When Alex Tutwiler, 32, a mechanical engineer, gave birth to her first child she cut down on her work hours from full time to part time so that she could spend more time with her baby. Two years later, when pregnant with her second child, Alex realised how complicated her life would be if she continued her engineering job. "I wanted to be free to find my own schedule," she says. "I wanted to do something from home where I would be able to give more time t o my kids."
Alex, who is based in Willow Springs, North Carolina, quit her job and decided that the ideal solution would be to start a home-based business. Like an increasing number of mothers who have started small businesses after having children, Alex is a mompreneur, balancing motherhood with her growing enterprise.
Not all mompreneurs are stay-at-home moms. But many working women feel that home-based ventures make the transition to stay-at-home motherhood easier because of the lower start-up costs and the flexibility of creating a work environment that allows more time with the kids.
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Last year, Alex launched La Boutique for Kids, a mobile boutique selling clothes and accessories for babies and children. "The idea came out of my passion for shopping and hunting down bargains," she explains. Alex's boutique features discounted products that she feels will appeal to other moms. Another aspect of her boutique is that it is 'mobile': she takes her inventory to busy moms so they can enjoy a personal shopping experience in their homes.
Like Alex, many mompreneurs find it only natural that their small businesses are in the baby and children niche. This is often a result of their parenting experiences and from discovering the lack of certain products or services.
Katy Terry, 36, of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, is one such mompreneur who launched her product after failing to find what she needed. A teacher by profession, Katy chose to stay home full time after having her first child. She had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. But when this mom of two was trying to figure out a way to childproof her coffee-table, she decided to make a cushioned cover that started getting noticed by her friends. Encouraged by them to protect her design and market it, Katy decided to start a home-based business. Now almost three years later, she is busy balancing motherhood and Little Tumblers Table Toppers, which produces and markets cushioned covers for tabletops.
But while the benefits of a flexible schedule and being your own boss sounds appealing, achieving the perfect balance is easier imagined than done. Getting the business off the ground has its share of challenges and moments of frustration. A limited start-up budget, very little 'free' time and working on their own pushes many to further hone multi-tasking skills and manage time more efficiently. "I faced numerous challenges in the initial stages, especially since I was on my own for everything," says Alex.
"Financially, I found it difficult to grow my business and manage debt at the same time. I found that the more I invested into my business, the heavier my workload was."
Fusing fashion with passion
As her business grows, Alex says she finds less time for her kids but it's an investment she hopes will pay off. Although a year into her business, she feels she has already become better at time management but admits that it is a constant challenge.
Working during naptimes and at night is all part of the daily juggle of these women who, from time to time, experience pangs of guilt when they feel they are neglecting the kids to focus on the growing business. "Sometimes I feel as though I'm on top of the world, juggling Chicks and Frogs, a part-time job and family," says Vonnie Chan, 39, a mompreneur based in California. She owns Chicks and Frogs, a business selling clothing and accessories for babies. "Sometimes I feel like I'm failing miserably at both. Most days are somewhere in-between. I guess I call that balance."
Megan Thomas, 28, of Washington State, started Peekaboo Picks, an online magazine, after her second child was born. She quit her full-time position in marketing to become a stay-at-home mom and manage the magazine. Megan acknowledges the demands of both motherhood and running her business. "I've realised that I simply can't do it all and, at the end of the day, it matters more to me that I've spent quality time with my children than any business success," she says. Megan also feels lucky to have her mom watch her kids once a week, which she calls her 'office' day. "The rest of the week, my kids are top priority during the day and the business gets squeezed into naptime and evenings. I honestly don't know how anyone could do it without the support of family," she says.
In fact, realising how crucial a good support network was, one mompreneur set up an organisation that offers mompreneurs support and resources to help each other grow and connect as business owners and mothers. Marlynn Schotland, 34, founded the Portland, Oregon-based Mamapreneurs Inc on Mothers Day in 2006. With over 200 members, it offers networking play-dates, monthly business meetings and other helpful resources. "I started Mamapreneurs Inc out of my personal need to connect with other moms who were also business owners, so we could talk about both business and family seamlessly," says Marlynn.
A 'creative' use of technology
Vonnie agrees on the importance of support. "It doesn't have to be family or a partner," she says. "But to build a business when you have kids, you absolutely need to have a support network." She is thankful for her husband, who helps her build the business and takes care of the kids when she's busy working. "He also keeps me in check," she adds. "It's easy to get down on yourself for mismanaging the family, the business, a customer, a retailer, etc. He usually gives me the shot of confidence I need to keep right on going." For aspiring mompreneurs, Vonnie offers some valuable advice: "Be flexible and be kind to yourself. Every mother has a lot to manage and the fact of being a mother is one of life's greatest accomplishments."