Category Archives: Kids and your business

A Book For Christmas Elves, Created Overnight

Have you seen these Christmas elves? I think the Magic Elf craze originated in the Southeast several years ago, but has grown in popularity and geography since. They’re sort of rag-doll like elves that visit each year during the holiday season and play pranks each night until Christmas Eve, when they return to the North Pole with Santa.

My son’s elf is named Cameron. A friend of his got an elf named Mansfield. My nieces’ elves are Colette and Megan. Some kids from our church have an elf that arrived with the unfortunate name of Enus. Each elf has his or her own personality, and the kids’ bound out of bed each morning to see what those nutty elves have been up to while the rest of the house was asleep.

That’s all very magical for the kids, but for the parents, it’s hard work. Night after night, you have to come up with trick after trick after trick. Often, I find myself heading upstairs for bed when I suddenly remember I haven’t done the elf. My sister has been known to pitch hers out the back door when she’s particularly tired, and then tell the girls the next morning that the elves must have wanted to play in the backyard. Wouldn’t it make things easier if parents had a whole bunch of tricks all figured out ahead of time?

Today we launched an e-book called “50 Elf Tricks: The Busy Parent’s Shortcut to Christmas Elf Magic.” Actually, Tribe is not really in the business of creating content for kids; Most of our clients are more the Fortune 500-type. But we have a policy of looking for where we can help, and this seemed, in its own small way, like something we could do to help.

Each of the 50 tricks includes a rhyming note for the elf to sign, explaining his or her tricks that range from leaving a trail of baby carrots to lure reindeer inside to a special shaving cream message written in shaving cream on the bathroom mirror. There are quick and easy tricks for nights when parents are particularly exhausted and more meaningful tricks that encourage the spirit of giving — or even good habits, like teeth brushing.

The e-book is $9.95 at the site we created for it (www.elfideas.com) and 50% goes to Santa. We’ll be able to donate half of each purchase price to the Emmaus House Christmas program, where Santa Claus will hand out gifts to over 700 kids who otherwise might not have much magic in their holiday.

This is one of the things I love most about owning a small company. You can think something up and make it happen. I had the idea driving home last Tuesday and a week later, the e-book is written and art directed and for sale on the worldwide web. So fast, it can be almost like having elves at work during the night.

Home office: Open in case of medical emergency

SwingEven if you have fabulous office space and enjoy going in every morning to be surrounded by your crackerjack staff, it’s not a bad idea to maintain a functional home office as well. I worked from a home office for the first several years after starting Tribe, and learned this week how lucky I was that I kept it largely intact after we leased real office space.

I’ve spent this week in that home office, thanks to the swine flu. I came down with it Monday night, my fever broke Tuesday night, and I thought staying out of the office for 24 hours after my temperature returned to normal would be a gracious plenty of time to stay away.

However, my entire staff voted to keep me home for the rest of the week, and then assigned my business partner the task of talking me into that. Nobody wants to catch H1N1. We also have two pregnant employees. One of them went in for her weekly check up and when she mentioned that her boss had the swine flu, the doctor went ape. Apparently, pregnant women are at elevated risk for complications with this virus.

So I set up shop in my old home office, where the wireless still works, the printer still works, my cell phone gets a good signal and the coffee machine is just a few steps away. I opened up all the windows, let the dog settle in at my feet and then I got down to business. I’ve kept up with the constant flurry of email. I’ve worked undisturbed for long stretches. And when I needed to touch base on projects with people in the office, we did it by phone or iChat.

Yesterday was such a gorgeous sunny fall day that I spent the afternoon on the deck with my laptop. I could hear the birds singing, feel the breeze in the trees, enjoy the rich colors of the potted mums waiting to be planted. Midway through, I took a break to walk up to the school to collect our fourth grader. Sam started in on homework and I got back to my work. Later, I could see him out of the corner of my eye on his homemade bag swing, figuring out ways to use a ladder to make the swing go higher and further. Once in awhile, I’d respond to a “Mama, watch this” request.

It’s a nice way to work. I might miss my home office on Monday.

Mompreneurs have options military moms don’t

mombabyThe front page of the New York Times yesterday carried an article on women balancing military duty and family. The military seems to have adapted fairly well to women serving alongside men, just as the workplace has over the past several decades. “Motherhood, though,” says the writer of the article, Lizette Alvarez, “poses a more formidable challenge for the armed forces.”

