The Food Crew – an article for Your Baby magazine in 2010

A recent post on Mommy Mall Cape Town’s Facebook page reminded me of this article I wrote for Your Baby Magazine in 2010.  To tell you the truth, the idea for the article came about because I wanted to interview other moms in business to gain insight into being a mompreneur.  I was actually very surprised when the editor accepted my proposal!

Here is the article as I submitted it – nearly double the length of words that I had been allocated, however Your Baby printed it with very little editing (including using my proposed title).  Grab a cup of tea – the length of this article breaks all the rules of writing a blog post….

Article: “Mom’s The Boss” (working title)

Writer: Joanne Clegg

Date: 05 March 2010

Joanne Clegg of The Food Crew started a Private Chef Service and Marine Culinary Skills and Galley Management Course in her son’s first year – she examines what motivates other moms to start their own businesses, the challenges they overcome and resources to assist them in the planning and growth of their businesses.

The difference in a woman after she has had a baby is illustrated in the look of bewilderment at her baby shower and the look of achievement after she has given birth.

Giving birth and managing a household successfully after a baby has entered the equation is empowering for a woman. Many women harness this sense of achievement and make the decision to control their own lives, choosing to start their own businesses instead of returning to the daily grind of 9 to 5. Moms generally decide to work from home because they want to spend more time with their children and have flexible working hours. The reality can sometimes mean that they work much longer hours than they did when they were employees.

South Africa is a fantastic place to open a business, if you work hard you can do anything. There are many people, including the media, who are interested in what you do.” says Zimbabwean born Vicki Penfold of Bio-baba.

Vicky Penfold’s son tells his friends “my mom does something that saves the planet”. As the creator of Bio-baba eco-friendly non-disposable nappies, Vicky is passionate about environmental issues. The first production run of Bio-baba nappies was in 2004, and on Boxing Day of that very year she lost her brother and his fiancé to the tragic tsunami while they were holidaying on the Thai island of Phi Phi. A human tragedy and natural disaster of this magnitude made her realise how fragile the planet is, and while attending memorial services around the world in her brother’s honour she met many people who shared her belief that ‘this planet is in crisis’. It is for this reason that she continues the research and development of her nappy system long after her boys, now 7 and 4 years old, are out of them. Her product won her the Green Innovation Award in the household category in 2009. Motivation increases our wish to act because we are aware of the reward that we will get. The best kind of motivation for starting a business is internal, positive motivation – when you do something because you want to do it.

Many woman notice a niche in the market once they become moms. Carly Baar of Nutri-kids makes healthy, nutritious meals for babies and children from ages 6 months to 4 years – freshly frozen and delivered straight to clients’ freezers. She identified the need for great tasting healthy food when she started her eldest son on solids and made all his food herself. A friend then asked her to make food for her little girl, the word spread quickly and she began working on Nutri-kids part time. By the time her second son was born she was able to concentrate on Nutri-kids full time. Carly’s main challenge at the beginning was finding the right staff, until she found the right person her husband helped out in the kitchen and they often cooked until the early hours of the morning to meet deadlines.

The motivation for starting a business may come from the practical experience of life. Helen Leonard of Rent-a-Toy left a successful career in marketing to start her first business. Besides wanting to do her own thing because she ‘doesn’t take orders well’, her first born daughter’s continuous battle with common ailments in day care meant that Helen was out of the office at the clinic more often than she was at work. She needed to be able to be more flexible with her time. Helen is now selling that first profitable business, and concentrating her efforts on her second business Rent-a-Toy, which she started in early 2009. Rent-a-Toy is a toy library, where moms take out a membership and every month a box of quality toys is delivered to their doors. It was a service that she as a mom of two needed for own daughters, but she sat on the idea of Rent-a-Toy for a year before waking up at midnight one night and deciding to do it. Helen’s challenges in the first year included telling moms about her service and assuring them that the toys were all sterilised and safe. There were no competitors when she launched and she researched the idea from similar companies in overseas countries, she is now franchising throughout South Africa.

When Kate Polley and her sisters were young they watched their mom start up her public relations (PR) agency in their garage, and grow it into the largest agency in East London. This was a huge inspiration for her as she knew that running a successful business and balancing a family were within reach. Kate started Big Picture Strategic Brand Management and quickly learned to niche her service offering within the industry that she felt most passionate about, this resulted in her business growing exponentially. She is now in the position where she can be selective about her clients and has a stunning portfolio of clients in the tourism and lifestyle industry across South Africa.

A written business plan is required when seeking bank financing or investors. Lenders don’t invest to help you out, they invest to make money. They won’t even consider a business proposal without a written business plan. Every successful, growing business should maintain a current business plan.

Janice Probyn and her business partner had a basic business plan from the outset in 2006 when they started Tom and Bella Gifts and Goodies, a unique range of nursery linen and décor and new baby gifts, and visit this plan each year to adapt it to changing circumstances. When sales declined in 2009 due to the economic recession, they tightened their belts, simplified and streamlined their product lines and hung in there. Knowing that what you put in is what you get out and being patient while you are building the business helped them remain focussed during this difficult period. Janice says “If your priority is your children then your business will grow, but slowly.”

