Would you be surprised to learn that women own 46 percent of all privately owned businesses in the United States? Or that they're two times more likely than a man to start their own business? Although the statistics aren't clear on how many of those businesses are owned by women who are also mothers, I'm guessing it's a pretty high percentage. That's because moms are incredibly determined, creative and passionate when it comes to finding ways to have a career and a family. And owning your own business is one of the only ways you can call your own shots, set your own hours and take your kids to the doctor or the soccer field without having to ask someone's permission.
Recently, I had the privilege to speak to three successful mompreneurs, each of whom wouldn't trade their current position for anything. Make no mistake here: These women aren't taking the easy way out. Each of the mompreneurs I spoke with said they've never worked so hard in their lives. And all three women share a passion and determination to succeed and a very high job satisfaction. Get inspired to achieve your own level of success by finding out just they did it, what they overcame and what success means to them.
Julie Aigner Clark, founder of Baby Einstein and The Safe Side
To many people, Julie Aigner Clark is the ultimate mompreneur. Just nine years ago, she created some homemade videos for her own infant child using hand puppets and a camcorder because she couldn't find any videos aimed at babies on the market. These videos became what's now known as Baby Einstein . Wanting to see Baby Einstein remain the leader in this now competitive industry, Julie and her husband, Bill Clark, sold the company to Disney in November 2001. But once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur: Julie's now the CEO (and founder) of The Safe Side , a video series that teaches kids common sense safety. Still a true working mom, I spoke to her as she was waiting for her kids to get out of the first movie they'd gone to without a parent.
Julie hesitates to use Baby Einstein as a model for other mompreneurs because she had such an unbelievably smooth rise to success from the start. How did she get started? She took her videos to tradeshows where they got picked up by such stores as The Right Start. From there, demand exploded. Their original hope was just to re-coup the $15,000 it cost them to make the video. Instead, the videos initially brought in more than $100,000. In year two, she and Bill released "Baby Mozart" which helped bring total company sales to $1 million. Within 5 years, this home-grown company was bringing in $20 million per year.
Julie remained home based for most of the company's existence and had no more than eight employees even at the height of their success. From the beginning, Julie did everything from designing the now well-known "Baby Einstein" logo to taking orders and sending out videos. She used a friend to help design the package and another contact for the music. Those people stayed with her to the end.
Julie knew it was time to sell the company when it was just larger than life--and taking up too much of hers. Still dedicated to being a mom--and finding the competition from large movie studios rapidly increasing--Julie approached Disney with an offer, which they accepted (since then, Disney's grown the Baby Einstein product line into a $100 million company. Although she never regretted her decision to sell the company, she says she was a bit surprised that Disney didn't work more with her after the sale (something to remember if you ever decide to sell your "baby").
Shortly after selling her business to Disney, Julie decided to start her next enterprise, The Safe Side. She partnered with America's Most Wanted host, John Walsh, to produce a series of videos to teach, empower and entertain kids about safety issues. This venture, Julie says, offers a much better example of the trials and tribulations of starting a business! It's been harder to get off the ground, even with her connections and fame in the video world. Now needing studios, actresses and sets, Julie's in the big leagues with this project.
Not long after starting, Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not surprisingly, this put life in perspective. Like so many others, she realized how precious life is and decided to take a break from the project while undergoing treatment. Now feeling well and keeping life in balance, Julie's focusing once again on making The Safe Side a big hit. So far, the company's sold 140,000 copies of its first video and is now making the second.
I asked Julie what she did to help balance work and motherhood. One of the best investments she ever made, she says, was to hire a full-time housekeeper so she could focus on the two things most important to her: her family and her business. Having a great housekeeper also gave Julie the ability to work from home and have someone available to watch her kids when she needed to take a phone call or pop out for a meeting.
No matter what business she's involved in, it seems to work out for Julie, she says, because of her passion for her projects: She's committed to changing children's lives and helping them learn in an entertaining way.
