Mirjam Sariman is a successful mother and entrepreneur who in 2014 quit her job and together with her husband and two kids moved back to her birthplace Axel (Zeeland) to start a new family company. The business, a fitness club, had an incredible growth right from the begining.
During this interview in Axel, Mirjam opened up and talked about her formula for business success, what balancing life and work mean to her and how she achieves it, what her fears are and how she deals with them.
It is hard to accept that I am not always available, and I am not the pillar around which everything revolves at home
How did you become an entrepreneur?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My parents had a supermarket, and since I have memory I remember them in the store, so it runs in my blood. My entrepreneurial life started only three years ago, till then I was an employee like many other people.
However I always worked for companies that were a good fit for me, and where I had leading positions. In a certain way, I managed these assignments with an entrepreneurial mind set. I worked like these were my companies. That being said, I never felt the push start on my own as I got a lot of energy out of these jobs.
What happened that you dropped everything and became a full time entrepreneur?
I wasn’t looking to start my own thing, but an interesting opportunity opened within the family company which I thought was very appealing, and that tilted the needle. The fact that this meant my entrance in the entrepreneur world was an addendum. If the same opportunity had popped up in a different company and offered to me, I would have embraced it in the same way as I did this one. However, the fact it was with my family gave it an extra dimension.
How did your family react to your decision?
Well, in this case, the change of course involved more than only a job change. We had to move to a different place in the Netherlands, sell our house, and buy other one and so forth.
I discussed this with my husband who also saw the potential of this opportunity and agreed on all the upcoming necessary changes, even though it meant moving to a region in the Netherlands where he vowed never to move to! It also played a role that the kids weren’t toddlers anymore, and it became increasingly important to have more time to spend with them.
Being an entrepreneur usually means long hours, hard work, etc., how do you combine it with parenthood?
We keep a very clear scheme, flexible but concrete, where we schedule who will be with the kids and when. This ensures that I have time to work, with no distraction, and time to be with the kids. In that fashion, though the kids might be getting less amount of time, they do get quality time. And yes, I do plan my free time!
How did you manage that when you were an employee?
Then they were babies, and my employer allowed me to take them to work, which I am fully aware is an exception. It was easier to work full time then. Nowadays they are somewhat older, and I can’t just put them in a chair expecting them not to move. Now that they go to school means I have more continuous hours to put into work.
What are the challenges you face as a mother in combination with being an entrepreneur?
While I am thoroughly convinced that my choices were right, it is at times hard to accept that I am not always available, and I am not the pillar around which everything revolves at home, which differs from the traditional point of view that in a family mom is the one to go to for everything. At times, a little voice in me creeps out, and I hear myself saying I am not a good mom and the alike. Immediately I realize it’s not true, that I am not the only one who is good to them; their dad, grandparents, aunts & uncles are also good and valuable to them.
It is a conscious choice, and it is not always nice to leave them behind, especially when they crave to be with me and plead not to be left at somebody else’s place. In the grand scheme of things, I know this is also good for them, and it’s for their benefit.
What would you like to pass on to your kids?
Entrepreneurship, without a doubt! Look, having your company is not a must, but the entrepreneurial spirit and mind set and the doing of what you like are things that you can bring into your job, free time, etc. Of course, there is always less fun stuff that needs to be done, but having a good time at work, the loving of what you do, is crucial.
Was there a time when you did not enjoy your work?
I was working for a fitness club which was taken over by a franchise and the management changed. Decisions were made for me to roll out, and there I lost interest and looked for a different activity.
Have you had sleepless nights thinking about the future?
No, not really. It might sound weird. I believe the reason is that I research well what my options are and what my next steps are. And the intrinsic trust that in the end things always work out.
Are you afraid of something?
No, not really. What I see within myself is that when I get stuck into a routine, I grow restless and lose my interest. On the company front, I want memberships and quality to remain stable. We have to be aware that we don’t grow beyond what it is now, and when we reach that point we need to think about solutions. But if the company would reach a point where everything goes according to planning, and some form of routine kicks in, I run the risk of losing my interest. You know how the saying goes “standing still is to go backwards,” so I need to be on guard that I do not land in any form of routine.
Honestly on the company front which is fitness clubs, I have enough experience and know-how to manage eventual fears. It is in the areas where I have less expertise where I notice I kind of lay back and get in motion when the deadline is looming. I delay action because I am not so clear about what I have to do.
When I get stuck into a routine, I grow restless and lose my interest.
What about asking for help?
I do this with my brother; he is the visionary who decides where we are going to in this. We decide together what needs to be done. Then I come into action, and any fear or doubt vanishes. And I love this team in the club and the cooperation that exists between us.
What kind of leader are you?
I am a doer, but for the best results in this company, it’s better to have a team where each member has given strengths and expertise. We set the guidelines and the goal and look forward to each member giving the best he/she has to give. They can decide how they want to achieve this aim.
Do you miss anything from your time as an employee?
Not really, primarily because I approach my work in the same manner. When you are an employee, there is a leader that sets the course and as an employee you take action, I miss that a bit. For me, it is kind of difficult to have that vision; luckily my brother has that.
Your husband is also an entrepreneur, how is the cooperation?
A lot of compromise! Understanding we see each other less frequently than we used before I became an entrepreneur, also making sure we have very clear agreements surely when it comes to available time, and yet remaining flexible, goes a long way.
We brainstorm and talk about what’s going on, and he has a different view on things of which I do greatly benefit from his input, even the times where my initial reaction is to reject his views.
Now that you have kids, do you do things differently?
The biggest difference is the kids touched my sensibility. I now move more in line with my heart when making decisions when it comes to the kids and a lesser degree also on the business front. When looking at how I managed things before and after becoming a mom, now my reactions come more from within my heart; I give more space to my guts.
Where lies for you the balance between life and work?
Ahh, that is THE question! For many years finding a balance between life and work was the top item in my to- do-list. The more I looked and aimed for that balance, the more elusive it seemed to be, and the more frustrated I grew.
I realized balance is more a thing of acceptance that life is not a static thing, and we need to go with the flow. Sometimes work demands more of my time, at times it is my private/family life, and it is accepting this and moving accordingly what balance is for me. It might mean less time for my family, but making precise arrangements that work for them and me, brings the balance. And no, this does not silence the creepy voice that whispers in my ear I am not a good mother, but I know when needed I can make time for my family.
Balancing work and life is accepting that life is not a static thing. We need to go with the flow
How does the future look for you?
For sure doing tons of new things, this is what keeps me going. Also, developing personally as well as professionally, and eventually set up something new. We have a concrete vision and mission for within this family company put Axel on the map.
Who inspires you?
I think everybody can inspire you. People with positive energy and who take action is people I look up to for inspiration, especially people close to me. Visionaries inspire me because I am not one.
Which do you think was your secret to success?
The starting of this fitness club in this particular place where we as a family have a history, the concept, getting the right people in the right place, were elements of success. Also, my previous experience in marketing played a vital role in the set up. All these things together provided a huge success right from the start.
What would you pass on to another mom considering starting on her own?
If she says she is considering becoming an entrepreneur, my advice would be to be sure that is really what you want. Becoming an entrepreneur is very demanding; you need initiative, discipline, and drive. It has consequences for your family life which you need to accept. Stay open to receive advice and help from others, try not to do everything on your own, and surround you with the right people.