A business plan is beneficial even for a one person business. Often moms don’t do enough research and planning for their new venture, and fail to realise how much time and money it will take to make a success of the business. There is a continuous balancing act between work and home life; if the business activities are not thoroughly planned, running a business can become another thing that the mom is only half good at doing. This is demoralising. A plan will also prevent your business from growing too fast. The business should develop organically and allow you to keep up with, and be in control of, its growth.

Tanya Du Bois of Naturals Beauty, a locally produced natural and organic skin care range, wrote her business plan two years into her business after being advised by her book keeper who showed her the basic layout of a business plan. She believes it would definitely have been beneficial to have had a written plan from the start.

A business plan helps you examine your business analytically so that you can capitalise on the strengths, work around the weaknesses, take advantage of the opportunities and defend yourself against the threats. A written business plan allows you to develop your mission statement, discover your product or service’s unique selling point (USP), investigate your competitors, define your target market and manage your cash flow.

For a comprehensive guide to starting a business and writing a business plan, download the Cobalt Business Plan Book from Sanlam. This is an exceptionally informative and motivating online guide of close to 250 pages that constructively guides you through the process of starting a business.

The goals you set should be believable, clearly defined and measurable. Megan Green moved from a steady job as a buyer for a large retail chain to manufacture and distribute the Preggy Protector, a seatbelt repositioning device that protects the unborn child. She identified the need for the product while she was pregnant. Megan continued to work back her maternity leave, balancing her full-time work and motherhood with starting her business on the side. She faced a challenge when shops wanted stock on a consignment basis, making it costly for her as a manufacturer. Her lucky break came when she found a contact to introduce her product into major retailers. She advises moms to do their research thoroughly and never quit their job until the business is off the ground, as this takes twice as long as predicted.

Turn your To Do list into an Action Plan. This involves prioritising what needs to be done, delegating who is to do it and stating by when it should be done. Don’t ever use the excuse of having kids to your clients, be as productive as you can while the kids are with the nanny or at school so that you can be a little more flexible when they are at home. Your kids are your motivators that encourage you along the way and keep you going.

Effective time management is essential. Prioritise what needs to get done and stay focussed. Time is as valuable as money. Schedule meetings so that you don’t have to rush out of them to collect the kids. Set a daily agenda and have a cut off time to allocate time for the kids, but be prepared to work into night. “I don’t work set hours but I work longer hours than I did in the past” smiles Tanya Du Bois of Naturals Beauty. She also advises to get a [smartphone] for mobile business correspondence.

Take yourself and your business seriously. Your business needs to be visible all the time. To avoid creating a big splash and then disappearing, you need to have a marketing plan. The more people who talk to you, the more they can ask questions. Be open to all channels of communication to reach your target market because one person who is satisfied with your product or service will tell a group.

Mandy Kerr and Nicky Broxis of TeamWorks, a team development company, found that their biggest challenge in launching their business was convincing their first few customers that they had a good product despite their lack of references and the newness of the organisation. Once they had run a few events, they found that their best marketing tool was word-of-mouth and now most of their business comes from referrals.

Direct marketing can be very powerful. If your target market is small, you can personally introduce your business to potential customers. Open houses introduce people to a product or service in an informal setting and generate repeat business.

If your product is a completely new idea you will have to educate the public and change existing mindsets, which could potentially cost you in time and money.

Know what you want to achieve from your marketing efforts and find the best way to spend your marketing budget. A website is cost effective and can be managed for a few hundred rands a month. Optimise your online presence by constantly updating your website, writing a blog and create a mailing list for an electronic newsletter. To direct traffic to your website create a listing for your business on websites that are relevant to the business you offer, such as SA Kids on the Go and Cape Town Kids if your product or service is directed at other moms.

Tertiary education institutions around the country offer cost effective solutions for your business. Calvin Dorman is a business consultant and graphic design trainer who lectures at the Prestige Academy in Bellville, Cape Town, on a contract basis with the mission to empower young designers to meet the design challenges of business by working on real projects. In return for a good reference letter, and at no cost to your business, the students do the design work for your business within a three day turn around.

Publicity in mainstream media can reach a large audience, but advertising or paying a PR company for exposure can be costly for a small business. Make concerted efforts to get positive free exposure by maximising your PR efforts.

Exhibiting at expos is a good way of promoting your product to thousands of people. Examine the type of consumers who attend the show and whether their intention is information gathering or purchasing, before committing to the expense of exhibiting.

If it makes sense to focus on production and business management, then outsource your marketing and distribution.

Wendy Hinson created www.kidsforafrica.co.za as an online national business directory when her son was 3 years old. After trying for 6 years to conceive him and eventually being successful with fertility treatment, she was dropping him off at 7am and collecting him after work at 6pm – she felt that she was betraying herself and him. Her business has now extended to “mumpreneur” networking events.