The corporate world is also still struggling with how to accommodate motherhood. The difficulties presented by that dual life — corporate gig and loving mom — are one reason so many women start their own companies before they work their way up to that corner office.

“Hanging on to today’s war-savvy, battle-tested cadre of mothers — and would-be mothers — is both crucial and difficult for the Army, say officers, enlistees and experts. ‘The Army’s challenge, but also the military’s challenge, is to help service members feel they don’t have to choose between family life and their military career,’ said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, an organization supported in part by the Department of Defense.”

“’They leave when they can’t figure out’ a way to do both, she said.” Just as many mothers leave their corporate positions when they can’t reconcile the demands of their work calendar with their kid’s schedules.

Running their own businesses allows mothers the freedom to control their own calendars. Being able to schedule business trips so they don’t interfere with kids’ birthdays and school plays, to set client meetings at a time that will still get you to soccer practice by pickup, can make all the difference. It’s one of the chief advantages of entrepreneurship, especially for parents.

Most mothers I know who’ve started a company aren’t really looking for a way to work less hard. Entrepreneurs of every stripe work hard. They’re attracted to entrepreneurship partly because it allows them to work on their own terms  — and around their kids’ routines. They might put in a few hours before the kids wake up and break to get them breakfast and off to the school bus. They might field phone calls on their cell while driving a backseat of ballerinas to dance class. Or take the afternoon to oversee homework and fix dinner, but spend a productive few hours on the computer after the kids are in bed.

Starting a business is also a way women can have it both ways. They can manage the needs of their children, but not miss the excitement and satisfaction of doing work they love and are good at. Those two driving forces are much more difficult to reconcile when the place you work is a war zone.

“Not long after reuniting with her children in 2005, Specialist Holschlag said, she was sitting alone in her apartment in Iowa when she was struck by a thought she recognized as absurdly selfish: she wanted to go back to Iraq.”

After a baby, is starting a company a better idea than going back to work?

babyMaggie would really rather be at home with her new baby, but went back to her job after a standard maternity leave because she and her husband decided they couldn’t afford for her not to work. Several months into it, she’s figured out that after paying for childcare and other expenses associated with the job, she nets about $300 a month. So, in her words, she’s working “to pay for a couple of tanks of gas and some groceries.”

Is there not a better way to make $300? Maggie is the sister of a friend of mine, and I’ve only met her once or twice, but I can’t quit thinking about her situation. I remember what it was like to have a new baby and be torn away by work. And I loved my work at the time, although I understand Maggie is not crazy about her job. I do know she comes from an entrepreneurial family, so the idea of starting her own business is probably not foreign to her.

What sort of business could she start that would mean limited time away from her baby? We’re not talking about the kind of all-consuming startup that requires 80 hours a week or depends on venture capital to get off the ground. To quit her job, Maggie would only need to create $3,600 a year in net profit. That’s not so hard to do. Let’s look at some hypothetical possibilities, making some huge assumptions about what sorts of skills and talents she might have to offer — and the kinds of things she’d actually enjoy doing.

A good solution would be something she could bill by the hour, for only a handful of hours a week. Let’s say she’s a talented tennis player and could give tennis lessons, or fluent in French and could tutor high school students, or a math whiz and could serve as an SAT coach for kids trying to raise their scores. If she charged $50 an hour, or even $35, she could work a very short week and clear her $300 net, even if she had to pay a babysitter. Although, she also might schedule some of those hours during the weekends when her husband could be with the baby.

Let’s say she’s been keeping the company books on Quickbooks at her current job. So many small businesses use that accounting software, many of which might not be large enough to have a full-time bookkeeper but would like to outsource the accounts payable, accounts receivable and basic financial reports. She could handle the books for one or two small companies by going in just a morning or so a week and come home with that $300 or more.

What about starting a company that would provide something needed by other mothers with young kids? I remember several years ago a  woman in New York had the brilliant idea of an exercise class in Central Park that incorporated baby strollers (and babies) into the fitness routine. Maybe Maggie was a lifeguard and swim instructor in her youth and could start a group swimming class for mothers and babies using her mom’s backyard pool.

