Women are repeatedly told that having kids will hurt their careers, but in fact the opposite is often true. Having children can make you work harder and smarter than you ever thought was possible. In fact, working mothers know that you’ll never meet a more productive or loyal employee than a mom with a good manager—but what if you want to be your own boss?
Some new moms are struck by brilliant ideas during their maternity leave, inspired by their babies and turning real life problem-solving ideas into brilliant products and businesses that help other parents, too. We spoke with five successful Canadian women who discovered self-employed entrepreneurship during their maternity leaves about what it was like to pivot to business ownership with parenthood top of mind.
The crafty founder of Glitter and Spice—a Surrey, B.C.-based baby accessories brand that makes trendy silicone teething jewellery for both baby and mama to wear—had just had her second child when inspiration struck. “When my son was about two months old, it became clear that he was a drool machine and was teething like crazy!” says Mah, a former biochemist and HR manager. “I scoured all the stores to look for something that was not only practical but trendy. But I came home empty-handed and disappointed. So, I decided to order some supplies to create something for myself.”
Mah posted some of her designs on Instagram and the rest is history. Glitter and Spice was born in 2015. “I figured I could maybe sell enough to cover my costs,” she says. “The response was overwhelming, and orders started pouring in.” Since then, Mah and her products have been featured in Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar. She has gifted her jewellery to celebrities at events for the Academy Awards and the Emmys, and earned a Best Small Business BC Award in 2016.
On financial planning and protection:
“A lot of aspiring mompreneurs feel like they need to sell their firstborn to get a business started. My advice is to always start small and minimize your risks. When I started, I only invested $100 into buying supplies, and from there I only bought supplies using the profits I made from previous orders. As we got busier and the demand for our product increased, I was able to take more risks to further grow the company,” says Mah. “As well, once we started getting into stores and hiring staff, we made the leap and got business insurance. In the beginning, I figured, why worry about a “what-if” scenario when you have more tangible expenses to deal with? But the truth is, if you sell a product or provide a service to a third party in exchange for payment, you need small business insurance to protect yourself from a variety of risks.”
“It was a great job and there were definitely some skills that I took away from it... But I couldn’t see myself leaving Felix,” says Yange, who grew up in a war-torn refugee camp in Sudan and moved to Scarborough, Ont. with her siblings when she was in elementary school. Her own mother died when she was five years old, and Yange wants to soak up every moment she can with her own child, who’s now three years old. “I applaud women who go back to work after mat leave, but for me personally, it was scary. I wanted to really be hands-on and not miss a single beat,” she says. So she dove into the world of mommy blogging and launched her site, Blooming Lilyy, which also fulfilled her desire to see more women and mothers of colour sharing their stories.
On knowing you “made it”:
“When I saw myself on the [Sephora] billboard, that was a surreal moment for me,” Yange says. “I still don't feel like I've really made it yet! But that moment [had] teary-eyed... I was so happy because I thought, if my mom were here, she would have looked at that, and she would have just cried with me.”
“I was inspired by my daughter when she was six months old,” says Carlson. “I went to the grocery store and saw that there was this entire aisle dedicated to baby food, but none of it looked really good... So, I committed to making food for her. And I came up with really cool ideas and foods that I would want to eat myself.” The recipes, like Vanilla Banana Berry Risotto, were beyond the basic fare parents might typically make at home. What started out as a homemade baby food side-hustle with her sister at the local farmer’s market grew into Baby Gourmet Foods, Canada’s biggest brand of organic baby food and second-leading baby food brand overall.
“My goal was to feed every baby and help every mom and I wasn't going to do that in a little farmers market,” says Carlson. Despite making $30,000 in sales every month from that “little” farmer’s market, she closed up shop for two years to focus on bringing her products to the masses. Her first major customer was Wal-Mart in 2011; today Baby Gourmet offers more than 40 products and is sold in 98 percent of all stores that sell baby food in Canada—plus an additional 6,000 stores in the U.S. that sell a spinoff brand of snacks called Slammers.
On the biggest challenges she faced:
Before launching, Carlson got duped when purchasing a $150,000 machine from China to help her package her food. When the product arrived, it wasn’t what she ordered, and she couldn’t return it. “I felt like I hit a wall. I could have packed it in—most people would have packed it in at that point—because it was just so difficult. I didn't know how I was going to overcome it,” she says. “But I really believed in my vision, and I really believed in what I was doing. So instead, I tattooed the word ‘believe’ on my wrist so that I would see it every day, to remind me to continue believing in my vision.”
As part of the Mi’kmaq tribe of Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, Simon has worked a variety of jobs while searching for ways to support and give back to her community. She moved away from the reserve after high school to study business marketing and soon got a job doing administrative work for the federal government in what was then the Department of Indian Affairs. “I was so unhappy, and I knew that my spirit was unhappy. I wanted to spread love and get paid to spread love,” says Simon. A dancing stint at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics opening ceremonies led to volunteer speaking engagements about the experience, which eventually turned into a career as a motivational speaker and performer.
And since becoming a mother of two boys (three-year-old Waseteg and one-month-old Nakoa), Simon has added yet another title to her resume: mompreneur. After her first son was born, the Halifax-based single mom started dabbling in DIY natural products like bum cream, shampoo and soap, using essential oils that her ancestors had used for thousands of years, and livestreaming the production process on social media. The overwhelming support from her online community made her realize she could do this from home while being with her boys and get paid to be an essential oil educator for dōTERRA International, an essential oil company that was just expanding into Canada at the time.
On finding meaning through work:
Simon’s team at dōTERRA is passionate about Indigenous issues and advocacy — specifically helping to bring clean drinking water to more than 150 First Nations communities in Canada that still lack access. They’re also successful business-wise, becoming the company’s first Indigenous reps to earn a coveted “diamond” ranking of top performance within the brand. “I know that there are a lot of other moms who are capable and have the desire to do something similar to what I'm doing. And I just hope that my light gives them motivation or inspiration to be able to do so. Because more mompreneurs are needed in our community,” she says.
Five years ago, Chua was laid off as the lead digital designer for Food Network Canada, days before finding out she was pregnant with her daughter, Edie. She was panicked. Her husband, Joey, tried to convince her to join the family business—a Toronto-based baby product distribution company called Hip Mommies that he started with his sister—but Chua was hesitant. “I mean, it wasn't at all what I had been working towards, it wasn't digital or creative really, and I never wanted to sell ‘stuff,’ but he said I could change everything. We could make it fit my values and skill set,” Chua says.
But instead of jumping in right away, when Chua was ready to go back to work after mat leave, she took a contract job in UX design. “I hated it,” she admits. “Since becoming a mother, everything had changed. I was having a hard time spending time away from my daughter working on something I didn't believe in. Plus, I was working on a system that didn't interest me, there was not one other woman on the team, and I was still breastfeeding. I just wanted to be home with my kid. But I could not simply stay home; it wasn’t for me. We needed the income, and I needed a creative outlet, too. I needed to work. So, we decided it was time for me to officially join the business.”
Officially joining the business meant Chua unofficially took over, and Hip Mommies has since expanded in every way, while being super selective in distributing only thoughtfully designed and sustainable products. They even hired Chua’s mom to be the bookkeeper. “The best part is that this all grew as my daughter did; having her has opened our eyes. We are so stringent now with who we choose to partner with, and only work with good people doing good things and doing business ethically,” says Chua.
On her best advice for mompreneurs:
“Stick to your values. You will never feel good if you trade time away from your child for something you don't believe in.”
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