The Entrepreneurial Parent
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Ask the
EP Experts

Ask the EP Experts

Jay Ann Cox
Are you a single parent trying to make it all work for your unique family? Ask Jay Ann, EP Coach and owner of Sarabi Consulting and, for help!

 EP Single Parent Q&As

Q. Two years ago I separated from my husband and I am finding it increasingly difficult to support myself and my three sons, ages 3, 5 & 6. I need information on starting my own home based business. I have an extensive background in the field of administration and computers. If you know of anyone in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area that needs help please let me know.

A. When we look for jobs outside the home, the emphasis most often is on our qualifications: what are you good at? why would an employer take a chance on hiring you? We fine tune our resumes with our sales pitch in mind, and hope that employer sees the good fit.

However, when the tables are turned, and we want to run a business for ourselves, we often completely overlook more important questions. Building on your extensive background, ask yourself this: What do I want to be doing from sunup to sundown (with the inevitable boy breaks!)? What passion do I want to turn into a full time job, and focus enough energy and
time so that my passion turns into profits? To be a successful
EP, you have got to be in contact with your higher goals, your deeply rooted desires as well as build on your background. Many of the self-help employment and skills inventory books can help you put your skills and your passion and come up with a nice tasty career track to investigate, with your whole self.

With computers and administration, you sound like a shoe-in for some kind of "remote" office manager. These telecommuting jobs are starting to crop up all over the place. This field is so cutting edge, I really don't have many concrete answers, but I do know it's going to become much more common to find a lot of administrative jobs "farmed" out to virtual workers and telecommuters. You could also start your own service as an appointment setter and meeting organizer for busy sales reps and other professionals who might not need a full time office assistant but do require more than a palmtop organizer.

The key to both of these ideas is networking. Try to attend meetings held by the local chamber of commerce or professional business organizations. There is probably a WebGirls or freelancers group near you to get you started. Get there early, stand by the name tag table, and shake hands
with people. Tell everyone you know what you are doing. With networking, you literally never know when something will turn into a lead. I have followed up on grocery store meetings, and gotten contracts! Same thing for the internet. Join a listserv or discussion group in your interest area and be sure to post frequently. Use a signature file, so people will feel comfortable getting in touch with you privately.

And remember, you are just who you are: a single mother of three. Don't be afraid to fight for your home-based business, because chances are your prospective clients or employer will have tremendous respect for someone with such conviction, determination, and drive! All the best to you!


Q. I am a single parent who has been sorting through the possibilities of making ends meet while retaining some creativity of my own. (I am a painter and graphic designer.)

For years before my two year old was born I've had this dream of having my own business. I know nothing of where to begin with it. Is this a crazy time to get started? I want the truth.
I am so happy to have found your website!
A. Dear Liz:
A wonderful book title says it all for me: It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now! (by Barbara Sher). Although this book is about mid-life changes, it's true. Your two-year old is not going to be two forever, but you could work your day job forever and she'll soon be 7 or 12, and you still won't have a business that fulfills you. So, start now!
If you have a day job, you can start slowly. Apprentice yourself (informally) to another designer, paint on the weekends or at night, locate outlets to show and sell your work. My best tip is this: find someone just like you and start a network, a co-op, or a support group! There is strength in numbers. You can talk about art/design while the kids nibble on each other.
One book to consult for basics is by Janet Attard, The Home Office and Small Business Answer Book. It has very basic but thorough Q&As for just about any subject for SOHO entrepreneurs.
And finally, start developing a focus for your business: ask yourself what it is that will make your business uniquely yours, why do you need to be in business. Then create and fine-tune your vision from there. I don't know of any business with a strong focus that has met with initial failure.
Good luck on your journey!
Q. Hello, my name is Sheila Green and I am a single parent, attending full-time college. With no support I really need a way to take care of my family. I would like to do paralegal/legal research at home. I have lots of experience in this area.
My problem is that I live in Benton, Arkansas, and nothing seems to be
computerized. In order to find out anything you must go through MASS
quantities of files and lledger books. Can you assist me in the setting up of a business? I have searched and still searching, I am writing you... figure if I ask enough times someone will shine a light for me.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.
A. Sheila,
This answer is a two-parter, first the specifics of being a paralegal, and secondly, being a single parent EP.
To get set up, you probably need access to a legal database like Lexis or Westlaw, but you need to determine this depending on the types of cases you will research. For example, in Arkansas, you most likely will need Arkansas cases and Federal cases originating in Arkansas and whatever Federal circuit you are in, as well as Supreme Court cases. There might be a local/state database available for this, or as you say, there might have to be visits to the "stacks" either at the law library or the firm's library.
You might also consider specializing in a particular area of law, which would bring down your initial database and start-up costs, and also streamline your marketing focus. Also, an independent contractor will need to consider the need for malpractice
insurance. If your clients are regulars, you might negotiate the insurance and database costs when you set your rates. But you should expect to have to pay for the caselaw. Some states offer their statutes online for free (imagine the tiny fine print on a screen!).
And because of the Internet, you aren't necessarily bound to work for local firms. If you have the pertinent caselaw and databases, and a unique specialty, you may be able to find clients across the country.
Now on to the second part of your question... As a single parent, you might have to begin your marketing (visiting firms, networking) during days when your children are in care. There is yet to be a replacement for a firm handshake and a confident approach, though if you are really good on the phone, you might have some luck. Referrals are everything in law and medicine, I've found. Be sure to emphasize your training and your experience, which is everything to a busy law firm who would be hiring an outside paralegal. Some firms might require an "in-house" period, but if you are really hot they might have you work at home and just come in for meetings. A really great firm would make use of the Internet almost exclusively.
One more tip: for important phone calls, a lot of single moms invest in a "mother's helper" (no that's not a tranquilizer!), who is a friend of the family — a teenager or college student who might live nearby and want to fix lunch, pop in a video, and hang out with your children in exchange for some computer time, a free lunch, or $2 or $3 an hour -- a lot lower than a full-fledged babysitting job but just as cushy! Your helper will come in
handy when you get a rush job, which is often the norm for legal research.
Good luck on your entrepreneurial quest!