Networking can happen in any situation. Ali McAdam and Heather Katz of The Lipstick Spin met at an interaction play group when their babies were 18 months old. They had similar interests and over 8 months the concept of offering an image consultant service evolved. They were both already giving advice to friends and friends of friends before formalising their services into a business. “It is all about you,” says Heather about the service they provide, “and a woman who is unhappy with herself is an unhappy wife and mother, and thus creates an unhappy family.” Heather and Ali want to work with everyone regardless of income bracket and charge by the hour, fitting into people’s budgets. They feel an emotional reward for being able to work with woman in different situations. They believe in doing your own public relations and are often asked to speak at local charity events as the guest speakers. In addition to their image consultant service, they run evening workshops. They have questionnaire forms and feedback forms and listen to their customers.

The biggest challenge for a small business is cash flow and the biggest mistake is seeing the money left in the bank at the end of the month as profit. Keep start up costs as low as possible. Heather and Ali used their own money and started out selling their time, which posed little risk and they didn’t have to employ anyone. Eight months later their business was strong enough to rent premises in a prime retail location and employ a PA on a part-time basis. They developed an essential range of clothing once the business was sustainable.

Nicky and Mandy of TeamWorks both planned to have their second children at the same time and they implemented a savings plan so that they could ensure that their monthly expenses were met even when there was no or little work being done.

A bank will only grant you a personal loan if you are permanently employed, and the loan is granted on affordability. Interest will depend on the amount loaned and the loan period. Business loans are done through the Business Department at Head Office, where the income over the last 6 months is analysed. Loan policies are governed by the National Credit Act.

There is a wealth of information on the internet on all legal and financial aspects of running a small business, the Department of Trade and Industry is a useful resource. Information regarding funding can be found on www.youthportal.org.za and there are other investor options available.

Many moms make a conscious decision not to borrow from a financial institution and turn to their families for short term financial support. Support also comes in the form of formal advice from family and friends in various professions. You may choose to live with family while you are growing the business. Eventually your business can contribute substantially to the running of the household.

There will be many challenges in the first year, as everything new is a challenge. In her first year of business, Tanya Du Bois was coping with the very challenging behaviour of her son, then 2 years old. Later that year he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His behaviour was so bad that she wanted to return to the office. However, with her parents’ “we can handle this” attitude and her mom’s hands on support with her son, she was able to continue with her business. She dealt with this challenge by reading extensively about Autism and went on courses to understand the condition; she developed a “can do” approach, persevered with Naturals Beauty, and this year she will be launching the first natural and organic teenage range in the country.

In the first year find good suppliers and build good relationships with them. Spend time defining your brand. If you do not have a background in the field that you want to operate in, you may have to sit up until midnight researching your product and industry. Little ones may find it hard to accept that “Mommy’s home but she’s working” and you will need a trustworthy care giver while you are taking care of business.

Linda Germishuizen is a clinical psychologist who left the corporate world to start her life coaching business in 1999 when her son was 3 years old. Her self confidence initially took a big knock when she was not earning what she had previously earned. She felt lonely, missing being part of the buzz of a business community. She has now been in private practice for 10 years doing personal growth work, and the biggest reward for her, besides fitting her work around her commitment to her son, has been to continually grow as a person.

There are many advantages to managing your own business. It allows you creativity, flexible hours and independence. You are not a number in a large corporation and are able to fetch your kids from school. The success of your business gives you a sense of achievement, and a successful business is something you can hand down to your kids.

You need to keep your faith in your business and idea. To do this you need self confidence. Often you will ask yourself “Why don’t I just go back to what I know?” Then you need support and encouragement from family and friends to sustain your self belief. If you love what you do, and believe in it – it will grow into something meaningful.

Persevere and have a realistic plan with realistic targets. Don’t expect to be raking in cash in the first few years, starting a business is a long term goal. Be open to criticism and advice, its easy to become hypersensitive because your brand and business is your creation, another baby.

Antoinette McDaid of Filament, a small home based advertising and design agency with clients as far afield as Dubai, suggests that you help your child to learn to play independently as soon as possible. While at 16 months her son can occupy himself paging through books and playing with loads of toys next to her desk, she still has many late nights to make sure she delivers top notch design work.

There is no room for negativity when running your own business; roll with the punches, learn from the minor setbacks and disappointments and move on. A business partner can offer help and support and will be someone to rely on and encourage you. Schedule ‘me’ time for yourself to do something you enjoy.

Whether you are working as an employee or for yourself, you will always have to deal with ‘working mom guilt’. But if you do feel that the business is taking you away from your children and you are neglecting them, remember that they were the reason that you decided to start your own business in the first place, and don’t feel guilty about letting go of the business. By over stretching yourself you will only diminish the quality of the time you spend both working and with your family. When its time to close the laptop, close it.

Have fun! Enjoy your children and your business. It is a real privilege to be able to have both. Develop your self love and believe in yourself and know that you are worthwhile and deserve a successful business and a happy family.

When Kate Polley is despondent with her business, she remembers the Chinese proverb of it taking a 1000 days to build a business. You need to be patient and persistent.

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