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VOL. 38 | NO. 23 | Friday, June 06, 2014

‘Mompreneurs’ find success balancing family, passion for business

By Hollie Deese

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A mom plays on the floor with her baby while a morning TV show blares in the background. She hears the word “aerobics’’ for the first time.

Another mother gets tired of waiting for a company to deliver a custom sign on time and wonders if she can do better.

Moments of inspiration like these happen every day and often spark business ideas, but will they ever get off the ground? Creating a small business isn’t easy for anyone, but it can be especially tricky for the woman with an entrepreneurial spirit who is also raising children.

Many Middle Tennessee mothers have become successful mom entrepreneurs, or Mompreneurs. Peggy Keel, 63, is the mom who took notice of aerobics and launched Sports Village in Lebanon. Margaret Ziegler, 57, is the frustrated customer who created Mom’s Sign Company in Franklin.

They’ve dealt with open-concept work spaces that include crying kids, a full chauffeur schedule and non-traditional work hours, along with strategic planning, investment decisions and the other factors that accompany developing and growing a successful enterprise.

Nashville’s Connie McGee, CEO of Evolve Women, has taken it a step further, creating a for-profit company at the Entrepreneur Center to assist women to become as successful as Keel and Ziegler.

“When you launch a business, you look at it and decide what you think you want to do,” McGee says. “You can’t boil the ocean so to speak, so you have to approach it one step at a time, one phase at a time.”

Passion ‘would never go away’

Experts and business owners agree that without a driving passion for whatever the new venture is, success is hard to achieve. So it has to start with passion. Beyond that, women’s motivation for taking their passion and developing a business varies greatly.

McGee had been holding on to the idea of Evolve Women for nearly a decade before putting her plan in action last year, working with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. She left her job as vice-president of strategic accounts at AirStrip, a Franklin-based health care mobility company.

McGee

Evolve Women, a community resource and media brand for all area businesswomen, strives to develop and educate innovative women while giving them the resources they need to succeed.

“Back to 2003 is really when I started thinking about women in business, how to give back, and what some of the gaps were in the industry,” explains McGee, who has more than 25 years of experience in health care.

“I let the plan evolve over a 10-year period, but it was a passion I would not let go. It would never go away, and I felt like it was something I needed to do.

“It was absolutely the scariest thing I have ever done,” she adds. “Talk about taking a leap of faith.”

What women want?

In a study conducted by the National Women’s Business Council designed to examine the personal factors that motivate women to start and grow a business, they researched four segments of women business:

  • Those with high growth plans, (20 percent or more a year),
  • Those with moderate growth plans,
  • Those who used outside advisors (layers, CPAs)
  • Those with children at home.

The study showed women are motivated by a variety of factors when starting a business, including work-life balance, independence and ?exibility. It also found their reasons for starting a business also influenced their attitudes toward risk and expectations for job growth.

For example, if a woman’s motivation is to supplement the family income to meet basic needs, she is less likely to spend money to make the business grow.

“Of our programs that are either underwritten or are for no charge, we see a tremendous response of women,” McGee says of Evolve’s workshops for business owners. “Of programs that are $500 plus, we see less participation.

“We are trying to see why that is. We don’t know if it is because they are strapped financially, but what we don’t want to do is prohibit women from being able to participate because of financial reasons.”

Margaret Ziegler found housework unfulfilling after giving up a career to raise two children.

-- Submitted

Still, when women feel the calling, it seems nothing will stop them from taking that passion and turning it into something tangible.

“I had such great security of that income, and then all of the sudden I stepped away and had nothing,” says McGee, mother of Tyler, 28, and Connor, 22.

“You really have to dig deep down inside. But as scared as I was, I ran across a sign and it said ‘Be Fearless.’ So I bought that sign and put it in my office, and you don’t know how comforting it was at times to look at that.

“I had to lead by example. If you didn’t step away and do this, how was I going to encourage women to step away and follow their dreams?”

Ziegler’s story

Mom’s Sign Company, a sign, banner and home décor business, is Margaret Ziegler’s baby.

With an associate’s degree in fashion merchandising and a background in computers, Ziegler became a stay-at-home mom for the first time when she was 42 with the birth of her son, now 15. Two years later, she and he husband adopted a baby girl, now 12.

