How I survived the pandemic & menopause as an entrepreneur

Menopause, five kids and the pandemic: how one entrepreneur has survived. Liz Matthews on a year like no other.

Fifteen years ago, after my first child was born and I needed to find some semblance of balance (which I’d been told was only really possible if you worked for yourself), I set up my own communications agency. I never considered myself an entrepreneur, but I guess I was, and still am. Since that moment, I have never looked back.

How I grew my own business

I grew the agency steadily around bringing up kids (I have 4 of my own, and inherited a lovely stepson 5 years ago). The first year was kitchen table, then a friend offered me some desk space so I could get an assistant. We were a team of 6 within a year. One of my first interns, Jordan Mitchell, graduated up to managing director and, out of the flames of Covid, we decided to become equal business partners together this year. She is so impressive and we truly complement each other, in so many ways.

Why I love working for myself

Before Covid, I travelled abroad too much, for meetings I now realise I can do from home over Zoom. I never ate tea with the kids or caught up with their day. I rarely got a chance to put them to bed, and whilst I am typically working most evenings now, it’s my choice and for a career I chose and love. I break whenever I can when they get in from school. We have Sunday night baths together listening to the soundtrack from Hairspray (with Wren, 8) and chatting about about Greek mythology (with her twin, Teddy, 8). Gabe (12) and I have watched some epic telly together – our latest favourite, Ladyparts is the story of a young all-girl Muslim punk band. Bram (15) is a typical teen who prefers to plug in and listen to Radiohead but I make sure to grab him for an awkward hug a couple of times a week.

How the pandemic affected me as an entrepreneur

After the year we have just had, I realise this is more important than ever. Like everyone, last year was an enormous challenge. Years of pattern and security was suddenly up in the air, almost overnight. It’s a helpless, anxious feeling under any circumstances, but even more compounded when there are so many mouths to feed at home. A significant chunk of business disappeared within weeks, forcing us to scale back. We entered full survival mode, working longer hours than ever before, whilst juggling home schooling.   

We entered full survival mode, working longer hours than ever before, whilst juggling home schooling. 

I am inherently optimistic, but this did test me. As it did everyone we spoke to, but there was also a sense of ‘in this togetherness.’ I have never done well worrying and dwelling: I am a solution finder. And so began a series of long, thoughtful calls with my (now) business partner Jordan, and my life partner, Al, on our next steps.

My new approach, my rebranded company

There has been more change in the world of media and culture in the past 5 years than the previous 50. Across every vertical in the luxury, fashion, beauty, wellness, lifestyle and entertainment industries the traditional ways of reaching consumers, building relationships and value has fundamentally changed. We rebranded, settling on a name – Good Culture – which we felt spoke to our values and DNA. Purpose and responsibility are at the core of our own values and expertise. Is this because we are a female-run company? I don’t know, it’s just who we are. We have made a conscious commitment to ensure our work strives to create a more inclusive, representative culture – and create opportunities for our brand partners to do the same.  

Eventually we won some new business and it restored our confidence, and our bank balance. There was hope. The company is just 4 months old and we have won prestigious new clients such as SKIMS, LYMA, Good American, FRAME and Disney. We are delivering high-impact projects focused on mental health awareness (Movember) diversity and inclusivity (Barbie’s SHERO campaign) and A women’s right to pleasure (via Coco de Mer and Ava’s Stories).  

The menopause has merits. It just needs a rebrand.

On a personal level, however, a month after launching Good Culture, after a trip to my GP, it was finally confirmed that I was ‘well into my menopause’ and I have been reading everything I can on the subject ever since. I’m the first of my close circle of friends to experience it, but not the youngest. I’m in the 5% of women who will get it in their mid forties. There is still an alarming lack of information easily accessible and I’m part of a growing number of women who are committed to sharing information, and ultimately trying to normalise something all women will go through.

Dealing with menopause at the same time

For me, the hot flushes were minimal, my symptoms have been an unwelcome mix of sore breasts, aching joints, insomnia and irritability. But a week after starting HRT, I actually feel the most me I have ever felt, I’ve made positive lifestyle changes and I’m embracing this new chapter. I’ve often romanticised getting older, I have lots of older women as friends and mentors and I am definitely much happier now than in my 20s and 30s. The menopause has merits. It just needs a rebrand.

We should talk to our children about menopause

We can’t choose whether it happens to us or not, but we can choose how we respond to it. I’m talking to my kids about it – joking with my eldest (almost 16) about us both being perfectly in sync with huge hormone changes. He’s learnt all about puberty at school – I daresay mostly from mates. But he knew nothing about menopause – why should he? But just one lesson about it could help him have empathy with me, and some of his teachers who will no doubt be going through a spectrum of the 30+ symptoms.

Watching the people you love get older and get sick

It’s true that getting older is scary – my best friend has cancer, my other best friend is watching her mum rapidly deteriorate with dementia, but it also makes you hugely appreciative, really understand priorities and see how the little things become the big things.  

When I look at the businesses I have worked with over the years, I think I am naturally attracted to businesses run by women, for women – or at least (and this is perhaps more balanced) have equal representation of women in their leadership. I never intentionally set out to only employ women, it just naturally happened that way. We care about our team like family, and regularly check in on each other’s mental health and wellbeing. We are planning an away day next week where everyone will get to chill by a pool together and have an extra day off.

I’m not slowing down

I see myself running my business like this until I decide I want to do something else. Like a lot of my friends, we’re hoping the equity in our properties can be diluted to give us a simpler life when we need or want it. But for now, I’m still loving learning from the hugely varied work we are lucky enough to do. I can’t see that changing anytime soon. I see myself having an active retirement – slowing down and doing less, better, but also still working and hopefully creating a positive impact on culture and legacy for our kids.  

One of the most positive things to come out of the pandemic has been that my lovely stepson Buddy moved back to London, from LA (where he lived for the last 3 years) and now lives down the road. He is the same age as Gabe and, despite them both being so different, they adore each other. We are bloody lucky.  

Al and I have a saying, which we made into a piece of art that now sits in prime position in our kitchen: There is only now. 

Liz Matthews

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