One trick to making this plan work would be choosing a business that offers the chance of recurring income from the same clients month after month. In other words, she signs up one student for tennis lessons and sees them once a week for months on end. Or connects with a small business who could use a freelance bookkeeper and continues to do their books until they’re large enough to need someone full time. Otherwise, she’ll need to spend a large amount of her time marketing her services so she can create new clients over and over.

Selling your hours adds up more quickly than selling a thing. Particularly a thing that requires hard costs for materials or equipment.  This is not always true, but I think would be for the types of things I can imagine someone like Maggie selling, like homemade greeting cards (she’s very crafty) or hand sewn baby bonnets or fresh-baked birthday cakes. She would have to sell a whole bunch of any of those to make her $300 each month. If you have a skill or talent that allows you to charge a significant hourly rate, that can be an easier path to doing without a paycheck.

Starting a company as a mompreneur doesn’t have to be complicated. If you don’t need to rent office space or hire employees or buy expensive equipment, the startup doesn’t have to cost much either. This is not meant to be a pushy plug for our products, but the Start Your Own Company application for the iPhone is just .99 and could walk Maggie through the basic steps of launching a business. Or she could try the more comprehensive Start Your Own Company printed deck from Starter Cards, which also includes information on the Launch and Follow-Through phases as well as the Launch phase. Either one could be a simple first step to creating a life-sized business that works for this stage of her life.


Is Twitter about reaching the most followers? Or the right followers?

IMG_3494My 9-year-old thinks my tweets are boring. At dinner one night, Sam says to me, “Mama, your tweets are boring.”

Oh? (He did set himself up with a Twitter account a few weeks ago, but we have it locked down with so many settings to protect his tweets and vet his followers that he only has about four people total in his Twitter world.) Have you been reading my tweets, Sam?

“Yeah, you need to be funnier.”

Well, Sam, my tweets are mostly about business stuff, or directing people to my blogs or articles.”

“Yeah, I read a couple of your articles. Not good.”

Ouch. But Sam brings up a good point. Are any of the things we’re all so busy tweeting about useful to our followers? Or are most of our followers people who don’t really have any connection to or interest in our areas of expertise? 

The accepted wisdom on Twitter has been to gain as many followers as possible, so you’re connecting with as many people as you can. But does it matter if they’re not the right people? 

I understand the logic of having thousands of followers. Sure, when you’re sending your message out to that many people, the sheer numbers are on your side. But when we go for tonnage, we’re tweeting to a lot of people who aren’t our target. 

I’m beginning to balk at that approach. If the beauty of online connections is that we are able to find the people in our Long Tail, as Chris Anderson would say, then where is the victory in reaching huge numbers of people who couldn’t care less? This whole social media thing is not about reaching the masses, but connecting with the people who share our particular and very narrow niche of interest. Or a common experience that is not common to the general population. Or our quirky sense of humor. 

Sam’s tweets are usually either oddball observations or links to one of his homemade videos, most of which I do think are funny. So maybe I am his target. He’s just not mine.

When you work at home, do people think you aren’t really working?

home office woman cell phoneOne downside of working at home is that sometimes people forget that you actually work for a living. When you don’t have that visible demarcation between work and home, when you don’t set off each morning to an office across town where you’re largely unavailable to family and friends, it seems to blur the lines for people. 

My mother still doesn’t get that my sister has a successful and demanding career in ad sales. All she sees is that Amanda’s at home all day, so she assumes her daughter is at her beck and call to drive over and do whatever an old lady might need at the moment. She’ll call in the middle of the workday to get Amanda to accompany her to Costco or come catch a cat and stick it in the pet carrier to go to the vet. 

I have a friend who’s an awesome realtor, with an office at home. She schedules showing houses and closings around her kids’ schedules, so she’s able to pick them up after school and be around in the afternoon. But sometimes her family has a tendency to forget she’s not a stay-at-home-mom. Her daughter forgets that she can’t volunteer at school quite as much as the moms who don’t work. Her  husband occasionally has to be reminded that she works too, so he’s going to have to pitch in with the grocery shopping and other tasks that keep a household going. Friends, too, seem to think they can drop by in the middle of the day and have her available to hang out. I can’t imagine that happening if my realtor friend worked in an office off-site.

