Monday, May 26, 2008

Woman who knows what it means to be a 'mompreneur'

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What does a mother do if she wants to stay home with her children as much as possible, but continue working the hours that accommodate those needs?

She could seek out an enlightened employer who allows her to work from her home office. Or at least find one that provides flexible hours.

Or, as a growing number of women are doing, she could start a small business.

It's the last category that a 35-year-old South Surrey woman is promoting through her Enterprising Moms Network (EMN), which is dedicated to helping working mothers navigate the tricky balancing act of being a mother and an entrepreneur -- or "mompreneur" as they're often called.

"I was a commercial broker and I asked for part-time work," recalled EMN founder Kelley Scarsbrook -- a new mother at the time in 2003 -- in an interview on how she came to start her business. "I was essentially shown the door, after putting a lot of time in with that company. There was no flexibility.

"I went home and shed a few tears and then realized that just wasn't for me. I worked part time for a year [and] then got pregnant with my daughter and decided I didn't want to work away from home at all. And there's a lot of smart, educated moms leaving the workforce because they're not getting that [accommodation]."

After making the decision to leave her job, Scarsbrook -- who has a background in corporate communications -- began to develop workshops focused on inspiring women to consider starting their own businesses to achieve a healthier work-life balance.

Scarsbrook said it became her passion to help mothers in similar situations, so she started writing on the issue before launching EMN [] in the summer of 2007 as a way to bring like-minded women together to share ideas and learn about starting or running a business. "I wanted a strong voice out there to let them know there's an option."

Scarsbrook said she now has 40 members in her White Rock chapter and will soon open two new chapters in Richmond and North Vancouver.

Members -- all women entrepreneurs -- pay an annual fee and can attend 10 meetings a year where they network with other business owners and hear a variety of experts speak on issues such as trademark law, work/life balance, or how to brand a business.

As well, up to 350 people are expected to attend EMN's annual business summit on June 8 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, where there will be five speakers.

Scarsbrook, who also works as a part-time consultant, said that the number of entrepreneur moms is rising as women decide they want to spend more time with their kids. She said one of the benefits for many of the women starting businesses is that they discover new skills they didn't realize they had.

"This is huge, huge," she said. "This is a phenomenon that's steadily on the rise. We're talking thousands and thousands of moms who are going into business for themselves so they can be with their children and pursue their passion.

"Essentially, the main reason behind this is that corporations just aren't there yet with job-sharing, part-time work, offering flexible hours or daycare. And women need this. We've been in the workplace. We're educated. And now we're realizing we should do this ourselves."

According to Statistics Canada, the number of women entrepreneurs is on the rise, with women between the ages of 25 and 54 making up the bulk of the self-employed.

More than one million Canadian women are expected to run their own businesses by 2010, with 80 per cent married and more than half with children.

However, Scarsbrook points out that starting a business is not a cakewalk for women, especially with the increased stress due to being responsible for a business's success, for example cash flow issues, or having no one to rely on for business advice.

"I'm not saying this is an easy route. We face a whole whack of challenges. I'm saying that this is an option and we want to provide support and put [entrepreneurs] in touch with the right people."

One EMN member who likes the organization's message is Jennifer Bogart, who started Vancouver-based Goober Baby Designs Inc. with friend and business partner Melissa Krezanski in 2006.

Like Scarsbrook, Bogart and Krezanski decided to leave their regular jobs because they wanted to spend more time with their daughters, who were born just 12 days apart.

"We finished our maternity leave and we both returned to work full time," said Bogart in an interview.

"But we're both entrepreneurs at heart and once the clock started ticking, we realized we didn't want to go back to work, so we started putting ideas down on paper. We wanted to spend more time with our girls. We wanted more flexibility."

Bogart said starting Goober Baby Designs -- which features fashionable everyday essentials for moms, including baby change mats, tote bags and change purses -- has worked out well as their products are now sold in more than 100 stores and throughout the world.

"We have absolutely no regrets," she said. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat. We both have two days just for the girls that would normally have been at work."

Bogart said her EMN membership has worked out well.

"It's great to see other women doing what they love to do, no matter what it is. These are women going through the same things [we're] going through. And you can provide some mentorship to others, a little business experience."

Bogart sees a lot more moms trying their hand at small business ventures in the future. "There aren't the job-share options [at "9-to-5" workplaces], even though many companies are saying there are."

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