Mompreneurs share the secret to building a business while raising a family


OSB asked moms-turned-business owners for their secrets to success. Below is a collection of our favorite responses. (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

It’s hard to imagine anything more challenging than running a business or raising a family — except, perhaps, doing both at the same time.

That’s the reality for thousands of mothers across the country who double as entrepreneurs, somehow building successful companies while simultaneously raising their children. It’s an unprecedented balancing act, for sure, but according to many “mompreneurs,” the rewards can be fairly unprecedented, too.

In celebration of Mother’s Day, we asked moms-turned-entrepreneurs how they balance the two tasks, what secrets they have learned, and what advice they would share with other business owners. Here are some of our favorites.

Anne Zimmerman, owner of Zimmerman & Co CPAs, an accounting firm, and Zimcom, a technical service provider, both in Cincinnati, Ohio

Number of employees: 16

Children: 4 (ages 42, 39, 36 and 33)

Her secret: “I intentionally kept my business commitments to less than full-time until my youngest was in grade school, and if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Then, for the rest of their childhood, I literally kept family time at the top of my written priority list and refused to give it up, even if it meant missing a business opportunity.

My businesses would probably be larger than they actually are now if I hadn’t put that constraint on them, but I am not sorry I did – you can never get that time back if you miss it when the kids are growing up. I once walked away from a very lucrative acquisition deal because, at the last minute, my youngest cried when I mentioned it, showing me that she wasn’t getting enough of my time.

Related: Help, I’m married to my business partner!

I believe life is all about balance. I often fail, but always strive, to maintain that balance. Even now I block out time on my calendar to spend a morning at the park or the zoo with my grandchildren for no reason except to see them and enjoy each other. I think my one tip for mompreneurs is to be patient and make time with your kids even if there aren’t important plans in place together.”

Sarah Schupp, owner of UniversityParent.com, a college resource for parents, based in Boulder Colorado

Number of employees: 20

Number of children: One (age 14 months)

Her secret: “The secret to success when building a business and raising a family is to define success on your own terms. You must know what you want and why you want it. You have to be honest with yourself about what you want from your business, and honest about what you are willing to give up to get it.

Being a mom is deeply personal. You can’t judge ‘success’ as a mom. Because it is not about achieving something. It’s about giving your family as much as you can and getting joy in return. For me, it’s humbling, it’s hard, it’s exhausting, but it’s the most incredible experience I’ve ever hard. I’ve never laughed this hard watching someone eat Cheerios or had so much fun chasing someone up and down the stairs, over and over. It has opened a new dimension for me.”

Lisa Goodbee, owner of Goodbee & Associates, Inc., a civil engineering company in Centennial, Colorado

Number of employees: 12

Number of children: 2 (ages 17 and 14)

Her secret: “The secret to success is you can’t do it all and you have to stop beating yourself up over that illusion! When my kids were younger I was fortunate enough to be able to structure my days around their childcare. I worked (and still do) from my basement office; I had them in mom’s day out, and I had a part time nanny so I could focus on my work with limited distraction.

I have numerous mom engineers working for me, and I do my best to provide flexibility and work from home options so they can attempt to have some balance. But the reality is you cannot have it all at the same time, and that’s okay!

Now that my kids are older, I work full time, run around like a chicken with my head cut off half the time, and do the very best I can to run my company, make sure my kids are fed and where they need to be, and every once in awhile I even make a little time for me!”

Virginia Donohue, owner of Pet Camp, a pet care and boarding company in San Francisco, California.

Number of employees: 24

Number of children: 4 (triplets who are 13, and one age 11)

Her story: “First of all, make sure you have a support network at home and at work – this is definitely not something you can do on your own. You’ll need a supportive partner, a babysitter and staff/co-workers to help you make it through.

Second, accept that you can’t do everything perfectly. Decide what your priority items are and then focus on them and forget the rest (and don’t compare yourself to someone with different priorities). For example, I care about feeding my kids good food, so I make the time to shop the organic farmers’ markets. But I can live with clutter so my kitchen counter is awash with about 3 months of mail I haven’t gotten to yet.

Third, involve your kids in the business in a small, positive way so that they don’t feel that the business is more important than they are. My kids are old enough to earn some spending money by helping out sometimes and they like feeling like part of the action.

I’d conclude by saying do something for yourself on a regular basis, but that’s something I think about and never do.”