Susan Lavelle, owner and founder of Moxie Moms
If you don't know Susan yet, I'm guessing you soon will. Moxie Moms is a hugely successful website that makes it easier to be a mom by offering visitors information on fun- and fitness-oriented events and discounts from local businesses. She's created an entire business out of her love of motherhood and fitness.
Susan is truly an amazing mompreneur! I honestly don't know how she does it. She says she easily works 60 hours per week and yet is still a full-time mom. When the kids are sleeping, Susan is working. Yes she still makes time to take care of herself: She works out each day, but she brings her kids along for the ride (or run in this case). She doesn't have a nanny and doesn't drop her kids off at daycare. OK, she has a little help: Her husband is her business partner and Susan admits they definitely share parenting duties and business workload. She still works from home and says she always will.
Did she have a business plan? Absolutely! From the start, she and her husband, Joe, were very focused on their business's purpose and what they wanted to achieve with it. So far, they've manage to grow through self-funding. They re-invest all their profits back in to the company in order to grow it further.
During these three interviews, I probed each entrepreneur to get them to reveal their business challenges, but Susan couldn't come up with one. I realize now that it's because she--and all the mompreneurs I spoke with--is incredibly optimistic and sees every obstacle as something that can be overcome!
Liz Lange, founder of Liz Lange Maternity
If you've been pregnant in the past few years and like to shop, then you must know Liz Lange. Liz is the internationally recognized maternity designer for her own line as well as for Nike and Target. In 1996, Liz heard all her friends complaining about being pregnant and having nothing to wear. After working as an editor at Vogue and a designer for her own sportswear company, she was sure she could create something to flatter the pregnant mom.
When Liz started, she wasn't yet a mom. But that didn't last long. Just four months into the business, Liz became pregnant. For the first seven months after launch, Liz remained home based. But she decided to borrow $50,000 from friends and family to open a small office in New York where she sold her made-to-order clothes to individual customers. It was a small, unadvertised, 400-square-foot space with no windows.
Talk about growing organically: As individual orders came in, Liz would have items made up one at a time, not having the funds to manufacture in bulk. She did almost everything herself--from clothing design to working with vendors to taking and shipping orders.
Expanding beyond single-order status was hard--retailers were hesitant to buy her items since it was the first time that custom-fitted (and flattering) clothes had been designed for the maternity market. But she signed a deal with Nike in 2001. And in 2002, she started designing a maternity line for Target. The following year, she wrote a book, Liz Lange's Maternity Style: How to look fabulous during the most fashion-challenged time.
Despite the fact that she's not home based, she spends a lot of time with her kids each day, making them breakfast, packing lunches and driving them to school. She makes it a priority to be home by 5:30 and spend quality, dedicated hours with her family every evening. After 8:30, she's either on the computer or watching TV in bed (with her Blackberry beside her) with her husband.
And if that wasn't enough, Liz is also active in numerous charities, has an ongoing article appearing monthly in Prevention magazine, and is still totally immersed in her multimillion dollar business. It's really no wonder she's such a success: Her energy is contagious, and her creativity is constantly flowing!
So what makes these three women so successful? Without exception, all three mompreneurs are extremely passionate, determined and optimistic about their businesses. Failure is not an option. All three have experienced challenges and obstacles, yet none ever considered throwing in the towel. Has it been easy for them? Absolutely not. All three said they've never worked so hard in their lives. And when they're working, they feel like they should be with their kids. When they're with their kids, they feel like they should be working. But all these women love what they do. They're having an amazing time and said that they wouldn't trade what they've got now for anything.
Advice Directly From the Pros
1. Never listen to naysayers. You have to go into it with blinders on, and never believe it when you hear it can't be done.
2. Stay flexible. Your schedule with work or the kids will often throw off your schedule with the other. Realize that it's OK to take time off now and then.
3. Stay focused. It's easy--especially if you're home based--to get distracted from the task at hand.
4. Make sure you love what you do. Follow your dream!
5. Stay inspired. Read biographies of other entrepreneurs or company successes to keep the passion alive.