Be the Boss
There aren’t specific statistics on the number of mom-owned businesses, but there’s no question the number of female-owned businesses is soaring. Women are now launching more than 1,200 new businesses per day, double the rate from only three years ago, according to the 2014 “State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” commissioned by American Express OPEN. The report estimates there are a record 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States — up 6 percent from a year ago — generating more than $1.4 trillion in revenues. And there’s no doubt that mothers are driving a lot of that growth. Why?
"There continues to be a real need for flexible career options that provide women with income, opportunities to be part of a participatory management structure and the ability to use their talents to build successful businesses," says Caroline Davis, co-founder of The Worth Collection, Ltd., and early mompreneur. So, when the opportunities don’t exist, what do we do? Create them for ourselves. Meet five moms who did just that.
Sara Sutton Fell: FlexJobs
In late 2006, when she was seven months pregnant, Fell was laid off from her job and found herself looking for work. She knew she wanted something that matched up to where she was in her career, but she also knew she’d need flexible work options with a baby on the way.
After finding scam-after-scam, she was frustrated with the process and began writing a business plan for FlexJobs, a website where professionals can go to find legitimate, pre-screened, professional-level jobs that offer flexible options. When Fell’s son, Harrison, was just three months old, the company officially incorporated. “I’m so passionate about helping people find jobs.” Fell says. “I felt there were tons of people like me who wanted a professional job [with] better work flexibility. I consider it my mission to help.”
Today, FlexJobs is the leader in its field, having helped almost 800,000 job seekers in their quest. The team has grown to over 40 people who all work from home offices throughout the country. Fell’s family has grown, too. She’s now mom of another son, Palmer, six.
Advice in a nutshell: “Go easy on yourself. As a mom, you’re probably burning the candle at both ends already. If you’re starting a company, too, it’s like having a real baby and a business baby. Both are demanding and you want to do your best at both, but a lot comes down to prioritizing. I used to love to an empty inbox, but now I force myself to look at what’s most important to get done and what to wait on. Then, I try not to beat myself up about the things I haven’t had time for.”
It takes teamwork — and respect: “I always try to treat my team with the utmost respect. It’s very important for me to create a healthy company culture.”
Managing the growth spurts: “One thing I’m focused on is making sure we pay attention to our infrastructure as we grow so we don’t get ahead of ourselves.”
Balancing working from home: “It’s a slippery slope if I let work invade my personal life. Even though work is at home, I rarely check work email after office hours until my kids are in bed. After all, my company is dedicated to offering people flexible jobs so I need to be a living example of that, but I can be my own worst enemy!”
Fell always takes time for…a cup of tea. “I don’t take many breaks during the day, but I do make myself regular cups of tea. I take the time to stretch while I’m brewing a cup.”
- CEO, Flexjobs.com
- Lives in: Boulder, Colorado
- Year company launched: 2007
Anna Perelman: Stelle Audio Couture
If you’ve ever hidden a massive speaker in the corner of your living room because it didn’t match your décor style, Anna Perelman understands. She and her husband started Stelle Audio Couture to offer high-end audio products that not only offer unparalleled sound, but chic design, too. At the time the company launched, her son was just three (she’s also a step mom to two older sons). Perelman and her husband now have 14 people working for their company worldwide.
Advice in a nutshell: “Create precious moments. As moms, we always tend to feel like we’re not giving enough, but I think kids know when you’re there and present. You have to create those moments and it doesn’t have to be 24/7.”
Mom entrepreneurs get some perks: “When you run a company, you can create your own schedule. So, if I need to run out to watch a game or take my kids to activities, it’s doable. With my iPhone and iPad, I don’t have to be tied to my desk to respond to an email. That’s a huge asset for mom CEOs.” But find time to connect with your family that works for you. “I don’t have hard and fast rules for spending time with my kids except for this: I spend my mornings with my son and I make dropping him off at school a priority.”
Perelman always takes time for…a walk on the beach: “I try to do my best to take a moment to let go of all the stress that piles on. Whether I’m at the beach with my son or my dog, it’s the one place where I can truly disconnect.”
- CEO, Stellé Audio Couture
- Lives in: Newport Beach, California
- Year company launched: 2012
Melissa Wang: eden & zoe
Melissa Wang, founder and designer of a cashmere clothing line for kids, worked as a corporate lawyer for years before she decided to join the kids’ fashion business. The company, inspired by her daughters, Eden, now five, and Zoe, now three (she also has another baby on the way), began when Wang was looking for cashmere knitwear items for her kids and couldn’t find them. She jumped right away into designing, launching her own collection last year.
