Tag Archives: business

100 mompreneurs and counting

It was longtime Raising Arizona Kids contributor Brittney Walker who came up with the idea of running a weekly feature on our website about local mothers who are running businesses.

Hard to believe we’ve already profiled 100 of them in our Monday RAK Mompreneur feature.

Brittney wrote the section for awhile, until she took a break to focus on family, community and church responsibilities. (We’re happy to say she’s got the writing bug again and has several assignments in the works.)

We gave the assignment to Brooke Mortensen, who interned with us right after she graduated from college in the spring of 2010 and continues to write for us as a freelancer.

Between the two of them, Brittney and Brooke have covered a wide range of mom-owned businesses. They’ve profiled photographers, jewelry makers, cooks/caterers/bakers and candy makers. They’ve interviewed moms who make fitness fun, moms who help other moms stay organized, moms with a knack for fashion — or finding deals, or dispensing advice — and even a “multi-mompreneur” who runs several businesses concurrently.

Certainly these moms are not lacking in energy, creativity or drive. They are a diverse bunch from all kinds of backgrounds. Each has a unique and interesting story of the journey that brought her to this place in life. But there are two things  that unite them all: passion for what they do and the desire to live life on their own terms so they can keep family as their first and most important priority.

As one of the Valley’s veteran mompreneurs (we started Raising Arizona Kids 22 years ago in my then-2-year-old’s nursery), I have great respect for those priorities and a deep and empathetic appreciation for how terribly challenging it can be to live up to them.

There is nothing harder than being a mom. And there are few things harder than running a business. When you’re trying to do both, your highs are very high and  your lows are frighteningly low. On your worst days, you are ruled by questions and doubt. You wonder why you keep at it. On your best days, you feel enormous pride and a deep sense of fulfillment.

And when you’ve been at it as long as I have, you start to gain a sense of the bigger picture. It’s not just about building a business. It’s about building a community — a family of people who care about something just as deeply as you do and sometimes even more. People who have developed their own threads of friendship and meaning within a context of shared purpose that wouldn’t even exist if someone hadn’t thought, “I wonder if I could…?”

“Can you help me start a magazine?”

Many times in the past 22 years I’ve received messages like this one:

“I am currently in the process of exploring an opportunity to publish a magazine and hoped you might be able to provide some insight, advice or guidance in taking such a big step….”

The most recent one came earlier this month from a working mom who was looking for a new direction following her recovery from surgery. She is thinking about starting a magazine. She asked if I could “find some time to either chat by phone, or meet with me (and my friend who may join me in this venture) to answer a few questions.”

Messages like these always make me squirm. I hate to squelch someone else’s enthusiasm or dreams but the truth is that it’s hard for me to recommend magazine publishing as an attractive option. Especially when the person who contacts me is looking at it as an opportunity to “provide a positive balance for my health, my kids and my livelihood.”

The mom who wrote to me sees publishing a magazine as “the possibility of being my own boss and doing something with more flexibility.” That is important to her, she wrote, because she’s a single mom.

I like to be a nice person. I like to be a helpful person. But I can’t think of a single reason to recommend that this woman pursue her plan. Not because I wish I hadn’t done it; but because I know I wouldn’t have done it if I’d had any idea how hard it would be.

Here is what I will tell this woman she should consider before deciding to start her magazine:

• You need to be realistic about the financial model of publishing, especially in this economy and this time in history, when technology keeps changing the game plan. If you don’t have a way to pay for at least a year of operating expenses before you get started, you probably shouldn’t get started.

• You need to thoroughly research the competition and figure out how what you want to do fills a need that’s not already being met. There are obvious competitors (i.e. other magazines targeting your audience) but don’t forget the impact of an increasingly  diverse and stratified range of media delivery systems all vying for pieces of the same pie when it comes to advertising dollars.

• You must have a reliable source of household income. It could be many years before you can put yourself on the payroll regularly. I could never have persevered past tough times if I didn’t know my family’s basic needs were going to be met by my husband’s steady income.

• You must have people on your team who can do the things you can’t do. My background is in journalism. Though I have an MBA in marketing, I have never worked in sales and I don’t have good instincts for it. I would have been lost but for the knowledge, experience and professionalism of my founding and current marketing director, MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb. Then, a year ago, I turned over management of the business to Operations Director Debbie Davis. She has a much better head for business than I do and it has been a relief to know she’s got everything under control while I focus on the part I really love: content development.

