Friday, June 8, 2007

The Challenges of Being a Mompreneur

This question was posed by mom of two, Sharon Chai, founder of Bamboobino, a unique line of children's robes and accessories made from soft bamboo fabric.

What were your personal and professional challenges when you were a new mom and trying to establish Robeez? And how did you deal with them, or make them work for you?

Challenge One: Time Management
It’s one o’clock on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Robert is four-years-old and races around our cul-de-sac on his bicycle with his friends. I sit curbside with a group of moms chatting about the latest adventures in motherhood. As they sit holding cups of coffee, I work through a bag of Robeez shoes. I’m checking the shoes for quality, clipping threads, and prepping the shoes for the packaging bonanza that will take place later tonight. This was how I spent many afternoons in the early days of Robeez. Glamorous? No. Necessary? Yes.

I tell this story not to scare but one of the major realities for moms working from home is time-management. This was one of the ways I fit business in. My time management strategy evolved as Robert got older.

  • Infant – I would work while he napped in the afternoon and slept in the evening. Sometimes I took Robert with me on sales calls which often helped make the sale because buyers could see Robeez in action!
  • Toddler – I put Robert in daycare two days a week. This allowed him to spend time socializing with other children and gave me the opportunity to get the bulk of my work done, uninterrupted.
  • Preschool - I snagged a few hours midday while he learned “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and played in the sandbox. On extra busy days, I would call my in-laws to swing by for a little grandparent playtime.
  • School Age – I waited until Robert entered elementary school full-time before moving the business outside our home.

The gist? I fit business in when I could.

Challenge Two: Finances
One of the first things you give up as an entrepreneur is a regular pay cheque. This can be tough, especially when you have babies, mortgages, student loan payments, property taxes… the list goes on and on.

To manage life with a single income and a new business, we needed to apply a bit of creativity. For example, for a number of years we hosted international students in our home to help cover the mortgage.

With my business, I was careful to watch cash flow. It was simple: for Robeez to survive, it needed regular income. I set monthly revenue goals and made sales calls until I had reached them. Most of the profits were reinvested in growing Robeez. Another key: stay on top of receivables and inventory levels; they can be the death of any business. Whenever possible, have customers pay by credit card rather than offering credit terms.

Becoming an entrepreneur is hard, risky work, and it can take time to reap the rewards. This can be difficult, if not impossible to accept at times. It’s likely that you will never have a predictable pay day again. Some people are more naturally accepting of this, others will struggle with it every day. Consider this heavily before starting your business.

Challenge Three: Confidence
One morning, as I dropped Robert at preschool, I got chatting with another mom. We talked about our boys, summer vacation plans, and eventually got on to the subject of work. I excitedly told her about Robeez – the shoes, the business in my basement, leaving my career. As I spoke, my enthusiasm quickly turned to embarrassment as the mother looked at me like I was crazy. She was clearly very skeptical about my career choice. She was not the first or the last to look at me this way.

Starting a business takes guts. There will be people, like this mom, who think you are crazy. While I encourage you to listen to feedback, I also encourage you to follow your instincts. Be confident that what you are doing is right; for you, for your business, and for your family. I persevered with Robeez and look at what it became.

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