Think You Could be a Mompreneur?
Heather McDonnell knows how to blow up a Twitter stream almost as good as she bakes up her impossibly delish Sweet Tea cupcakes. That’s precisely what happened three years ago when she won the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”
The news went viral and she received thousands of kudos via social media. Of course, using Instagram to post pictures of daily specials and answering customer comments on Yelp is more than just keeping up with technology for her.
“I basically started my business through Facebook and Twitter,” says McDonnell, owner of Cupcrazed Cakery in Fort Mill, S.C. — which boasts 17,000 followers on Facebook. “It’s fun now, but in the beginning, getting started wasn’t just hard; it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”
A thorough business plan and subsequent bank loan, 20-hour workdays and a strong passion for baking put Cupcrazed Cakery on the fast track. Yet McDonnell still worried that she couldn’t afford to pay staff to help with the workload. Most of all, she worried that her work was causing her to neglect her four children, who now range in age from 6 to 19. McDonnell is typical of many “mompreneurs” who struggle to find balance between their family and business.
Striking Out on Your Own
The term “mompreneur” was coined in the late 1990s by Ellen Parlapiano and Pat Cobe, co-authors of Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success and Mompreneurs Online: Using the Internet to Build Work@Home Success. They also created mompreneursonline.com and even trademarked the term “mompreneur.” Today the term is simply used to describe a female business owner who actively balances the roles of mom and entrepreneur.
Although there are no statistics for the number of mothers who own businesses, the number of female-owned firms has increased exponentially locally and across the nation, and most mompreneurs typically start their businesses in their homes. According to American Express OPEN’s 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, it is estimated that there are more than 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 8 million people. That’s an increase of 5 million businesses in only two years.
North Carolina is in line with this trend. “Most reports show significant increases in the growth of women-owned businesses in North Carolina,” including the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy Report, says Mike Ernandes, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s North Carolina District Office in Charlotte. “I think this growth is encouraging for women interested in starting businesses all over the state.”
Despite the rising numbers, women launching their own businesses still face challenges getting access to capital and improving access to markets, including the federal government. The SBA is trying to make that easier. In July, the organization eliminated the requirement that lenders perform cash flow and debt coverage analysis on loans under $350,000. The SBA also implemented a new business credit-scoring model that combines an entrepreneur’s personal and business credit scores to make it easier and faster for lenders to work with new business owners.
Many mompreneurs still choose to either go at it alone, or accept help from family and friends. Others adopt a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality by accepting funding from female “angels,” or firms that invest in women-owned startups.
Back in 2008, when Brandi Tysinger-Temple was a full-time mom to her four kids, she started sewing clothes for her girls as a hobby. Within a matter of weeks after she started selling her products on eBay, she had to hire dozens of relatives and friends to help her address the demand. By 2010, she transferred her eBay store over to Facebook, which really kicked off her children’s apparel company. She named it Lolly Wolly Doodle, and has since moved it to a 19,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar facility in Lexington that is half funded by the state of North Carolina.
“By creating jobs in our community, it not only creates amazing products but amazing opportunities as well,” Tysinger-Temple says.
Growing a Good Idea
When moms develop physical products, as Tysinger-Temple did, there is a period of development each mompreneur must navigate. Claire O’Neal, an avid biker and founder of Pogginz bike accessories for kids, researched plastic injections and foam to make creative helmet accessories. She tried various methods of attaching the pieces to helmets. She even tried using strong magnets, but realized they were not safe for young children.
O’Neal eventually began working with Betsy Hauser Idilbi, former president of a company called Little Idea Product Development, which merged with product development giant Eventys last year. O’Neal says Hauser Idilbi was instrumental in helping her settle on final designs. Hauser Idilbi had experience with fabric and suggested O’Neal use fabric for her helmets. “I fell in love with the glitter vinyl, which is weather resistant and easy to clean, and now that is a Pogginz trademark,” she says.
The women decided to put the Pogginz designs on Etsy (for only 20 cents per listing), an online handmade marketplace, just to see how many people might “favorite” them.
“It was a simple way to decide what products to produce and which to abandon,” explains Hauser Idilbi, who recently co-founded Tech Talent South, an intensive web development program with four campuses across the Southeast.
“Moms who have taken a leave from the business world to take care of family don’t give themselves enough credit for how much they already know and how much they have learned as a parent,” she says. “My advice to new mompreneurs is to be confident in your product and your ambition. You’re the one who put tireless hours in developing it and had the guts to get it off the ground. Don’t forget that.”
Balancing Business and Family
While building her business, O’Neal was also learning how to pivot fast and go from executive to soccer mom in seconds. She admits she has not mastered the art of balancing family and business, but tries to think of creative ways to stay involved in her kids’ lives, and also involve them in hers. Her 16-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter help out with everything — from packaging to assisting at events. O’Neal’s daughter even manages her business Instagram account.
McDonnell says her Cupcrazed Cakery balance began with a solid foundation in the form of assistance from the people who are closest to her. During the first year after launching her business, her husband would take care of their children, her mother and friends would stop by to help her do dishes at the store, and her sister-in-law worked as her office manager. This allowed McDonnell to focus on building her business.
“I still have days that I feel like I’m on a teeter-totter, but I’ve worked out most of the kinks,” McDonnell says. “Now I can go home after a full day and make dinner, help the kids with their homework, and the laundry pile isn’t as scary as it used to be!”
Resa Goldberg is a freelance writer and editor in Charlotte who has two teenage boys.?
The North Carolina Center for Women Business Owners in Durham just won the 2014 SBA Women’s Business Center of the Year at the state, regional and national levels. ncimed.org
“Entrepreneur” Magazine’s Mompreneur Center offers business ideas, resources and feature articles. entrepreneur.com/mompreneur
National Association of Women Business Owners represents women entrepreneurs across all industries, with 5,000 members in 60 chapters nationwide. nawbo.org
Triangle Mompreneurs is a meetup group specifically established for female business owners with families. meetup.com/for-moms
“Ask the Mompreneur” is an online column published by The Charlotte Observer. charlotteobserver.com/1173
SBA resources for women business owners are available online. sba.gov/offices/district/nc/charlotte/resources/resources-women-business-owners