IT MAY SEEM A DREAM TO BUILD AND MANAGE A BUSINESS AT HOME so you can keep your kids close and give them the care only a mother can provide. But it’s not easy juggling a full-time-plus job as an entrepreneur and the 24/7 job of raising a family.That’s why the success of four Madison-area mompreneurs is so inspiring. They’ve managed to launch professional passions and create profitable businesses from home. And, though most of their businesses have outgrown their home offices, they still reap the ultimate payoff: Being able to be home when it counts most.Forrest Voedisch, Jennifer Conn, Nicki Maynard and Jennifer Dutcher credit parenthood for unexpectedly tipping them into the entrepreneurial world. And, amazingly, they are able to balance both jobs and still thrive. To be sure, it isn’t always easy. But they’ve all developed the resiliency they need to manage the obstacles and keep their eyes on the prize: their kids. And, they’ve gained what they call the biggest reward—flexibility—which helps them try to do it all.
And that means taking care of themselves, as much as their families.
“My goal is to be a happy mommy, versus being a perfect mother,” says Voedisch. “In order to do that, I need to have my own time. I need to take care of myself. That can be done in so many different ways.”
For these four women, it’s done through hard work, late nights and lots of juggling. But the results extend far beyond a new brand name and a self-made paycheck.
“[Being an entrepreneur] pushes me to face challenges,” says Conn. “I’m a more confident person as a result.”
These mompreneurs are also teaching their kids that anything’s possible. “In school, they’re taught ‘this is what you have to learn and know,’” says Conn. “They’re not given space to explore their gifts. That’s the message my husband and I continually give them: You can be in charge.”
When it comes to balancing career and family, mompreneurs are proof that maybe you can have your cake and eat it, too.
FORREST VOEDISCH & JENNIFER CONN
Getting the business off the ground was also much more emotionally stressful than either of them had anticipated. Voedisch and Conn credit two essential skills for getting them through those days: prioritization and letting go. “Letting go of perfectionism, not caring that the house is a mess… you have to practice it,” says Conn. “It’s like a yoga practice.”
To date, the women have sold more than $1 million of product.
But it was never all about the money. Voedisch and Conn say their true measure of success is that they’ve managed to create a brand and products people love while also excelling at their most important jobs: being moms.
“I FEEL VERY CONNECTED TO MY KIDS,” SAYS VOEDISCH. “AND I FEEL GOOD SLEEPING AT NIGHT KNOWING I’M A HAPPY MOM.”
Their advice for mom preneur hopefuls? Be the person you want to be. “KIDS WANT US TO BE HAPPY,” SAYS VOEDISCH. “A LOT OF TIMES, WE FORGET THAT AS PARENTS. BUT WE SHOULD FOLLOW OUR DREAMS—THEY WANT THAT FOR US.”
Both women also emphasize the importance of having mentors, especially fellow mom mentors, and a solid support network. For them, this includes two extremely supportive husbands.
“And you need kittens,” they laugh. “Lots of kittens.”
To learn more about Artterro, visit Artterro.com.
From there, the seed of building her own diaper business germinated, and then bloomed. “Every baby group I went to, people would be like ‘oh, what’s that? Where’d you get that?’” Maynard recalls. Before she knew it, she was wholesaling out of a box under her bed. The box turned into a closet, then a basement, then a rented space, and today, a dozen years later, Maynard operates out of a 12,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center in New Glarus with 40 employees. She also runs a brick-and-mortar store in Madison.
What started as Nicki’s Diapers, Maynard’s original wholesaling brand name, later expanded to include her own cloth diaper line, Best Bottom Diapers. She also manufactures and distributes products under three other brands: My Swim Baby, providing reusable swim diapers; Imagine Baby, with budget-friendly cloth diapering options; and Planet Wise, which offers a variety of reusable wet/dry bags, sandwich bags, wipes and other eco-friendly products.
Last year, the company netted more than $8 million in sales.
How did she do it? Maynard’s answer is simple: “I DID NOT SLEEP. AT ALL.”
She also has a supportive husband, who would come home from work and help her ship diapers until 3 a.m. (eventually, he left his job to join Nicki’s company full time). It helped, too, that the nature of her products paired well with raising a family. “I TOOK MY SON TO MEETINGS—HE WAS MY MODEL,” MAYNARD SAYS. “WHEN MY DAUGHTER WAS BORN, I WORE HER EVERYWHERE. IT WAS NEVER A PROBLEM.”
Plus, any personal sacrifices were worth it for what she got in exchange: She got to be there. “If one of my kids was sick, I was there. I volunteered for field trips. I didn’t miss anything. I was just…there.”
Eight years later, Rock-a-Thigh Baby thigh socks are sold both nationally and internationally, and Dutcher’s biggest struggle is keeping up with customer demand. The socks come in a wide range of fun designs that fit kids from infants to age 8, and they’re taking off in ways Dutcher, 42, never considered. For example, it turns out that they’re perfect for children who wear leg braces, and for winter potty training.
Even with its success, Rock-a-Thigh Baby remains a one-woman show. The basement of the Dutchers’ Janesville home is still their warehouse, the Ping-Pong and hockey tables long ago folded away and replaced with giant bins of socks.
Dutcher says the best part of being a mompreneur is being able to greet her girls when they come home from school. The FLEXIBILITY IS HEAVEN, BUT IT ALSO MEANS SHE HAS TO BE EXTRA MINDFUL OF NOT LETTING HER WORK OVERRIDE HER KIDS’ NEEDS. “Any time I’m on the computer [and the girls need something], I always make a point of turning my chair around and making eye contact,” she says. “Children need to know that they’re first. They pick up on those cues.”
Dutcher also goes out of her way to include her daughters in the family business. “They submit designs for new socks,” she says, clearly proud. “They put hooks in the socks. They enjoy that—that helps.”
Her 12-year-old already talks about owning a cupcake business someday. Says Dutcher, “I HOPE TO SHOW MY GIRLS, BY EXAMPLE, THAT THEY CAN DO WHATEVER THEY PUT THEIR MINDS TO.”
To learn more about Rock-A-Thigh Baby, visit rockathighbaby.com.
– Kim Krueger