Tag Archives: mompreneur

The Weird Resumes That Lead To Successful Entrepreneurs

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Marilou (in white) hurdles toward her future startup

The path to entrepreneurship often covers exactly the right ground, in ways we could never predict. Interests and experience that seem to be unrelated eventually turn out to be precisely the preparation a specific new venture requires.

Marilou McFarlane, for example, has recently launched Vivo Girls Sports, an online community for athletic girls aged 13-22. If she had known when she was a kid that this was the company she’d start at age 48, she could not have plotted a more useful resume of stepping stones to this moment.

Sure, Marilou played sports as a girl. Soccer and track and tennis and more. She also grew up around college sports, since her father, Jim Heavner, announced many of the Tarheel games for WCHL,  the radio station he started in Chapel Hill. (Being the daughter of an entrepreneur also helps pave the way for starting your own gig later.) After college, she worked for Turner, back when Ted still owned it all, so that gave her some good experience in media, as well as a chance to work for another entrepreneur who thinks big. Later, in San Francisco, she was a media rep for KCBS for many years, before she started her own company, McFarlane Marketing. She had two daughters, both athletic, and was involved in season after season of their sports. For two years, she served as president of their soccer league, a full-time volunteer position she handled while continuing to build her marketing company. She also started an offshoot of  her marketing company that targeted colleges specifically. And now her oldest daughter, Kelly, will be playing for the Tarheels in Chapel Hill starting next year — on their very impressive women’s soccer team.

Marilou knows sports and she knows marketing. She understands teenagers and college students. She has a deep affinity for the issues that girls in those age brackets are facing. She’s savvy to the incredible buying power of this group and its appeal to marketers. And she’s not afraid to start something  new.

Starting a company is not just a way to make a living. Sometimes it’s how we reconcile and integrate everything we are.

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.


Lauren Luke’s success illustrates five powerful trends in social media

images-4Lauren Luke, an ordinary person who has become a celebrity expert, is an excellent example of some important trends that many marketing people still resist. You may not have heard of her, but she’s been covered by both the BBC  and  The New York Times, and has 253, 941 subscribers to her YouTube channel, at this writing. 

Lauren is a single mom in England who started posting videos demonstrating various makeup products and techniques — that she tries out on herself. On camera. In close-ups. Lauren is charming and attractive, but she’s no supermodel. In addition to a huge following on YouTube, she has recently scored a book deal and her own makeup line at Sephora

Here are the important trends that Lauren exemplifies: 

1. On social media, everyone’s an expert. An expert doesn’t mean a PhD, in this case. It means paying attention to a particular topic and learning enough that you can teach others all about it. That topic may be a very narrow niche that most people couldn’t care less about, but the Internet allows the people who are interested to find you.

2. Vlogging is the new blogging. Plenty of people say, who has time to watch videos? Apparently, a lot of people. Lauren’s videos have had something upwards of 50 million views. Business owners and corporate big shots who haven’t yet mastered a blog should just skip right ahead to shooting their own vlog, because that’s what’s happening now. Pew Internet found that 62% of all web users watch videos online, and some experts report video blogs are already being more widely viewed than written blogs.

3. People trust authentic more than flawless. The cosmetics industry  is known for its million-dollar faces and expensive production. (Think high-end directors, film crews, lighting, retouching and everything that comes with a professional shoot). Although there will always be a place for that aspirational branding, consumers place more trust in homemade videos of regular people sharing their opinions. Lauren shoots her videos herself at home, and airs them unedited (she says she doesn’t know how), so viewers see when she messes up or her dog walks through the scene. She’ll do decidedly unpolished things like hold up a product and tell watchers what brand it is, but follow that with “I think that’s how you pronounce it.” To say Lauren comes off as real is an understatement. 

4. People get their information from other consumers. There was a time when consumers learned about brands and products from the brands themselves. Now, thanks to the Internet, people get more information from other consumers than they do the brand. It has created a power shift that many major brands still don’t quite accept. Lauren will review five different mascaras and point out things like “this one is such a weird shape I nearly put my eye out with it.” You would not find that on a Maybeline or Chanel commercial — and women appreciate hearing it.

5. Women use YouTube. The common misconception is that YouTube is all about a bunch of knee-slapping guys laughing at each other’s stupid humor. But women are on YouTube too, especially in the how-to segment. YouTube describes its current users as 48 percent female. 

The other trend that Laura illustrates is not related to social media but to women entrepreneurs. Many women start their own businesses because it allows them to flex their work days around their kids’ schedules. Laura was 16 when she had her son, and as a single mother, I’ll bet she finds her current gig much better for her life than a corporate job might be.

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.

Seven reasons business ownership can be better for your life balance

cyclistMany professionals, particularly women, in high-level corporate positions find themselves opting out of their shot at the corner office because of the wear and tear on their life balance and family time. But entrepreneurship can be a way to have more flexibility and control over your time, while still pulling in a big income. Here are seven reasons I recommend that frustrated corporate folks don’t opt out, but opt to own.

1.  Location, Location, Location. Owning your own company gives you the option of working at home. Even if you lease office space, you might decide to work from home a few days a week or in the afternoons when the kids get out of school.

2. Owning Your Calendar. Rather than being at the beck and call of all those corporate meetings called by somebody else, you have control of your calendar. If you want to be at the school play on Wednesday, you can schedule that client meeting for Thursday.

 3. Being There For Your Kids. Show me a mother with a boss and I’ll show you someone who feels guilty when her children need her during the workday. When you own your own company, you don’t have to apologize when your kid is sick – you just rearrange your schedule to be at home.

 4. The Company Evolving With Your Kids.  While your kids are very young, you might prefer to work from home. Once they’re in school most of the day, you might want to lease office space but leave work in time to meet the school bus. And when they hit those tumultuous teenage years, you might want to be around the house a little more in the afternoons. A business owner often has the freedom to accommodate his or her kids’ changing needs.

5. Time For Outside Interests. Believe it or not, many entrepreneurs manage to take up time-consuming activities solely for their own enjoyment, like training for a triathlon or competing in horse shows. Although more and more corporate employers are growing more flexible about scheduling a work week around parenting responsibilities, you’d be hard pressed to find one who’ll give you afternoons off for long bike rides or a horse show two hours away.

6. The Luxury of Support. As a business owner, you can build in support from your staff. Employees in small, closely held companies often cover many functions of a personal assistant, or even a back-up family member. It’s not unusual for small business owners to have an assistant who’s willing to run out to carpool when they’re stuck across town in a client meeting, or who’ll pick up groceries for the soccer team dinner when the boss runs out of time.

 7: Perks Aplenty. Business owners also are able to offer themselves all kinds of extras your corporate boss might not. You might have your company lease or buy you a company car. You can write off any travel that can be justified as a business expense. You can plan your annual management meeting at your favorite spa resort. Running the show gives you the opportunity to invest company money in what’s important to you – whether it’s bringing in healthy lunches or a massage therapist to keep your crew performing well during stressful times. Or hiring yourself an executive coach and a crackerjack assistant.