Nicole Kofkin is the founder and director of Smartaupairs, an international agency based in Australia and the UK, connecting families and au pairs. Nicole’s work is all about helping families find balance between home life and work life. In this interview, Nicole talks about how she finds balance in her own life between her hectic office commitments and her busy life as a working mum and wife, while still finding time out to do the things she enjoys.
How long has your business, Smart Au Pairs, been in operation?
I registered Smartaupairs in the UK eight years ago and I left my job about a year after that.
What prompted you to start your own business?
I was working in travel marketing and while I found it to be a really fulfilling job, I always wondered if there was more life had to offer.
What inspired you to take those first actual steps into running your own business?
It was a combination of things. I was learning a lot about business and start ups while working for my Chartered Institute of Marketing qualification, writing a lot of business cases and marketing plans for mock start up companies. That, and I experienced some really terrible service from an au pair agency and just knew that was an area where I could really add value to the field and I could do it a whole lot better!
How does the au pair process work?
Families get in contact with us with their requirements and we provide them with a shortlist of suitable candidates. They get to have a video interview with the candidates before choosing the one they feel will be the best fit for their family. The au pairs live with the families and work from 20-25 hours a week, mostly looking after the children, doing the school runs, helping with homework, cooking dinner for the kids, but they can also help out with light housework as well. In return the families give the au pair weekly pocket money starting from $150.
What does your typical day involve?
We start with a family breakfast, although my husband is usually running out the door. Then I take the boys to the bus stop and we have a good chat along the way. After that, I’ll be either going for a run or taking the dog for a walk and then cleaning out the chickens before having a coffee. Then, the work day starts. The boys come home around 4, so I always try to be finished by then. On Wednesday evenings, I catch up with my team in the UK via Skype.
What are your work hours like?
I work four days a week from about 10 – 4, and one evening every week. That’s formal office hours and doesn’t include the extra reading and learning I’m doing outside of that. I’m usually reading a business book and always enjoy informative webinars.
How have you managed to find balance between your home and family and your work lives as well as with yourself?
Even though the core of my business if helping other people balance their lives, it’s a constant challenge! But there are ways – I outsource where I can. I hire a regular handyman and a cleaner and sometimes I hire an au pair to help out at home. In the office, our PA is a lifesaver in helping out with those little things that if left to me alone, would just never get done.
How do you maintain this balance?
My kids are now of an age where we can talk about stress and the importance of life balance, so I ask them to help. They know the importance of work and how valuable hard work is, but they also know the importance of fun and they remind me of that too.
Are there any activities or tasks that you do that help to keep yourself feeling balanced?
Running or walking every morning is really important. I also try to prepare a proper meal every night, although some nights sports or other activities force us to cut corners there.
Do you have any time left for friends or me time?
I often have dinner together with my small group of female friends. My Me time is either running or walking, as well as spending time with my friends. I also spend a bit of time with a few Facebook groups and I was really into The Block and House Husbands for a while so that’s good Me time too.
Do you have any strategies to make sure your family and your partner feel like they are getting enough of your time?
We always talk about balance. While I do try, I often give my priority to the kids where I think my husband would like a date night occasionally. I know how much he values our time, so I should make more time for him.
How do you manage to keep on top of your work?
Good process and technology are the key to efficiency. We use technology where possible and use cloud computing to easily share files between the two offices. I’m part of a very supportive business group so I’m constantly learning from the best.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for Mums in business?
Balancing business and personal life is one area I am always checking myself to bring back into a healthy balance. It’s also important to find balance between business learning and implementation. It’s one thing to learn all the things you should be or could be doing, and that’s great, but if you never have the time to put any of them into practice, you’ll never progress.
Do you have any tips for mums in business to assist in maintaining life balance?
Mums are often quick to self sacrifice, but if you don’t look after yourself first you can’t look after anyone else. Find one thing every day that you really enjoy doing and make sure you do it. No negotiations. If you have to do it first thing in the morning or last thing at night, just keep focussed on getting it done and don’t give up. Connecting to a business network is also really valuable. You’ll meet like minded people and find a lot of inspiration and drive from participating in events.
You can check out Nicole’s agency, Smartaupairs at www.smartaupairs.com.au.