Here's a true story from a recent day. It's 8:00 a.m., and my phone rings. My nanny can't make it. I have a day packed with meetings but now have my two-year-old to contend with. Sound familiar? How about any of these scenarios?
- You have a huge day of work planned, but your son is sick and can't go to school.
- You are about to leave for your big proposal and realize your daughter created a beautiful crayon work of art on your presentation.
- You can't make it to a meeting without your baby because you're a nursing mom.
These daily crises all sound familiar to me because I've lived them--and continue to live them--every day. Mom entrepreneurs encounter unique emergencies and challenges that most business owners don't have to face. No matter how much help you've arranged, the reality is that you're first and foremost a mom--and that can sometimes get in the way of running your business the way you want to.
Most of you probably became mom entrepreneurs because you wanted a career that was more compatible with motherhood. It's important to keep that in mind when things start to fall apart at the seams. If you could focus only on your business--free of kids, a house, a husband and a dog--you would probably do a better job, right? Maybe not.
I find that most mom entrepreneurs are so focused and goal-oriented that they can get more done in a few hours than most people can in a traditional eight-hour day. In fact, most mom entrepreneurs still work full time, but they work on the fringe hours of the day and in between their other activities. I truly believe that the right attitude can help you get through most days with your sanity intact. But if the right attitude isn't enough, here are some tips that I find useful in handling the challenges I encounter as a mom entrepreneur.
1. Break the rules. Having your own business gives you the opportunity to break traditional work rules. I have brought my baby to meetings, booked appointments at my home office during my kids' nap times and hired babysitters to watch my employees' children just so I could meet with them. Don't get me wrong. I would much rather have a meeting without a baby at my side, but I felt it was more important to keep my business going and not sacrifice my commitment to nursing. Be as professional as possible but realize it's OK if you have to bring your child along. After all, it's your business and your choice.
2. Create a virtual office. One of the first things I invested in when I started my business was a web-based office system called Earnware . It allowed me to run my business even when I wasn't "in the office." It includes a toll-free number, fax, e-mail and e-mail marketing campaign features. But one of the best features for me is its "follow me" feature. I can set my e-mail, phone and fax messages to find me at any number. I can access every file, form and piece of information I need for my business anywhere I can get internet access. I can't imagine running my business without this program or a similar one. So when I have to run to school to pick up my sick son, I can still get my messages along the way.
3. Limit meetings. One of the biggest time-wasters and hardest things to fit into your schedule when you have children are meetings. You can take up a huge portion of your day traveling across town. And when childcare falls through, they keep you too far from home. I appreciate face-to-face meetings but have found most things can be handled via phone and e-mail. Ask yourself if it's really crucial to meet someone in person. If you must attend crucial meetings for your business, another indispensable program is Microsoft Live Meeting. You can schedule online meetings in which numerous people can converse, watch a presentation, see your website and more. There are numerous programs out there that can accomplish this. Read "Getting on Board with Online Meetings" to learn more about online conferencing.
4. Work smart. If you only have a limited number of hours away from your kids, use that time wisely. Schedule your meetings or phone appointments at this time. For me, one of the hardest things about being a mom entrepreneur is that my work hours don't necessarily coincide with traditional business hours. So be sure to schedule the business hours you do have as efficiently as possible. You can save e-mails or other projects for early mornings or late nights. Get wireless internet in your house so you can set your computer up anywhere. It may give you the ability to check in between dirty diapers and Sesame Street.
5. Have a back-up plan. When you absolutely know that you can't miss a meeting, have a plan B. Consider doing babysitting exchanges with another mom entrepreneur. I find that once you're watching one child, what's one more? Consider watching someone else's children one day and then swapping on another day. Kids get play dates, and you get work time. There are some great services such as www.sittercity.com where you can find last-minute babysitters who have been screened and reviewed by other moms in your area.
6. Protect your office. My office is the only room in the house I can lock my kids out of. I've learned from experience that pens, scissors and computers are just too tempting for toddlers. If you can't keep your kids out of the office, have locked drawers for important files you don't want your children to destroy. When my son once crumpled up my beautiful color business presentation, I took a deep breath and put it on a disk. I brought my laptop to the meeting to show the presentation on screen and left the client with the disk to play at his convenience. It wasn't my first choice, but you have to make lemonade out of lemons.
So, what did I do when my nanny fell through? I got on the phone and rescheduled everything I could. I sat in my daughter's playroom with my laptop and handled the e-mails that I could. And I begged a friend to watch her for one hour, so I could get one important meeting in. Then I took a deep breath and resolved to work late after the kids went to bed.
I get to speak to hundreds of mom entrepreneurs across the country. All agree that being a mom entrepreneur is the hardest thing they've ever done. No one feels like they do a good enough job on either front--motherhood or business. Yet all agree they wouldn't trade it for anything. I find it mind-easing to say I'm doing the best job I can with the time that I have. We'll all have many years to work without kids. For now, be proud of all that you accomplish each day and go to bed satisfied that you're a great role model for your children.