Working from home is becoming an economic force and a viable option for many women who choose to juggle business and life at the same address.
Stacie Spencer keeps a world map in her jewelry studio and her daughter enjoys putting in push pins on the countries where Spencer has sold and sent her homemade pieces. Pins stick out on Australia, Hong Kong, Spain, Germany, France, Russia and Indonesia. It’s an impressive client directory for a company with a world headquarters in a house in New Market, Md.
“I love it. I love looking at that. I think it’s a lot of fun,” Spencer says. “To me, I still am amazed with the Internet—that you can sit down and communicate with somebody in Moscow. They can buy something and you can send it and they can get it. It still amazes me.”
Spencer worked in the corporate world but decided to stay at home full time in order to be with her children, now 18 and 12. Still needing a creative outlet and wanting to earn some extra money, she got an idea after a friend showed her how to make a pair of earrings. Sixteen years ago she created a line of handcrafted fine silver jewelry named Stacie Jewelry. Since her business’s inception she has participated in craft shows and sells her line on Etsy online and at The Muse in Downtown Frederick. Meanwhile, working from home has afforded her a flexible work schedule and the opportunity to be more available to her kids.
It’s convenient to categorize moms into two groups: stay-at-home moms and moms who work away from home. But moms who run businesses from their homes are a growing force in the area. The U.S. Census Bureau findings show that Frederick County has more than 16,600 people, dubbed non employers, operating their own businesses from home. Just over 30 percent of those companies are owned and operated by women. “These home grown businesses really are the foundation of a lot of the new economy that we see,” says Cyd Maubert, a business professor at Mount St. Mary’s University.
Many moms cite the need for a flexible schedule as the reason they started a home-based business, Maubert says. The freedom allows them to become as big or stay as small as they prefer. The Internet and social media can make a small business operating out of a room in a home appear just as big and professional as a major business.
Starting a home business requires a smaller amount of start-up funds than a traditional new company, but success rates prove to be higher. “Generally, when people start businesses, it’s something that they know, something that they love, something that they have a passion for and something they are going to put a lot more into because it’s theirs,” Maubert says. “There is that sense of pride, that sense of ownership, that sense of passion that they have with it.”
Being Your Own Boss
Spencer likes to create jewelry pieces that have a positive message on them. “I do a lot of charms and bracelets and necklaces and things with words,” she says. “I find that a lot of people buy jewelry to either share a message with somebody else or to give themselves reminders.” Recently, a customer ordered a necklace with dog and cat charms for a friend graduating from veterinary school. “It’s fun to be a little part of people’s lives,” she adds. “Jewelry is definitely an expression.”
Spencer does most of her work while her kids are in school but her flexible schedule means she can also work at night or the weekends. “When my son was a baby, I would do things until 2 o’clock in the morning,” she remembers. She has not found it a problem to balance work and home life. “I’m very self-disciplined,” Spencer says. “I always have been. I do really well with time management.” She compartmentalizes her schedule, so while she’s working on jewelry she isn’t doing laundry or cooking. The focus is only on her products.
To ease the balance, Spencer found it helpful to involve her children. Her daughter would make cards for those who bought items while her son would build with Legos as she worked. “For moms of young children, I think it’s important if you can make them feel a part of your business because then they don’t resent your business,” she says. “(It’s not about) you taking time away from them.”
Kim Townsend is a member of a Facebook group for Frederick moms. She would often see requests for someone to sew, create or hem something. “I could do all of it, so I figured, why not charge for my time and materials since it’s (time consuming) and I’ve been trained to do it?” she says.
Learning to sew as a child from her mother, Townsend takes custom requests for items like stuffed animals, curtains, blankets, dresses and tote bags. She recently started doing embroidery and embroidery crafts. Operating under the name Kimtown, the Frederick resident also does web design and photography. Her business has flourished through word of mouth. “The moms group I’m in is a huge help, too,” she says. “Without those gals I’m not sure it would have ever come to fruition. Now I have some great customers and some great friends because of it. I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. Well, except for maybe a clone. I’d like one of those.”
Working from home is a hard balance, she finds. “Anyone that thinks you just get to sit around and watch TV all day clearly has no idea what it’s like to work from home,” Townsend says. “It’ 24/7. I work many nights, or so it seems. It’s not unusual that I’m up until 1, 2 or 3 a.m. working on embroidery items” and then she gets up at 6 a.m. to say goodbye to her husband and send her kids to school.