“For the first time I didn’t have a career,” she explains. “I was at home doing housework and I was never really a domestic person. I thought, ‘This is not rewarding, I don’t like this.’”

Still, she loved the mommy part of it and didn’t work for years to enjoy it.

“As they were getting older, I was thinking I could do something, but I never even considered working away from home,” she says.

She stumbled into making custom designs on a whim, and was quickly turning them out of her home to fill the nine boutiques that carried her work. She knew she had to put a plan in place to manage her growth, so she took a class at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, got a mentor and developed a business plan.

Ziegler says that it was the support of her family and friends that got her through the rough patches. Her engineer husband helped her modify her workspace in the garage, and friends helped make connections with potential stores. Now, she is too busy to take custom orders and works to fill the slots with her existing clients.

“It’s really good having friends and other vendors and store owners who believe in what I do,” she says. “They love my work and they wouldn’t let me quit.”

Mom of 7 is role model

Without the support of her husband and family, Jennifer McInerney Erdman, 39, is lost to explain how she would have been able to add work to her life as a stay-at-home mom to seven children, now ages 17, 13, 11, 8, 6, 4 and 2.

She left her sales career in 2001 to stay home, but later felt she was ready to contribute financially.

“I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I wanted to find something that allowed me to be home but bring in a little extra money at the end of the month,” she says. “I wanted to show my kids I could be successful and be a mom, too.”

She started selling Nerium skin care products in June 2012, and now her days are even more hectic. Her husband, a pharmaceutical sales rep, travels at the same pace.

“In addition to his work, he coaches all the kids in their sports, and they all play multiple sports, and travel sports,” Erdman says. “We try to sit down every Sunday and get our calendars together for the week. It is possible, and it is very doable. But it is daunting.”

She has gotten the older kids to help out and doles out more responsibilities, but admits it is hard.

“The biggest adjustment has been for the kids,” she says. “They have been used to me being home every day. I’m the one doing everything, from laundry to just being there. If they forget something at school, I could just drive it up there whenever. So for me not to be home constantly has been a challenge.”

“It is possible, no matter what your schedule is,” she explains. “There are ways to delegate and find ways to get it done. But also I don’t think a lot of people understand when you say you are a stay-at-home mom, but also work.

Jennifer Erdman, mother of seven, holds the Nerium creams she sells from home.

-- Michelle Morrow | Nashville Ledger

“I get comments occasionally about my quote-unquote ‘job’ and I want people to understand that everything you do is so important regardless of what it is. A job from a stay-at-home mom should not be underestimated.”

Baby on the way

Kia Jarmon, 29, is preparing for the birth of her first child this summer and is building a support system now to make sure her self-made PR company, the MEPR Agency, stays solvent without her in the weeks following the birth – and beyond.

“I went to a conference last year, and a woman said something that was so important to me,” Jarmon recalls.

“She said she removed the B word - balance. When women say, ‘Oh you’re not living a balanced life,’ we’re almost condemning someone for having children or for having a partnership or whatever it is that they have in their life aside from their business or their work.

“I believe that you can have everything you want, it’s just going to look different. My everything and your everything looks different. So I work a lot but I also have found the time to cut off.”

Reaching for balance

According to the NWBC study, women business owners continue to face challenges balancing the responsibilities of their businesses and their families, no matter if they are at home with the kids, in an office downtown or anywhere in between.

Of course, this is nothing new to the women actually doing it. Like it or not, balance is a big issue for stay-at-home moms.

For Erdman, it’s finding time with her husband.

“That is one thing that has been a little bit more daunting, the time that Mark and I are able to spend together,” she admits.

“We have to consciously make an effort to go out for two hours and have a glass of wine or something like that. That has been a challenge because it seems to be the last thing on the totem pole when it shouldn’t be.”

Christine

For Brittany Joy Cooper, 28, a freelance writer at home with a 2-year-old, another baby on the way and a songwriting husband with a studio in the basement, it is simply finding quiet chunks of time to write, whether it is at the dining room table, kitchen counter or family room floor – all of which have served as her office at one time or another.

“Each day is unexpected because you don’t know what their schedules will be like,” she says. “And there are totally those days when I am melting on the floor.

