By Melissa Shaw
You see it everywhere, from your community to your Facebook wall: More and more women are starting small or side businesses. Author and certified business coach Christy Wright, whose events and podcasts attract thousands of budding entrepreneurs each year, says women are in a perfect position to make that decision work for them and their family.
“One of the best benefits of working for yourself or starting a side business, small business, or working from home is you can build the business around your life vs. the other way around,” she says. “You can work when you want to, how you want to, where you want to. You get to set this business to anything you want it to be. What an incredibly powerful situation to be in, especially as a mom, when you already have so many responsibilities.”
It’s an opportunity more women are grabbing, but with it come challenges, which Wright seeks to help them conquer with her new book, Business Boutique.
“That was why I wrote my book, to help women navigate creating that space, creating that business and best practices,” she notes. “It’s not having too much to do that overwhelms us. Women: We’re drivers, we’re doers. It’s not knowing what to do. The whole book is to show you exactly what you need to do to win.”
It’s advice and experience Wright lives herself as a wife and mother to two sons under 2 and head of her own growing company: “I get it, I struggle with those same things! It’s continually evolving in my own life, and that’s one of the things that’s helping me coach others in this area: figuring out what’s right for you with your family, your season of life, and creating a life that you love and a schedule that is realistic.”
Business Boutique is Wright’s seminar of the same name, reproduced in book form for those unable to attend her 1- or 2-day seminars across the country.
“About four years ago, I started doing research on women and business, knowing I wanted to fill a need of helping moms turn their ideas into side and small businesses,” she says. “I did two years of research — focus groups, one-on-one interviews, surveys — that gave me the knowledge of the market in order to write the content that would be an event. We launched our first event in August 2015 and sold out 1,200 in Nashville.”
Two more events followed the next spring, attracting 3,200 women. “So what was research before we launched our event became proven in the actual market through a year-and-a-half of sell-out events,” she says. “That led to, ‘Now we need a book to reach more people who can’t come to our events.’”
In talking to and interviewing women, Wright says the same topics kept reappearing: “As I took notes — and I’m talking pages and pages and pages — the themes were glaring. They all said the exact same things to me with different words. I understand their concerns; I’m a mom, too. I know how vulnerable it is to put yourself out there in business, walk on a stage, and set yourself up to possibly be rejected. I feel that fear with them, I can empathize with them. But then I can also lead them out of that to give them practical application of how to still win and turn those challenges into opportunities.”
Despite the fact many prospective entrepreneurs are mothers, and may also hold another job on top of that, Wright says it’s not a concern about being overwhelmed that keeps many from taking a leap. Rather, it’s fear.
“For most of these women, that was the #1 thing that stopped them from starting their business or growing,” she says. “That fear turned into 1,000 excuses they used as justification for not doing it. And none of those were real reasons. It was always, ‘But what if I fail?’ or, ‘What if someone is already doing it better?’ or, ‘I’m not business-minded, I can’t do this.’ If you looked at the most successful people in business — and none of them were not scared — they all persisted anyway. They all stepped into their fear and did it anyway. The fact that fear would stop them in their tracks, and they would live a lifetime without leaning into their dream, was shocking. It made me sad, and it made me that much more fired up for ‘I’ve got to set them free from this fear.’”
Women’s unique business advantage — and weakness
Wright notes female entrepreneurs have a hard-wired advantage they can leverage in business.
“Women are, and research shows this, incredibly relational,” she says. “We value ourselves by our relationships: as a mother, sister, friend, fill-in-the-blank. Women also, as a generalization, are more emotional. We process the world through our feelings, our intuition. Research shows within the first 5 minutes of talking to a man, he’ll tell you, in some way, what he does. But within the first 5 minutes of talking to a woman, she’ll tell you how she feels. This is a language that we use, how we perceive the world.”
Putting that research into a business context reveals how women’s natural tendencies can affect their endeavor and become a strength or a weakness: “Because women are so relational, we are fantastic at customer service. It’s who we are. Women intuitively know how to care for others.
“Now, let’s look at the other side and how that’s a weakness. I want you to price your products and services according to what you’re worth, and I want you to sell your product and service with confidence. I want you to put yourself out there on the line and talk boldly about this business. OK, now we feel weird, uncomfortable. ‘I don’t know how to set myself apart without elbowing the competition out of the way,’ ‘I feel intimidated by this other mom because she’s doing it better,’ ‘I don’t want to charge that much because now I feel bad,’ ‘What if that mom can’t pay $25 for my product?’ ‘I feel guilty because I’m taking money from that mom.’ The very thing that is an asset is also a weakness. I spend an incredible amount of time talking about pricing, selling, how to protect yourself and set yourself apart from the competition, and giving them permission to win, realizing it’s not selfish, it’s smart.”