Molly Mahar, owner of Stratejoy, a motivational and counseling services company for women based in San Luis Obispo, California

Number of employees: One

Number of children: One (age 1)

Her secret: “My secret to success is to remember why I am building a business in the first place. I chose the path of entrepreneurship not only to directly inspire women, but also to live a certain kind of lifestyle — one where I am able to be home with my son, without commuting, with great flexibility for travel, beach days and kiddie museum play dates.

Keeping that balance front of mind helps me relax about the speed of growth in my coaching practice. Before Max was born, I could work as long and as hard and as late as I wanted to. Now, when that’s simply not possible without burning out an entire family, the “why” keeps me focused on the time I do have and less critical of myself. I don’t want just a thriving business; I want a thriving business and a thriving family.

My practical tip for helping with that balance? Being clear on the kind of support I need from my assistant, my nanny and my husband. I ask very specifically for the help I need each day, whether that’s a meal, an email campaign or an early return home. I don’t expect anyone to read my (crazy, multitasking) mind, so I ask for what I want!”

Rachel Rodgers, owner of Rachel Rodgers Law Office, a legal services firm in Brooklyn New York

Number of employees: One, plus several contractors

Number of children: One (18 months) with another on the way any day now

Her secret: “Have help! My husband is amazing and we divide and conquer when it comes to taking care of the children and household chores (although I must admit, he does most of the household chores).

Plus, I am more than willing to pay for help when I need it, from hiring more people to work with me in my practice to hiring someone to help out at home. I’ll take more help over a pair of Jimmy Choos any day!

Having the support I need and not trying to be superwoman and do it all myself — that allows me to have ample time to spend with my family and still take care of clients and grow the business.”

Gina Mancuso, owner of LoveThatFit, a shopping technology firm in Charlottesville,Virginia

Number of employees: 8

Number of children: 1 (age 8)

Her secret: “The key is scheduling and working out.

I have to schedule everything from my workouts, to time with my daughter, to her activities and mine. As soon as something pops up, I add it immediately to my calendar.

An early mistake I made was not scheduling time for just her and I. I was not giving her my sole attention and some business things were not being done to their fullest because I was distracted with her. So, when I am home and not traveling, I schedule time for us each afternoon where I step away from LoveThatFit. At first it was so hard, but I learned that not only did my daughter enjoy it, so did I. When our time was done, I was excited and refreshed and ready to jump right back into my work.

To be successful you need to know it is okay to be unreachable and me a mom. My daughter inspires me and says the funniest things and when I find myself stressed over something at work, I think of it and that smile allows me to take a breath and know it all works out. Meanwhile, nothing is better then taking a spin class or going for a long run to get energized (a 4-year old is exhausting) and clear your head. I think my day through and I am so excited to jump into my business.”

Mary Cleaver, owner of The Cleaver Company, The Green Table and Table Green, two restaurants and a catering firm in New York, New York

Number of employees: 75

Number of children: 4 (25, 22, 22 and 19)

Her secret: “My kids have always joked that the business was my first child requiring lots of time and attention. Having a support system in place, both at home for the kids, and at work, was always vital for me. My husband works freelance so there were many days when all we spoke about was who would be where when!

It also meant having a staff at work that I could trust to handle things when I did have to be away from the business. because I was self employed In could have our babysitter on payroll. When the kids got older we moved to Brooklyn form Manhattan where we had more room and had au pairs for six years — the least expensive full time child care and it helped the kids grow a more global perspective.

One thing I learned was that my kids needed more time from the older they got. When they were younger they could love and take their support from lots of sources, but as they got older they needed me more. Our schedule definitely shifted. I always tried make it home for bedtime, but because I work in the food industry, nights have always been unpredictable for me. When my kids were little, mornings were our time: we would have breakfast, make lunch, and walk to school together. As they got older, they stayed up later. They were often waiting for me when I got home to talk through the events of their day or the decisions they were up against, so we had nights as well. And vacations have always been important. Because I am the boss I could schedule my vacations around the kids vacations. We made an effort to take a road trip every summer - just the group of us, in car, with nothing to distract us from the family but a good book on tape.

Finally, each of the kids has spent time working in the business over the years, which helped them feel more connected to my work life. Now that they are adults, they understand that all of the hours I spent growing the company were intended to build a better future for them.”

Special thanks to Small Business Majority and the Young Entrepreneur Council for helping us reach out to moms-turned-business owners for this story.

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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