Photography by Ollie Khedun
You’ve started a business, it’s going great guns, and then your co-founder comes to you with some glowingly good news. So went the story of Sydney event stylists Georgina Van Hee (pictured right) and Katie Smee – collectively George & Smee – when George found out that baby Amber was on her way. Here’s how the duo planned for the unknowns of motherdom, navigated George’s re-entry to work and kept their business going (and growing) in between.
My main concern was that Katie would have to take on more work. And I hated the idea of her workload increasing as we were already slammed, but I figured having Amber in winter was good timing as we wouldn’t be in the throes of summer and wedding season… however, we didn’t foresee how busy that winter would be!
I had no idea how I’d feel post baby. I didn’t know whether I would have one of those babies that just sleeps all the time (do they really exist!?) and I could bring her in and work with her sleeping in the pram, and I wanted us to plan as best we could for worst-case scenario, so we did have a good chat and it was actually Katie who said she thought I’d need longer with my baby than what I was anticipating.
[My biggest fear was] that I would be out of the loop a little… I also worried about juggling it all and not being able to get through the amount of work I’d like to. We are all used to working at a fast pace in our office, but now I had half the time. Of course, I was also concerned about Amber being too young for daycare, but, thankfully, after a couple of weeks, she totally loved it.
Re-entry was amazing on so many levels. I was so proud of Katie doing such an awesome job while I was off! Things haven’t changed massively, though, which is nice, but I ask a lot more questions as it’s amazing what you forget or how quickly things change and develop when you’re away playing mum… I’m so happy to be back, though. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mum to Amber, but I’m a creative and I really missed that outlet.
Don’t take on too much and be realistic with your business partner. I started with two days a week, then moving to three and event days – with the odd phone calls and emails in between! But only take on what you can realistically tackle, then you won’t let the team or clients down.
I do have to live by a schedule now, so have to leave the office on the dot in order to pick Amber up on time from daycare, and I often have to ask the girls exact timings of when I’m needed on an event outside of daycare hours or on a weekend, so I can plan accordingly with cover. Being very organised and having Amber in a routine has definitely helped me juggle it all.
George and I have always been very open with each other, so when I found out she was pregnant, it didn’t come as a shock. I was just so happy for both of them! Having said that, we didn’t have any kind of business plan in place for when it did happen so I did have a bit of a mini panic…
[We] love to bounce ideas off each other, and have always made every one of our big decisions together, so I didn’t know how that would be without her. I was also slightly concerned that the months to follow were going to be all-consuming and long hours, and could feel like too much to handle. It’s always been important to us to have a life-work balance to some degree and I thought that might end for a while…
We discussed the fact that we were probably about to go through a tough time, so we just both needed to be as understanding as possible about each other’s situation.
Bringing in another member of staff was key for us. Yolandi, who had been working on lots of our events and had shown she was a brilliant stylist and a really hard worker, started to work for us on a part-time basis. We became much busier than we anticipated, so she then started working full-time and is now a permanent member of the team.
Quite a few things have changed, developed and improved in the way we do things since George left for mat leave, so George has had to ask me – and even Yolandi – questions. Luckily George has been great at not having an ego about it and realising it’s just what’s happened – it won’t take long at all for her to get up to speed!
Be really flexible. Neither of us had any idea what it was going to be like or how long George would like to have on mat leave. In the end, George took eight months off work, but had to step in a bit during that time when both Yolandi and I had holidays. On a couple of occasions, George was still breast-feeding Amber and had to nip out for a quick feed whilst setting up an event!
The confidence that I can run a business on my own is pretty cool. There were a few areas that George used to look after that I had to start taking control of, but we made it work. I treasure having George as a business partner so much, though, I would never want to do it alone completely.