So you want to be a mom entrepreneur?

We've got tips from pro mom entrepreneurs, Amy Ballon and Danielle Botterell

Being a mom entrepreneur seems like the ultimate dream for some. You get to spend quality time with your family and build a business. But what does it really mean to be a mom entrepreneur? What are the challenges? Where do you start? We’ve got answers to these questions and more from Amy Ballon (mom of three) and Danielle Botterell (mom of two), owners of Admiral Road Designs and authors of the book Canadian moms are buzzing about, Mom Inc.: How to raise your family and your business without losing your mind or your shirt.

What’s your definition of “mompreneur”? And why did you choose to embrace the contentious term?
Amy:  Our definition of “mompreneur” is: Any self-employed woman who’s carved out some time in her work-week to spend with her family. So the overarching goal is to try and balance some of both family and work, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a woman who works in a baby-related business.
Danielle:  Some of the women we interviewed for the book bristled at the term, and people definitely do. They feel that it connotes something not serious or significant, and we’ve just never looked at it that way. We never believed that you can have everything at the same time. But we do believe that you can have most of the things that you want most if you plan accordingly. And for us being moms and being business people were the things that we wanted most. So I feel very proud of that term.

How do you recommend women find that big idea for their business?
A: In the book we throw out a litany of questions women should ask themselves. Have you researched the idea? Can you finance that idea? Is anyone else doing it? How many hours a week do you want to work? How much would you like to be around your kids?
D:  We encourage women to be methodical about choosing an idea. Some people have a passion, so that’s what they’re going to do. Even if that’s the case, we want people to ask themselves if there’s room in the market for the idea; because not every idea has a business opportunity in it.

What are your top tips for moms ready to start their business, once they’ve settled on an idea?
D: Be very honest with yourself about what you hope to get out of the experience. Are you looking to replace your income? Are you looking to strike it rich? Are you looking to fulfill a long-burning passion? Know what that is, or you will come back to that in the middle of the night when you’re working, and say, “Why am I doing this?”Other tips are to just do your homework on the personal and on the business side. And get your whole family on board.
 What are some of the most common mistakes mom entrepreneurs make when they’re starting up?
A:  A lot of women start without a plan for how their business is going to be executed both on the home front and in their business. Everybody wants sales, but if you don’t have any accounting systems in place and tax time comes around, then you’re in big trouble. And if you don’t have the backend sorted out when your brand takes off, you’ll have to backpedal. And that’s stressful!

What do you have to say to women who have the passion to become mom entrepreneurs but are too intimidated to jump in?
A:  We wrote Mom Inc. precisely for that woman. We all doubt ourselves as moms, as employees and business people. But everyone can write a business plan. And when we wrote Mom Inc., we wanted to show them how. And this is what our website Mominc.ca is about: creating a community and empowering these women by providing them with the tools and resources they need.

What are your secrets to a good business partnership?
D: We’re big proponents of partnership for mom entrepreneurs because, by definition, you’re supposed to be available to your kids. And as any mom knows, things come up with the kids. Our biggest secret is communication. We joke in the book that we have a perfect track record of not going to bed mad, and we don’t let anything build up. We also make time in our lives for our friendship. We go out for tea quarterly. And we make time, even in the workday, to catch up on what’s going on with our families and our kids.

How do you mitigate what you call “the brutal combination of mommy guilt and mom entrepreneurship”?
A:  Any mom who tries to do anything other than exclusively raise her children is going to be overcome by mommy guilt at times. For mom entrepreneurs there’s always this paradox: you start a business to be available to your kids, but then that business ends up at times taking you away from your kids. On the other hand, our kids get to see first-hand what we do. So we’re setting a lovely example.
D: One of the points we try to drive home in Mom Inc. is how important communication is for getting the whole family involved. I talk to my kids about it all the time — What I’m doing it for, why I’ve chosen this, and isn’t that great that I’m there to pick you up from school because it’s a great solution for our family.

The book, the business, the kids: what are your top tips for balancing it all?
A:  My biggest tip would be communication and managing my kids’ expectations. Danielle and I are both big on routine so that our kids know what to expect from their days and sailing is invariably smoother. We swear by the 7:30 bedtime for the kids.

Any particular mom entrepreneurs inspire you in your own business?
D: We’re always inspired by Mabel’s Labels. They’re real pioneers. Mom entrepreneurs are really well connected and tapped into social media, and Mabel’s paved the way a lot. Another company is SupperWorks. They didn’t invent the meal-prep business; they brought it to Canada in a meaningful way. And that’s really interesting and inspiring.

What’s next for the two of you?
D:  Admiral Road is ticking along, and we love it. But we have room to stretch ourselves in other ways. We want to do more education and seminars with Mom Inc., and we’re always looking at different things to do with running and growing our business.
 Additional tips
Cathy Pin, vice president, commercial banking, BMO Bank of Montreal, offers the following tips for starting up your business:

  • Do your homework. Use the resources and tools (online and off) that banks and other established sources offer to help you think about what you need to know in setting up your business, for example,
  • What’s a business number?
  • How do I set up a business number?
  • Should I incorporate my business?
  • What do I need to do to file my taxes on a regular basis?
  • Do I need to charge HST?
  • Plan. Think through the entire setup. What will the price point be? How many products do I need to sell to cover my cost?
  • Talk to experts, your accountant, your banker. Bankers spend a lot of time with small business customers, so they have a lot of experience to draw from as you’re setting up your business and thinking about things like market competition, your personal and business finances and what they need to look like over time.
  • Do your market research. Whether that’s testing it with other moms, doing a SurveyMonkey, or talking to your friends, you should stress-test your idea.
  • Plan for the best- and worst-case scenarios. Can you cover your worst-case-scenario costs?
  • Be an uber-optimist, and go and be successful!