These Moms Balance Work and Family By Creating Companies of Their Own
For Rosie Pope, star of Bravo’s “Pregnant in Heels,” and creator and designer of Rosie Pope Maternity, the decision to start her own business was based on a lifestyle goal. “I knew I wanted to be a mom and have lots of kids,” says the London-born entrepreneur and author. “Being my own boss was the only way I knew that I could work full time and be a full-time mom.”
With four kids under the age of 6, boutiques on opposite coasts and numerous speaking engagements, Pope’s days are jam-packed. She begins each morning at 5 a.m. with a run, and by 6 a.m. the mad rush begins with breakfasts to make, lunches to pack and kids to drop off at school, followed by a race to get everything done at the office so she can be back home for dinner, bath time and bedtime stories. She loves to unwind with a quiet conversation with her husband after the kids are in bed, and she is typically back on her laptop before her day ends around midnight.
Pope’s daily juggling act is what most mom entrepreneurs face as they grow their businesses and their families. Motherhood is terrific on-the-job training for entrepreneurship. Business owners, like moms, need to focus on the big picture while taking care of numerous specific, daily tasks. They also need to have a clear plan while staying flexible to adapt to unexpected changes. Running a business, much like parenting, requires creativity, resilience, innovation, determination and a sense of humor. Multitasking is a must.
Kids As Inspiration
There is no single path that leads to entrepreneurship for moms. Some want to break away from the corporate grind, others are following a life-long passion, and many are inspired by motherhood and their kids.
For Jennifer Gunn of Altadena, watching her three kids put on plays with friends and impromptu musical performances in the living room led to the idea of a children’s karaoke café. “What kid doesn’t love to sing and dance?” says Gunn. In 2014, she co-founded Chirp Kids Karaoke Cafe in Pasadena with Carole Fleischman, a fellow mom she met at her son’s school. While Gunn handles day-to-day operations, Fleischman takes care of the business side.
Chirp was an idea that had been percolating for a while, but to make it a reality, Gunn and Fleischman embarked on hours of research on the viability of the business, analyzing startup costs, building a client base, finding a location and building it out to match the specifics of their vision.
Ayda Avedisian of Glendale started thinking about her company soon after her twin boys were born 11 years ago. With double the baby gear, Avedisian searched for a stylish, quality belt bag that could handle her essentials and keep her hands free for her twins. “There was nothing out there that was beautiful and functional,” she says. So she designed a bag herself and had a local artisan make it for her using soft Italian leather. Soon moms were stopping her at the grocery store, the park and school, asking her where she bought her belt bag.
Avedisian launched Ayda & Co three years ago, turning out luxury handbags featuring fine Italian leather and her signature red suede linings, all handcrafted by Avedisian’s L.A.-based team of artisans. “The world is my focus group,” says Avedisian, who designs all her bags, including belt bags with built-in wallets that can be worn three different hands-free ways. “I see moms struggling with their purse and running after toddlers all the time.”
While Gunn and Avedisian are at the start-up phase of their businesses, Tami Pardee is managing a burgeoning business she began in 2005 – plus four kids under the age of 12. Pardee, who had worked in the entertainment industry, planned to be a stay-at-home mom when her first daughter was born. She loved being a mom, but also found herself needing a break from the daily routine. Raised by a family of developers, she got her realtor’s license and started working part time, building her client base from her mommy-and-me group.
Pardee Properties, with offices in Venice and Santa Monica, now has 35 agents and employees and did $410 million in sales in 2014. Customer service is the hallmark of the company. “Buying a house is not only a financial decision, it’s an emotional decision,” Pardee says. “Our goal has always been to help our clients, many of them families, avoid some of the common pitfalls of buying a house.”
Pardee credits her success to meticulous planning, organization and staying focused on her goals. On her desk, she keeps a printed copy of her annual goals – a detailed list that includes everything from increasing social media promotion for her business to finding a more conveniently located dance studio for her daughter and taking a girlfriend trip.
Your Version of Balance
Because owning a business is not a 9-to-5 job, mom entrepreneurs have to evaluate their definition of work-life balance.
“Owning your own business is game changer,” says Gunn. “Trying to keep a balance is a daily struggle.”
While being the boss allows moms to set their schedules and pick up kids from school, take client calls at soccer practice and work at night when their kids are in bed, those living the entrepreneurial life caution moms to do a thorough self-analysis to ensure they are equipped for the daily challenges inherit in business ownership.
“Starting a business sounds dreamy, but the reality is that successful businesses are built because the owners worked very hard and often very long hours,” says Samantha Ettus, work-lifestyle expert, author and radio host of “Working Moms Lifestyle.” “It’s important to check in on yourself.”
Ettus suggests that every aspiring mom entrepreneur ask herself the following questions.
- Comfortable working independently?
- Good at setting boundaries?
- Able to keep going and not lose focus when faced with rejection?
Pope, who began her business sewing custom clothing, advises moms with a business idea to not quit their regular jobs right away. “It takes time, and there will be successes and there will failures,” says Pope, who currently lives in New York, but is in Los Angeles often visiting her Santa Monica Rosie Pope Maternity and Baby boutique.
Michelle Patterson, president and CEO of the Women Network, which organizes the annual California Women’s Conference, was enjoying great success in the corporate world before having kids. Ambitious and focused, she found herself in her office finishing projects and breathing through contractions as she was going into labor with her daughter 16 years ago. “My husband got to the hospital before me,” says Patterson with a laugh.
The mom of two teens is now self-employed as an author, international speaker and consultant, and organizes one of the largest annual gatherings of women in the nation. Her advice is to stay focused on the most important pillars in your life – family, health, career, friends and community.
There will be times when one pillar will get more attention than another, but aim for overall balance over a period of time. Patterson also advises not to lose focus on your most important client – your family. “Make sure you spend quality time together, that when you’re home, you are focused on them and not distracted by work,” she says.
Ditch the Mom Guilt
The feeling of “Am I doing it right?” is common for moms, but it wastes emotional energy and creates unnecessary hurdles.
“We simply don’t have time for it,” says Ettus. “You have to have passion for your career and your business. You have to talk about it with pride, so your kids are proud, too. You shouldn’t apologize for working.”
A good way to share the business with the kids is to include them. Pope says she usually travels with at least one child. Patterson has traveled all over the world with her kids. Pardee has created a Friday morning ritual with her 3-year-old twin boys, where the three of them visit one of the city’s many family-friendly attractions. Gunn’s kids are often helping out and playing at Chirp.
Mom entrepreneurs also need to include themselves on their to-do lists. Moms have a tendency to take care of everyone else before themselves, but to stay focused and energized, they need to take time to do something just for their own enjoyment. Go for a walk, read a book, meditate, cook or grab lunch with a friend.
“I’m a yes person,” says Patterson. “I have always had a hard time saying no to projects or commitments, but you have to be the director of your life or others will be pushing their goals and plans on you.”
Being a mom entrepreneur can be an incredible opportunity to create a product or service that is unique and beneficial. Take the challenge knowing that there will be mistakes along the way and people who will tell you it can’t be done. But also take some advice from Avedisian: “Believe in your dream and stay focused on why you wanted to start this business.”
Elena Epstein is Director of Content & Strategic Partnerships at L.A. Parent.