Entrepreneurs finding life balance series- Mona Shah.
My next guest for the Entrepreneur’s Life balance series is Mona Shah the Founder of Harry Specters, chocolatier’s and social enterprise offering young people with autism jobs and training opportunities. Mona trained as a chocolatier at the Chocolate Academy. Harry Specters was established almost 5 years ago and and is run by the entire family, Mona’s daughter who helps during peak time, her husband and their son.
Mona’s son Ash has autism, and he inspired her to launch Harry Specters and provide young autistic people with employment and training opportunities after he struggled to find work or training. Mona and her husband Shaz, run Harry Specters, and their son, Ash did his work experience with them and has a large part to play in the business.
As is with the other interviews in this series, the aim is to help you draw inspiration from other busy entrepreneurs on how to build a balanced lifestyle while still running a thriving business. So sit back and enjoy it.
What does your typical day look like?
It depends on what we have planned or what time of year it is. It can vary. It’s always an early rise, late to bed. My priority in the morning is making sure Ash has everything he needs and is set up for the day, then I head into the factory. Usually we are dealing with bulk and larger orders, especially for our corporate clients, so my days are spent with the team processing, making, packaging and shipping the chocolate orders, as well as dealing with customer enquiries. We are located in a factory in Ely, and don’t have a brick and mortar shop, only online so we have the benefit of being able to focus solely on being in the factory rather than going back and forth. But because there are two parts of the business, the chocolate and the social enterprise, I have to split myself between the two and manage both. I’m lucky to have a great team, as well as Shaz otherwise I’d never get anything done.
What has been the most difficult thing that’s come between your business and your family life?
I’m lucy enough to work with my family, but it can be stressful as it’s long hours and often weekends, so we don’t get much family time when we aren’t working. We are always in business mode when we work, so we try and make it as fun as possible but it can be difficult to find the line and switch off from the business as it’s such an integral part of life.
Have you experienced any moments of overwhelm? How did you cope.
Most days ha ha! Christmas is always overwhelming, as orders are increasing year by year so it is all hands on board to make sure we manage everything fully. Also, in the beginning when we first established the social enterprise, trying to gather funding, understanding exactly what social enterprise meant was difficult and sometimes impossible. Shaz and I worked hard together and with other organisations and companies. We had a great support system and took things day by day. It was a learning process, but I think it always will be.
Are you in a place where you think you now have your life in control regardless of what responsibilities there are? If so, could you share 3 major ways you have been able to take back your life.
I wouldn’t say in control, but my life and family life are in better positions. My children are older and I’m wiser. I’ve been through several phases in my life, phases that have forced me to change, and have changed everything I thought I knew. I’ve changed so much since setting up Harry Specters, and I will probably change again in the next few years as we grow and process. I’ve learned that you can’t control things, but you can be better prepared for the unexpected. I like to think I could tackle anything that comes at me.
One major way would be education. Education doesn’t stop in adult life, and knowledge really is power. When Ash was diagnosed with autism, I didn’t know anything about autism and was terrified. By educating myself about autism, and researching, I was in a better position to look after my son and make sure he had everything he needed now then and in the future.
Training, I trained in chocolate making, which allowed me to combine my love of chocolate and desire to help Ash and others with autism. This also allowed me to create something I have a genuine passion in and love my job. I would recommend training at any age, you can always make a change, or even just to develop your skills, it’s incredibly fulfilling.
Just embracing everything. Acceptance can be difficult when life throws you curveballs but it happens, and it happens to everyone. It is just about what you do with them. Ash’s autism has been difficult at times, and the initial diagnosis was hard on the family, and presented several challenges. But I wouldn’t have Ash any other way, and he has inspired me to create Harry Specters, and help others on the spectrum.
What singular advice would you give anyone in your business shoes now but not coping?
It’s old advice but don’t give up. There will be days where giving up seems like the better option but I’m a firm believer in, if it’s an easy decision, it’s the wrong one. If you’re genuinely passionate about what you’re doing, you’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your business be. You will always have challenges, some that are unique to your business that no one else can help you with and it will be those days where you learn the most. I have discovered so much about myself and what I’m capable of since setting up Harry Specters. Keep going, and you’ll look back eventually and be glad you didn’t give up.
Mona Shah, Founder Harry Specters www.harryschocs.co.uk