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ombining your work and family life by starting your own home business? Do you worry about taking the plunge, wonder whether you'll really have more time with the kids and wish you had help getting started?
Well, you're in luck. Work-at-home guru Cheryl Demas shares her tips in the Q
QUESTION: Many working women who become pregnant think they will find the perfect way to balance work and family, only to find that equilibrium very difficult to reach when they are holding their firstborn in their arms. For many, becoming a mother changes their very sense of self and there's nothing that can really prepare them. In your book, you describe your own pre-motherhood career. Please tell us what that time was like for you and share with us what thoughts you had about motherhood when you were first pregnant.
CHERYL DEMAS: I thought I was prepared for it, I really did. Now however, I don't know if there's any way to really be prepared for the overwhelming feelings that come with that first baby. I truly learned the meaning of unconditional love when my children were born. The other thing that I wasn't prepared for was just how much time and energy it took to care for them, especially when they were infants. I had done quite a bit of baby-sitting, so I thought I knew what was involved, but I didn't. I had thought that I'd be able to find a quality daycare and continue with my career. Not only did I find out that wasn't easy to do, I realized that I didn't want to do it.
QUESTION: When your first daughter was born, you continued to work in your career. Please describe what that was like.
CHERYL DEMAS: We tried a variety of different options. I worked from home at first, way back in 1987, when dialing into the work computer was not as easy as it is now. My husband and I worked split shifts. We hired a nanny who cared for our daughter and a few neighborhood children in our home. We tried just about everything. But I was still unhappy. It took a long time, but I finally admitted to myself that what I really wanted was to be home and make "Mom" my number one job.
QUESTION: When your second daughter was born, you decided to quit your job. Please briefly describe how and why you made that choice.
CHERYL DEMAS Well, Nicki, who was seven at that time was diagnosed with diabetes the same week my second daughter was born. I spent the last three nights of my pregnancy sleeping in a chair beside her hospital bed. AND, my husband was out of town and my mother-in-law was flying in from Florida for a two month visit. My Greek mother-in-law. You know, I used to say "my Greek mother-in-law" and people would just say, "Oh, so?" But now, after the Big Fat Greek Wedding movie, I say "Greek mother-in-law" and people say, "OOOOOH!" They understand. My mother-in-law is wonderful and I love her, but that was quite a week. I wish I had planned and prepared for making the transition, but I didn't. I just said, "That's it! I'm staying home."
QUESTION: I understand you then launched your own Web site design business, and have since closed that business to concentrate on your Web site, WAHM.com, The Online Magazine For Work-At-Home Moms. Many mothers, especially single moms, who wish they could work at home are worried they won't be able to pay their mortgage. Do you mind telling us how profitable WAHM.com is? Does it pay your family's bills? Do you have employees?
CHERYL DEMAS: It is profitable now, supported by advertising. From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to provide this resource at no charge to my readers -- because they're probably coming to WAHM.com because they need money, and the last thing they need is another charge. I'm making more now than I did in my engineering career, but it has taken a long time...about eight years now. There were a few golden months back in the "bubble" days of the Internet, but we all know how that turned out.
I have two more people who work on the site now as independent contractors,
which also gives me a lot of satisfaction. That something I've created is
earning income for others as well.
QUESTION: Now that you've told us a little about your own experience, I'm hoping you will share some of your expertise with other moms who are considering giving up their jobs and launching their own business. First, is there any circumstance under which a mother should probably NOT make that move?
CHERYL DEMAS: Support at home is crucial. I have seen husbands come around after a business starts making money, but there's no guarantee. Taking care of a home and family is a full-time job in itself, add a home business to the mix and something has to give. Communication is key to establishing priorities and boundaries.
I've seen women who have found success even when faced with what seems to be
impossible circumstances, so I guess never say never. But I think that the
drive and desire really have to be there as well. Working at home is not easy, so moms need to realize that going in.
QUESTION: What steps should a mother take in assessing whether she can afford to quit work and run her own business?
CHERYL DEMAS: Budget, take a look at where she's spending money now, what she will save when she stays home, what extra expenses she might incur at home.
