I became an entrepreneur in 1993, launching a business when I had no reason to believe I could do such a thing. I had absolutely no experience in the wholesale/retail/manufacturing world but lack of experience doesn't stop determined entrepreneurs. We takes risks and have an unusual sense of confidence or in my case, I refer to it as eternal optimism. It's just something that I was born with, I believe things will work out if you work hard and are persistent.
I worked diligently building this business from scratch and in a sense it was "my baby" until 1996 when our first son was born. I juggled both pretty gracefully, mainly because I had my husband by my side. Ron left his cushy job as a lawyer in 1995, when the business was growing so fast that I needed his help and business/legal expertise. Truth be told, I also needed a shipping clerk, logistics manager, accounting and insurance person. He seemed like the perfect hire for all of those aspects of business that gave me a headache.
Ron was happy to take that leap of faith although he went from having a secretary and a private office to working with me in the basement of our home... with my mom too. It was such a blessing for us to both work from home and be present for our kids. I always said, "Even if the business only lasts 7 years, then both boys will be in school full time and it will have been an amazing run."
We had recently re-located from California back to our native east coast in 1995. The business was booming, riding on the coat tails of an exploding personal care/spa industry. But this was the '90s, pre mobile and digital technology and home biz didn't have the cache and acceptance that it now carries. Everyone worked in an office or pretended to do so. We kept this facade of trying to look like a "real company" when we were working from our basement, with the kids and nanny coming back and forth while we spoke with buyers from big chain stores.
The business took shape, it grew from my "great idea" into a multi-million dollar business. We were selling product to all the big names in beauty/personal care like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Linens N Things, hundreds of small beauty stores/skin care salons, QVC and private labeling for H2O PLUS, Bath & Body Works, Estee Lauder, Bare Escentuals, Crabtree & Evelyn. We never aspired to build an empire, we just wanted to earn what my husband would have earned practicing law and have the freedom of working for ourselves. It was much better than that and much more fun. As we grew the biz our kids grew up around it for about 18 yrs. before we decided to end the business and move on with our next chapter. This happened at the same time that our oldest son was about to head off to college.
The business has taught me so much about life and parenting and it was always a step ahead of my kids so I could apply these business lessons to parenting. Deciding to end the business a few years before our oldest son turned 18 helped in my beginning to let him go as well. Of course, comparing my business to my child is comparing apples to oranges but there were helpful lessons from the business that allowed a more balanced perspective of this milestone.
10 Lessons My Business Taught Me That Helped Me As a Parent:
1. You don't have to know what you're doing before starting something. You can learn as you go.
'LAYG' (Learn As You Go) has been my own mantra since I started the biz. I had no experience with babies before our son arrived, but I felt comforted by the fact that I had that same feeling when I decided to turn my 'great idea' into a business. I learned everything by reading, asking, doing, making mistakes, being open minded and solution oriented. I'm still learning about parenting every single day. Business is much easier.
2. You Can't Control Everything.
In 2008, the economy tanked and business changed dramatically. We were having the time of our lives. Our business was a well oiled machine for 15 years and then out of nowhere... the recession. We had to quickly tighten the reigns and re-adjust.
With parenting, there are also many issues that I just can't control as well. There are outside influences, just like in business, that occur and you have to work around them rather than try to control them.
The teenage years often felt (and sometimes still feel) like I'm not in control but having that awareness has helped and I've learned to worry less. My younger son is now 16 years old and we allow him some freedom and independence. I can reach him via cell phone, but can't always know exactly what he's doing. I can track him via GPS (he knows that), but that still doesn't answer all the questions... I'm learning to deal with that. This is where my eternal optimism comes in again.
Having had the experience of analyzing with biz situations has helped with parenting issues; learning disabilities, friendships, academic pressure, sports, competition and the teenage issues of sex and drugs. It's so much more emotional than dealing with biz issues, but helpful to know that sometimes I need to step back and look with my entrepreneurial solution centric frame of mind.
3. There is a life cycle and then you have to let go.
Eighteen years after launching, our manufacturing contractor called to say they had been bought out and were moving their plant overseas. Having been a staunch advocate of Made in USA, I had no intention of following them outside the U.S. This was a fork in the road. We had about a years notice, so we kicked up production and thought about what we wanted. I had already written my book and was on an amazing journey of helping others follow their dreams too. I enjoyed my new life at the intersection of inspiration and social media. Like anything, it's easier to let go of something when you've got another thing lined up.
