5 Tips for Being a Successful and Happy Entrepreneur Mom

by Lisa Suttora on May 8, 2011

(I originally published this post last Mother’s Day, but I loved it so much, I decided to republish it today. ) I don’t often blog about my life as an entrepreneur mom. I frequently want to, but there’s only so much time in the day to blog, and ecommerce strategy posts usually take precedence.

But since it’s Mother’s Day, I wanted to reach out to all the other entrepreneur moms (and those who are thinking about becoming one!) to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day and share some of the tips that I have used to balance life as a mom & business owner over the past 8 years.

I left a high-paying corporate job in 2002 to strike out on my own as an entrepreneur. A lifelong entrepreneur at heart since age 8, I had always wanted to own my own business, but never had the courage to do so. I grew up in a family where the message was, go to school, get a good job, work hard and you will be rewarded. I didn’t know any other entrepreneurs and thought for sure they must have some “special gene” which I was pretty sure I didn’t possess. Figuring if I did have “it” I would be able to start a business without being scared.

Having my two children changed all that. Tired of leaving my son with a babysitter (even though she was great) and dreading the prospect of starting child care all over again with my infant daughter, I decided to make the leap. I was going to “work from home” in my own business.

I wanted to be home with my kids every day.  And I’d seen all the stories about work at home moms with the kids playing happily by their side while mom built a brilliant business on the computer.  :-) I also felt that if I had a dream this big and didn’t

Bellie & Noah – 5 months after I became an entrepreneur!

pursue it – what was I modeling for my kids? By doing this, I was showing them how to pursue their dreams someday.  (Which by the way, actually has impacted their lives in a positive, now that they are old enough to understand it.)

An added factor in the equation was that I am a single parent. So leaving the safety of a corporate job, with vacation, benefits, insurance, was not a decision I took lightly.  (In fact, for anyone considering this, I highly recommending starting the business first, and then when the income starts to come in, make plans to leave your job.  It’s much less stressful and a financially more sound decision.) But I knew if I didn’t do it all the way – and get off the corporate gravy train, I wouldn’t do it at all.

Choices, Guilt, Rewards, Choices, Guilt, Rewards, Choices… (Well, you see where this is going.)

The first thing I discovered about being an entrepreneurial mom is that things don’t work like the pictures in the magazines. The vision of the kids happily playing with Legos on the floor next to you while you’re on a business call is not a reality. When your pre-schooler sees mom, he thinks “Mom is available to play!” not “Oh mom is building her Internet business, I’d better give her some time to work.”

And the photo of the beautiful baby sitting on entrepreneurial mom’s lap while mom types on the computer and builds her empire? Nope! Babies love to pound on keyboards when they are sitting in your lap.

Uh oh.

It quickly became apparent to me that I was going to need…childcare. Child care!?!?!  But that’s why I left corporate America!  So I wouldn’t have to do childcare anymore.

I fought it for several months, before I could see that this situation was going no where fast.  I wasn’t making progress on the business, my oldest was getting frustrated with mom’s “available unavailability” and I wanted to hold the baby.  But I knew that in order to generate an income, I was going to have to start treating my business like a business.

It was at this point, I began to realize what it was really going to take to be a successful entrepreneur mom…

The 5 Tips for Being a Successful and Happy Entrepreneur Mom

It’s what I tell all my coaching clients and the principal my Business Growth Group is founded on:

Entrepreneurial Mom Tip #1. “Treat your business like a business and it will pay you like a business. Treat your business like a hobby and it will cost you like a hobby.”

Once I made the decision to treat my business like a business, and set a specific schedule for work time (and yes childcare time, although not nearly as much as when I had been in corporate America.) my business started to grow rapidly.

I had made the choice. It was rewarding to see the business grow. But I also had tons of mom guilt.

Why? Because now my kids  knew I was “home” all day and they wanted to stay home with me too.  I can’t tell you how hard it was to bring them both to the babysitters each day. Those big brown eyes looking up at me, and what I really wanted to do was take them to the park.

Oh and just to add mom guilt on to more mom guilt…  I loved my business too.

And that was the dawning of the realization. As an entrepreneurial mom, you’ll never feel like there is enough of you to go around. You can never give 100% of you to all the things you want to do. And it can demoralize you until you look at it with perspective.

Entrepreneurial Mom Tip #2. You can’t give 100% of yourself to everything. There will be choices. Things you wish you could do, that you can’t. Don’t spend the years wracked with guilt. It doesn’t serve you,  your business or your children.

The best thing you can do is talk to your kids about this. Tell them how you feel. My kids are fully a part of my life.  If I would have loved to volunteer at such and such event, or wish I could have made the cake for the carnival instead of buying it – I share this with them. Sometimes they wish so too. But most of the time, it doesn’t matter to them.  What matters is that as an entrepreneurial mom, I am around enough to have conversations with them. They can walk into my office in the afternoon and show me a school paper. They can pop their head in the door and ask me how to spell something.

Which brings me to my next entrepreneurial mom tip…

Entrepreneurial Mom Tip #3. Don’t try to make everything perfect. Something’s always gotta give.

