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The ParentPreneur Edge

What Parenting Teaches About Building a Business

by Julie Lenzer Kirk

“It’s a girl!”—three words that changed my life forever. Six months later, another three words had a different yet similarly life-altering affect as well: Applied Creative Technologies, the company I founded when my first child was 6 months old. Outside of multiple births, adoption, or marriage to someone with kids, I know of no other way to have “children” so close in age.

Starting my own company was not something I had been dreaming of. In fact, I fought the notion for months before I finally took the plunge. Though I always knew I would have children, I did not see myself as an entrepreneur. Now over a decade later, I cannot imagine NOT being an entrepreneur. What changed?

My Third Child

My leap into entrepreneurship was somewhat of an accident. I was, in fact, looking for flexibility. My previous job required me to travel three out of four weeks every month. Don’t get me wrong—I loved what I did. Something changed, however, when my daughter was born. When I first looked into her eyes, I knew I could not continue to travel at that pace. It was too much time away from home. At the same time, I also knew I could not be a stay-at-home mom. Stepping out on my own seemed my best, albeit scariest, option at the time.

The first year on my own, I was essentially aiming to replace my income by working from home. In reality, I made more that first year with only putting in thirty hours per week than I had the previous year working forty plus hour weeks. Although I was working from home, we chose to keep our daughter in a family day care. She was in a caring, loving environment that we did not want to lose if things did not work out with my self-employment. Since she was only two doors down from my home office, I was also able to drop in and see her whenever I wanted.

My second year in business also saw the birth of my second child. I had continued a partnership with a company I had worked with in my previous corporate life, and the company was able to cover for me while I took some time off to be with her. I went back at the end of my unpaid maternity leave and again, saw an increase in my income from the previous year.

My third year in business was a turning point—when everything changed. My husband, Keenan, was frustrated and burned out with his engineering job. He started taking a computer programming class at night thinking he might be ready to change careers. At the same time, I was being offered more work than I alone could handle. My husband decided to join me the same day I made an offer to a former colleague to join me on an hourly part-time basis.

Suddenly, I had three employees including myself. I needed to identify opportunities for additional work. As good fate would have it, one of my clients was searching for a vendor to develop a new production and warehousing system. The timing could not have been better. I boldly approached the client and offered an alternative proposal: I could grow my company to develop and support the software the client needed. I was able to convince the client that, given my in-depth knowledge of their operations, we were their best option for meeting their tight deadline. With that, Applied Creative Technologies (ACT) changed from a sole-proprietor to a corporation, and my third child was born.

Finding the Similarities Between Parenting and Business

I have found that being an entrepreneur has been one of the greatest opportunities for growth I have ever experienced. In the ten years through starting, expanding, and exiting my business, I learned more about myself than through any other period in my life. Like most working parents, I struggled at first with the notion of being away from my children. Many of my friends thought I was crazy. For me, that guilt did not last as I discovered the flexibility that prompted me to go out on my own in the first place. I believe strongly that I am personally a better mother because I am an entrepreneur. How did I fit owning a business in with being a parent?

As I grew my business along side my children, I observed that there are actually more similarities between these two roles than differences. Many of the skills I developed as a mother and an entrepreneur were nurtured alongside each other. As my children grew, my business evolved, and the cross-over of skills, joys, and challenges allowed me to pool my internal resources and tackle both tasks head on. Being an entrepreneur provided me with flexibility I could not find anywhere else, and being a mother helped give it all meaning and keep it in perspective.

Parenthood and entrepreneurship are both the toughest jobs you’ll ever love. Each offers unparalleled growth opportunities and requires similar skills to make out with your sanity in tact. The details of every individual’s approach to making it all work for them is unique. For me, I found that integrating my work and my home life provided me with the ability to achieve the life I wanted. That is not to say that I never shut off work when at home or did not focus intensely on projects at work. Rather, being flexible about how and when I worked and played afforded me the ability to do both. By not erecting unyielding boundaries between the two and living my life holistically, I found that embracing the parallels provided an edge in business.

Embracing the Parallels

The word ParentPreneur is meant to describe entrepreneurs who are also parents. The more people I have talked with, however, convinces me that many of the characteristics, and especially those that provide an edge, are not reserved for business ownership. Indeed most working parents share the same experiences and develop comparable skills that can be drawn upon to provide an advantage in any business. The common bonds are the abilities and lessons they have learned in one facet of their lives that can be applied to the other. In talking with younger folks as well, they can learn from the similarities by drawing on their experiences with their own mom and dad or from caring for siblings. Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes the parallels nor embraces them to their advantage.

