5 Successful Entrepreneur Moms

When the economy got rough, these five women got tough by creating their own successful companies. Feel free to steal their secrets.

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Smart Strategy: Examine Success


Tammy Nelson, 36 and Nycole Pederson, 39

Eden Prairie, Minnesota

Business: Sassy Signs (sassysigns.com), publicity for yard sales and celebrations., launched February 2006

Investment: $25,000 for initial manufacturing

2009 earnings: Around $220,000 in sales

Sisters Tammy and Nycole, both stay-at-home moms, were feeling the pnch of rising prices and falling incomes. "My husband Kyle's bonuses and raises were cut, but our taxes increased," says Tammy, mother of Jake, 11, Abby, 7, and Isabella, 4. "The kids' extracurricular activities were costing a fortune," add Nycole, mom of Emily, 10, Jack, 8 abd twins Nathan and Tommy, 5.

Launch time: The two women were already hosting two garage sales a year, earning as much as $1,500 each time. They attributed the successes to their handmade signs, which said things like, "Your Treasure Awaits" and "UpScale ReSale." Tammy started thinking. "I had the idea, 'What if we marketed the signs?'" she says. The sisters took turns cold-calling manufacturers until they found one they felt they could work with. To put in the first order, they had deplete savings and max out credit cards. "It was terrifying," says Tammy, "but we believed we'd get our investment back and then some." They sold the signs on their website, advertised through YardSaleQueen.com and also posted samples, with ordering instructions, first at their local Party City, then Lowe's, Michaels and Hobby Lobby.

Payoffs: At first the sisters sent out orders from their basements, but the business grew so much that they now use a fulfillment center. The chain stores take a hefty commission for promoting the signs, so Tammy and Nycole began targeting catalogs and smaller shops, which demand less of a cut. Profits took a while. "In the beginning, nearly every penny of sales went toward production, advertising and paying down debt," says Tammy. But by devising new lines for special occasions and landing a big catalog deal Tammy and Nycole were finally able to pocket $10,000 each in 2009. With more people holding yard sales because of the economy, the sisters expect that 2010 will be a banner year. 



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Smart Strategy: Build on Experience


Janene Jaroscak, 46

New Albany, Ohio

Business: Trending Solutions (trendingsolutions.com), customer service and order fulfillment, launched July 2007

Investment: $12,000 for equipment

2009 earnings: Around $100,000

Three years ago Janene was logging killer hours as director of customer service for a medical supply company. The job left little time for husband Tom and son Nick, 12, but she felt she had no choice. "We needed my salary," she says. In early 2007, though, Janene was rushed to the hospital with chest pains, which turned out to be a rapid heartbeat exacerbated by stress. She soon returned to work but started thinking about another way to earn a living.

Launch time: Flying home from vacation a few weeks later, Janene chatted with her seatmate, a restaurant executive. She described her past experience setting up call centers; he told her how restaurants could use her talents to handle guest feedback. "I thought this was something I could do," she says. At home she went online and scouted call-center costs and fees, and realized she'd have to raid savings and might earn only half her corporate salary initially. But working from home would save the family $12,000 annually on clothing, commuting, and after-school childcare; plus her home work space would provide a tax write-off. She gave two months' notice and finalized her business plan, including a switch to servicing small businesses instead of restaurants. "Women business owners who can't afford full-time staff still need help answering phones and fulfilling orders," says Janene. She found her first two clients by lunching with local businesswomen, who referred her to others. "Word-of-mouth marketing, referrals, and social networking have been more effective than paid advertising," she says.

Payoffs: Today Janene assists mostly work-from-home moms. "It's particularly satisfying to help women build their companies," she says. She did so well that during the 2008 holiday season she had to work 24/7 packing orders and put prospective clients on a waiting list. After funneling half her earnings toward a bigger warehouse, she's now able to handle more business and afford staff. She doubled her income between 2008 and 2009. Best of all, she's off the heart meds and has more time with her husband and son. "We're a much more relaxed family now," she says. "I have better balance in my life."

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Smart Strategy: Follow a Passion


Saideh Browne, 38

New York, New York

Business: Impact Speakers Bureau (impactspeakersbureau.org), inspirational lecturers network, launched March 2006

Investment: $200 for marketing materials

2009 earnings: $87,000

When her hotel sales manager position became too demanding, Saideh left her job. She broke the news to husband Charles and sons Daqaan, 20, and Myles, 16. Then, she says, "My survival instinct kicked in, and I started brainstorming ways to make money."

Launch time: Saideh was already known for her inspiring speeches to young people at her church and other congregations. She'd been doing it for free but started charging whatever hosts could afford. When one paid $1,000, Saideh saw opportunity. "I realized I could make it work financially," she says. She quickly checked out other speakers' Web sites to see fees, hot topics, and who was hiring. Noticing that people often got repeat business from annual university events, she targeted colleges and specialized in leadership and diversity, subjects close to her heart and in high demand. She networked at college fairs and followed up by e-mailing all contacts. "Doors opened," she says. She now coaches new speakers for $45 per hour and runs an agency that books others for a 20 percent commission.

Payoffs: When the economy soured, Saideh started selling her motivational books. She connects with new people on Facebook every day and lets them know she's looking for engagements. She also publicizes colleagues' events. "You'll find that when you help others, they'll want to help you too," she says. Saideh increased her income by $26,000 in 2009, and expects to earn $250,000 this year. Plus, she says, "Every day, I get to do what I love."

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Smart Strategy: Target Hot Markets


Michelle Abt, 51

Stamford, Connecticut

Business: Balance Health Communications (balancehealthcommunications.com), develops Web sites and custom publications, launched September 2007

Investment: $4,000 for supplies and computer upgrades

2009 earnings: $105,000

A stay-at-home mom, Michelle needed to generate income when her husband's computer company lost business. But she was reluctant to give up afternoons with Andrew, 18, Olivia, 15, and Matthew, 12. She and a friend, Nicky, had been talking about starting a health business together.

Launch time: One day, sitting in her dermatologist's waiting room, Michelle saw patients signing up for an e-newsletter. "I realized we could produce these for busy doctors," she says. "I called Nicky and said, 'I've got it!'" then pitched the doctor during the exam. She agreed to look at a proposal. In a week they landed the job. "My dad said, 'Tell people you can do it, then figure out how,'" says Michelle. While working for a hospital client, they saw an opportunity to help doctors create Web sites. The company is now a full-service health marketing firm, also offering all kinds of printed materials and arranging community events.

Payoffs: It took a while to learn what to charge. "We didn't cover expenses with our first client," says Michelle. They got savvier. And as medical records and communications become more computerized, she believes more MDs will need a Web presence—and her services.

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Start-Up Sites


SBA (sba.gov): Small business resources and links to training and counseling in your community.

SCORE (score.org): Free guidance from former business execs.

Mompreneurs (mompreneursonline.com): Articles, blogs, and message boards for entrepreneurs who are also mothers.

Ladies Who Launch (ladieswholaunch.com): Nationwide workshops and networking events.

Mommy Millionaire (mommymillionaire.com): Advice for product inventors.

Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.