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Mom Entrepreneurs Reveal Secrets to Success

Authors of book on working mothers discover how they find happiness.

You are your own boss, you do work you enjoy and believe in, you make a good living, and you have time to feed your baby in the morning, go to lunch with a reporter from Fortune and pick up your preschooler at 4 p.m. Sound good? According to Amanda Steinberg, it's great.

"I can't imagine going back to work for someone else," Steinberg confides. A happily married mother of a 3-year-old son and a 7-month-old daughter, the thirtysomething Steinberg owns and runs not one but two businesses. Four years ago she started Soapbxx.com, a web consultancy that employs eight people and is set to gross $300,000 this year. Her real passion, though, is Dailyworth, her online finance publication for women.

How does she do it? Steinberg has developed her business plans very carefully so that she knows exactly how she is going to make money with her businesses. She also standardizes things as much as possible so she can hire multiple part-time employees without any dips in quality. She delegates so she has time to be with her kids, but she makes sure she is involved in all crucial quality reviews and decisions so that the client service and quality of the work product stay high. Listening to Steinberg, you would think it's easy to be an entrepreneur working at home with two young children. And she's happy to share her secrets with others. In a recent blog post, Steinberg breaks down her typical day hour by hour so you know how she gets so much done and still has time for her family and herself.

Passion, Focus and Discipline
Many of the women we interviewed as part of our research for "What Happy Working Mothers Know" told us that, when they returned to their jobs after having their first child, they found themselves demanding more. They wanted more meaning in their work. They wanted more recognition for their contributions. Having a baby at home suddenly increased the opportunity cost of leaving the house every day. They were no longer satisfied with just putting in their time in exchange for a paycheck. They had little tolerance for office politics and little patience to play by someone else's rules. For many of these women, the answer was to start their own business.

Passion, focus and discipline are the keys to being a successful mom entrepreneur. Anyone who has had a job she hates and a job she loves can tell you that loving what you do makes the work easier and more enjoyable. For an entrepreneur, being passionate about your work is even more important because being an entrepreneur requires more of your time, energy and creativity than just having a job. For mom entrepreneurs the stakes are higher still, because their business takes time away from their children.

Danita Robinson (not her real name) was a nurse and the medical director at an assisted-living facility when she decided life was too short to be tired all the time. Her work was important, but it left her exhausted and without the energy she needed to raise her two sons. Even though her husband had a good job, she needed to work to contribute to the family income.

Robinson began to imagine what her perfect life would look like. She visualized a job that would let her work at home so she could be there for her two young boys. She wanted a job that helped people but that didn't come with the sadness inherent in her job at the assisted-living facility. One day, Robinson ran into an acquaintance who told her about a home business selling customized undergarments that make women look like they've lost 20 pounds. She loves the product and selling it is a joy because it makes women feel good about themselves. With no previous business experience, in two years Robinson built a business that grosses $12,000 a month.

Steinberg, Robinson and other women we interviewed share some of their tips for success:

  1. Choose a business you care about and that plays to your strengths. You will do your best work and enjoy it the most if you are working to your strengths and doing something that has meaning for you.
  2. Before you start your business, regardless of how great your idea is, make sure you know your business model. That means, don't just assume good ideas make money. Know exactly what you will charge, what you will be selling and the mechanics of how you will make money. Too many entrepreneurs spend months or even years on projects without being able to answer the simple question: "How will I make money?"
  3. Have designated hours for work. Make sure others know what those hours are, and set up structures to support you. Don't be coy about closing your office door and either turning on a loud fan or playing music. Noises in the house can pull you away from your work. You are entitled to dedicated work time.
  4. Get good child care. Just because you are home does not mean you can take care of the kids and run a business. You can't. You need a babysitter or day care. What being home offers is flexibility; it allows you to keep on an eye on the nanny or pick up a sick child from day care if you need to.

If you dream of being your own boss, working from home and having time for your family, it is possible. It takes passion, focus, discipline and a lot of hard work but, as Steinberg told us about her busy life, "It's the best! I have to pinch myself. I can't believe I've managed to set up this life. I feel so lucky."

Executive and personal coach Cathy L. Greenberg, Ph.D., and international lawyer and career coach Barrett S. Avigdor are the authors of What Happy Working Mothers Know: How New Findings in Positive Psychology Can Lead to a Healthy and Happy Work/Life Balance.

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