One unexpected challenge for mom entrepreneurs is keeping things professional. Moms often have trouble finding time for a shower, much less time to get dressed up for a meeting.
But if we want respect as mom entrepreneurs, we should set the bar high for professionalism. If we want to be taken seriously, we can't show up for a meeting with crayon on our report or miss the meeting because the babysitter cancelled. What seemed obvious to you before kids may need a bit of reiterating now that you're juggling your business, family and home.
Project a professional work environment. It doesn't matter if you work in your kitchen, as long as your clients and colleagues have a professional experience. Find a space where you can protect your valuable equipment, lock up work documents and put the phone out of reach. It's OK if you are working in your pajamas as long as the work that goes out is professional and polished.
Do not answer your work phone unless you are sure you're child-free. One of the biggest faux pas for the mom entrepreneur is to handle work calls with kids in the background. Nothing will make you seem less professional or less committed to your work. Just because your children are quietly playing when the phone rings does not mean they won't be climbing your leg the moment you answer the phone. Hold calls for when you know you're alone, such as during naps and nanny time. If you work from home, schedule meetings at offsite locations, even the local coffee house. You can also rent an office suite for meetings, if necessary.
Look professional. Any mom will tell you that taking care of herself has taken a backseat since having kids. It's hard to get yourself together when you're changing diapers, brushing teeth and tying shoes that aren't your own. That's OK when you're working in your home.
However, when you meet with someone, give yourself ample time to shower and get dressed and put together. In fact, bring along an extra change of clothes just in case your little one touches your white slacks with peanut butter fingers. (Actually, it's probably a good idea not to wear white.) It's worth the time to meet with your hairdresser and a makeup consultant at the mall to create easy looks you can put together quickly, but still look great. Even if you own your own company, don't show up for an appointment in sweats and a ponytail.
Appear focused. When you're a mom, your kids become the focus of your world. For many of us, it's hard to talk about anything else. This shouldn't be the case at work. No one wants to hear about your child's chickenpox, your sleep deprived nights or your student of the month. Show that you can be focused on your work and keep up with other information.
Keep up with your industry. To go along with the last suggestion, read a book. Make sure you keep up with the information and changes in your industry. Be careful that motherhood doesn't consume you so much that you're unaware of new research, new products or releases that relate to your business. To stay on top, you'll sometimes need to sacrifice mommy time for an occasional conference, continuing education course or just a new book.
Be dependable. This is a tough one. Babysitters cancel, kids get sick, and the list goes on. It can become increasingly frustrating to work with mom entrepreneurs if they can't be depended on to get the job done. The rest of the world wants to conduct meetings when they are appropriate, not when they fit into your babysitting schedule.
Flexibility may be the reason you started your own business. However, as much as possible, don't let the people you work with feel that they're revolving around your child's schedule. Find fellow moms, daycare centers or family members whom you can depend on in a crunch.
Go solo. I'm hoping I don't need to say this, but just in case, don't bring kids to your appointments, meetings or place of business unless they are part of your operations. It's OK to have your kids at your workplace if that's the environment that you've created and that your employees support. But it will be hard to gain respect if your kids are by your side. Schedule appointments creatively so you can get as much done as possible without kids. For some, this is best done during an hour per day, while others might prefer to schedule one day per week as no-kids appointment days.
Lead by example. If you have employees, you need to be an example of the behavior you expect. I created a company run by moms for moms. All of my employees are moms and all work untraditional hours as I do. I couldn't expect someone to work from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday if I weren't working along with them. The leader of the company should set the example. You may need to design your company policies to align with your personal mission as a mom.
You can have it all as a mom entrepreneur. You can be home with your kids, work your own hours and still have a flourishing career. All I ask is that you help mom entrepreneurs gain the respect we want by acting as a professional in the traditional work world, even if we're working in an untraditional manner.
Lisa Druxman is Entrepreneur.com's "Mompreneur" columnist and the founder and CEO of fitness franchise Stroller Strides. Druxman is also a nationally recognized speaker and author, and is considered an expert in the field of fitness, particularly pre- and postnatal fitness. She hosts a free monthly webinar during which she answers questions from fellow mompreneurs. If you are interested in participating, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.