When I first thought about writing this blog post, I was surveying the condition of our house.

On the kitchen counter lay the contents of yesterday’s lunch boxes.  Sure my kids know to pick stuff up and put it away, but I was working at my desk when they got home from school and well… the sunny weather and basketball hoop outside were calling their names.

Dishes from dinner dotted the kitchen.  Normally the kids and I pick up after dinner together, but last night we headed straight to a function at my son’s school (chocolate cake courtesy of Costco) and there wasn’t time to clean up.

As I looked around the house, I was tempted to get stressed.

“Why are there dirty socks on the mantle?”

(Note to self – Remember to talk to 13 year old son when he gets home.)

But then I looked around the room some more.

This is a picture of what was supposed to be a business white board in my office. Except my kids kept coming into my office and writing messages to me on it. After a few weeks of telling them “This whiteboard is for business, quit writing on it.” I got another whiteboard for business. I’m glad I did.

My daughter’s beautiful art project in one corner of the room, brightly colored markers sprinkled all over the carpet.

The basketball from yesterday’s game, strategically placed right in the middle of the doorway between the living room and dining room.  How many times did we walk around it this morning and yet no one (including me) put it away?

Signs of life,  fun and living.

And the home of a entrepreneurial mom.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t always look like this…  There was that one day last month when the house was spotless … ;-)

There are days I go directly from teaching a webinar on search engine optimization for websites to driving a carpool full of laughing 9 year olds and middle schoolers.

In 2008 when I spoke at eBay Live! in Chicago, the kids came with me. While I worked, they were at eBay Live Camp.  We had a blast.

During times like this I feel on top of the world!

And then there are the mornings where there is no food in the house, because I worked late into the night and didn’t get to the grocery store.

Or I wake up to a flurry of questions “Mom did you do this? Mom you said you’d do that! Mom can we do this, this and this today? Aw.. do you have to work today.”

Last month when I was speaking at the 2010 Ecommerce Summit in Las Vegas, they didn’t make it to their sports practices, a book project didn’t get done on time, but they did have lots of fun spending time with their dad!

Entrepreneurial Mom Tip #4. Involve your kids in your business and in your life and let them participate!

Kids from Front to Back: Bellie (mine), Indy (Lynn's), Noah (mine), Houston (Lynn's)

The message my kids have heard from me since very early on is that we are all in this together! They participate in my business, in keeping the household running smoothly (i.e., chores!), they know the names of many clients I’ve worked with over the years, read my blog posts, and are always on the lookout for product trends!

This is a picture of the kids and I with Lynn Dralle, the Queen of Auctions when we all got together last summer at Lynn’s mom’s house up in Bellingham, WA. While the kids played on the beach Lynn (a successful entrepreneurial mom) and I did a teleseminar on eBay’s Fall 2009 changes. (You can get out latest audio on the 2010 Spring Changes here.)

My kids love the fact that I am an entrepreneurial mom. They are proud of what I’ve achieved.  And they feel like they are part of that success.

And now that they are 9 and 13, I see them applying skills they’ve learned from watching me in their everyday lives.

They hear me talk about persistence and how it’s the number key to success – and they draw on that when they are facing a challenging task at school.

Over the years, they’ve heard me talk time and time again about making choices.  And how the hardest choices are between two worth options. They find comfort in this when they have a hard decision to make.

One day my daughter said to me “Mom, it must feel really good to create a successful business out of nothing – just starting with an idea.” My son chimed in “Yah, I think that’s so cool. I have this idea…”

They get it. They see it. What I set out to do.

Entrepreneurial Mom Tip #5. Don’t try and do everything yourself. Ask for help. Hire help. Accept help when offered. Learn to say no. (I’m still working on these.)

For a long time I took pride in being super-entrepreneur mom. I did it all. And did it all pretty darn well. But about a year ago, I realized that “it” was continuing to expand. And even I have my limits of what I can accomplish in one day. And if I wanted to grow my business, be a good mom, and not burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, I was going to have to start bringing people into my life to help.

It takes a village to raise a family and build a business.

Whether it’s an offer from a friend to pick up the kids after school on the days I have a 5:00pm webinar or hiring someone to clean the house every two weeks (which I did and it’s been some of the best money I’ve ever spent!)

It also means learning to say no.

It means saying no to things I do in my business that eat up time, rather than grow the business.

It means saying no to things that people “expect” me to do but that are not in alignment with my personal or professional goals. Time is my most precious asset.

It means that even though my nature is to give and give  of myself to my customers, clients, potential customers,  friends and family (because I want to)  until there is nothing left – I need to say no before it gets to that point.

And so do you.

There is only “one of you”, entrepreneurial moms.

And you owe it to yourself to take as good care of you as you do everyone else!

So a very Happy Mother’s Day to all entrepreneurial moms, grandmoms, and aunts and sisters who are moms!

You are special beings, on an amazing journey.  And this is your day.

-Lisa

PS: I woke up earlier than the kids this morning to write this blog post. As I was writing at my desk, I heard the rustling of paper, whispering and giggling…

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