Starting and running a business is tough. And it’s even tougher when you’re raising a family at the same time. But that’s exactly what a growing number of women are doing. These women — who call themselves “mompreneurs” — are juggling the tasks of parenthood along with the responsibilities of running their own business, and they’re an increasing part of the 8 million-plus women-owned businesses in the United States.
It’s a trend that’s expected to continue. Women entrepreneurs in this country are projected to create more than 5 million new jobs by 2018 — more than half of the new jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to be created in that time, according to the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute.
Three women with successful Princeton-based businesses will talk about their experiences as mompreneurs at the Princeton Public Library on Monday, November 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the community room. The event is cosponsored by the library and JobTalkForAll.
Speaking are Hilary Morris of Hilary Morris Public Relations; Mimi Omiecinski of Princeton Tour Company and princetonblacksquirrel.com; and Molly Vernon of Luxaby Baby & Child boutique.
Morris describes herself as “a PR girl, event planner, digital marketing consultant, blogger and influencer, and a WAHM (short for work at home mom).” She graduated from Bucknell University in 2001 with a degree in education and taught middle school math for several years, leaving education when she realized she could develop a business around her blogging and social networking skills.
Her leap into entrepreneurship coincided with the birth of her first daughter in 2009 — the same year she launched her own public relations firm. Morris now has a new blogging site focusing on fashion for little girls — afancygirlmust.com — and also offers a variety of public relations and social media services. She also teaches and speaks on social media.
Before her life as a mompreneur, Omiecinski — originally from Nashville, Tennessee — worked in healthcare marketing and sales after graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1988. She moved to Princeton in 2006 when her husband relocated to the home offices of Johnson & Johnson.
Enamored of her new home, she parlayed her interest in Princeton’s history, houses, and buildings into a new business venture. Princeton Tour Company originally offered biking tours of the area but later morphed into guided walking tours, bus and canoe tours, and pre-recorded self guided tours. She has a 10-year-old son named Stosh.
Vernon, the mother of two pre-teen girls, says on her website — mompreneurdays.com — that she started Luxaby Baby in 2009 with the idea of combining her favorite designers of classic children’s clothing and gifts into a cohesive collection.
“I had a hope that over the next five to six years it would grow into an online website, trunk show business, and possibly even a retail store one day,” she said. Less than a year later she had accomplished all three, with her Luxaby Baby & Child store on Hulfish Street as the centerpiece.
“In a time where most people were closing shop I took a huge risk and opened a high-end retail children’s store in one of the worst economies we have seen in decades,” Vernon said. “By some miracle (and a lot of luck) it worked but not without making many mistakes along the way and having a very steep learning curve on what it takes to run a successful business.”
“My advice to all moms thinking of starting their own business is that it will be harder than you think but when you stay true to your vision and your passion than you will get back from it more than you imagined,” Vernon says. “Stay true to yourself and your passion and don’t let critics alter your course.”
A graduate of Dickinson College, Vernon worked as a kindergarten teaching assistant at the Hewitt School in New York, and has also published a children’s book, “Luxaby Lily.”
In her blog, Vernon offers tips to those looking to start their own business.
Analyze Need. “Is the market over-saturated with your product or is there a need for it somewhere?” she asks. “There was not one classic children’s clothing store in the area where I lived so I knew I had something different to offer that would appeal to my target customer.”
Take advantage of opportunity. Vernon says that as a new, unknown store, top designers would not have given her a chance to carry their lines if it had not been for the poor economy and the fact that stores were buying less of their clothing.
“This was the perfect time to come into their lives,” she says. “A fresh new store was looking to buy their clothes. They needed to take some risks, and fortunately I was the risk they were willing to take.”
Create an online presence. Vernon said she created her website — www.luxabybaby.com — to promote merchandise and make it accessible to people who were not living nearby. “What better way for everyone to see these amazing clothing lines than a great website which showcases the clothing and gifts? Through word of mouth — and friends forwarding the link to friends — the online portion of my business started to pick up and spread all over the country.”
Use social media According to Vernon, social media is a huge, but underutilized, marketing tool. “Now that I had a website and a pretty good customer base with my trunk shows, the next step was to market it all. Facebook and Twitter are free social media tools that give you the ability to create and market yourself the way you want.”
She says the personal connections business owners can build through social media sites are invaluable because they “create a loyal customer fan base where they feel like they know you already when they walk into the store or purchase from your online store. I love seeing other moms out there promoting themselves and definitely feel a strong urge to support them the way they support me.”
Everything is negotiable for what you want. “Don’t ever be afraid to ask for something,” Vernon says. “The worst they can say is no. Let’s face it, there is nothing that is not negotiable nowadays: rent, website charges, shipping charges — you name it. In the beginning, every dollar counts.”
Don’t bash the competition. “Make nice with those doing exactly what you are doing,” Vernon says. “I have never, nor will I ever, bad-mouth another store in order to make mine seem more appealing.
“If you truly believe in your store and believe in what you are selling there is no reason to bad mouth the competition,” she says. “People shop at your store because they love your store. The customer will decide where they want to shop — you don’t decide for them.”
She suggests that new business owners introduce themselves to the owners of similar businesses. “See what they have that you don’t offer and send people there when they are looking for something you don’t have. Believe me, they will do the same back to you and everyone wins then.”
Advertise everywhere, then evaluate your options. “In the first year of your new business it is so important you budget enough to advertise in every single media outlet,” says Vernon. “Newspapers, magazines, social media, school auctions, radio, etc. After one year of this you will get a feel of what really brought people to your store. Many people will say how they heard of you and be sure to take note of that.”
At the one-year mark you should cut back on advertising, using only the ones that had good results. “Focus on those in a big way,” she says. “Buy the full-page ad in the one magazine that worked the best instead of all those quarter-page ones you were putting in everywhere. I started out with close to 25 different advertising venues and am down to five, which work the best for my particular store.
Finally, she advises that no matter how tough things get you should be resilient. “Never ever ever give up. Don’t take no for an answer when you believe in something so strongly.”
As an example, Vernon says that when she wanted to open a store, she had spent months negotiating with a leasing agency that ultimately refused to rent her space because another children’s clothing store had recently closed in the area.
“I drove to their offices that afternoon with print-outs that I handed to every person in that room with reasons one through ten why they were making a huge mistake and why I believed in my vision,” she says. “I read through that list emphatically stating in each point why what I was doing was different than anything that had been done before and would not fail.”
“Perhaps they gave in to me because they were sick of having me come to their offices over and over again, or perhaps the old-school handouts did the trick,” says Vernon. “Either way 24 hours later that storefront was mine, and the rest is Luxaby Baby & Child history.”