Home education: a springboard to enterprise

Ali has set up and run several small businesses, all of which have had to fit around family commitments, including home education. Her latest ecommerce venture involves the whole family in its running.

I have always been more interested in working for myself than for anyone else, although I have done both out of necessity!

I realised at a young age that I wasn’t cut out for menial work or for being employed by idiots! From my first paid activities as a berry picker and tattie howker while still at primary school (child labour was the norm then), I progressed at the age of 15 to fish processing (using some highly dangerous equipment) in the school holidays for 25p an hour, followed by a selection of mind numbing jobs while at university to help boost the grant (yes, back in the 70s we got grants).

After university, I worked in both the public and voluntary sectors in London for a number of (mostly enjoyable) years before becoming a parent and choosing to stay at home with the baby, a decision which was good for our quality of life but not so good for our bank balance. When my husband was offered a new job in Germany, we moved without hesitation, stayed there for six years and had two more children.

Although the children kept me busy, I had always harboured an ambition to work for myself and decided to give it a try. After taking a crash course in teaching English as a foreign language, I started picking up private tuition and translation work before graduating to delivering language training for local companies. We moved a couple of times in the six years we spent in Germany and I also briefly dabbled with a small catering enterprise, which was successful but stressful , so on returning to Scotland, I opted to set up a language services agency which ran with modest success for another six years.

By this time, we had decided school was not doing the children any favours and, having met a few home educating families through business, we took the plunge and joined them, fitting work and business commitments around the home education. Naturally, foreign language learning figured highly on our ‘curriculum’ and the business soon expanded into running children’s classes in French, Spanish and German, teaching up to 200 a week in small groups.

As my own children got older, I began to tire of the business I was in and sold up to try my hand at other activities, including freelance writing. Soon afterwards, with a few published articles under my belt, I was offered a job as a parliamentary researcher for an MSP who held the shadow children’s portfolio in the Scottish Parliament and it was just too good an opportunity to turn down! I ended up spending seven years working for MSPs, the latest of whom converted me to waste awareness and the benefits of recycling and helped sow the seeds of my current business.

Two years ago I launched an online boutique specialising in vintage, retro and recycled fashion that doesn’t cost the earth. My home educated children are now grown up, so rather than having to fit around their educational needs, this latest venture now benefits from their support and involvement as young home educated adults with a range of business related skills. Learning the ecommerce ropes has certainly been a challenge, but it has also been a worthwhile journey where informal networking with fellow entrepreneurs has proved far more useful than any formal ‘enterprise’ training.

Considering that there was no such thing as a PC when I was at school or university, never mind the range of technologies which exist today, it is personally satisfying to realise just how much I have been able to learn about the many different aspects of online retailing with a bit of help from my friends and colleagues.

The same principle applies to home education, of course, where children and young people learn naturally by asking questions, utilising available resources and researching solutions for themselves. Formal institutions may have a place, but they are not the be all and end all when it comes to educating children or inspiring entrepreneurs.

Starting out in business brings its own challenges and rewards, whether or not you use the school system. However, there is little doubt that home educators and home educated young people are especially well suited to meeting the challenges and reaping the rewards of business, as they are by definition imaginative, creative, resourceful, flexible and just about every other adjective that describes a typically successful entrepreneur! Home-edupreneurs run businesses large and small, throughout the UK and across a diverse range of sectors.


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