The key to work-life balance
Work-life balance is a huge issue for moms, and adding a business (or one on top of a part- or full-time job) would seem to make that already difficult challenge impossible. But Wright employs and advocates a simple rule to keep it under control.
“I don’t spend any time on things that are not important to me,” she explains. “I don’t say ‘yes’ out of guilt or obligation. I spend time on the most important things. Life balance is actually really simple: It means living from your values, doing only what’s important to you. When you start to do that you can be crazy busy, but you feel that sense of balance. That doesn’t mean your house is perfectly clean, that doesn’t mean your child doesn’t have a meltdown in the grocery store line. It just means you are using your most precious, valuable time only on what’s important to you. You know what those things are, you know what your priorities are, and you are present for them. When you’re with your kids, your phone is down, you’re present with them. When you’re working on your business, you’re focused on your business. You know what’s important and you spend time on those things.”
3 Keys to Running a Successful Home-Based Business
The lure of running a home-based business is attractive to many moms, one that would seemingly give them exactly what they need: a flexible schedule, working on their own time and terms. Yet that very flexibility can be their downfall.
Wright outlines three keys to doing it right.
“There’s a big mistake that people make when they start their own business at home,” she says. “They don’t set themselves up to win from home. They have this idea: OK, I’m going to start a home-based business. What happens is they think they’re just going to mesh and merge their life and parenting and family with the business, and it’s going to be really easy and fun. The reality is it’s not easy or fun because they do it that way. In order to be successful when working from home, you need three things that are really important, this is from experience and coaching others.”
1. You need a schedule. “You need working hours. You need to treat your business like a real job,” she explains. “It’s really tempting when you start a business to think, Oh I don’t have any boss to report to. I don’t have any annoying coworkers. I don’t have to go into the office. I can stay in my pajamas until 2 o’clock. But here’s what happens: Day after day, you’re in your pajamas until 2 o’clock. You feel unproductive. You’ve got orders, on top of laundry, on top of takeout food, on top of materials and supplies, and it begins to feel like the business is taking over your life, because it is.
You need working hours. What are the hours you clock in and go to work? And when you go there, you work, you get stuff done. And when you leave, you’re done working. You give yourself permission to be off work.”
2. You need a dedicated space. “This could be a home office. This could be a craft room, attic, or extra bedroom you turn into something. You need a dedicated space that when you go there, you work and when you leave, you’re off work,” Wright says. “This is important for several reasons: It keeps you organized. All of your work things go in that space. They don’t get mixed up with your life things: kids, toys, homework, and food. It’s also an important visual cue for your family. Your kids know: When Mommy’s in the office, Mommy’s working. We don’t bother Mommy. When Mommy’s out, then Mommy’s off work. Your schedule coincides with your space. During your working hours you go in this space and you get your work done. And when you’re off work you can leave that space and you have permission to be off work and be present with your kids and not constantly thinking, Oh, I’ve got more to do, more emails to send, more orders to fulfill. It gives you this sense of sanity and separation when working from home. If not, it can feel very, very chaotic.”
3. You need a shower. “You need to get ready for your day,” she adds. “Research shows we are more productive when we get ready for the day; we are more productive when we get dressed. I’m not saying you have to wear a button-up shirt and slacks, but you have to get ready. Treat it like you’re going out of the house. Take a shower, get ready as if you’re going to see people, and go into your office and sit down and work. Now, that’s not to say you can’t sometimes be casual and be comfortable, but when we stay in our pajamas, we’ve got sweatpants and a messy bun on our head, we go in that space, even if we have a space and a schedule, we don’t feel as good. We’re not as productive, we’re not as alert.”
Wright says a schedule, shower, and a dedicated workspace equal key mental preparation that will make home-based business women more productive in the long run.
“We produce more when we actually get ready for the day, even if you’re working from home,” she notes. “Make it a routine, that you begin to treat your business like a real job. When you do, you will get more done faster because you’re more productive. You still reap all the benefits from working at home. You are your own boss. You get to set your schedule. If you want to schedule your working hours after you walk the kids to school or before a workout in the afternoon, you can do that. If you have these three things, you set yourself up to be successful and have some sense of sanity vs feeling like you’re unproductive, scattered, and the business is taking over your life.”