NEW YORK — As women lose their jobs to the recession, many are deciding they've had it working for someone else. So they're starting businesses that will let them be financially independent and also have more time to care for their families. • It's a dream for many women. But those who have made it a reality say they've run into some of the same problems as any new entrepreneur, such as finding financing and realizing that they need to outsource tasks like marketing and Web design. Plus there's the added challenge of juggling family and business time.
Women who want to start a business quickly find that money is hard to come by. Banks usually don't lend to startups. And home equity loans are far less available since housing values have plunged.
Sherri Morris said using her Chapel Hill, N.C., home as a funding source "was not even an option." In September 2007, she started Digi Time Capsule, a company that markets software for expectant mothers that helps them make journals and edit photos and movies about their pregnancy. Her startup costs came to nearly $60,000. She was able to get a $10,000 bank loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration and a $15,000 loan from relatives. Morris and her husband had to put up the rest, using savings and proceeds from the sale of their former home in Chicago.
Startup cash isn't the only problem. While going through a divorce, Carine Firestone, who runs a fashion accessory company, Purse and Pursonality, had to close her retail store and begin to operate exclusively online. Last year she closed the store and moved from Boca Raton to New York's Long Island with her 13-year-old daughter. The loss of the retail revenue has made it harder to run the Web site, so she has taken a part-time job.
Firestone said she's bringing in sales, but "I'm a single mother and I have a tremendous financial responsibility."
Juggling work and family
Working mothers have long, long days. Morris said she starts working at 5 a.m. and after the kids are in bed, she goes back to work. While her two sons, ages 6 and 9, are in school, she looks after her 2-year-old daughter. But, if she needs to go to an appointment, her mother will babysit.
Still, she said, there's a huge plus to this never-ending activity: "It's also a dream you're living, so you don't feel sleep-deprived."
Getting help . . .
Women accustomed to managing and running a household can fall into the entrepreneur's trap of do-it-all-yourself.
Firestone said that after she started her business in 2003, she was so busy doing all of the work that she didn't hire the help she needed, something she now regrets.
She learned what many other entrepreneurs find: She's great at creating products and services and dealing with customers, but not the details of running a business.
She also discovered that not getting help costs a company over the long term.
"If I had availed myself of people who could have brought me their strengths, I would probably be in a totally different place right now."
. . . The right help
Morris, meanwhile, had to go through three software companies before she found one that would do the work she needed. In the end she realized she would be better off working with a local firm — sitting down face-to-face to be sure they understand what she needs.
Nan Langowitz, a management professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., suggests business owners look to trusted friends with skills, rather than choosing a vendor or service provider randomly. Or, ask them to refer you to someone who can provide the help you need.
Owners can also seek help from universities that run SBA-sponsored Small Business Development Centers, the SBA's Web site and government-established Women's Business Centers. These can be found at www.sba.gov. Owners can also contact SCORE, an organization of retired executives who give free advice to small business owners, at www.score.org.
Both Firestone and Morris learned that networking and getting support from other women business owners is invaluable.
Morris went to a conference held by Make Mine a Million $ Business, a networking organization for women, and "it was really helpful to be in a roomful of people doing the same thing. And I can help them, and the circle comes back."
Firestone also has joined Make Mine a Million $ Business, which she said has helped give her company more exposure, and the National Association of Women Business Owners.
"Without a doubt, there's strength in numbers," she said.