Anyone who has dabbled in the field of public relations is bound to know that it’s no walk in the park. Throw motherhood into the daily grind and you will find yourself having your hands more than just full. But mompreneur Elaine Seah discovered early on that her appetite for risks and control was not satisfied by her routine role as a communications manager.
Then 27, Elaine went on to establish Brand Incorporated, a PR boutique firm specialising in consumer lifestyle PR with a focus in medical and hospitality. The 39 year-old mother of one is currently the firm’s Group Director. Let’s find out how this mompreneur excels as a leader while simultaneously making time for her three-year-old daughter, Islay!
How did the inspiration to start Brand Incorporated come about?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandfather was a storyteller along one of the five-foot-ways in Chinatown, and my grandmother owned a pushcart and sold the most authentic Hokkien prawn noodle soup and spring rolls in 1950s Singapore. With the meagre amount they earned, they raised six outstanding children who run a group of family businesses.
Given that entrepreneurship ran in the blood, starting my own business was almost innate since I had observed how they had struggled to make a living. Armed with just a laptop, a passion for public relations, and a knack for fun and adventure, I founded Brand Incorporated. What started out as a freelance copywriting and communications opportunity for a local orchid farm eventually turned into a successful long term career.
How has becoming a parent changed you?
I have learnt that the best way to love my child is to first love myself. By loving myself, I discover new and healthy ways to communicate with Islay, and she gets to interact with a happy mother.
What’s a typical family day or weekend like?
Family time more often revolves around nature – a walk at a nature reserve, cycling along a waterway or a visit to the zoo or bird park.
What have you learnt about yourself as a parent?
I have the patience to coach, coax and cajole – which I never knew I had! I was once offered the opportunity to be trained as a teacher and I turned down the opportunity because I didn’t think I had these qualities. Now that I am a mother, I salute all teachers!
How have the qualities that come along with being an entrepreneur helped you to deal with events in your everyday life?
To be an entrepreneur in the PR field, one must be emotionally resilient to withstand failure and constantly look into new ways to upgrade oneself. Without passion and drive, it is very easy to feel demoralised when we fail to win a pitch or to feel unappreciated when great ideas and executions have been taken for granted. We need to constantly reinvent what these qualities translate to and motivate ourselves.
Tell us a little more about your experience having run Brand Incorporated thus far.
The experience of starting the company alone has been nothing short of amazing! I have had help from several groups of people – family, friends, co-workers and even clients who were willing to give me a chance to propel my business overseas. I strongly believe in this quote from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I believe that help will be provided along the way when we work hard for something.
How do you juggle motherhood and entrepreneurship successfully? Does either need to be compromised on at any point of time?
The best investment is time. Weekends are dedicated to Islay. Work days start with sending Islay to school, and end with picking her up from school. On workload-heavy days, work continues after having dinner with Islay. On top of that, Islay is also very involved in my work such as events at Whisky Live and Pink Ribbon Walk, dining experiences at La Braceria and site visits or photoshoots at one of the hotels managed by Far East Hospitality.
How do you ensure that you spend enough time with Islay? Do you ever regret not having done so?
Public relations is ranked as one of the most stressful jobs in the world. The nature of my work inevitably at times affects my duties as a mother. It is no easy feat. Often, I am affected by a sense of guilt for not being able to afford time for my three-year-old. However, I am still determined to serve as a role model for my daughter for when she enters the workforce.
A research by Harvard Business School studied how children benefit from their working mothers and it offers much comfort and inspiration for me to invest time in my career while caring for my family at the same time. I am very confident that it is possible, but only time will tell.
What do you think are some significant difficulties faced by mompreneurs and how can these be overcome?
Motherhood can pose a penalty for women in terms of perception of their abilities. They are often deemed less competent and less committed as compared to their male counterparts. Female entrepreneurs similarly face persistent societal pressures in the form of traditional gender roles. There exists a widespread stigma that a mother will definitely prioritise her children over work.
With domestic responsibilities resting heavily on a woman’s shoulders, more can be done to tackle the societal imbalance in order to encourage more women to start their own businesses. Two weeks of paternity leave is certainly a start. Mothers should be able to enlist the help of others without hesitation as the responsibilities of a woman increase.
How would you describe your parenting style?
My husband and I believe that we form the foundation of my daughter’s upbringing. Together, we create a nurturing environment that is fun for Islay to explore.
She is given opportunities to make simple decisions and to lead in activities. Before she could speak, we would place outfits for her to choose when she was about ten months old. She also helps out with simple household tasks like beating eggs, putting up her laundry on the line and watering the plants since she was 18 months old. Now that she is three, she has a chores roster. She earns a star for each time she helps out.
As parents, we need to understand that children have their problems too. We sit together as a family for a home cooked dinner at least five times a week and Islay shares with us stories about her friends in school. We give her the confidence that she can share her problems with us without being judged or reprimanded.
What advice do you have to offer budding female entrepreneurs out there, especially those who are mothers like yourself?
One, do not skive, as hard work can only be accomplished if one works hard enough. Two, do not give up. It’s easy to say, but hard to execute when every aspect of your business requires your attention. There will be moments of self-doubt, low self-esteem and disappointment. But once you give up, the game is over. Lastly, it is important to stay motivated and reinvent. Business or life cannot get better if we stick to our old ways.
Complete the sentence: “The best thing about being a parent is…”
“… the constant challenge to reinvent and upgrade myself so that I can attend to Islay’s growing needs.”
Images courtesy of Elaine Seah.