Mompreneurs, Dadpreneurs: Small Business Ownership & Parenting
Does being the parent of a rosy-cheeked baby go together with small business ownership like a fish in water —or is the experience more like trying to give a cat a bath? Dad- and mompreneurs across the country are finding out.
When we dream of our futures as business owners and parents, for example, we might hope for a lifestyle in which we have time to make delicious, healthful meals that we can then grab, guilt-free, during busy work days. But what happens when those meals stop getting prepared because there’s a rosy-cheeked baby between you and your kitchen?
How well does either work when you’re parenting and running a small business? We checked in with some folks we know living the small business dream. The interplay of three critical components—money, energy, and time—determines the experience.
Good for business
Is being a parent good for business? A recent survey of 1,500 small business owners conducted by Yell Business found that 79 percent of parents consider their business to be “very successful” or “quite successful” compared with 67 percent of non-parents. That doesn’t mean the parents are necessarily making more money. When people become parents, their definition of success changes, says Alexis Kingsbury, who founded the Parentpreneur Accelerator, which supports (you guessed it) entrepreneurs who are also parent—or is it parents who become entrepreneurs. Either way, for “parentpreneurs, it doesn’t need to become a billion dollar enterprise,” he explains. Goals may shift to “a good income, financial freedom and [the] ability to spend time with family.”
How do mompreneurs do it?
On the one hand, being an entrepreneur and being a parent require some of the same qualities and offer similar pleasures. Both function best when they empathize with others. Parents and entrepreneurs need reserves of industriousness, optimism, and curiosity. And, of course, both groups are passionate about what they do, finding that the work is its own reward.
On the other hand, entrepreneurs and parents deal with financial worries, long hours, loneliness, and other stresses. Those who balance entrepreneurship and parenting are often waking before dawn and working for hours after the youngest members of the household have gone to bed,
Speaking to Entrepreneur magazine, Angela Benton, the founder and CEO of NewME, a support platform for entrepreneurs, argued for the compatibility of the two. “Being a single mom comes with a wealth of skills that do well in entrepreneurship, like multitasking, creativity, managing and/or operating on a budget, and problem-solving, to say the least. I don’t know about you but I’d put my money on someone with these skills rather than a new college grad.”
But how do happy entrepreneur-parents prioritize those critical components of money, energy, and time? Is total household income the biggest predictor of how parents feel about being entrepreneurs, or is it the ability to schedule work around family time?
One of the scariest parts of becoming a parent is the attendant financial commitment. The prospect of small business ownership can have the same effect. The financial constraints of running a small business can weigh heavily on family life. How do average small business owners cope with paying for their own professional insurance as well as coverage for their families, for example? How do the inevitable lean business seasons affect the high spending seasons for families, like holidays and children’s summer vacations?
For Gretchen Knudsen and her husband/business partner, Ben, owners of DIGS, a modern home goods store in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, explained their choices as a matter of mapping their finances onto their dreams. “Neither of us wants to work for someone else, only to give up a huge chunk of that paycheck to pay someone else to take care of our kid. So, we give up some financial freedom in order to have the lifestyle we want.” Being able to take care of their young children, rather than outsourcing this task, is a sentiment echoed by most of our interviewees.
Entrepreneurship and parenting each requires enormous reserves of energy. You’re always “on” if you’re the boss…and if you’re the mom or dad. What’s the cost of operating on only five hours of sleep, even after your kids are sleeping through the night? How do successful mompreneurs and other entrepreneurial parents cope? A healthy dose of Netflix, wine, yoga?
Mompreneur Erika Gaebel, owner of design studio Bluesixpence and mom of three kids under the age of six, found the energy to start a second business through her own therapy, running. Running became her passion as well as her second design company. She built Unpreparathon with two running friends, both of whom also happen to be moms. The company allows them to combine their trail therapy with their business strengths in business.
Gretchen and Ben Knudsen’s secret? “We try to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, which can be hard when all you want to do at the end of the day is watch Netflix.” Gretchen confessed, “I feel like I mention Netflix more than I want to admit.”
From successful local store owners to superstar execs like Arianna Huffington, sleep is an underrated secret weapon in the battle to “have it all.” Making time for mindful self-care of some kind can provide mom- dad-preneurs the dynamic energy they need.
Contemporary work arrangements like coworking and home offices promise a future in which parenting and entrepreneurship will be more compatible. In fact, 52 percent of all the 28 million small businesses in the U.S. are already home-based. For now, many American mompreneurs seem to be making the lack of paid parental leave work through sheer determination.
But, even if you have the financial reserves and the energy to parent and run a business…are there enough hours in the day?
Does the always-on work cycle of the entrepreneur clash with the around-the-clock demands of young children? Gretchen (DIGS) argues the two can be more compatible than parenting and working for someone else. This, she says, is “where it’s great to be your own bosses. Yes, there’s always going to be something to deal with at work and at home, but you are responsible for choosing how and when to manage it.”
Erika (Bluesixpence and Unpreparathon) manages her time by keeping a crazy schedule. “I haven’t slept through the night for about six years,” she admitted. “With one child or another needing some type of attention a few times throughout the night, it really keeps you on all the time. There have been many nights where I will work till 2am only to go to bed and be woken up 10 min later by the baby that needs to feed or a toddler that had a bad dream.” Because some of Erika’s clients are international, however, she notes that “ironically, round the clock hours work in my favor. While those middle-of-the-night wake-ups are difficult, they give me a chance to check my email and see if anything is on fire on their side of the world—and prepare myself for the early morning, when I am once again tackled by children.”
It seems that every entrepreneurial mom and dad develop their own make-it-or-break-it time management strategies. But it’s probably not a coincidence that most of the small business owners we spoke with said that they started their businesses before becoming parents.
Danette Johnston, owner of doggie day care Dog’s Day Out Seattle and successful mompreneur, said in regards to parenting that she feels “incredibly fortunate to have my own business.” She was four years into her business when her son was born. “Because my schedule was pretty flexible,” she explained, “we were able to avoid any full-time childcare—and the costs involved! I do not know how I would have had a family, especially very young children, during the initial two years of being in business. At that point, I was working 60-70+ hours per week.”
She notes that she definitely turned down some work along the way, especially when her son was a baby, but, she added, “I’m fine with that.” Having her own business up and running meant that she could “ease back on work, which I likely would not have been able to do in a traditional workplace, where I was working for someone else and not making my own schedule.”
Danette wanted us to let you new parent-entrepreneurs know that “once your child gets to be school age, more time will open for you. And the time goes fast!”
For Erika (Unpreparathon), entrepreneurship and parenting happened closer together, but had some unexpected benefits. “Becoming a mom made me more social,” she said, “and allowed me to expand my client reach further. I’m now known in many parenting circles as the graphic designer that can handle any project.”
Good for kids
Harvard Business School research has found that working mothers and fathers signal kids that contributions at home and at work are equally valuable, for both men and women. In short, it’s good for your kids to see you working.
Being a parent is good for business, and working parents are good for kids. Like a shining pearl in a common shell, the good stuff comes from the push and pull of obligation. We may need to lean on our extended and chosen families, but mostly the demands equal the rewards. Stress, struggles and loneliness have a way of turning into happiness, self-care and community for those who choose being both parents and entrepreneurs.