By Ellen Bari
As one can imagine, Having Your Baby and a Business Too, is fraught with endless challenges. The group of mompreneur panelists gathered by Babybites Brooklyn and In Good Company Workplaces reiterated that time and again, first when talking about finding the right balance between baby-time and work time and then when talking about juggling husbands, financial concerns, child care, etc. The panel featured four Brooklyn mompreneurs who have started their own businesses, in an attempt to meet their creative, professional and family needs, all within the past four years. Panelists included Hannah Macdonald, co-owner of Bump Maternity, Miriam Milord, owner of BCakeNY, Lakey Evans-Pena, owner of MightyMamas and Williamsburg Movement & Arts Center and Desiree Detoy, owner of Chavella’s.
Desiree Detoy, opened one of Prospect Heights’ favorite restaurants almost four years ago. She and her business partner/husband, had a keen sense about starting small and growing organically. By relying on the financial support of family and friends, having found a space where the rent was manageable even before they would see any income, the couple was able to get the business up and running at their own pace. Once the restaurant opened, they opted for low-key word of mouth advertising versus spending lots of money on marketing. They felt this would give them time to get the kinks worked out before the crowds started rolling in. They were right. The restaurant is a success, and now they are looking to add another location. Desiree, a font of information about everything from legal business structures to how to get a business plan done, eloquently described the importance of knowing yourself before undertaking your own business. The realities of working solo, at home, every day, are not for everyone. “The dog saved my life,” she exclaimed with a huge smile. Desiree finds her daily bliss by taking the baby and the dog to the park early in the morning. This affords her quality time with her little one, fresh air and social time with the other dog walkers. By 10:00 AM, she’s ready to hand the baby over to the nanny, sit down at her desk, and dig in for a long work day. The biggest challenge is that running a restaurant is a 24/7 undertaking, and with her husband on-site, she does sometimes find she has to step-up to the mommy plate, even when it’s not her turn at bat.
Miriam Milord, whose cupcakes and baked goods are not only beautiful to look at, but truly luscious, said it took her two years to figure out how to separate mommy-time from work time. She realized that doing both simultaneously, was not benefiting anyone, and has decided to make clear distinctions between the two. Of course more time with baby during the day could mean very long work nights, but that does feel like her prerogative, and at the end of the day, that IS one of the things most momprenuers would agree on. Having some control over their time, without having to answer to someone else, offers a degree of satisfaction and freedom that makes it all worthwhile. Miriam said that by learning to delegate, and taking her perfectionist tendencies down a notch, she has been able to function much more efficiently. She can now look at a less-than perfect situation and say, “if it looks good, and my child is doing well… let it go.” Miriam believes that finding good advisors and developing a solid business plan, and are the keys to being a successful entrepreneur.
Hannah Macdonald, co-owner of Bump Maternity, a Park Slope retail outlet for fashionable maternity clothing, echoed the importance of writing a good business plan. Hannah also gave us a more sobering glimpse into the realities of a running a business, in an economic climate that is not only out of control but also hard to predict. Flexibility is the key to their success thus far. Her partnership with SaSaDi Odunsi, the seeds of which started at a mommy and baby yoga class with their sons, has made it possible for each of them to have a life…and a store. When asked about the greatest challenges she has faced with running a business, Hannah said, “there’s nothing harder than parenthood, and I believe if you can do that, you can do anything.”
The fourth panelist, Lakey Evans-Pena, is the owner of MightyMamas and most recently Williamsburg Movement & Arts Center, a dance center for children and adults that is about six months old. Lakey credits her ‘phenomenal’ support system for her ability to build this new business. Between her husband, sitter, (who doubles as her office support person while the kids are otherwise taken care of) and mother across the street (who facilitates date-night every Friday night) Lakey is able to focus on getting her dream off the ground. Lakey was aware that her dance teachers are critical to the success of the whole operation, so she sat them down before she even started and said, “Only say YES if you mean it!” Lakey continues with her private training clients, while working to make the movement and arts center a viable business that will support the family. For Lakey, as well as all of the panelists, working within a community is not only rewarding but also keeps them on the straight and narrow. They each mentioned the fear of walking down the street and feeling embarrassed by seeing someone who has had a bad experience with their services. “Doing something in the neighborhood for the community is rich,” says Lakey, whose dance studio is already buzzing with friends of neighbors of friends of neighbors.
The panelists had quite varied responses about how much they recommend involving husbands, from not at all to relying on them for key services. One panelist had the advantage of having a built-in web designer at home, while another was lucky to have a key financial consultant living under the same roof. Still others opted to involve their partners far less.
On one thing, they all seemed to agree. Fear and worry, can kill a great business idea before it has a chance to see the light of day. They each strongly advised against allowing fear to keep you from trying. I would say that as a group, the panelists’ message was loud and clear: know yourself, do your research, get good advice and then go for it! Thus far, they have all found, that the challenges of running one’s own business, even with a baby at home, are worth the ride.