There’s a whole new world of opportunity for solo mompreneurs
I cannot stand get-rich-quick schemes. You know, those online ads you see that say “I made six figures in just 30 days, working only two hours a week!” For the most part, I think these “gurus” and their pricey products are full-of-crap ways to make money off of people’s dreams. There are ways to do business smarter, especially as a Solo Mom.
A few years back, I was in the midst of a custody battle and the end of another relationship, all the while trying to keep my two children happy. I was working long hours and burning out. One afternoon, I walked into my local Borders bookstore [sigh] and a book in the new arrivals section spoke to me like a mainline to my heart. The 4-Hour Workweek(Harmony, 2009), by Timothy Ferriss, had a tagline that read: “Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.” Boom, the answer to my problems! I couldn’t resist, and I’m glad I didn’t. It changed my life, for real.
I used the principles from the book, along with a few of my own, to shift to working less, making more, and, most important, improving the quality time I had with my kids. Did it solve all my problems? Was it easy? No, but it freed my mind from an old way of thinking about business and life.
These days, there are more possibilities for innovation, access, and growth for solo mompreneurs; however, I have found that the biggest obstacle is often the limits I unwittingly place on myself. Sure, it’s harder when you’re a single parent living in the wake of the Great Recession. But we also live in a time of massive change, of 3-D ads, high-speed Internet, and more online tools than we can count. I believe, if we Solo Moms can get ourselves into a more empowering mindset, we can make real change.
Solo Moms are some of the most creative people I know, but often it is harder for us to create innovative ways to go about business. We just plain have more to do, which is all the more reason to build something that can give you more time, freedom, and self-sufficiency in the long run.
Your business doesn’t have to be a business
I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but in the past decade or so, new ways of doing business have evolved. Thought leaders such as Ferriss, Seth Godin, and Marie Forleo have worked to redefine what a small business or even supplemental income can look like.
The old stereotypes of small business don’t necessarily apply, and your business doesn’t have to suck the life out of you. It doesn’t necessarily require 80-hour workweeks (though, admittedly, four-hour workweeks might not be realistic, either) or even tons of employees. Work can be crafted to suit your life, rather than the other way around.
As a Solo Mom, you have undoubtedly come up with ingenious ways to solve the never-ending challenges of single parenthood. This skill is a gift, one you can apply to building your own business.
Years ago, when I was a proofreader, I learned a valuable lesson: learn all you can from those who’ve done it already. You don’t have to repeat the mistakes someone else has already made. We Solo Moms don’t have time to take the scenic route, so learn from those who have done it before. Read, read, read.
Put a timeline on your dreams
Full disclosure, I hate—I mean hate—dealing with numbers and paperwork. To me, it is right up there with getting a tooth pulled, maybe worse. Fortunately, there is a tool to make it more fun.
Not to harp on the whole “four-hour workweek” thing (last mention, I swear), but dreamlining is one of my favorite tools from the book. If you want to change your life, it helps to know how you’d like it to look. It’s hard to know what kind of money you’ll need to make if you don’t know what you want.
At least once or twice a year I use the dreamline worksheet, created by Jared Goralnick. I love the name “dreamline” because it does just that: it helps you put a timeline on what you want and what it will take financially, and then breaks it into bite-sized pieces. In essence, you’re putting dates and dollars to your goals. It’s quite empowering.
There’s a business theory that says that people are less likely to achieve practical, small goals and more likely to achieve seemingly unattainable ones, otherwise known as Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, as author and leadership expert Jim Collins coined it. The idea is that small plans won’t excite you enough to take action, and action, my mama friends, is what you’ll need to achieve your dreams. I know it sounds all small-business-guru bullpucky, but it’s true, and research backs it up. I’ve even experienced it in my own life. So give it a spin: you can download the worksheet for free.
The secret sauce of marketing and sales
I am lucky that marketing is something that comes naturally to me (unlike finances), but we all have different strengths. Something I’m not so great at is sales. Unlike my salesman ex-husband, I don’t like to pressure people. (Did I just say that?) But it doesn’t have to be so bad.
Marketing and sales are two essential skills the solo mompreneur should learn. They are essential to your knowledge base as a business owner.
To start you off, here are the two most important concepts:
1. Think like your customer!
Put your tootsies in their Manolos or Crocs or Keds, and ask yourself these questions:
- Why would I be interested in this product/service/biz? What problem does it solve for me?
- Where would I most likely see an ad, get a referral, or hear about it?
- Why would I buy it?
- What would help me buy it?
2. Knowledge is power.
Schedule yourself 30 minutes to one hour per week to read something new about sales or marketing. If you have time for only one book, read the Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide: 1500 Great Marketing Tricks That Will Drive Your Business Through the Roof by James Stephenson (Entrepreneur Press, 2007). It is full of great tips.
It takes a tribe
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a tribe to build a business. Building a network of reliable people in all types of businesses has been one of the best things I ever did for my business. More than ever, the entrepreneurial community is vital. In-person networking can be a pain in the booty, but I recommend visiting a few local business groups until you find one that matches your style and mindset. Some require dues, but there are plenty that don’t. Quality isn’t necessarily correlated to cost.
Begin looking for like-minded souls at 1 Million Cups, American Business Women’s Association, Women Impacting Public Policy, your local chamber of commerce, and Meetup.com (where you can search for groups in your area).
Protect your time
Just because you have your own business doesn’t mean people will treat it like real work. You must find ways to protect both your work hours and your family time.
One thing to understand is that when you have your own business, your work will never be finished. There’s always one more e-mail to send, ad to create, website update to make—that is, unless you set some rules for yourself.
Set “business hours.” When I first started doing web design for small businesses, I’d get calls and texts late into the evening. I had to respectfully set my hours and let clients know I would not respond outside those times.
For the Solo Mom, it is hard to find time and space for yourself. I recommend setting up your desk where you can either close the door or work when the kids are asleep. Interruptions are poison, and there’s no such thing as multitasking. If you must work in small chunks, set a timer and close out distractions. It will save your sanity, I swear.
Even if you’re only in the beginning stages of your own venture, give yourself a pat on the back. I believe that solo mamas have the potential to change things for the better, for themselves and their communities. It’s no picnic being a Solo Mom, but I dare you to dream a little, set some BHAGs, put yourself in your customers’ shoes, get some support, and protect your time. By doing so, you’ll already be miles ahead.
Andrea Guevara is a mother of two, an entrepreneur, and a UCLA Extension Writers’ Program scholar and graduate. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Role Reboot; Seeing Beauty; and, of course, ESME. When she isn’t working on her memoir, she also serves as brand director for BinderCon and a judge of flash fiction for Mash Stories. Connect with her online via Twitter.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.