Advice in a nutshell: “Be open to new ideas. In business, I always try to listen and be responsible to my customers, suppliers and partners and to do that, I’m open to their feedback and their ideas. As a fairly new business, I’m constantly trying to adapt.”
When in doubt, breathe. “All working moms have so much going on, whether it’s with our families, businesses and our schedules. I always do my best to stop and breathe.”
An ongoing juggling act: “There are only so many hours in the day and I aim to make maximum use of it. Typically, mornings/early afternoons are mostly work-related, afternoons/early evenings are devoted to family and evenings till late are work, spouse, ‘me’ time. Of course, every day is different and I love the variety that my lifestyle brings. I think it's important to be flexible with the balancing act — some days you feel like you've done well and other days are more tricky. In the long run, what matters is how you spent the time and that you gave your best."
Wang always takes time for…yoga. “I’ve found that yoga is one of the best ways to take time for myself. I always feel rejuvenated afterwards.”
- Founder, eden & zoe
- Lives in: San Francisco
- Year company launched: 2013
Photo Credit: Rory Earnshaw
Betsy Johnson: SwimZip
When Johnson was diagnosed with skin cancer at 26, she was inspired to not only quit her job at Boeing, where she worked in financial planning and forecasting, but to join her brother in launching SwimZip, a sun protection swimwear company for kids (the company launched right before she had her son, now two). And, while she has appeared on ‘Shark Tank’ and the Today Show and become a celeb favorite since she launched the line, she still handles every aspect of the business herself — and she’s pregnant with her second child.
Advice in a nutshell. “Be extremely passionate about what you do. I do one to two all-nighters a week. I wouldn’t be able to send emails at 3 a.m. or work on photo editing if I wasn’t dedicated to what I’m doing.”
Plan your hours out. “I schedule my work time very precisely. For example, I’ll carve out ten minutes to work and then I’ll get an hour to play with my son. When I’m with him, I leave my phone in my office — I want to focus on him 100 percent. Then I schedule 7:15 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. as work time and weekends are at least 16 hour days.
Work it with social media. “I think the connections I’ve made with other mom businesses on Instagram has made my business a lot stronger. I want to support them and social media has been a huge way for me to connect with other businesses and network.”
On the future of her company. "We are looking to expand internationally because we have developed such a strong loyal fan base in the U.S. [and want to] reach other countries so they too can have adorable and affordable UV swimwear. We also want to work on growing our domestic sales team. We know that a sales team on the road meeting with stores personally will grow our retail reach and commitment."
Johnson always makes time for…pilates. “This is where I release excess energy and stress. I think having a strong core strengthens my back and my business!”
- Founder, SwimZip
- Lives in: Prairie Village, Kansas
- Year company launched: 2012
Tena Lynn Pettis: Tena.cious
Tena Lynn Pettis loves the fact that her company offers help to entrepreneurs and personality-driven businesses as they work to increase their exposure both online and off. Pettis started Tena.cious after reading an article that touched on ‘jobs you can do if you’re really good at Facebook.’ It was the early days of social media and Pettis had a hunch that she could help businesses boost their social media visibility.
It was an uphill battle at first. In 2009 her daughter, Preslynn, was one and a half, and the colleagues she talked to couldn’t imagine a company devoted only to social media. But, in the years since, Tena.cious has taken off, with companies seeking her help as they scramble to keep up with developments in social media while also growing their daily operations. And Pettis has had two more kids, a son, Leighton, and another daughter, Tenly.
Advice in a nutshell: “We all know mom guilt exists. But I truly believe that when you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home. Multitasking work and life at the same time always ends in frustration.”
Never say never. “A lot of friends were puzzled when I started my business. They said things like ‘Really? You want to charge people to use Facebook? It’s free!’ But I didn’t give up. I’m passionate about my clients. Stick with your business plan if you have an instinct that it has legs.”
Reserve networking for daylight hours. “I have a hard rule that I don’t network at night. There are enough opportunities to shake hands and trade business cards during the day. It’s important to me to be at dinner and bedtime with my family.”
Word of the year: “Mine is ‘legacy.’ Each and everything I do I know will leave a lasting impression. My goal is to leave a great one!”
Pettis always takes time for…quality time with her kids: “To me, this means getting down on the floor, playing ‘monster,’ running around the house or just having good snuggle time with a book and a blanket.”
- Founder, Tena.cious
- Lives in: Hudson, Wisconsin
- Year company launched: 2009
Photo Credit: Ampersand • Photography & Design