Home Free

Balancing Act

Like the condo commandos at McCarthy's first home office, the neighbors in North Yarmouth, Maine, near Sarah Steinman's first homebased designer soap manufacturing gig, were miffed at her operation. The city didn't require a permit and welcomed her arrival. But her neighbors complained about the 18-wheelers delivering 55-gallon drums of essential oils, says Steinman, 35.

So when she moved to Cumberland, Maine, with her husband, Adam, and their two daughters, Steinman polled her future neighbors ahead of time to gauge reactions. Thumbs up, they told her. So she got her city occupational permit.

But Steinman is sensitive to the impact her business has on the community. She now schedules the semis to arrive on a single day each week and makes sure the empty drums are stashed in the new $3,000 shed she bought. Her only foes now: the sanitation workers who truck away her debris. "The garbage [collectors] don't like me very much," she admits.

Casco Bay Herb Co. will gross about $80,000 this year, selling to everyone from Jacobson's, a department store in the Midwest, to TV shopping channel QVC. Achieving success, though, required Steinman to master a delicate balancing act between business and family life.

Although her scented soap company is run from her garage and basement, paperwork is completed in a common area where home and business often chafe. Batches of products ruined by chemical reactions, slow-paying clients, even the need to bring on 10 part-timers when QVC ordered 20,000 bars of soap--all these problems were easy to deal with compared to her daughters' demands on her time.

"Nordstrom's personal-care buyer is no match for a 2-year-old's tantrum," Steinman says. "I've lost clients because my child was out of control."

Today, Steinman has learned to work around 7-year-old Jessalyn and 5-year-old Theo Jane's needs. If a crisis is erupting, she'll delay calling a customer or let voice mail pick up incoming calls until the episode passes.

She's also learned not to take it personally when a client can't accept the way she does business. "You have to say to yourself, `I'm not going to lose sleep over the fact that some people have a problem with [a homebased business],' " Steinman says. "[It's better] to let those jobs go."

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Home Free.

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