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It's a Mom's World

In between late-night feedings, picking up the kids from school, and kissing those boo-boos away, more and more moms are starting businesses. Do you have what it takes to be a mompreneur?

Moms know everything. They know where their kids left their socks, they know what time the carpool leaves, they know how to get a cranky 4-year-old through a shopping mall. Given their mastery of multitasking, is it any wonder mothers make such good business owners?

Not if recent statistics are any clue. There are 10.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating $2.3 trillion in annual revenue, according to the Center for Women's Business Research. Women are starting businesses at nearly twice the rate of men. And women with children are jumping in--each with a different business goal, a different family situation and a different strategy to balance it all.

Entrepreneur went hunting for some inspirational mompreneurs to talk to--and we found them all over the country.

Some work at home; some have branched out into family-friendly office spaces. They all have one thing in common: They are extraordinary women with successful businesses. What can you learn from them? Just about everything.

Mom Knows Best

It was motherhood itself that inspired Laurie McCartney to start Babystyle, a retail brand that encompasses everything from maternity and baby clothes to children's furniture. In 1998, when she was pregnant with her first child, she was dissatisfied with the dearth of stylish, functional and affordable maternity clothes. McCartney spent her pregnancy formulating a business plan to offer what she knew other women would desire, and she set up her online store right after the birth of her son, Jack.

Armed with her newfound knowledge as a mom, McCartney, 36, enlisted the help of other working moms--not only to see what they wanted from Babystyle, but also to learn how other working moms balanced their businesses with their kids' needs. Their advice? "Keep a schedule, and focus on work when you're at work and the family when you're at home," says this mother of two. "It makes it easier, so you're always giving 100 percent to your kids when you're with them and 100 percent to your business when you're with it."

When McCartney started Babystyle out of her home, the brand grew by leaps and bounds. After a few months, she moved into a separate office space and has added a catalog and four brick-and-mortar stores. Sales have soared for this Los Angeles-based company, growing 30 percent from 2001 to 2002 and about 40 percent in 2003.

Though it's not easy to balance a business with raising children, there are strategies to make it more manageable, says Lesley Spencer, 38, founder of Home-Based Working Moms, a support network for moms who own businesses in Austin, Texas. Starting part time is one way to make the transition easier, she says. That way, you can better acclimate your children and yourself to your business' demands.

What we learned from the mompreneurs we interviewed is that scheduling is everything. "Develop a schedule that allows you to focus during work time," says Spencer. "Consider hiring someone to clean your house, a part-time assistant or a part-time nanny." Develop a support to delegate child care and household duties--with your spouse, friends, family or other working moms in your network.

For most mompreneurs, help and support from their spouses is critical, whether it comes in the form of taking care of the kids in the afternoon or evening or providing business support. Older kids can even help with some of your business duties.

And as important as your business is, don't continually sacrifice family time to work on it, says Spencer. "Periodically review how you are spending your time. Decide what is important to you, and work toward that goal. Eliminate time-wasters and things that [distance] you from those people and things."

Segmenting your business obligations into smaller chunks can also help--you can accomplish a smaller task while on the go, like composing a marketing letter while waiting at the dentist's office or sending an e-mail while waiting for dance class to start. Jennifer Dugan, founder of Dugan's Travels, a travel agency in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has become a master of multitasking. This 29-year-old mother of two runs all her personal and business errands at the same time--and she uses her cell phone and laptop to keep her business running when she's on the go with her children.

Starting in 1997, Dugan would work at building her business while her little ones napped. "It's too hard to have set hours," she says. "There are going to be times when your kids really need you." Dugan takes two hours to go to the park with her children, and then makes up the time after they've gone to sleep.

Though balancing it all is a daily challenge, Dugan has shared what works for her with other homebased business owners--and she's even developed a training program to help them become travel agents with Dugan's Travels, which now brings in more than $1 million in annual sales.

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: It's a Mom's World.

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