When my husband first moved to his home office, I was guilty of the same mistake. Because he was there, I would just assume that I could leave for an early meeting before the nanny arrived, or that I could be a little late getting home at the end of the day. He was actually much more easy going about it than I would have been if the tables were turned, but eventually he called me on it. How did I know he didn’t have a breakfast meeting himself that day? How could he know whether he could fit in a bike ride after work if he had no idea what time I was coming home?

Here are a few thoughts on how to help your family and friends understand that your workday is not optional for you:

1. It’s up to you to mark your boundaries: If you always give in to whatever anyone asks of you during your workday, then it will be much more difficult for them to get the idea that you’re sometimes off-limits because of work. 

2. Practice some non-martyr-like reminders: Try not to make a big emotional deal out of it. You can offer gentle reminders that you’re busy too by saying things like, “I’ve got a conference call at 9, so I’m going to get in the shower now,” or “I have a deadline that afternoon, so it might be better if you pick up the kids.”

3. Respect your own work hours: If someone asks you for a lunch you know will be a long drawn-out affair and you usually power through lunch at your desk with a quick sandwich while you’re working, you can say that you don’t take a real lunch so you can be finished up with work before your daughter’s soccer practice. When you get an invitation to one of those parties where you’re supposed to buy the clothes on display in your friends’ home, it’s perfectly fine to say you’re so sorry, but you can’t take that afternoon off work. 

4. Use the same language you would if you worked for a boss in an office: If someone calls and asks what you’re doing, say “working” instead of “hanging out here at the house.” When someone asks you to do something, say you’ll see if you can “take that time off.” Call your office your office, even if it’s a corner of the den. 

5. Don’t forget that this downside is also an upside: One of the great things about working from home is that you are able to blur those lines between work and home sometimes. Let’s say your son wakes up with the flu. It’s really great to be able to stay home with him and not have to explain that to your boss. Once in a while, you might even want to blow off the afternoon to go to a movie with a friend. It’s nice to have that flexibility.

Home office strategies: Working with your kids underfoot

Baby with cell phoneOne of the best reasons to work at home is being there for your kids during the day. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be times you’re pulling out your hair. When my business partner Jennifer had a home office, she once spent a very long client phone call with her son Colin perched on her shoulders, using her scissors to cut up a $20 bill. Really. At least it was keeping him quiet, and she realized she would gladly pay someone twenty bucks to keep Colin from screaming his head off during that call.

Sometimes it’s tricky, but it’s doable. You just need some strategies for getting your work done amidst the inevitable chaos. Here are six tips to make it easier:

1. Email is God’s gift to WAH parents. Handle as much business communication as possible by email instead of phone. In cyberspace, no one can hear the screaming kid standing beside you.

 2. Naps are good. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish while your child is napping. We enforced an hour or so of afternoon quiet time with Sam until he was at least five. Usually, he would sleep, but sometimes he would play quietly in his room or look at books. He knew he was forbidden to cross that baby gate across his doorway until I came to get him.

 3.Give your child some work to do. You’ll have an easier time getting your work done if your child is busy too. Older kids things that are actually useful, like stuffing envelopes or stapling papers. Younger ones can have a little desk next to yours for coloring. I used to keep a basket of books in my home office for Sam to look through. I also filled a small set of index card drawers with little toys for him to explore. He’d rifle through them to find plastic cars, rubber frogs, and odds and ends from around the house that were too big to swallow. Even a baby does better with something to do. Set the bouncy seat facing the wall where he or she can see the shadows of the leaves outside blowing in the wind.

4. Get a nanny, babysitter or neighborhood kid to help. There are only so many parts of your job that can be done with children underfoot. Unless your kids are in school most of the day, you probably need some uninterrupted time to work. Even if you can only swing that help a few hours a day, you’ll know you’ve got that time to get the most important stuff done. I’ve learned from experience that it’s very difficult to be an attentive parent when you’re focused on writing or other intense work.

 5. Have a plan for important phone calls. If your children are old enough to understand, you can explain how important it is to have quiet when you’re on a business call. But for the younger ones, bribery can work. I used to keep a bag of M&Ms in my desk drawer in case a client called while Sam was around. He knew that as long as he was quiet, I’d dole out one M&M every minute or so. 

 6. If all else fails, leave the house. Sometimes there’s just no reasoning with a colicky baby or a whiny two year old. If another adult is at home, grab your cell phone and drive up to the corner to have that phone conversation. If no other adult is handy, you might try locking yourself in the bathroom to take that client call.