May 2017

Mompreneurs: Growing Families and Building Businesses

Author: Lynnie Leavenworth

It’s worth noting that it wasn’t until a generation of women, said to be the most highly educated, with the greatest professional opportunities in all of history, emerged from the stormy 1960s, that women could even envision having it all: marriage, children, career. Empires built by pre-baby boomer women were almost never run by women experiencing the joys of motherhood alongside their careers. Fashion icon Coco Chanel and cosmetic giant Elizabeth Arden grew businesses during the early and middle of the twentieth century that generated great wealth and fame. They did not, however, have children. During the peaks of their careers, business was truly a man’s domain, and on occasion, both women spoke of having a family as a distraction they could not entertain if they intended to continue working.

As family structures and personal economies made it easier, and often necessary for women to work outside the home, the convergence of baby boomer/generation X women with millennial women created a burgeoning business culture, veritably bursting with mom entrepreneurs, or “mompreneurs.” And nowhere is that trend thriving more than here in the Lowcountry, where it seems not a week goes by without Facebook, Instagram, or the Chamber of Commerce announcing a new business opening its doors—enterprises owned by creative, women entrepreneurs, many of whom are also raising families.

A casual definition of entrepreneur is, one who organizes an enterprise, usually with a considerable amount of work, and an equal, if not greater measure of risk. So, why are these women putting in all the energy and all the hours needed to create something new, and something with a great deal of uncertainty? Work-life balance is the answer, and the number one reason American women start their own businesses, says a study reported in The Huffington Post. According to entrepreneur.com, 58 percent of women identify themselves as entrepreneurial, and 50 percent of millennial moms plan to start their own business someday; identifying that the work-life balance they are trying to achieve is heavily influenced by the children in their lives.

“I always come back to what’s important and why I started this, and it’s for my girls,” said Lissy Rawl, mompreneur, owner, and creative dynamo behind the wildly popular jewelry and accessory company little fish Boateak, based on Hilton Head Island. With daughters Woodley, 7, and Willa, 4, it can sometimes be a struggle. “My oldest daughter has times when she wants Mommy to be Mommy and not a jewelry maker. It’s been a hard balance, because I work from home; everything is in the garage, and it’s hard to step away from it when it’s constantly right there. I’m so busy, and if I stop, it’s not going to get done. It’s hard to multitask everything.”

“I feel lucky every day to do what I do because I can set my own schedule,” said Heather Quinn, mompreneur, and owner of the charming lifestyle boutique Louette, located in Village at Wexford on Hilton Head Island. Mom to Ella Grace, 3-1/2, and Rose, 17 months, Quinn, like Rawl spends most days with her children. “I am really proud that they know Daddy goes to work and they know Mommy goes to work. Owning a boutique sounds so much more glamorous than it is. I feel extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing, but I almost hope that what they learn from this is that hard work is hard work, whether you’re selling a dress or laying tile. My hope is that as young women they can know that good things come to those who work hard.”

Like many mompreneurs with young children, Quinn’s girls are regulars in her shop. “I have Ella Grace and Rose in the shop with me throughout the week,” she said. “Ella Grace has been practicing saying, ‘Welcome to Louette.’ She’s kind of taking ownership of Louette now, which has been good, because she definitely fights going into the store sometimes”—a phenomenon frequently shared by mompreneurs, whose children learn about practicing patience and good behavior while mom is doing business, whether in a shop or restaurant, in a meeting, or on the telephone.

Most mompreneurs experience similar rewards and alike failings as they navigate their tightly-knit-together personal and professional lives. “They see me struggle a lot, too, as a business owner,” Quinn said. “For as many successes as we have, I can’t really shield them from the days that are super stressful, or when things do fall apart. I think in a lot of ways it’s showing them how to deal with real life, hopefully.”

Being a successful mompreneur requires more than creativity and a seemingly endless supply of energy. Like many entrepreneurial moms, for Rawl and Quinn it also takes husbands who support their visions, sometimes putting in extra hours helping with accounting or inventory or hanging shelves and laying floors, or taking care of the children, or simply being there when the going gets tough. After a few years of treating little fish Boateak like a hobby, “my husband said, ‘It’s time to make it an official business,’ Rawl said. “I went and got trademarked. I went to SCORE with the Chamber. I got linked up with two amazing mentors who have really helped take my creative brain and organize it into a business. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. It’s hard to wear all these hats.”

Something outstanding mompreneurs have in common is the understanding that they cannot be expert at everything, and that tapping into the experience and expertise across generational lines only strengthens everybody. Having some of those boomer/gen X entrepreneurs in their circle of mentors and inspirational guides provides support on many levels for Rawl, Quinn and their millennial mompreneurs counterparts as they strive for that work-life balance.

Millennial and baby boomer/gen X mompreneurs have more in common than they realize and can complement each other beautifully in the workplace. Millennial entrepreneurs have a confidence that studies have shown may wobble a bit when they become mothers who also want to build businesses. Boomer mompreneurs are empathic guides, because they have been through it, and despite having a great deal of experience, knowledge, and connections, they also experience their own share of wobbling when pressed by the millennials’ fast-moving, tech-savvy approach to business. Bridging the experience-knowledge-life-skills gap provides mompreneurs with a powerful hand to play in business, because when they lean on, rather than push against each other, mompreneurs of all ages strike that sweet spot of work and family life.

Mompreneurs are setting up their lives and their businesses to be present and influential as their children grow. “Both of my girls are extremely creative,” Rawl said. “My oldest helps string beads whenever she wants to try. I let her play around with it. She wants to be an artist. I’m always happy to let them hop in and play around with the beads, and I have extra beads that I set aside and let them make whatever they want.” These are the kind of interactions mompreneurs point to as the holy grail of their quest; whether it is sandwich making or bead stringing, or scheduling the day to allow for chaperoning a field trip, being involved is the goal. “I always want to play an active role in their lives. Again, I really and truly want to be a role model to them and show them they can be whatever they want. But I do want to be a huge part of their lives. And just maybe I’m growing a baby that I hope I can leave to them and that they could enjoy.” 

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