It’s daunting to start your own business. Throw raising kids on top of that, and it can be truly formidable. What if you travel full-time and move to a new city every month, while attempting the first two? I do.
If I can start my own business, so can you.
The challenges already inherent in entrepreneurship are plenty, but it’s taken becoming a traveling “work-on-the-road” mama of two to feel courageous enough to jump into the start-up waters. In the years of touring with my husband’s show The Lion King while raising kids, I can tell you that the following lessons apply not only to parents, but anyone wanting to start their own business — and succeed.
1. Define your boundaries and stick to them
“I’m going to do some work at the dining table this morning,” I tell my husband. I dive headfirst into emails, and after 25 minutes I hear him yell, “I’m taking a shower!” Before I can respond, I hear the spray of the water and the pitter-patter of little feet drawing near, and I know my workflow is about to be interrupted. It seems that no matter what I say otherwise, if I’m in eyesight, my partner or kids still assume I’m fair game.
So how do you avoid the “Mama’s home, so she’s available” syndrome? Don’t be home. Leave the premises and find a café or co-working space to truly separate yourself. If it’s not possible to vacate, find a room in the house with a door that can close. Sounds like common-sense, but people I know personally will sometimes lament their unproductive workdays in their living room/front porch/reading nook. A friend turned her walk-in utility closet into a workspace, aptly dubbed her ‘cloffice’. Once that door was closed, she was golden.
Also, we all know how tempting it is to finish the breakfast dishes or throw one load of laundry in before getting down to business, and how quickly it can snowball into other forms of menial procrastination (re-arranging the bathroom closet, anyone?). Get that stuff out of your eyeline. Close that cloffice door or head to the cafe, and commit to staying there. And speaking of…
2. Stay consistent with your workspace
Though I’m in a new city every month, I still try to establish a routine. One of the first things I do is search for the nearest local coffee shop with wifi. I go after the morning rush — usually around 10am — and scope out a corner table near an electrical outlet. As I settle in with my latte, I allow myself at least 2-3 hours of work before getting up to order lunch. Being mobile, I keep my workspace clear of random clutter and I try to stay in one spot. Yes, it’s an additional cost vs. staying home, but the $5-10 I spend in food and beverage is a small price for a few hours of office space “rent”, wi-fi, and productivity.
Also, committing to a cafe or co-working space also lessens feelings of isolation that can crop up from working at home. For me, this is vital. During our five-week stint in Boston, the guys working at Bartlett Square Cafe in Jamaica Plain greeted me by name, and I always knew the Colectivo Coffee barista in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward would end my transaction with “And you have yourself a brilliant day.” You may be working for yourself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel part of an organic work environment. Create one to energize yourself. Speaking of…
3. Set up a support system
Find a tribe, a network, or an accountability partner.
I was lucky to find Factory45, an accelerator program for makers committed to bringing sustainable, made-in-the-USA products to market. I was surrounded (virtually) by people from all walks of life, and we met once a week on a group online video call. We were guided through marketing, sourcing and launch for six months. Now I’ve got a network of supporters for life, and it’s done wonders for my confidence as my business progresses.
Twitter is an amazing way to reach out to fellow entrepreneurs who may have advice and resources for you. Once you make a connection, set up regular chats or calls to check-in. The best question to ask: “What can I do to help you move forward?”
4. Set up a babysitting co-op with other moms and dads
Besides not having to pony up any money, joining a co-op assures you that your kids will be cared for by the best kind of sitter — another parent or caregiver you know and trust. And it’s a treat for my kids to get to visit a friend’s house and play with different toys, and it’s fun to get to know other families.
5. Exercise is imperative
What gets your heart rate up will only serve to invigorate you later on in the day. What gets your blood pumping will make you sharper and more present for both your work and your family. Exercise makes you a happier, more confident person, so even if it’s a jog around your neighborhood or a sunrise yoga class before your shower each morning, work it into your routine.
Get creative! My friend Kissy straps her infant into a carrier to do weight-bearing conditioning like squats and lunges in the local park. Not only does she get an amazing workout, both get fresh air and quality time together.
6. Early to bed, early to rise
As a life-long night owl, this was probably the hardest adjustment for me. But our kids get us up when the sun rises, and I can’t get less than 7 hours of sleep and expect to be at my best. Let the sun be a good business partner and take advantage of your time with it! Now, when I put the kids down for bed, I force myself to wind down too. The amount of work I get done before noon is just amazing! The extra couple of hours mean the difference between a rushed blog post and a life-changing one like this. Or, bonus time to get ice cream with your kids!
7. Just say no
Time is such a commodity when you’re an entrepreneur and parent, and you’ve got to be ruthless about prioritizing what you do with it. So, figure out what is truly important, rather than what is simply demanding (this holds true to both family and work!). Say no to requests and don’t look back.
Contract out tasks that you feel you might be able to do yourself but know would be time-intensive to learn. Even though I once was a freelance web designer, I hired someone to build the Mamachic site out because I had so much on my plate. It’s actually empowering to utter the word “no” (politely, of course), and even more freeing when you realize you’re off the hook for something your heart’s not into. Once those limits are set, you’re on Easy Street trying to work within those limits. However …
8. Put your social life on autopilot
Treat dates with friends or your partner like they are crucial — because they are.
Keeping yourself whole is the name of the game; it’s easy to let your business and your kids take over other parts of your life. The truth is, you’re still a good businesswoman and mama even when you spend some alone time with your partner. What’s more, your partner needs that from you too. Often, my conversations with Mike revolve solely around travel logistics, schedules, chores, and parenting. Or I realize months have gone by without a girls’ night out with my fellow Lion King tour mamas. How can you prioritize some date time this coming month? Brainstorm two or three date ideas right now, put it on the calendar, and lock it in.
8. Be honest and forgiving with yourself
Mamas, we want to do it all. But we can’t all the time — and that’s okay. My family travel blog 4 For The Road has been languishing through this stretch of the last few cities as I gear Mamachic up for our launch, pack and unpack my family in each city, and spend some days traveling to our factory in North Carolina. I somehow feel like I’m letting my kids, friends and family down by not documenting our housing and posting photos of food! But I’ve got to feel secure about saying no (#7!) in order to prioritize the best use of my time, energy, and resources. In saying no, I’m also guaranteeing myself more sleep (hey, #6) and real quality time with my kiddos and husband (oh, there’s #8) because I’m not pulling out the camera every five minutes.
The beauty of working for yourself is that your goals and schedules can be malleable — and improvisation is essential as you learn what it takes to launch and operate your product or service. So, go easy on yourself, mama! Take some time to hammer out your priorities.
What challenges do you face as a mompreneur, and how do you face them head-on?
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