Before You Start a Business as a Solo Mom
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Avoid some of the mistakes I made
Maybe you want to be with your kids more, or perhaps you came up with the next big idea or you’re ready to be your own boss. Whatever your reason for starting your own business, there are some foundational things you should consider before jumping in.
I started my first Solo Mom–run business when I separated from my ex-husband. I had freelanced as a webmaster (remember when that existed?) and taught myself design while my then-husband earned several degrees. When he left, I started my design business—not because I wanted to get rich but because it was the best way I knew to earn money while still being there for my kids.
Before I decided to start my own business, the best job I could find in my field paid $15 an hour and required a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have a degree or agency experience, but even if I had been given that job, the cost for after-school care would have cut too deep into my budget. I was already making a better hourly rate as a part-time webmaster. I figured there was potential. If I could get enough clients and a freelance team, I could make a schedule flexible enough to pick up my kids after school.
The first few years were hard. Networking, cold-calling, and trying to figure out how to handle payments and contracts, I got screwed over more than my fair share. But within a few years, I had quintupled my billing rate and had a team of freelancers. Over the years, I’ve started several businesses. I’m thankful to have been able to make a living (most of the time) while keeping “school” hours for my kids.
I’d like to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way. Let’s begin, shall we?
Know what you want
Success means something different to each of us. Some of us want to be billionaires; some just want to make some extra cash. It’s important to decide what your goals are before investing too much time and money into a business idea.
I lost sight of that with one of my businesses and tried to expand too much. I ended up exhausted and overworked. The extra money was not worth my sanity.
Write it down: on a sheet of paper titled “What I Really Want,” write down specific financial and lifestyle goals for your business idea and put it in a safe place.
Make sure you can make a profit
As someone who works with small-business owners, I can’t tell you how many times I see entrepreneurs falling in love with their idea so much that they forget to calculate whether or not that idea is actually viable or will make money.
As a single mom, you may know how to manage a tight budget, and that’s an advantage. Think like the single mama you are on this, and project your profitability.
Starting with numbers can feel overwhelming, but starting a business without them is much worse. Let’s say you do this calculation and find out that you just can’t make enough of a profit on it. That sucks—but not as much as losing $10,000 finding out that the idea is not sustainable. Trust me.
Here’s the simple version of a profit-and-loss statement:
- Costs (losses): For instance, how much money do you need to manufacture, market, and sell this thing?
- Sales: What can you sell your products or services for?
- Subtract number 1 from number 2 to see how much you’ll make (profit).
These are just theoretical numbers for something you haven’t even started—so your best educated guess should do. Overestimate your costs and underestimate sales so you’ll be less likely to overspend.
Finally, if you discover that you won’t make enough money to proceed, don’t despair; if you had a great idea once, there will be more. At least you didn’t waste your precious time and money chasing an impossibility.
Value your time
When you have your own business, there’s an odd perception in the minds of your peers. On one hand, they think you’re kind of a big deal, which is good for your business. On the other hand, they tend to think that you don’t really work.
They say, “That’s so great! So you get to work in your pajamas, get laundry done, and don’t need to pay for child care? Must be amazing!”
Picture yourself on the phone with a big client. This guy operates a multimillion-dollar business. Your three-year-old runs in screaming, covered in the peanut butter that her brother just slathered all over her face. That is the reality of a home-based business without child care. So my first recommendation for finding time to work on your business is working out child care or working when the kids are asleep.
Here are some other things I’ve done to help manage my time:
- Watch less TV.
- Schedule time to work on the business.
- Every time you want to be lazy, revisit your “What You Really Want” statement.
- Use e.ggtimer.com to set time limits for tasks. It really helps get things done faster.
- Check e-mail and social media only at set times of the day. Check your regular mail once or twice per week.
One of my biggest mistakes has been trying to do it all on my own. So please ask for help, even if you don’t think you need it. Who do you know who can help your business take off?
Make a list with three columns: Name, How This Person Might Help, and What I Can Give in Return. The best business owners have a mutuality mindset. Just remember to prioritize your business time over theirs.
Don’t have a powerful network yet? Try these sites:
- U.S. Small Business Administration: for information about how to write a business plan and other useful resources
- The SCORE Association: for mentorship, classes, and more
- National Association of Women Business Owners: resources and events, in addition to some other useful tips
All together now
So remember, before you start that new business in earnest, make sure you:
- Know what you really want
- Can afford it and know how you’ll make money at it
- Find and schedule in some time to work at it
- Ask for help, and use as many resources as you can
Having your own business can open up a wonderful world of possibilities. You’re handling your kids and your ex, so you’re already some kind of superwoman. With a little preparation, you can rock your own business, too!
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.
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