When we think of successful "mompreneurs," it’s so tempting to focus on the superstars: JK Rowling, Julie Aigner Clark (Baby Einstein) and Liz Lange (Liz Lange Maternity) but just like Lebron, Michael and Koby, they are truly the exception, not the rule. Almost every mom I know has fantasized about starting some sort of small business and trading the corporate jungle (or the stay at home grind) for a utopian balance of pilates in the morning and business in the afternoon (promptly ending at 3 with time to pick up the kids).
Having run a successful corporate training and keynote speaking business for a dozen years now, I certainly understand the gravitational pull away from the extremes (staying at home or working full time) towards something that seems to provide the elusive “work-life balance” that every mom I know is desperately seeking.
I decided to survey working moms to figure out if/how they were “making it work." The survey results confirmed that working full time while being an actively engaged mom was often like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. For many moms, making the leap to mompreneur seems to be the solution. But is it?
Although I’m as inspired as any when I read about some new mompreneur who sold her babysitting-service app to a high-tech company for a billion dollars, I’m grounded enough to know that won’t be me. More likely for most moms is my journey -- doing what you did in a corporate environment but just doing it for yourself. Articles so often glamorize the concept by focusing on huge profit potential while ignoring pesky details like less than supportive spouses, long hours early on, or inconsistent cash flow.
In that spirit I offer my own personal experience of the good, the bad and the ugly of being a mompreneur.
Ultimate autonomy is intoxicating: For me, running my own training/speaking company is bar none the best business model for myself as a busy mom with two small kids. Simply put, the autonomy, flexibility and control over my schedule is priceless, and I couldn’t imagine relinquishing it voluntarily.
Revenue potential is virtually unlimited: A huge benefit to running your own business is that revenue is often unlimited. Small tweaks to your client base, business model or portfolio of services can often mean huge swings in your revenue month to month or year to year. You literally can make what you want to make (if you’re willing to do the work and have a profitable business model). On the flip side, I’ve had many $0 months (more on that as we look at “the bad”.
Startup can be slow…cash flow can be slower: It’s so tempting to imagine your new business with steady demand, easy repeat business, reliable/loyal staff and partners and minimal startup costs, but these assumptions can often be naïve if not delusional. It took about 1.5 years before my business could sustain itself and also afford to pay me as an employee. Had it taken two, I would have exhausted my startup funds and folded the business. For moms who are often using precious household savings to fund or subsidize the early months or years, this can be a huge risk and one that shouldn’t be entered into lightly.
Wearing too many hats can be exhausting: The reality of entrepreneurship is that in most cases you’re everything for the business -- CEO, CFO, marketing/sales/IT director, and the list goes on. Let’s face it: You’re probably good at what you’re good at, but no one is good at everything. As a result, you’re often faced with choosing between paying someone to do it (e.g. website, marketing, etc.) when you can barely afford to or doing without and suffering the consequences.
Entrepreneurship could actually mean more work hours, not fewer: Launching a new business can often mean more hours spent working. Depending on the type of business, mompreneurs are often able to achieve that idyllic part-time gig with the full-time pay eventually, but during early ramp up when the business infrastructure is being developed, staff are being hired, products are being tested and branding is being refined, long hours are more often the norm.
The business could cause household strife if your spouse isn’t onboard: Smartly, moms often develop businesses around their passions. But what happens if you’re passionate about your business but your spouse (or other family) isn’t? Running a business without your spouse’s support or enthusiasm is like swimming through peanut butter: It may be possible but you probably wouldn’t want to try it. Be sure you talk to your spouse and family about potential business ventures before you take the leap to gauge their level of support and give them time to acclimate to the change.
Ironically, mompreneurship is much like being a mom: rewarding, wonderful and amazing but also challenging, time consuming and sometimes draining. It’s one of those things that you may certainly want to do, but just be sure to do it with your eyes open.