Real Housewife Business Advice

I am going to start my post with a confession. Each Tuesday night I watch the Real Housewives of Orange County (OC). It is usually pure escapism with some jaw-dropping shockers added to feed my addiction. However, a portion of the episode this week actually connected with something I experienced myself when I became a new parent.

The newest cast member to the OC series, Heather and two of her girlfriends (not cast members) want to maintain their professional talents while also carrying out duties as full-time, stay-at-home moms. This encouraged the three to consider opening a restaurant in OC, which prompted them to seek advice from a successful chef/restaurant owner in LA as well as from cast members Vicky and Tamra.

Heather and her girlfriends continuously said their motivation to open a restaurant stemmed from the desire for more time out of the home, with each other, and away from their children. Vicky and Tamra both shuttered when it became evident Heather and her girlfriends did not have a business plan or anything in writing hashing out what their roles would be, a marketing plan, or other details pertinent to running a business. Despite Vicky’s repeated attempts to offer insight on the realities she experiences as a business owner, Heather and her girlfriends appeared to see her very valid points as a negative attitude.

I can relate to Heather and her girlfriends; and I can relate to Vicky. When I was new to parenthood, I took sought the same life balance: full-time career plus full-time parenthood. Heck, there are plenty of women business owners out there who make this balancing act look like a cake walk. But, what I didn’t acknowledge is that many of these women employ help at home and work; we’re not all blessed with the same treasure trove of superpowers; and owning/running a business is much more than a full-time career. It is a lifestyle that one must embody and stick with.

While I can appreciate Heather’s need for a sideline of cheerleaders, Vicky’s advice was spot-on. A dose of honesty when one is looking to make a significant financial and personal investment is necessary. Vicky asked pointed questions about developing a business plan, about writing a basic legal document to divide business ownership responsibilities, and about the time commitment required to achieve success.

While I have never pursued restaurant ownership, I did pursue a small business venture with my husband. Upon giving birth to Issa more than nine years ago, we started off in the right direction. We drafted a business plan, marketing strategies, branding ideas, and ownership requirements.

Upon finishing the business plan, my husband and I made our first serious misstep. We did not have experienced business owners read through our plan; and we did not solicit their advice on the goals we set for the business. Had we taken this step, I am confident our plan would have been rewritten to contain realistic, achievable, measurable goals. Instead, we became impatient to just get on with business and ignored this very critical part of the business development process. This decision ultimately doomed our business to failure.

I learned owning and running a business was both rewarding and tough. The rewards included an active social life with opportunities to become acquainted with leading private and public figures in my community. A tough lesson involved a reality check about the intense time commitment required. Had I been more realistic about the time commitment involved, I would have delayed any kind of business ownership until my children were older. For me, owning a business and being at home full-time just didn’t click. I could not afford the necessary outside help at home or work; and the stress of juggling business, family and household demands became unbearable.

A choice had to be made: keep the business and be an out-of-touch parent; or close the business and be an active parent. My choice was the later. This doesn’t mean my choice fits every women faced with making a similar decision. The way I describe my choices is probably a bit harsh because there are women out there who stay at home and who are successful business owners. Also, I am not adverse to trying my hand at business ownership again; I just need to be mindful of reality was well as the necessary steps to ensure success.

Staying Home

One month prior to the birth of my daughter, Issa, who turned nine yesterday, I sat at the dinner table with my husband. We discussed the decision I had make: stay home or keep my full-time marketing communications position at an information technology company.

Part of me wanted to stay home because excelling at my current position often required long hours and overnight travel. Even with a new baby at home, I would still be expected to perform just as I did prior to becoming a parent. I knew I wanted time off to bond with my daughter. But, another part saw others balancing rewarding careers and parenthood simultaneously. After all, I spent nearly 10 years ascending the corporate world and achieving marketing communications success. Why would I want to leave all those accomplishments?

Part-time hours weren’t an option because the position really required full-time attention. The option of telecommuting was refuted despite my employer’s reputed success with helping blue-chip clients work with remote employees. So, I did the math on what it would cost to send Issa to day care. It just didn’t add up. After paying for day care, my take-home pay wouldn’t have compensated me for all those hours missed with my daughter. So, I kept thinking about why I would work just to pay for day care?

In addition to the internal voices talking the issues out in my head, there were — and still are — plenty of outside influences — from both sides — clamoring to be recognized. Some favored the more traditional choice, which was to stay home exclusively and parent, while others thought I would go nuts without an escape to my corporate cubicle each day.

My financial situation — at the time — gave me the option to chose. So, in the end, I took time away from the corporate world to stay home with both of my children. While I would not flip my decision, I still have conflict with my choice. Do you?

On the pro side I have time to volunteer at my children’s schools, write creatively, and advocate for a local non-profit. The con side says I will have to work years to recoup income loss and to regain professional ground. Plus, I miss the live daily adult conversations about business issues, current events, movies, television shows, and style.