Take a realistic look at projected income from her business. I think a lot of
us overestimate how much we can make right out of the gates. Talk to others
who are in the business if possible, to get some realistic income projections.
Especially if she is being recruited into a direct sales company, I think it's
important to talk to people other than the one who is doing the recruiting.
QUESTION: How much money should someone have in the bank before doing this?
CHERYL DEMAS: That is so variable. But I'm a big fan of low-overhead. Don't assume that you have to go out and spend a bundle on the best business cards and stationery, office equipment and furniture. Some businesses, especially service-related can be started with just a little bit of money. Then take a look at your income projections and determine how many months of bills you will have to pay before you will start making money. Do the math.
QUESTION: How should someone decide what kind of business to start? What businesses are relatively cheap to start but are likely to do well?
CHERYL DEMAS: Again, this varies depending on the individual. Some careers lend themselves to a home business, writing, teaching, accounting, etc. I have a chart in the book with ideas of how to convert a job to a work-at-home job. I also advise moms to take a look at their skills and interests, see if there's a way to make a business from them. I've seen people doing just about any job you can imagine from home, so there aren't many limitations. The Internet has made it so much easier to work at home now.
*Cheap to start buy likely to do well:
Service businesses are usually relatively less expensive to start. Virtual
assistant, tutoring, teaching homeschool classes, even a pooper-scooper
business. Not glamorous, but it can be a good moneymaker.
There is no guarantee of success of course, I think a bigger factor in doing
well is the dedication and desire of the business person -- more than the
business she chooses.
QUESTION: Do you think a single mother can quit her job and make enough at her own business to support her child or children?
CHERYL DEMAS: This is difficult, but I have seen it done. I would advise a single mother to try to get her business going before she quits her job. And if she has extended family near her for support that will make big difference as well.
QUESTION: Despite the best intentions and hard work, many small businesses fail. Is it worth the risk? What can a parent do to avoid or deal with this risk?
CHERYL DEMAS: Realize that failure may happen, but it doesn't have to be the end. I don't think I have ever read about a really successful business person who didn't have some failures earlier in his or her lifetime. But they learned from them and used that knowledge to do even better next time.
As far as being worth the risk, I certainly think so. I LOVE working at home,
and couldn't imagine going back to a 9-5 job again.
QUESTION: What kind of a personality is most likely to succeed with a home business?
CHERYL DEMAS: Desire is key, and I have seen just about every type of person be successful.
But I think there are some common factors. These are the ones I list in the
Moms don't have to be born with these qualities (although that would be nice)
but I think they can learn them as well.
QUESTION:Many people think having your own business is easy, when those who have done it say they actually end up working many more hours than they did for an employer. What has been your experience? Does having your own business really mean having more time with your children?
CHERYL DEMAS: Yes, definitely. But other things have had to go. It's a matter of priorities, in my opinion. I'm working at home so I can be with the kids more, so I make that the priority. On the other hand, I love to garden and crochet, and I haven't done much of that lately. My house is not exactly a showplace, but it's comfortable, and we like it like this. It's all give and take.
QUESTION: Your book's subtitle is: "Run Your Home Business Without Letting It Overrun You." How can a home business overrun a parent? What can a parent do to avoid that and still have a successful business?
CHERYL DEMAS: It can get away from you, because like Newman said about the mail on "Seinfeld" ... "IT'S ALWAYS THERE!" Many people do well with scheduled work hours -- just as if they're going away to their job. Communication is key, make sure you get the support you need. My family is very involved in my business, which has given them a sense of ownership, and I think it makes them much more understanding about picking up the slack.
QUESTION: May I ask how old are your daughters now? What do they want to be when they grow up?
CHERYL DEMAS: They are 16 and 8. They are both quite entrepreneurial
QUESTION: In closing, what one piece of advice do you have for mothers thinking of quitting their career for their own home business?
CHERYL DEMAS: Thinking and dreaming about it won't make it happen. I know everyone says it, but children really do grow up so fast. If working at home is something you really want to do, start making plans and researching now. Just do it.