I didn’t plan to start a baby food company. This business found me. I grew up on a farm in Cameroon, West Africa, eating simple, homemade dishes filled with fresh vegetables and fruits. I wanted the same for my children. So I began making baby food in my kitchen, and sharing it with friends and teaching them how to make their own. One thing led to another, and soon I was teaching workshops and cooking classes. The response was overwhelming.
The idea for my company came from my belief that fresh, homemade, organic food should be available to all babies, not just a privileged few. Many parents make baby food from scratch, but what about all the others who don’t know how, or don’t have time? I wanted to offer fresh, organic baby food in stores.
As the demand exploded, I asked my husband, Georges, what I should do. We were living comfortably as a two-income family. I was working full-time as an IT executive and was afraid to leave my job because it would be a sacrifice for our entire family. But I also knew that turning my passion into a successful business would take 100 percent of my time. I knew that all kids deserved high-quality food — and I knew it could be done on a commercial level.
Georges encouraged me to take the leap, so I left my corporate career. We put everything we had into the business — our entire savings. The risk was frightening, but it was worth the sacrifice. Here’s what I learned along the way about balancing home and work.
Learn to say no. When I was just starting, I was eager to gain exposure for my business. The product was catching on, and I was busy filling orders, spending late nights in the kitchen and getting up early to get the kids off to school. As word-of-mouth spread, I was overwhelmed by calls — invitations to speak at schools and civic groups, or nonprofit groups looking for demos and donations. I was afraid to say no, because I thought the business would suffer. Once, I had a day full of back-to-back events — and I woke up that morning with laryngitis. That’s when I heard what my body was saying: Don’t overextend yourself. We don’t always have to say yes. You can say no, “Let me think about it” or “Please give me time to check my calendar.” I would rather say no first than overcommit.
Eliminate distractions. Like most small-business owners, I wore all the hats. When you are trying to do everything, it is easy to lose your focus on the things that you do best, and the things that allow your business to grow. For example, social media is an important marketing activity for small businesses. But how much time do you spend on social media actually promoting your business vs. posting fun personal updates? I learned to look critically at how I was using my time. I dropped the things that were not related to my goals. Eliminating even two or three things can make a huge difference.
Lose the guilt. When I started my company, my youngest child was still in diapers. I sometimes felt guilty when I had to leave and go to the production kitchen after I put the kids to bed. My husband was there, of course, but I worried that my company was interfering with my parenting. The lifestyle of an entrepreneur requires juggling and compromises. It is hard work — and that work affects the entire family. What I have realized is that kids see what you do. They watch you pursue your passion while organizing the household and supporting the family. Following your heart and leading by example is the essence of parenting, so stop being so hard on yourself.
Stay true to your vision. Two years into my start-up, a competitor came on the scene. I was intimidated when I heard that the principals at this company were gossiping about me and my business. I was really worried and upset, thinking that this would damage my reputation. Turns out the best course of action was to say nothing. I decided my company would always project a relentlessly positive attitude, take the high road and stay focused on our vision. This was, and continues to be, a strength.
The only constant is change. I never anticipated how much adaptability it takes to bring a product successfully to the mass market. I imagined that developing my product was a one-time thing. I thought I would hire a packaging designer, create a design and then the product would be ready for retail. But every retailer has different requirements. That left me in a continuous cycle of development and redevelopment. By embracing the creative process, though, I eventually became comfortable with constant change and learned to make it fun.
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