From the May 1998 issue of Startups

Spending more time with your kids may have been one of the reasons you decided to start a business from home. But keeping a business running and children occupied so you can work can be a challenge.

For Amy Levitt, owner of Amydoodles, a personalized gift business in Needham, Massachusetts, the best solution is to involve her children in the business. Her son, now 8, was tapped as a helper when Levitt started the business four years ago. Her daughter, now 5, joined in as a toddler.

"If I have a big order, they can take things out of boxes and put labels on the back," says Levitt. "When I do a mailing, they attach labels and stamps. When a delivery arrives, they love to unpack cartons and put inventory away."

If your business isn't one in which children can participate, Liz Folger, author of The Stay-at-Home Mom's Guide to Making Money (Prima Publishing, $12, 800-632-8676), offers some suggestions to keep kids busy:

  • Keep grown-up "business" objects for kids to play with: old check registers and wallets, play money, Post-it notes, a nonworking phone or even a used typewriter. Set up a miniature desk in or near your office. Give the child junk mail to play with.
  • Check out crafts books from the library, buy supplies and let the children go at it.
  • Put up a tent in the house or backyard for the children to play in--but only while you're working.
  • Hold a writing or reading contest to keep children quiet while you work. The reward? Lunch out with you or some other fun family activity.
  • Ask your children's teachers for other activities kids might enjoy.

Evelyn Salvador, owner of Desktop Publishing Plus, a graphic-design and resume service in Coram, New York, offers these ideas:

  • Every 45 minutes to an hour, take a break to spend 15 minutes with the kids and start them on a new activity.
  • Spend part of your lunch break taking the kids on a short walk or playing in the yard. They'll have fun, and you'll feel refreshed.

Lynn H. Colwell is a business writer in Post Falls, Idaho.

Hook, Line And Sinker

Do you need more customers? Take a tip from entrepreneur Michelle McCullers, who landed five new clients in one week.

McCullers' AdCo2000 Marketing sends clients' e-mail ads to 150,000 Internet users each week and submits clients' Web-site addresses to up to 500 search engines.

"My business has been growing since I decided to make at least one new marketing effort each day," says the Warner Robins, Georgia, entrepreneur.

Her secret to success: a marketing plan tailored to her industry. "I offer free links on my Web page for all women in business, and I placed ads on these and other free classified sites. By using the replies from those classifieds, I built my database of potential clients."

Online networking was an important part of the mix. "I belong to online mailing lists for work-at-home moms and single parents who own homebased businesses," says McCullers. "I've also started my own mailing list, The Home Office, which is growing rapidly."

Second Place

You love your cozy living room but feel awkward meeting clients there. What do you do? Lori Haston, partner in SmartStart: Small Business Advantage, a consulting company for business start-ups, created a thoroughly modern solution: online business meetings. "I recently formed a partnership with a consultant on the East Coast," says the Roseville, California, entrepreneur. "We `see' clients online in private chat rooms."

Jeff Bronfeld, co-owner of Cadick Corp., a Garland, Texas, engineering consultancy, uses hotel conference rooms--but advises making sure you know what you're getting: "Some hotels don't have real conference rooms," he says. "They just remove the bed from a guest room and put in a table."

Some chambers of commerce offer members free conference rooms; call your local chamber for details. Executive suite companies rent meeting rooms for the day; for more information, contact the Executive Suite Association at (800) 237-4741 or visit http://www.execsuites.org

Contact Sources

AdCo2000 Marketing, e-mail: Michelle@workathomeparents.com, http://www.workathomeparents.com

Amydoodles, (800) 388-3771, http://www.amydoodles.com

Cadick Corp., (607) 722-1229, http://www.electricnet.com/cadick/cadick.htm

Liz Folger, Bizymommy@aol.com

SmartStart: Small Business Advantage, bizanswers@aol.com, http://www.mallswithoutwalls.com