Manufacturing headaches had been commonplace and there were so many imitators and knock offs by this time and truth be told, my passion had waned. But letting go still wasn't that cut and dry. The business was still my baby. I created it out of nothing and built a life around it. I began to mourn the loss of the business, slowly dragging it out for a few years. I am officially closing it this year after 21 years. But it's easier now that in the meantime, our oldest son has turned 18, graduated from high school and has begun college. I see the life cycles more clearly and realize their importance.
4. You Can Shape a Business or Child Only Up to A Certain Point.
Both the business and the child started with a firm decision to commit. Both had to take the direction I led them in up to a certain point, and then they each became their own entity.
Kids can be shaped by our influences and our scheduling of activities but they grow up to be uniquely themselves. When my oldest son was eight he asked me to stop signing him up for sports classes, music was his passion and he was done with everything else. I listened and scheduled accordingly. He certainly was right, as he is now majoring in Music Production at college. I could still have forced the idea of sports and other activities, but I had learned about forcing issues through business. Things didn't work out well when I would keep pushing something through that was met with resistance over and over.
5. Patience Is Critical In Business and Parenting
I have a very fast paced personality. Yoga has helped me greatly over the years, but I still have to work on patience every day. In business, I would have an idea and want things implemented yesterday. I had no choice but to learn patience because when working with others, things move slowly and are determined by other factors besides my own personal goals. I learned to appreciate the waiting time and make better plans and consider things more carefully. I realized that when problems arose with parenting, I was much better off being patient and thinking about the situation rather than trying to force change immediately. The biz had taught me a thing or two about the benefit of patience and letting pieces fall into place in their own time. It's not easy but it's better.
6. You Can Have Balance
This has been a sticky topic of late, but IMHO, balance is attainable if you set (and continue to re-set) priorities on a daily/weekly basis and aren't hard on yourself for whichever way your energy was spent. I had achieved a good separation of the business and kids when they were little, mainly because it was before 24/7 technology took over.
Now, with mobile offices and technology, it's nearly impossible not to blend. You can check email during your kid's game (if you want to) or while waiting at your kid's dentist appointment. I believe that you have to do what feels right to you in order to accomplish your goals. There is no right or wrong way, just like starting a business.
7. Both Take a Village.
For the business, I had my sewing contractor, graphic designer, packaging company, fabric house, husband, mom etc. all helping to keep things afloat. With the kids, I was supported by my husband, mom, nanny, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches. I welcomed the support and neither the biz nor the kid could have become the success they are without all of those helping hands.
8. Communication Is Critical.
In the beginning of the business, I was a total rookie so it was important to ask questions. I got in the habit of communicating well with my customers, employees, contractors etc. When communication failed, mistakes were made and sometimes it was very costly. I've learned that the same holds true with the kids. Many times it's uncomfortable to discuss something, but when it's ignored, the problem grows. Keeping open lines of communication forms a long term bond of honesty and trust, important in both biz and kids.
9. Don't Get Obsessed With ROI.
In business, so many decisions are based on the bottom line yet ROI on many aspects of business always can't be measured. We always had a "customer is always right" policy and if there was ever a customer who needed something changed or whatever, we more than complied with their request. We may have lost money at the moment, but we kept a customer for the long run. With kids, sometimes they need tough love, which hurts at the time but down the road offered a good lesson. When you just do the right thing and focus less on the immediate ROI, the long term ROI can't be beat.
10. Re-Inventing Can Be Fun.
Now I'm excited to continue with my new biz adventures utilizing my career and life experience as a self taught entrepreneur to help others do the same. I've found joy in learning to create my own opportunities...that's all I've ever done. I'm a big advocate of goal setting and living a life doing what I love which makes working hard so much easier. As the old adage says, "Change is the only constant in life." I'm embracing it.
I've also changed with the times. I welcomed technology and now love blogging, social media and networking online. Social media has been a life changer for me. I have a robust and engaging online community that can't be beat for crowdsourcing, networking and having fun with #SocialTV. I'm always learning from my kids as they navigate life in a world where technology isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.
The business served as an amazing gift on so many levels. My oldest son will now take on a life of his own, full of knowledge about following his dreams. At the same time, now I begin to ease my grip on son #2 (16 years old).
Knowing that I've created something wonderful from scratch that turned out to be bigger and better than I ever imagined (both biz and kids), I'm confident that I can do it again in business. Fifty is the new 30, right?! I look forward to this new chapter in life, letting go and starting to create new opportunities again. I still have my eternal optimism and a whole lot more knowledge, wisdom and patience than I had 20 years ago.