Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing 3 remarkable women – moms who followed their dreams to start their own businesses. These moms generously shared with me what they think about starting your own business, the reality of being a business owner, and some sage words of advice for moms with an entrepreneurial streak.
Before we get to their wise words, let me introduce you to the moms…
Lesley Fleming began her young girl’s clothing business in her late thirties. It was borne of a hobby; Lesley had been sewing clothes for friends and family for over twenty-five years. But with two young children and a busy job, it became increasingly difficult to do what she really enjoyed - sewing and being creative with clothing designs. So, Lesley chucked her marketing job and created Cheeky Banana, a line of young girl’s clothes that “celebrates the fleeting joy of childhood with its own world of imagination through the use of colorful fabrics, original appliqué, and embroidered designs.”
Pooja Pittie Goel started her business, Little GuruSkool, because she wanted to introduce her son to Indian culture at an early age…and she couldn’t find any videos or books that focused Hindi or Indian art and music that were appropriate for children aged 1 to 5 years. Immediately, she was struck by the idea of developing such products herself.
And filling a gap she herself experienced is the same reason mother of two, Adria O’Donnell, created DRIA Covers. When Adria was pregnant with her second child, she found herself constantly wondering if she could be more comfortable in her clothes without compromising fashion or budget…thus, the DRIA covers were born. DRIA covers are a collection of gorgeous poncho-like cover-ups which can be used as a cover when nursing - and so much more.
Mom Entrepreneurs On…Getting Started
Do you find yourself at a standstill, maybe overwhelmed when it comes to starting your business? Lesley would tell you that “You can’t know everything. And if you did, you would be paralyzed and not do anything.”
And Pooja soon realized that she was the only one holding herself back with one logical reason or another as to why she shouldn’t start her business. Until one day her inner voice screamed, “if I could end my marriage, why can’t I start a business?!” Why indeed?
Adria’s advice on getting started? “Just do it! When you’re a mom, you constantly do stuff for everyone else. Do this for yourself. You will activate so many other parts of your brain as a result – and it will help you be a better, more fulfilled mom.”
Now these ladies aren’t implying that we should all quit our jobs and just start something willy-nilly, with no prep. In fact, all three stress the importance of building your networks, asking others for help, developing a well-thought out business plan, understanding the steps you have to take to actually produce, supply, market and sell your product – not to mention ensuring you have the support of spouses or significant others, that make your life work. The message here is this: do your due diligence and be thorough about it – but at some point, you just have to take the plunge; otherwise you could find yourself in an endless “I’m going to start my business when…” loop – which is exactly where you don’t want to be.
Mom Entrepreneurs On…The Brass Tacks of Being a Business Owner
What’s it like to have your own business? Well Pooja actually manages three sets of planning tools to run her business; a long-term business plan, a medium-term plan and short-term plan. She also created a rolling three-month cash forecast and then she views her personal tasks on a daily basis. “You have be really organized; there’s a lot to do and much of it is just you. It’s important to follow a detailed plan that gets you to your goals.”
Pooja also stresses the importance of having a clear vision of what you want in the end. “Draw it out if you have to – give it some form. Others will try to get your to be more standard, to be like something that exists already – go back to your vision and stay true to it. People constantly told me how it was ‘normally’ done – but I had my vision and I never swayed.”
“I just didn’t realize how much work it was going to be. It’s like being a parent – it is all consuming!” says Adria. “It’s a huge commitment and I am fortunate to have my husband’s support both emotionally and from a skill perspective - because he is a great business person. What saves me is that I compartmentalize. When I am with the kids, I am full on. And when I am working, that’s my only focus. And when I’m the wife, that’s where my focus is. I am not trying to do everything at the same moment in time. Of course the challenge is making that transition gracefully and not taking the tension from one role to another. I just find if I focus on each role when I am in it, I get stuff done. Otherwise, I don’t feel like I make progress on anything.”
Like Adria, Lesley too feels that the amount of you commit to following your dream can be overwhelming. “24/7 means I am working all the time – it’s hard to get enough time with my family sometimes. And the amount of money invested is much more than I thought it would be. There are little fees all over the place that really add up – different filings, licenses, then there is capital investment. One huge challenge is that I have to rely on others who don’t have the same priorities or passion that I do. I have distributors, agents, pattern makers, trim cutters and contractors – they can make or break me. But who looks bad if something isn’t right? Me. It’s can be really hard to find reliable people. Further, these people may come and go from your life and then you get to do it all yourself – cut the trim, market your product, track finances, and ship it out – but it’s my name on it all of it and I’d rather make sure it’s done right and it’s delivered on time. That’s the reality of it. I am very focused on my customer’s experience and I want it to be just right. It’s like attending a boot camp all by yourself!” says Lesley.
Hearing all this, you may be thinking that these women regret their decision to start their own companies and are now brushing up on their resumes…and you would be… wrong! Despite these challenges, each woman exudes an infectious excitement and energy about her business – and about their future visions. And each says that while there are significant daily challenges and many stressful moments, they intend move forth - full steam ahead – because the rewards outweigh the costs.
Mom Entrepreneurs On…One Last Bit of Advice
And if you could get just one last bit of advice from these three champion moms, what would they tell you?
“You know what often saves me? I set soft deadlines wherever I can – not tight deadlines all the time. It helps me stay sane!” says Adria.
For Lesley, it’s the balance of having business acumen as well as an artistic passion: “I would say there is an “art” side to having your own company and a “business” side to it. I started my business because I have a passion, an artistic desire. But the financial side, the business side, is just as important. If you don’t have that, get help or develop it yourself – you will need it.”
“I am surprised by how helpful people are if you just ask,” says Pooja. “Don’t be shy about asking for help and don’t be hung up on not knowing exactly how someone can help you at that specific moment; keep networking and keep asking and you will find the right person to help you.”
Kudos to Lesley, Pooja, and Adria for following their dreams and giving the rest of us a peek into their entrepreneurial lives!