“Mompreneurs” are getting a lot of attention these days.
There are millions of self-employed women--many of whom are moms of kids under the age of 18. Some decide to start businesses out of their homes to fill time when their nests become half empty when the kids start school, others purposefully launch their self-employment to work around their family schedules.
But they’ve all had a learning curve in “having it all.”
Yes, I am Home, But I am Working
Melissa Chelist quit her teaching job in 1995 to raise her three girls. But when her youngest headed to preschool, she found more time on her hands and was able to turn her attention to her family’s idea to sell children’s personalized gifts.
After an initial half-hearted attempt by her husband and a partner in 2002 to sell children’s puzzle stools out of a manufacturing facility while still working their day jobs, the pair realized there was a demand for their goods, but wasn’t able to devote enough time. Now, Chelist was ready to take the reins.
“Once I started running it, that’s when it really became something; we were able to grow it and expand and find more vendors and really start advertising – it was just a whole different ball game,” Chelist said.
Her first order of business was moving the company, Stork Gifts, online and add more personalized, child-related gifts. Initial costs included a $1,300 out-of-pocket expense for Web site design, plus $25 to secure the domain name.
Chelist’s company pays the artisans and woodcrafters as orders come in, but she has also spent money on search engine optimization (SEO) experts, logo design and related expenses. Last year, StorkGifts.com did $300,000 in sales, compared to the mere $5,000 it took in during the initial year before Chelist took over.
Chelist relies on her oldest child, now 15, to babysit the younger ones while she works, but that doesn’t always work.
“It’s still hard because [ the kids] don’t get it – as much as I tell them – that I’m in here working,” Chelist says, describing how kids will come to her with notes, or be fighting, or want to use the computer in her office. Even adults don’t understand why she can’t just drop everything and go.
She advises budding mompreneurs to stress the importance of their work time with their kids.
“They say ‘but you’re at home, you’re at home’ – people don’t get it.”
Know How to Brand Yourself
Lisa Kanarek started working from home 20 years ago with the intention of one day having children. Her past corporate events planning and licensing experience helped her launch a home organization business called Everything’s Organized in 1991.
“Everyone originally thought, ‘oh, she must have been fired. She had a really good job,’ but I knew it was time [to go out on my own].”
The mother of two has watched her sons and business grow and evolve over the years and her new consulting company, HomeOfficeLife, was launched in 2000 to focus solely on home office design and organization. The company’s Web site, WorkingNaked.com, offers resources for those stripped of corporate support and now working in a home-office environment.
When Kanarek first started out, she marketed herself as a “professional organizer,” and used past contacts from her corporate life to book appearances on local TV shows and get mentioned in newspapers. Now, she also uses social media sites as a marketing tool to spread the word – it’s easier, faster, and can reach multitudes of people with the click of a mouse, she says.
At the beginning, Kanarek had to convince customers why they needed her home-office expertise, but widespread unemployment and more flexible work situations have fostered more home-based businesses and workers over the last few years, now her skills are an easier sell.
From the start Kanarek had very little overhead and remembers using her dad’s old IBM computer that she says had a “hard drive the size of a filing cabinet.” Over the years, her overhead costs have remained relatively low with her cell phone and computer being the main components of her business, but one area she does spend money on is her Web site.
Kanarek offers the following tips to entrepreneurs setting up a Web site:
1. Come up with good name that's easy to remember;
2. Include an "About" page that includes a headshot to establish credibility;
3. Include photos and videos to make sites more interesting;
4. Clear descriptions that sell the product or serves; bullet points are easier to read;
5. Resources to help readers get more information;
6. Easy navigation.
Online Marketing is Good, But Face Time Can be Better
Stefanie Mosesman fell into being a mompreneur in 2010 after her maternity leave from her corporate human resources job turned into a layoff. Instead of pursuing another position in the field, the New Jersey mom decided she needed a job with more flexibility.
“I was dreaming of having it all ... time for the kids and a successful career doing something I was very passionate about,” Mosesman said.
With some advice from her accountant husband, Mosesman took $8,000 out of her 401(k) to start Baby Bear Foods. The frozen baby food company sells products online, and at local street fairs, farmer’s markets and some local grocery markets.
To stay competitive in the baby food market, Mosesman is constantly on the phone with potential vendors, customers, government agencies, to help market her company.
“When you have your own business, you have to wear a lot of different hats, in fact, you have to wear ALL the hats,” she said.
To cut costs, Mosesman and her husband design all the labels as well as the company’s Web site. All the money from sales goes back into the business, with some of her husband’s income also going to supplement the business.
Marketing for Mosesman has also been a challenge. “I have been using social media, digital ads, as well as really grass roots things like handing out marketing cards at events and hanging flyer's anywhere possible,” Mosesman said, adding that personally attending events such as farmers markets, street fairs, and local food and baby exhibits are the most effective for her particular product.
“I think talking face-to-face with people and showing them the product in person works best for my product, as many parents aren't accustomed to the idea of a frozen baby food.”
Know What Works for You
In the late 1990s, Stacy DeBroff began writing books when her children were 4 and 5 so that she could be more available to them. She later founded Mom Central Consulting in 2006, ramping up the business significantly the following year, when her kids were older and didn't require so much attention.
The business, financed by DeBroff, provides busy moms with household and parenting solutions and helps corporations with marketing campaigns targeting the mom market. The company took off and last year took in $3 million.
“I decided to do it on my own mom terms – no debt, no investors. I didn’t want someone dictating what my life was going to be life," DeBroff said.
Her advice: Find a way to blend the mom and entrepreneur roles in a way that works for you, even if it’s not the so-called “norm.”
DeBroff referred to the past view of working moms’ world as “sequencing,” or the “Sandra Day O’Connor model,” where women say they’re going to first be a lawyer, then raise their kids, then become a Supreme Court justice, then leave to take of their ailing husbands or families. Each sequence required full immersion of moms.
“Now, we are more of a blender generation … we like to keep a foot in both worlds when we have our kids,” DeBroff said. “If you talk to anyone who’s doing one or the other to the extreme … you often find that they’re the exception and that the vast majority of people started finding ways to blend the two.”
"There’s always a tug of war between ambition and the role of a mom … we often structure our lives to be available to respond to that.”