Local moms transform an idea into an income

When Tina Koral had a health scare in 2003, she swore that if she ever had kids, she would not leave them in someone else’s care to go to a job she hated. Fast-forward nine years, and she doesn’t have to. Now mom to a 2- and 4-year-old, she owns Tina Koral Gardens, a landscape design business out of her Glen Ellyn home.

Advice from the trenches

  • Harness the power of Facebook, but be aware of the downside.
    While social media can be great free advertising, it can also make
    it easier for others to copy your work.
  • If you choose to work with a partner, try to find someone that
    complements what you do. It is easier to divide and conquer than to
    argue over every issue because you’re both good at the same
  • Start small, keep overhead low and test your idea before you go
    full steam ahead.
  • Have an excellent support system in place so if a client
    meeting coincides with bath time, you know the kids are OK.
  • Contact the Small Business Administration (sba.gov) or SCORE
    (score.org) for free resources. Join professional organizations in
    your industry to connect with mentors and listservs to help you
    through the hiccups.
  • Learn how to delegate. Don’t try to do everything yourself.
    Some things, such as website functionality and business tax
    returns, are best left to the experts.

She hopes she never has to go back to the 9-to-5 grind.

Koral is just one example of how moms are leaving jobs to start a business so they can stay home with their children and earn an income at the same time.

“Even in this economy, entrepreneurship is on the rise,” says Alexandra Levit, an Oak Park mom, bestselling author and workplace expert. “People don’t see job security in a regular job, as they are often doing the work of three laid-off co-workers. They want to make their own destiny.”

Even as the economy improves, Levit doesn’t expect to see entrepreneurship declining.

“It’s the American dream to be your own boss,” she says. “It’s an extremely appealing concept.”

Moms often make good businesswomen because they have big networks, can prioritize and are good at multitasking. Ironically, sometimes all you need to do to run a successful business is follow the same rules you set for your children:

Play nice in the sandbox

Henna Raza is a party planner and mom of two in West Chicago. What started out as arranging flowers for friends has blossomed into Professional Party Planners, a business with a showroom in Carol Stream and nearly 4,000 fans on Facebook. In five years, Raza and her partner, Lala Enver, have established great relationships with scores of vendors so that everyone plays nice in the sandbox.

“With experience, you get to know people in the industry, so if something goes wrong, you have backup,” Raza says. “If a photographer falls sick on the day of a wedding, I can call four others who are equally good. It is crucial to work with other vendors and not work against them.”

Do your homework

After a career in the art museum world, Sarah Nelson was ready for a career swap when her children came into the picture. The Chicago mom had her aha! moment when a friend asked her to organize a laundry room. Nelson spent the next year training and researching the organizing business, establishing Less is More Organizers in February 2011. More than a year and scores of satisfied clients later, she feels her grand experiment is working for her and her children, 5 and 2.

“Before you begin, interview someone in a similar business,” Nelson suggests. “Take them out for coffee. People love talking about themselves and can give you a lot of advice.”

Levit says many people don’t understand what it takes to start and run a successful business.

“You need to be self-disciplined and risk-tolerant,” she says. “Initially it may be many more hours than a regular office job. Only once you grow will the balance eventually come.”

Levit suggests conducting surveys or giving out samples to neutral people to figure out if an idea is a good one.

Try new things

Just as moms encourage their kids to try a new sport or a new food, sometimes they need to try something new, too. After more than a decade as a respiratory therapist, Gilberts mom Habiba Hanif was happy to stay home with her three kids-but she also wanted some me-time away from diapers and bottles.

“While some people go to the spa to relax, I started baking and decorating cakes,” Hanif says. “That’s my special time.”

Without any formal instruction, she began making cakes for her own children and soon started getting orders. Suddenly Cakes N More by Beebz was open for business.

“To all mompreneurs on the fence, I would like to say, just go for it,” Hanif says. “Even if you don’t succeed, you won’t regret not trying.”

However, Levit cautions that sometimes a hobby needs to remain just that; it doesn’t need to replace your day job immediately.

In her book Blind Spots, Levit says holding down a job that provides a consistent paycheck, health and retirement benefits and pursuing a passion in their free time can make better sense for some people.

Be a good listener

Before a bride transforms into Bridezilla, Raza makes sure she is comfortable letting the professionals do the job.

“Once they trust you, they will start letting go and not micromanage,” Raza says.

Nelson agrees that listening is crucial. Even the most organized space can be useless if it is not intuitive to the client.

“They need to know where to find their stuff,” Nelson says.

Put your things away

Koral loves her cheery home office, formerly known as the spare bedroom.

“I love not having to commute,” she says. “There is a disadvantage, though. I usually have my designs and lots of art supplies lying around. Once my daughter ‘colored’ a design that I … had to present the next day. I pulled an all-nighter to redo it and now put away anything that looks too tempting to toddlers.”

Hanif has had to bake another cake on more than one occasion when her kids, 5, 3, and 2, take a bite from an order their mom has been working on for close to 10 hours.

Dream big

Hanif dreams of having her own bakery in three years when her kids go to school full time. Raza wants to open another showroom for her business and branch out to corporate clientele. In five years, Nelson wants to have employees to share the workload so she can focus on other revenue streams like webinars and e-books. Koral wants to use her experience to help combat hunger in Chicagoland. She dreams of starting a nonprofit that helps needy families grow their own food.

Avoid the ‘All work,no play’ pitfall

Working your business around the clock can make even the most focused mom irritable. While the flexibility of not having someone look over your shoulder can be liberating, it also can mean working more hours than a regular job if you don’t draw the line.

Koral and Raza plan vacations during the winter months when there are fewer gardens to design and fewer weddings to plan.

Nelson believes she can find more clients for her organizing business, but says she deliberately has kept part-time hours.

“If my business takes over my life, it will defeat the purpose of starting it,” she says. “I make it a point not to check email when I’m having a tea party with my daughter, and I plan on keeping it that way.”

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