I realized the process that I went through when I was contemplating starting my company was similar to the steps I took in deliberating parenthood. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting when I was, well, expecting, but I could not find a “What to Expect When You’re Starting a Business.” At least there was nothing on the bookshelves that seemed similar.

As I raised my children and grew my business in parallel, the similarities became obvious and often humorous. It started when people would ask me if I was planning to have a third child, as if that was any of their business. I would quip that my business was my third child: It keeps me up at night, it sometimes sasses me back, and it takes all my money.

I realized the process that I went through when I was contemplating starting my company was similar to the steps I took in deliberating parenthood. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting when I was, well, expecting, but I could not find a “What to Expect When You’re Starting a Business.” At least there was nothing on the bookshelves that seemed similar.

Naming my business and my baby involved similar difficulties. Control was not what I expected, either, as a mother or as a business owner. As I began to get my feet underneath me with both my new roles, I noticed some crossing over. At times when I was frustrated because I could not get my toddler to behave, I would think about some of the problems I had worked through and survived with my business. Reflecting on that gave me a much-needed boost of confidence to take a deep breath and know that I could solve this problem, too. Likewise in business, thinking about my children often brought challenges I was facing into perspective. My kids were healthy and happy—everything else was secondary. As I pivoted back and forth between these demanding roles, I began to see more and more of the commonalities and realized that I could leverage lessons learned in one to the other.

As I progressed through the growth of my business and my children, I discovered that the progression of stages was identical. That observation inspired the organization of my book, The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business. Each chapter represents both a stage of development in parenthood and in business.

Parenting Stage

Business Stage

Getting Pregnant

Preparing for Entrepreneurship

Labor and Delivery


Baby to Toddler

The Early Days

Elementary School

Ramping Up—A Time to Learn

The Preteen Years

Growing Pains

The Teen Years

Emerging Independence

Letting Go

Exercising Your Exit

The Ultimate Similarities

Parenting can be hard and filled with ups and downs. The ability to remain passionate and persistent through the tough times is something all parents need to embrace. Business, too, has its good days and bad days and weathering the business roller coaster adds to business success as well.

As much as we love our children, there are days when we question whether we are really qualified to be parents. I left the hospital less than 24 hours after my first child was born. I could not remember the last time I had held a newborn. But yet, they let us leave the hospital with our baby and from there we were solely responsible for her well-being. The same was true for our business. We were essentially on our own.

Many entrepreneurs and leaders, even the successful ones, wonder if anyone will ever discover that they are not qualified to be running their companies. I absolutely had periods through my ten years in business where I was in that camp. It was clear I did not have a degree in parenthood, either. There is no entrance exam for becoming an entrepreneur or a parent. Most of us start businesses without all the skills or tools needed to succeed, but we do it anyway. Both business and parenthood end up requiring some amount of on-the-job training. You don’t give up on parenthood because you don’t know how to do something — you figure it out. Treat business the same.

In both parenting and business, you are working to get results through people. For that reason, I have often pondered whether a degree in psychology would have helped me. I have heard many a business manager refer to instances where managing employees had been like dealing with children. Some are maturing teenagers, while others regress to a much earlier age. Every experience is different. But in the end, your job as a manager is to help people grow, and the rewards of seeing that development can make all the frustration worth it.

The ultimate similarity between parenting and entrepreneurship or any type of leadership is that you are building a legacy. As parents, we want to raise children that are happy, responsible, contributing citizens. We want them to make a positive impact on the world. They are our legacy. When we’re following our passion, our work becomes, like our children, part of the mark we want to leave on the world. HBM

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from The ParentPreneur Edge What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business. Copyright (c) 2007 by Julie Lenzer Kirk. All rights reserved. Julie Lenzer Kirk, an award-winning entrepreneur and mother of two, grew her business to multi-millions in revenues while raising her family. She cashed out of her company and now teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland while providing workshops, consulting, and keynotes as the President & CEO of Path Forward International. She is the author of The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business and can be reached at Julie@JulieLenzerKirk.com. Sign up for her monthly “Boot in the Butt™” e-newsletter at www.JulieLenzerKirk.com. V15-1 Add: 4/15/11 CAR: 7/26/11 HP: ?

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