• You must involve people who believe in your publication and see their role in its mission as “more than a job.” Never did I appreciate that more than in the last two years, when the heavy impact of the recession meant every person on my staff had to do more for less. Only people who know their work has a higher purpose than making money can put up with that without resentment.

• Forget the fantasy of flexibility. The only flexibility you will have as the owner of a magazine (and, I’m guessing, any business) is when you choose to work. I never missed a performance or game when my sons were growing up. I volunteered in the classroom, chaperoned field trips and served spaghetti and meatballs to the team at noon each Friday when my sons played high school football. But I worked a lot of late nights, rarely took a full weekend off and always had my laptop on vacations (even the rare ones on other continents). When there is too much to do and not enough people to do it, you have to carry the slack. And if you’re someone who truly cares about the quality and the integrity of your business, you are constantly working on ways to improve it.

If she listens to all that and still wants to move forward her plan, then I’m guessing she already has some of the personal qualities it takes to last in this business: resilience, tenacity and sheer stubbornness.

Pet peeves about press releases – #3

A good friend of mine works in public relations. I love her approach. She takes time to learn about her client’s business. She works hard to cultivate meaningful relationships with contacts in the media. She thinks of creative approaches to her story pitches that leave an editor or producer curious to learn more. She becomes familiar with deadlines so the timing of her pitches is appropriate. And she understands that the quality (of a story’s placement) is sometimes more effective than quantity (of media outlets that run with it).

As someone who works on the other side of this equation — and gets tired, sometimes, of all the publicity-seeking people who want, expect and often demand that I do something for them — I appreciate the value of my friend’s approach. I wish more people in her industry would model it. Because here’s what happens. When I get bombarded with press releases from public relations contacts who haven’t taken the time to learn about our publication, our audience, our deadlines or our needs, I eventually stop paying attention.

And when I get a little nugget of something from a PR rep who has done his/her homework, and it turns into a good story for us, I am very much apt to pay attention the next time that person gets in touch.

Editors are human. Sometimes we’re arrogant, sometimes we’re lazy and sometimes we’re just overwhelmed and understaffed. So when someone figures out a way to help us look good, and make our lives easier, we’re grateful. And when someone wastes our time, fills our inboxes with meaningless information or doesn’t have a clue about our publication’s real needs, we’re dismissive.

How to get it right:

Research the publications you plan to approach. Find out about deadline, target audience, focus and specific departments in which your material might work. Request an editorial calendar that will give you a general idea of content themes planned for upcoming months. (We post ours online.)

Find out who does editorial triage. Focus your communication efforts on the person in charge of the specific section in which you feel your information belongs. (For a small company like mine, that would be me.) Trust that person to relay items of interest to the appropriate writers and editors. When you send your press release to everyone on the editorial staff, hoping it gets to the right person, the wrong people are forced to spend time dealing with it, which reduces their productivity.

Write your press release as simply and straightforwardly as you can. Stick to the basics: who, what, where, when and why. Make sure any timely aspect about your information is prominent. Don’t hide the main point on the second page. Don’t have a second page!

Be as specific as possible. We get numerous requests to “write a story about our school” or community group or upcoming fundraiser. You need to think of a unique or interesting angle that would make us want to follow up with a very specific story and that’s always going to come from some smaller piece of the big picture.

Include your full contact information. We need a name, phone number and email address to contact if we have questions. We also need to know who members of the public can contact, if that’s different.

Make sure your release is reviewed by a second set of eyes. Nothing irks an editor more than glaring errors in a document and I don’t think “irked” is the response you are hoping for. Have someone (or two) read behind you before you send it.

One last thing. When you’re seeking publicity for someone or something, don’t expect to control the outcome. No professionally run publication will allow you to review an article prior to publication. (You’d be surprised how often that question is asked.) And while you’re welcome to suggest how we focus a story, we can’t guarantee it will come out that way.

Is print dead? Not according to the next generation of journalists

We’ve had a steady stream of bright high school and college students interning at our office over the years. It is heartening to get to know these young people, many of whom aspire to careers in print journalism even as the future of the industry faces so much uncertainty.

I’m one of those (perhaps naive) believers that there will always be people who want to read something they can hold on to — perhaps not newspapers, because we all want our news delivered in real time, but certainly magazines, which offer opportunities for reflection, perspective, in-depth reporting, analysis and beautiful photography.

Between my own experience and that of my 25-year-old son Andy, a reporter for POLITICO, I’ve come to some conclusions about how young people should move forward in the field of journalism.

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