 Q. I am a single mother of four -15, 5, and 4mo. old twins. At the present time I am unemployed, but I would really like to start working from home so I could raise my own children. I have some computer and customer service experience, but I can't seem to find any work that I qualify for. I need guidance as to where to look next.


A. Dear Mother of Teen to Twins!

Here, sit down. Let me get you a cup of coffee. Whew! I'll bet you need a break.

OK. I strongly recommend that you scout out both your local mail order scene, as well as any of the mail order websites, large and small, and see if anyone is hiring a "remote" customer service rep. On the AP-BIZ list ( just the other day, someone was describing a relationship with a mom in another town who answers the phones while the store/catalog owners are at shows, off for the weekend, or taking a sick
day (precious few of those when you work with your kids!). If you have a cordless phone and a clipboard for taking orders and messages, your office is open!

Another idea would be to check at the local community college, computer jobs boards online, or elsewhere and see if there are any reputable at-home computer jobs you could perform. Data entry, directory searches, etc. can all be done with a minimum of experience. But remember, NO at-home job worth its salt requires you to purchase anything -- no kits, no start-up costs, no initiation fees. NADA. These "jobs" abound and are
usually scams, or will exploit people in your situation, at the very least.

As for being a single mom at home with four children, you might want to create a home office (even a tiny enclosed area) where you can run to for phone calls or computer time, but still be available for a diaper change or a teenage phone crisis. As the mother of twins, you might also be in a unique position to assist other mothers of multiples -- call around the local support network and see what opportunities are waiting for you.

All the very best,

Q. I am a single 34 year old woman with two children. I have little help financially to support them, enough to pay rent and utilities. During the day while they are in school, I go to school. I am majoring as an Administrative Assistant. I always wanted to own my business and be my own boss. And at home would be perfect. I could wake up and send my children to school, clean house, work at my computer and still have dinner ready by the time they come home. This way I figured that I could serve the public and still be a full-time mom without over-exerting myself. Please give some suggestions on what I should do. I enjoy what I do, but don't want to leave home every day. I appreciate any suggestions. Thank You!

 A. Congratulations for taking the first step of the Entrepreneurial Parent: believing that it can be done! You're on your way! Your next step might be in one of two directions: you might do a complete audit of your household budget. Find out where you spend the most money with the least return. That return might not be financial, though. For example, you might discover that your day job creates more expense than
it pays for, and you might decide to turn on the turbos and start your business as soon as possible. Whatever the outcome, I believe being clear on where the money is and how it's being spent is critical.

Another direction in which to go is to do a long-term self-inventory. Find out what you really love doing, where your passion lies, and what kinds of at-home businesses will pay you to do exactly that! I recommend Zen and the Art of Making A Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design by Lawrence C. Boldt and Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Tieger and Barron-Tieger. Both books will give you lots of opportunity for self assessment, and an idea of where to start looking for a business or occupation that suits you to a T.
A final recommendation: hire a career consultant or a coach. Getting expert advice (beyond the great resources available at EP) in the early stages will most effectively insure success. I offer a free initial consultation and a short-term rate (see my services as an EP Coach at my Expert Page), and many other coaches do too. There might be career testing and expert resources available to you at your school as well. Check around and see.
You and your children deserve whatever you can do to create a home business, and it's never too late. And since your kids are in school, it's probably the perfect time. All the best!


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