How Being a Single Teen Mom Prepared Me for Entrepreneurship
Not too long ago, I found myself a single, teen mother.
In an instant, my life trajectory changed: Suddenly I was facing an uphill battle when it came to college and a career. I vividly remember getting my first job and, while waiting for my first paycheck, not having enough gas money to get to my office. It was a humbling experience to have to borrow $10 from a new colleague until payday.
When I think about it, I can still feel the pit in my stomach from having to ask for cash that day. So embarrassing!
What I didn't realize at the time was all the lessons I was learning -- juggling schedules, problem solving, leveraging outside resources, getting creative. In retrospect, this was a crash course in entrepreneurship.
Contrary to what you might think, entrepreneurship can be a natural fit for a single mother. Whereas an ordinary job would likely keep you confined to the 9-to-5 workday, the entrepreneur enjoys considerably more flexibility in her schedule. This can be a boon for a busy mother. And if starting your own business sounds intimidating, you don't have to go it alone -- you could join a fledgling startup or find co-founders.
Aside from the flexible schedule an entrepreneur's workday affords, as a single mother you already have a lot of the requisite skills for succeeding at business: You are nimble, a problem solver and are good as asking for help.
Here are a few more benefits of entrepreneurship:
1. You are your own boss.
Setting your own hours is just one of the perks of running the show -- you get to set the entire tone of your company. Shark Tank's Kevin O'Leary invested in Heather Stenlake, a single mother and founder of Bridal Buddy. As Stenlake told me, she loves that she can put her children first by working during the hours when they are at school (she notes that it is critical that everything get done within that time frame). When they go to bed at night, it's back to work again to tie up loose ends and tend to customers. While it isn't easy, just establish a schedule and stick to it, Stenlake says. Your kids will become accustomed to the routine -- and it works!
2. The sky is the limit.
You are not held back by education, management structures and the like. While it's certainly depressing to read a job description for which you lack the necessary education or experience, the same rules do not apply to entrepreneurs. Nor will you have your upward mobility limited as you would with a conventional job. When you start your own business, you set the rules and your success isn't capped by company policy or upper management.
Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder, openly talks his lack of a high school education and belief that passion, purpose and personality trump a stack of degrees. Other notable change-makers without college educations include Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Steve Jobs (Apple). Beyond lacking educational requirements, you don't have to deal with a glass ceiling or other barriers that tend to hold back women.
3. It doesn't have to be high-risk.
High stakes accounts of people mortgaging their homes to start businesses might make for an engrossing underdog story, but these are far from typical. What you hear about less often but is far more common are people who seek investor money to start a company -- often from people called angel investors. Angel investors often give startup capital in lieu of equity and bank on your success for repayment.
There are also local and national grants and funds that can help you get started. Check out your local Small Business Development Center or university entrepreneurship departments for advice. There are even grants tailored specifically to the female entrepreneur, like the InnovateHER Challenge. Each year, the U.S. Small Business Administration hosts a competition for businesses that positively impact women and families; the competition winner takes home over $30,000 in prize money.
4. It's a real-world MBA.
Even if you decide entrepreneurship isn't for you, you'll still bring the lessons you learned and skills you developed to your next job. Though not every business succeeds, compare the cost of a failed business to that of an MBA. The average cost of an MBA is $80,000 and entails two years of simulations and case studies that seldom reflect real-world conditions. In contrast, as an entrepreneur you get to live the MBA course and practice real-world problem solving each day. You'll get practice making pitch decks, doing marketing, understanding financials and selling. Inevitably, when you fail at something, you'll learn from it and you'll learn to take mistakes in stride.