content editor" (okay, so only Brendan says that). But the staff members who work out of the SAHM epicentre are only part of the team.
Allen also employs a network of writers - almost exclusively mums who work from home around their children's sleep - who make sure the content on the website is fresh and entertaining. Without meaning to, she has created what could be the future of modern workplaces, where family and flexibility are part of the business model. And what's more, productivity is high.
"They give 1000%," Allen said of her staff.
Offering flexibility is something that's important to this boss, because it's something she didn't have before she started her hugely successful business. Allen thinks back to her former life as a council minutes clerk.
"I felt really burned out and stressed all the time - and that's no way to run a business," she said.
"I made a lot of mistakes with work/life balance and there are still some weeks where I do too much, and I know I've got to pull back and look after myself. The perfect work/life balance is still a little bit elusive but it's getting better."
There's another positive product of the flexibility the business offers - better quality time with children Nate, 8, and Flynn, 7, particularly since Brendan came on board last year. "It's the first time we've had weekends off together in years," Allen said.
"We probably work more during the week than we did before, but we get better time with the kids."
The work doesn't look like backing off any time soon. Allen released a book recently, called Live Well on Less, and later this year, SAHM plans to expand into the US and UK, given it already has a big following in those countries.
She is now on the hunt for local writers in those countries so the articles are authentic and relevant to that readership, and will then take her fresh brand of cost-saving family life to the world.
"I want to make frugal living cool," she said. "I think people are sick of trying to keep up with the Joneses - and realising that they can't keep up, but they can still be happy.
"Stay At Home Mum is a community. It's nice to have someone to talk to."
She also has some advice for any mums - or dads - out there who are stewing over some ideas but don't know how to make them happen.
"Just start. If you don't start, it's just a dream," Allen said. "The online world is really opening up things for mums now.
"I've got a book full of ideas and I just write them down as I have them so I don't forget them.
"Let your ideas fester. Come back to look at them. You can start an empire with no money, but a lot of ideas and hard work. And take that leap because you've got nothing to lose.
"I did it and I knew nothing. If I can do it, anyone can."