It's a Mom's World

Between preschool and kissing boo-boos, more Moms are starting a biz. Do you have what it takes to be a mompreneur?
10 min read

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.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Most mompreneurs find the transition to business owner is easier when the business is based at home. Though there are many resources to help you find such franchise or business opportunities, be cautious when considering those opportunities. "The biggest mistake I hear moms making is jumping into a business before they've done the homework and found whether it's a good fit," says Spencer. "Or if it's an opportunity they're investing in, [they don't investigate] whether it's a scam."

When deciding what type of business to start, consider what your talents are and what you're most passionate about. Spencer notes that for work-at-home moms, any business involving the internet--from web design to an online store--can be a particularly good fit.

Olivia Mullin found the perfect fit when she started her personalized stationery and gift company in Brentwood, Tennessee. Mullin started out doing wedding calligraphy for local brides. That led to making personalized stationery she peddled to local gift shops. Her products were selling so well, Mullin brought the business she started in 1995 out of her home and into an office space after about a year and a half.

The idea for the Olivia Mullin Co. was born after she gave birth to the first of her two daughters. A registered nurse, Mullin was on-call around the clock--and she wanted to be more available to her children. "Over time, as my children were growing up, my business was growing up," says Mullin, 42. "It's like having another baby. You're with your children when they're awake, and when you put them down for a nap, you start working on that baby."

For Mullin, the key to growing her company to more than $1 million in annual sales is organizing her time, surrounding herself with talented employees and advisors, and not being too hard on herself when she's not perfect. "Nothing is done 100 percent perfectly," she says. "You have to learn to be OK with that. You're going to forget things; you're going to miss meetings. You cannot beat yourself up."

And Mullin's daughters, now 14 and 11, are being groomed for the family business. Mullin is using her business to instill a solid work ethic and the idea that "the things that are most important are the things you worked the hardest for," she says. Her oldest, for example, had a school trip, and Mullin paid half of it--with the provision that her daughter would work at the business on the weekends to earn the rest. Says Mullin, "She's going to understand what it means to spend [money] and how hard you have to work to earn it."

Hard work can also be fun, which is what Cindy Schwartz is teaching her children with Concierge Connection Inc., the Coral Springs, Florida, concierge business she started in 1997. Schwartz left her job because it was taking too much time away from her children. "I quit because I knew I would be my own boss," says Schwartz, 42. "My kids would never be without their mother on a sick day or a school holiday."

It helps that the bulk of her concierge duties involve fun things like securing tickets for clients to shows--and that her children get to rub elbows with her celebrity clientele from time to time. Schwartz notes that her son, a professional wrestling fan, got to see his favorite wrestling stars in action and even got to meet some of the big names by virtue of his mom's business. Says Schwartz, "I want them to think about things they appreciate and things they've done."

Schwartz says her priorities are what keep her business running at about a quarter of a million dollars in annual sales. The fact that her kids are always first is key. "It's like triage--when you're hitting a hot point, when you have a kid who has to be at the doctor's office by 4 o'clock and you have a client on the phone ordering tickets," says Schwartz. "You can't be late for the kid, and you [have to] take care of the client. I live on my cell phone, and I love the challenges of this [business]."

If you're in the market for a challenge, balancing a business with a family certainly qualifies. But if you plan your strategy, start slowly, enlist some help and follow your passion, you can--like these moms--grow your business while growing your family tree.

Higher Learning

You know how you feel about starting a business, but what are youngsters thinking when they see their moms working out of their homes? Jennifer Dugan's 7-year-old son grew up watching his mom run her Los Alamos, New Mexico-based business, Dugan's Travels, and he understands (and is helping his 5-year-old brother to understand) that Mom works--she just works at home. Dugan says when she's in her home office, her boys are often playing in the same room. They're occupied, but they know she's there if they need her.

For older kids, seeing the ins and outs of entrepreneurship firsthand can imbue them with an innovative spirit. Cindy Schwartz, founder of Concierge Connection Inc. in Coral Springs, Florida, has set an example of self-employment for her kids. "I don't think my kids will do traditional work," she says. "I also know I'm not the only example. My ex-husband runs his own business out of his home, and he's extremely successful. My kids know you don't have to be a doctor or lawyer--you can do something unusual. And they know that both their parents put them first."

Look It Up

Starting a business as a parent isn't easy, but check out some of these resources for education, assistance, inspiration--or just to network with some other mompreneurs.

  • Bizymoms offers a website where you can chat with other mompreneurs, get business ideas, browse an e-book store, and get information from myriad articles.
  • The Stay-at-Home Mom's Guide to Making Money From Home: Choosing the Business That's Right for You Using the Skills and Interests You Already Have (Prima Lifestyles) by Liz Folger
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