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Mom Incorporated

These women dared to start their own businesses. They’re momtrepreneurs!

By Susan Hayes | null , null

It seems everyone has fantasized about starting a business at some point. Maybe you long for a flexible work schedule. Perhaps you have a brilliant idea for a product or service, or dream of making a few—or a lot of—extra bucks.

Whatever your motivation, starting your own business doesn’t have to be a fantasy. As many as half of the 10 million women-owned businesses in the United States belong to entrepreneurs who are moms, estimates Pat Cobe, co-author of Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Practical Guide to Work-at-Home Success. And believe it or not, despite the less-than-stellar economy, many experts say now is the time to start a business. While financing is harder to come by, “the materials you need to make products are less expensive, people are more open to negotiation, and some services are actually more in demand,” says Jill Salzman, known as the Momtrepreneur Maven. Here, we introduce you to five momtrepreneurs who successfully launched or expanded their businesses in tough economic times.

Heather Brown and Ruthanne Eberly
Maid Naturally (
Spokane, WA

The “Eureka” moment: In 2006, Heather Brown’s best friend, Ruthanne Eberly, was hunting for a part-time job, but couldn’t find anything that wouldn’t conflict with caring for her three children. So Eberly and Brown, a stay-at-home mom herself with two children, decided to try cleaning houses.

Vowing to use only all-natural cleaning products, they called their business Maid Naturally. They pooled $300 and used it to purchase cleaning supplies, aprons, and their business license. Next they placed local ads and put up fliers. Soon they had 10 houses to clean.

Overcoming obstacles: Faced with a waiting list, they hired two employees in 2007. “We thought everyone knew how to clean like we did, but we had many customer complaints,” recalls Brown. So they developed a company training program. Now they have 10 employees cleaning 180 houses per month, and complaints are rare.

Secret to success: “We’re really detailed,” says Brown. How detailed? The pair made their own all-natural cleaning products in Eberly’s kitchen that they say work better than others they were using. The Maid Naturally line is now in 27 different stores.

Advice:“Don’t expect everything to be perfect at first. Come up with something, put it together, try it, and improve from there,” says Brown.

Crystal Pollard
Bellies to Babies (
Richfield, MN

The “Eureka” moment: When Crystal Pollard was pregnant with her son, Avery, a little over three years ago, she was shocked at the price of maternity clothes. “I didn’t want to pay full price for something that I was going to wear for such a short time,” Pollard says. But thrift shops, for her, felt “icky.” And so the idea for Bellies to Babies, her store that sells “gently stretched clothing for mamas and babies-to-be,” was born.

Overcoming obstacles: In 2008, after a few years of researching and buying up secondhand maternity clothes, Pollard was ready to open a store, only to find she couldn’t get a loan. Her fiancé suggested using their garage. They placed an ad on Craigslist and women flocked to their weekend sales.

They then got a small line of personal credit and signed a lease on a storefront last fall. Now, the store is open seven days a week and has two part-time employees.

Secret to success: “It’s a much-needed business, especially when people are looking to save every dollar,” Pollard says.

Advice: “Having a good support system is huge,” says Pollard. “My fiancé is as much a part of the store as I am.”

Laura Varn and Julie McWherter
The Azula (
Charleston, SC

The “Eureka” moment: Four summers ago, Julie McWherter got tired of her swimsuit snagging on the pool’s edge as she got up to care for her kids. When she found nothing out there to solve this, she and her sister Laura came up with the idea of a fashionable, water-resistant mat to sit on at poolside.

Varn, a full-time working mom of two, and McWherter, a stay-at-home mom of four, sought advice from several sources. The start-up costs, including developing a prototype, designing a website, and applying for a patent, weren’t cheap. “We put in $10,000 each,” Varn says.

Overcoming obstacles: Developing a prototype took a year and a half. Varn and McWherter tested six or seven materials before selecting neoprene—the material used in wet suits. Then it took four months to find an ink that didn’t melt the neoprene, smudge, or run.

They officially launched the Azula (from the Spanish word for “blue”) in February 2008. It’s clearly fulfilling a need. “Last year at this time we were in 7 states. Now we’re in 25, plus a national catalog,” says Varn.

Secret to success: “People are looking for gifts right now that are unique and functional for under $20,” says Varn. The Azula fits the bill; it’s available on their website for less than $15.

Advice: “Be very specific about who your target audience is,” says Varn.


To learn more about how to start your own business, click here.

About the Author

Susan Hayes is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is the co-author of 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child.

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