When I first started coaching women in 2002, it was always about how to find a job in an established company. In the beginning many women wanted what they knew–to continue working for (or return after many years at home to) a large corporation. Then there was more interest in local small to mid-size companies that did not require a commute. Now more women come to me thinking about “some kind of entrepreneurial venture”, and they often find it hard to visualize the business they would launch.
As I said in my blog post, “Make a Big Work+Life Impact with Your Own Small-Scale Business”, an entrepreneurial venture does not necessarily involve drawing up a complex business plan, investing large sums of money, finding compatible business partners, searching for outside funding, renting space—and generally taking huge business and personal risks.
A small business can be focused on a very wide range of products and services—just about anything that you believe a significant number of people would need and buy. Depending on your current financial situation—and your ability to fund all of life’s “you never knows”–your business does not need to make headlines or generate millions of dollars. Many small businesses could boost your current household budget, help to send kids to college and provide some chunk of money to save and invest.
But what do these small businesses look like? We all see the Mom and Pop stores and restaurants in our neighborhoods, but small businesses that are not “brick and mortar” establishments are less obvious. Here’s an interesting sampling of 10 women in my personal and professional circles who have started small businesses, raised families as they’ve generated incomes, and– without selling their souls to corporations–achieved their own brand of work+life success…
Former investment banker Cynthia Grano and her college-aged son Alexander run a small business, Cynthia Alexander, out of a cottage on their property, selling stunning, beautifully crafted jewelry made of semi-precious stones to individual customers and high profile shops across the U.S.–and in collaboration with the prestigious clothing designer, Nina McLemore.
After an early career in advertising sales, Jennifer Anderson, mother of three, went back to school for landscape design, started designing gardens for friends and in 20 years has grown her business to a highly regarded, full-scale landscape design and development firm that services both residential clients and a select group of architects and builders.
A former Gymboree franchisee, Barb Johnson, mother of three, was not necessarily looking to run another business. A trip to Africa inspired a retail venture with a “make a difference” goal. She now sells a beautiful collection of clothing and accessories to empower women to survive and thrive in remote villages around the world. A visit to her shop, Mama Jane’s Global Boutique, is an education in the museum-quality work of ancient artisans in South Africa, Kenya, India and the Philippines.
After a career in the intense finance industry, Adriane Graham looked for a way to combine her business smarts with more creative interests. She created The Goose and The Hound, an Etsy shop that buys and sells vintage paper goods from the 1930s to the 1990s–wrapping paper, greeting cards, gift tags, seals and holiday decorations. For a new mother of an infant, this popular shop that just reached sale #4,000, offers a very flexible way to blend work and life.
When Lyn Kimberly was growing up, summer camp played a influential role in her young life. This mother of two pursued professional careers in teaching and market research, and then came up with an incredibly unique idea to take a summer camp on the road. Now she and her husband operate American Wanderer, a camp that travels via RVs to all the national parks and gives kids from all walks of life real world connections to the textbook science facts they learn in school.
Susan Hill’s career in fashion began as one of the first employees of Joan & David shoes. Her busy career included design trips to Italy when her two sons were very young. When she left that job in search of a better work+life fit, she became a district leader for Doncaster, and then branched out on her own as a personal wardrobe stylist and image consultant for moms, corporate executives and high profile figures like Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Fiona Mittag raised two children, managed prep school and college searches, led home renovations, traveled back and forth to England to help an aging mother, and met all other needs of a household and family—while running an antique print and framing business out of her home. This flexible business, M&F Antique Prints not only gave her a way to combine work and family—it also travelled with her as her husband’s work took them from London to Tokyo and then the U.S.
Lisa Romeo’s writing talents gave her the lifelong ability to generate an income—as a freelancer, a business owner and in big corporations. It is work that she has dialed up and down while raising two sons—she closed her own busy PR agency when her children were young. After earning an MFA at age 45, she created an independent business umbrella that includes an array of versatile work as a creative writing teacher, an editorial consultant, a ghostwriter and writer with bylines in Oprah’s magazine, the New York Times and dozens of other publications.
After a brief stint as a social worker, Gay Squire raised two sons and worked only as a volunteer. When her husband was planning an early retirement from the financial services industry, the couple pursued a dream to start a Vermont B&B. They bought a gorgeous property, and created an impeccable, upscale, three-room bed and breakfast, “Squire House”, that draws skiers, hikers and a stream of interesting visitors each season of the year.
One day Kirsten Lambert (formerly in market research) and Joan Ripple (formerly in HR) discussed the fact that their college freshmen never seemed to wash the sheets on their dorm room beds. The two mothers joked that their kids needed the rolls of paper sheets that doctor offices use—and the light bulb went off with a new business idea. After a year of research, the duo created Beantown Bedding—and a line of laundry-free linens that are now used by many colleges—as well as organizations in hospitality, healthcare and disaster relief.
These are all great examples of women who have found interesting work that fits their lives. Most of these women just dove in to a new venture and figured it out along the way—but in every area there are many resources for budding entrepreneurs. Kathy McShane of Ladies Launch Club is just one example—a former marketing professional who has made a business of helping other women start businesses of their own. —KAS
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