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Stay-at-home moms stay the business course Add to ...

Crystal Dallner maps out her working day carefully. Phone calls, meetings and e-mails can't clash with mealtime, naptime, or playtime.

Ms. Dallner, 28, started her own marketing business a month after she gave birth to her first child Jacob. Now, she balances running Outright Communications out of her Edmonton home with being the primary caregiver to her one-and-a-half-year-old son.

While she loves being with Jacob all day, she struggles with her decision. "I think about going back to the corporate world all of the time. I think about what it would be like to have that corner office or to be able to brainstorm with other people."

The ranks of self-employed women are growing. According to Statistics Canada, the number has climbed 18 per cent to 876,600 last year, from 744,800 in 1996. That compares with 14 per cent growth for men. Women between the ages of 25 and 54 make up the bulk of the skirted self-employed.

In recent years, a minor industry has arisen around the need to provide moms -- some of whom left high-rolling corporate careers to raise their bundles of joys -- with the tools they need to kick-start and succeed as entrepreneurs.

Of course, not all moms have the desire or energy to start a business. Some want to just enjoy their children, attend parent-teacher meetings, bandage skinned knees and watch ballet recitals.

But if child-rearing is unfulfilling or financially impossible, running a business from home can be a good way for women to keep a hand in the working world and avoid getting trapped on the mommy track.

Kathryn Bechthold, one of Ms. Dallner's clients, knew the nine-to-five grind would not give her the freedom she needed as a mom. To help women such as herself, she founded Mompreneur Networking Group Inc., which, among other things, organizes seminars and hosts newsgroups.

Ms. Bechthold also publishes The Mompreneur, a free magazine geared to moms who run or are considering running a business from home. The year-old publication has been able to attract advertising; about 10,000 copies are distributed at 250 locations across Calgary and the online version can be found at mompreneur.com.

Topics vary: January's edition was about how to write a business plan; February focused on networking; March addresses workflow systems; April will tackle resiliency -- how to remain in business during the tough first year.

"The magazine provides information about how to balance running a successful business and being a good mom -- basically having two full-time jobs," said Ms. Bechthold, who herself fulfills both roles by being hyper-organized and working evenings and weekends.

Her advice for those just starting out is to write a one-year business plan that includes a cash flow summary and market research, establish a marketing budget and make sure to apply for credit and loans while they still enjoy a steady income from former employment. When possible, hire bookkeeping and legal experts and try to keep personal expenses and assets separate from the business venture. She stresses the importance of finding a mentor and networking groups.

The work-at-home-Moms she knows have launched all manner of home-based businesses, from catering to headhunting companies.

"Women are saying they want to have more control over how much time they spend with their families," Ms. Bechthold added.

Toronto-based career counsellor Colleen Clarke says running a business from home can be tricky, particularly if the offspring are young. "The thing you need to watch is that you are not on the phone and your kid is yelling 'mommy, mommy' in the background," she said. "That just can't happen."

However, she believes work-at-home moms who later decide they want to re-enter the corporate world should have no problem getting hired, provided they have been keeping up with their skills. "You are valued, because you now have management and leadership skills."

After tasting the freedom of working for themselves, these women will need to find an employer who is flexible and accommodating of their parental responsibilities. "It might be more important when they go back that their work-life values are congruent with the company," Ms. Clarke said.

Alison Konrad, who holds the Corus Entertainment Chair in Women and Management at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business, says starting a business from home can be a creative and fulfilling prospect for women searching for interesting, meaningful work as well as a paycheque.

But the other part of the equation is that Canadian companies generally fail to offer employees the flexible working conditions they desire, such as working part time, job sharing, or telecommuting. Her research shows that only 5 per cent have onsite or company-sponsored daycare, leaving some parents with no option but to remain at home.

"There is just not a culture of accommodating parental responsibility in this country's business sector," Ms. Konrad said.

Back in Edmonton, Ms. Dallner admits she feels guilty for leaving her son at daycare for an hour-long meeting with clients. But with business booming, she knows she eventually will have to decide where to take her little company.

"I would definitely like to stay at home as long as I can and I know it is coming to a point where I will have subcontracted out so much work to staff that we will all need to be in one building," said Ms. Dallner, who was the marketing manager at a magazine company before embarking on the mompreneur path.

Now, there is talk of having another baby. "I really wonder how this set-up would work with two," she said. "When the time comes, we will just have to figure that out."

rluciw@globeandmail.com

By the numbers

821,000

The number of female entrepreneurs in Canada, contributing in excess of $18-billion a year to Canada's economy

43%

The rate at which female self-employment expanded between 1991 and 2001.

45

The average age of female business owners. Almost 80 per cent are married and more than half have children.

Tips for new mompreneurs

Write a business plan that includes a cash flow summary and market research for one year

Join at least two networking groups

Find a mentor

Plan for a marketing budget

Invest in a good website

Invest in building your online reputation through articles and online networking groups

Apply for credit and loans while you still have a steady income

Hire experts when you can -- such as for bookkeeping and legal services

Separate your personal expenses and assets from your business as much as possible

SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA: MOMPRENEURS

 

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