Women and Business – A Match Made at Home

“Running a home business is definitely a lot more responsibility and a lot more work, but the reward is so much greater.”    

So says Julie Lowenbaum, founder of Cuff Luv, an award-winning fashion-accessory business operated from her dining room table in Glencoe, Illinois.   

Like so many women, Lowenbaum has taken skills from her former corporate career, added in creativity, fashion sense and some intense passion, and is now running a flourishing business from home. And that has earned her honorary billing as one of the Top Women in the StartupNation Home-Based 100 ranking of outstanding home-based businesses.

Over half of the thousands of contestants (57%) were women in the Home-Based 100 competition, confirming that they’re a force to be reckoned with in entrepreneurial circles. Women have realized in droves that a career in the corporate world doesn’t hold a candle to operating a home-based business with its greater flexibility and opportunities for upside and convenience, especially when running a family, too.

Finding ‘Maximum Control’

With the economy in a full-blooded recession, expect even more women to flood the home-based arena, whether they’re victims of layoffs or simply not trusting large corporations to be “stable” or “dependable” going forward.

“The reality is that, cradle-to-grave security has long been gone,” points out Tory Johnson, who helped StartupNation judge the honorary Top Women category.

Johnson is the workplace contributor on Good Morning America as well as a founder and CEO of the nationally recognized job-placement program, Women For Hire. “If anything, the headlines have shown us that ‘big’ is the opposite of secure,” she says.

In contrast to being a cog in a larger, Wall Street-driven machine, women who run their own business from home set the rules, decide if spending will occur or not and rely strictly on their own compass to guide their company. While that may not always mean job security, it does mean significant influence over what does and does not happen in the business.

“Every woman today wants maximum control over her life,” concludes Johnson. “That makes women and home-based businesses a brilliant combo.”

Redefining Yourself

More than control, Cuff Luv’s Lowenbaum wanted to find something personally rewarding, something that would let her stay at home and take care of the most valuable things in her life – her 14- and 10-year-old kids.

After years in the corporate world in the Chicago area, most recently as a director of development for a cosmetics company, she has no regrets.

“I would never join the workforce again in the corporate world,” Lowenbaum says. “I always worked very hard for the companies I worked for, like they were my own, and I ended up with nothing but a paycheck.”

Part of the reason Lowenbaum started her business was to spend more time with her kids, and it turns out the experience has rubbed off on them. Cuff Luv’s influence spurred her daughter to become a home-based entrepreneur, and now she’s started her own dog-walking business and sells jewelry that she designs. Guess the younger Lowenbaum won’t be entering the corporate world, either!

“I’m a role model, good or bad,” Lowenbaum says. “The influence this business has had on my family has been very positive, fortunately.”

Teching Up Your Startup

Karen Swim, another Home-Based 100 Top Women winner and owner of Michigan-based Words for Hire, takes advantage of technology to make her business hum.

One tech-enabled secret weapon Swim uses when she’s trying to get things done is Elance, a site that connects writers and marketers with potential clients. Vendor matching services similar to Elance are growing in popularity, based on a LendingTree type of model, where the vendors actually compete to get work. StartupNation itself offers a popular vendor matching service, which has proven to be invaluable in helping entrepreneurs save time, find the best vendors and get the best pricing available. Yes, it’s a new era.

To put on a professional image, Swim has opted for a virtual phone system as another tech upgrade for her business. She uses RingCentral, which is a phone service provided over the Internet but interfaces with your traditional phone line. She has a toll-free number, has extensions, reroutes calls wherever she goes whenever she wants, and generally has the appearance of a much bigger brick-n-mortar company, all the while working from her home office headquarters.

“I’ve taken business calls when going out on a run and in the grocery store,” Swim admits. All of these techniques give clients the impression, she insists, that they’re working with a professional organization and not someone sitting at home in their pajamas. “I am from the corporate world,” says Swim. “I wanted my business to have that image to assure customers.”

Putting Yourself Out There

No matter how brilliant your idea is, you have to get noticed in order for your idea to turn into cha-ching! These days there are a host of ways beyond traditional press releases and advertising campaigns to achieve that goal.

Twitterers, for example, are amassing followers in droves as people curiously follow each other’s moment-by-moment posts. Facebook also looms large as a way to self promote and create top-of-mind awareness among would-be customers.

Elena Potoupa, another Top Woman in the Home-Based 100, has a presence on Facebook as well as LinkedIn, a site that was conceived to foster business-oriented connections like a vast “six degrees of separation” network. Potoupa, creator of Wow Coupons based near New York City, believes that every entrepreneur should be exploiting social networks.

“Social networks allow you to do the practically impossible: find someone, connect with someone and build a powerful contact list,” says Potoupa. “You can find new connections all within literally seconds.”

Potoupa actually broadcasts to her customers that she has a presence on the social sites. “I let them choose how they want to find me.” She believes there’s something more to it, though, than simply having multiple touch points on the Net. “Business owners need to be in the social networks for another simple reason – their customers like to be more connected to each other. It feels more personal to them.”

Coddling Customers

Potoupa’s customer-centric attitude helps brings us to yet another theme from among winners of the Home-Based 100 Top Women honor. Fellow winner, Dr. Laura Trice, who won the Home-Based 100’s Yummiest category, is sure that happy customers and the relationships you maintain with them are key aspects of succeeding in business.

“So much of what we care about in life is relationships,” says the owner of Malibu, Calif.-based Laura’s Wholesome Junk Food. “It’s almost hard-wired in us to care about our customers and the quality of our products.” Like everyone else, Trice admits she doesn’t get every account she pursues but most importantly – in some cases more so than the bottom line – she makes sure the business relationship she has between her company and clients is a good one for both parties.

At the end of the day, our businesses are an expression of who we are. This emphasis on coddling customers, combined with being true to your life plan, adopting the new promotional techniques in social media, and taking advantage of technology all add up to a recipe for success and have positioned these outstanding women as Top Women in the Home-Based 100.

Are you a Mom Entrepreneur? Check out StartupNation’s Leading Moms in Business 2009 Competition!

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