Joan Saunders Orchard used to love scrapbooking and making greeting cards. “I had so many people tell me I should start selling my cards,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t easily sell cards with other people’s artwork and I didn’t want to be limited by what scrapbooking elements I could find, so I taught myself how to use graphic design software.” Orchard began selling her cards on Etsy online about eight years ago. “When people saw I designed my own greeting cards, they started asking if I could make web banners, logos, business cards, etc. for their own Etsy shops,” she says. “Things snowballed from there.”
Since 2006, the Frederick resident has owned and operated BitsyCreations out of her home. “I’ve always wanted to be a mom and give my children as much of my time and efforts as needed,” Orchard says. “When our daughter was born, I was working outside of the home and I just felt a very strong pull to find something to do from home. I’ve also always worked well on my own and being a freelancer and running my own small business is a perfect fit for me.”
Being A Consultant
Those who choose to be a brand consultant for a large company can decide how much time they can put into their business. Some get involved as a hobby in order to get a sizable discount on products they already love. Others use it as a way to make additional money for their households. Some can even earn free, all-expenses-paid trips.
Consultants pay a fee for a start-up kit and must commit to holding a fixed number of shows or earning a certain amount of money. The shows can be done through a home party or the Internet.
Frederick resident Alicia Barnes Solano has been selling Pampered Chef cooking products for more than four years. She has two boys—a 13-year-old and an 8-year-old who has special needs. Pampered Chef was perfect because she was still able to earn income while being with her children. “It was such a huge help.”
Her business also pairs with her lifelong love of cooking. “My dad always cooked awesome meals,” she says. “We used to watch The Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child.” She plans on trying out for FOX’s competitive cooking show, MasterChef, in the fall.
A year ago, she began working part time away from home, but she’s still able to be a consultant. “You have shows when you want to have shows,” she says. “It’s your own schedule. The parties are not hard. The parties are very easy, especially if you are a people person because literally you are just going in, cooking a dish, explaining some of the products and that’s it.”
Jacki Wilson is a math teacher at the Frederick Classical Charter School but is also a Thirty- One consultant. The company sells totes and organizational items. The Walkersville resident and mom of two became a consultant more than four years ago in order to “have some time where I could build some friendships and make a little extra play money for on the side,” she says. “I just really liked the products.”
Wilson does one or two home parties at a host’s home every other month and brings along her collection. “I have close to almost everything in the catalog,” she says. “It’s easier if you can see it. I think it’s better when you can actually feel the different textures, the different materials that are used.” Before someone purchases a tote, she will ask them to empty their purse and put everything into one of her sample bags just to make sure everything will fit. “It’s nice that people try that instead of just hoping when it comes in that it works,” she says.
Walkersville resident Celeste McNiesh was not looking to get into the home business market. With two young children and a husband who is a pilot for the military and a commercial airline, her heavy involvement in a local moms club and new role as PTA vice president for her son’s school left her schedule full. In March, a friend invited her to a Facebook party for Jamberry Nails, which are non-toxic, heat-activated nail wraps that can last up to two weeks. McNiesh had never heard of the company and not done much with her nails since having kids, but she decided to log into the party. “They sent me some samples and I tried some and I absolutely loved them,” she says.
Loving the product and not wanting to walk away from the business opportunity, McNiesh decided to become a Jamberry Nails consultant. She thought she would take it slow and start off with three or four parties, but business is booming. “I have 10 parties on the calendar and I’ve only been doing this for two weeks,” she says. “Every day someone says something about (my nails) and I usually have some samples and some cards with me … I had somebody yesterday I did not know ask me to do a party. … I’m starting off big and seeing how that goes.”
Being able to do her Facebook parties online is helpful “so I can do it at night and it’s not taking time away from my kids, which is the most important thing for me,” she says. “You don’t have to get a babysitter. You don’t have to kick your family out if you want to be a hostess. … It’s convenient for moms, people that are busy if you don’t have the flexibility to just go out.”
McNiesh, who also does home parties, works on her business mainly at night after her kids are in bed. “That used to be my time to catch up on laundry and relax but it’s my choice,” she says. “I don’t look at this as a job. It’s more for fun.”