“But, in general, I really enjoy the entrepreneurial side of it and being able to be involved in things that I care about.”

Invest in the business

Most of the women interviewed in the NWBC study cited greater independence or autonomy for a variety of reasons as a motivation to become a business owner. Interestingly, wealth creation beyond that necessary to retire comfortably did not appear to be a primary motivator of women.

Use of outside advisors was not associated with greater tolerance for risk. However, advisors were seen as essential to business success – particularly a CPA, bookkeeper, and lawyer – and participants acknowledged that these advisors can mitigate risk during business start-up and growth.

There are big differences in the financing utilized by women-owned vs. men-owned businesses, according to the U.S. Department of Economics and Statistics Administration. Not only do women tend to start their businesses with less capital than men, they are less likely to take on debt to expand their businesses.

Women are more likely than men to say they don’t need any extra money to start their business, either because it is harder to get a loan or they are simply less willing to take the risk.

This is especially true for women starting businesses at home with children underfoot.

“It is so hard to convince women to have to spend a dime on their business up front,” says Renae Christine, author of the Home Business Startup Bible. Christine has launched several businesses while at home with her children and advises others who want to do the same.

“They think it should automatically be paying them money,” she says. “They don’t realize that most major companies, when they are building a new product, invest everything that comes back from that resource for like two years. When Coke has a new product, they will spend two years’ income in marketing to keep the product forever.”

Christine says it’s a mental block that can be hard for women to overcome, especially if the main motivator is boosting the family’s needed income.

“You have to build up a business – you don’t have a business right now,” Christine says. “If you are building from scratch it might not cost as much because you are putting in the work and the sweat equity, but it is still going to cost something.”

Christine began working from home in 2006 with one child at home, motivated to quit her job editing a newspaper in Las Vegas when her young daughter ran to her husband instead of to her after hurting herself.

“It freaked me out because it was just not how I had imagined my life,” she says. “I went to college and got my degree and everything I ever imagined I would get. I quit because I realized maybe it wasn’t what I really wanted, so I thought I would have to go into another direction.”

Your CEO hat

Kimberly Pace, owner of Nashville’s Executive Aura, a leadership development and strategy company, and a Vanderbilt University communications professor, says passion is great, but planning is key to the success of any business, at home or not.

“I find that, and it’s not just women, people who have not started their own company have this idea of something they want to do, and they are passionate about it, but they haven’t taken the time to really think about building their business strategy,” Pace says.

“Be real clear about your strategy and how big you want to grow. Some people start off and get some success and all of a sudden your business got really big. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s why having a three- to five-year strategic plan for yourself and thinking that through ahead of time makes a big difference.”

No matter where your business is, Pace, who doesn’t have children, says it is important to always have your CEO hat on when you are working. Involving your kids is fine, as long as it matches with the brand you are portraying.

“A lot of times, as a startup company, you are the face of that company,” she says. “And it has to be authentic to who you are.

“Occasionally I’ll work with women and ask them to tell me about themselves. And some start talking about their kids what their kids are doing, and if you are applying to an organization or are starting a company that is about children or is about being a mother or being a parent, then sure. You could even answer the phone with your kids in the background.

“If it’s not about that, and it is a completely different business, then the truth of the matter is, people don’t care. They care about the service and the quality of what they are getting.”

Pace says the goal of the stay-at-home business has to match who you are and what the clients’ expectations are.

“Does it matter to them that you are only checking your email five times a day? Does it matter to them that some days you are going be unavailable maybe 48 hours because your kid is sick? You should choose a business based on that reality,” she says.

But author Christine says that as more and more people work remotely, hearing kids in the background is going to become more and more normal.

“I love it because even big corporations are sending men home to work now, and they have kids – that is what they do,” she says.

Overall though, it is important to be realistic about what can be done in the time allotted.

“I think women think of this dream that they can have a business from home and be with the kids, and they have this picture in their head of how it is going to be and it is not like that for like five years,” Christine says.

“In fact, it stinks. So that is why you have to really be passionate about what you are doing to get through that initial business building. It takes a couple of years to build up, and not everyone is willing to follow through with that.

“And there are no guarantees, which freaks a lot of people out.”

“You just learn to adjust and figure it out, and you learn more about your kids – is it a bribe day or a threaten day?” she jokes.

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