Tag Archives: working mother

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.

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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.

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.

Small Business Strategies: Six tips for improving your wellness

girl yoga treeAnyone who runs his or her own business knows wellness can be the trickiest part of the life-balance equation. With your quirky hours and the nearly endless demands of your company, it’s tough to fit in the things you know are good for you. Sometimes the easiest way to feel healthy and energized rather than exhausted and out of shape is to tune in to that inner voice when you’re making choices regarding wellness. My trick for that is to ask myself one simple question:

Is it a Hell Yes? If not, then it’s a Hell No. Here are six tips for better wellness through the Hell Yes principle:

1. Try the Hell No diet.  Here’s how it works. You can eat anything you want. But five times a week, say Hell No to something fried or refined that you’d ordinarily eat. If you usually have chips with your sandwich, skip them one day. Your assistant brings doughnuts to the office every Monday? Pass them by this week. Reaching for your afternoon soda? Skip it, just this once. Over the course of the week, those five omissions will add up to a serious caloric reduction, and have saved you a bunch of sugar and fat grams as well.

Note: It doesn’t count if you skip something you wouldn’t ordinarily have eaten. For instance, you can’t just drive by the ice cream store and say Hell No to a banana split, if a banana split isn’t something you’ve even considered having in years.

2. Listen for your inner Hell Yes, when you’re tempted to skip exercise. Is being fit a true Hell Yes for you? If it’s really a priority in your life, then listen for the inner wisdom to remind you of that, on those days when you’re tempted to flop down on the couch instead of suiting up for your workout.

3. Sometimes it’s best to say Hell No to a workout. When you don’t feel like exercise, listen closely to which voice is doing the whining. If it’s the part of you that would just rather flip through a catalog munching crackers at the kitchen counter, remind yourself that fitness is a Hell Yes in your life and head to the gym. But if you’re sick or injured or just plain exhausted, your gut may be telling you it’s a good day to rest. Listen to that voice.

4. Say Hell No to your personal vices. You know what they are. Do you sneak a cigarette when you’re out with friends? Overdo it on sugary things? Drink a little too much caffeine? Or wine? The Hell Yes principle is a fast way to tune in to your intuitive knowledge. Ask yourself, and answer honestly: is this harmful to me?

5. Say Hell No to too little sleep. Do you wake up every morning feeling fresh and ready to go? I didn’t think so. Most of us don’t get quite enough sleep, even though we know we do a better job running our companies when we do. Keep in mind that sleep is when the body does some of its most important repair, and that a good night’s sleep helps reduce stress – and might even make you look younger. Whatever’s stopping you from getting to bed on time, learn to say Hell No and cut out the light.

6. Say Hell Yes to the things that make you feel goodWhat are the things that make you feel well cared for and pampered? Is it a spa pedicure? A massage? Professional hair color? Acupuncture? A hot bath? A nap? Remind yourself that you’ll be better equipped to take care of business if you take care of yourself first.

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.

How to work with a kid in the office

mom with baby office doorSure you can. You’re the owner; you can do whatever you want. Will it be easy? Probably not. But there are times it’s well worth the trouble.

I took my baby to the office until he was one. At the time, the ad agency I owned with a friend was housed in an old turn-of-the-century plow factory. The place was drenched with character, from the soaring ceilings to the distressed brick walls to the wide-open space. Too much open space is not good when you have a crying baby. So we turned the only office with a door into the nursery. Sam’s nanny met us there every morning, and I would take breaks to nurse him every few hours.

We’d always brought our dogs to the office. How much harder could it be to have a baby? I remember a friend predicting it would be more stressful for me than anyone else. I sat through every client meeting terrified that Sam would start wailing at the wrong moment, and that the noise would assault the conference room.

But it was worth it. For me, it was much better to have my baby in the next room than a commute away. For Sam, he had me nearby for that critical first year. Shortly before he turned one, when he was suddenly mobile and could toddle over to an employee’s keyboard and erase a day’s work, my business partner and I agreed that we needed to figure out something else. 

Older kids can learn a lot from your business. The guy who owns our pest control company brings his preteen daughter along when he comes by to spray during the summer months. She may not have as much fun as she might at sleep-away camp, but she sees what her dad does all day and how he interacts with his clients. I’ll wager she’s learning a good bit about professionalism, business ethics, and building client relationships.

TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR CHILD TO THE OFFICE

Occasional is better than perpetual. Bringing your kid to the office on a teacher workday or an odd bank holiday is much easier for your employees to tolerate than having a kid parked in the conference room all summer. When your child shows up only rarely, he or she will be greeted like a V.I.P. If you drag your kid in every single day, the novelty will wear off pretty quick, even being the boss’ kid.

Manners count. When you bring your kids into the work environment, it helps tremendously if they treat people in the office with courtesy and respect. Please and thank you are musts, and grabbing things off people’s desks verboten.

Don’t assume your employees will double as babysitters. In a small company, it’s not uncommon for employees to pitch in to help the boss with personal tasks, even when it involves watching your kids for a few minutes. But they’ve also got their own work to do. If your assistant offers to run them down to the cafeteria downstairs, great. But don’t let the kids wear out their welcome.

Give your kid some work to do. It could be something that really does need to be done, like making photocopies or running mail through the postal meter. Or it could be a stack of copier paper and some colored pens for drawing. Just keep the kid busy, and before you know, it will be time to go home.