Mompreneurs build empires

Number in Atlanta appears to be growing.A home business is one more ball busy women choose to juggle.

Like any small business owner, Tanya Primo-Jones spends many hours a day managing inventory, making sales calls and minding the finances of her home-based company, Primo Activewear of Alpharetta.

Unlike most, she does it with three young boys underfoot.

Primo-Jones is a mompreneur. She is one of an unknown but, observers believe, growing number of mothers in metro Atlanta and America who run businesses from home, making and selling everything from furniture to food, while also watching the kids.

It's a juggling act, balancing family and work at the same time in the same place. Sometimes, they admit, the balls fall.

"They are loud, wild and crazy and home all day, every day" in the summer, says Primo-Jones, 39, of her 11-year-old and 8-year-old twins. "So, I attempt to build my empire in between making and cleaning up breakfast, lunch and dinner ... in between breaking up fights, searching for a runaway dog, baseball practice, swim lessons, doctor appointments ... "

All that can leave her wondering if she'll be able to take her business "to the next level," and worrying whether her boys are watching too much TV and playing too many video games while she works.

But, Primo-Jones says, there are big benefits too, mainly that, "I get to be there for them."

Plus, she says, her children, who think her T-shirt business "is cool," can learn lessons firsthand about hard work and perseverance.

Lesley Spencer Pyle agrees.

"There definitely are drawbacks. It can be a little stressful. But the advantages outweigh them," says Pyle, who runs a professional association and online community called Home-Based Working Moms.

"There are the hours you get to spend with your kids and the flexibility you have in scheduling," she says.

Those advantages may be enticing more women to become mompreneurs. How many is in question because of a lack of data.

However, the number of women age 21-40 starting businesses is up, a sign mompreneurship may be on the rise, says Gwen Martin, executive director of the Center for Women's Business Research. "I think it's far bigger than we think," says Martin.

But recession-battered families that think a mom-based business is the answer should be forewarned: Running a business with kids around is not easy. The inherent risk is that mompreneurs wind up doing neither job well.

"The flexibility isn't quite what they think," notes Julie Lenzer Kirk, author of The ParentPreneur Edge, because "it's hard to build any business of consequence during naptime."

In many cases, mompreneurship is a necessity. Start-up owners may not be able to pay for a baby sitter or day care. The result can be sales calls with screaming children in the background and late nights at the computer instead of relaxing with a spouse.

Kirk recommends mompreneurs start a business they are passionate about it, then hire employees to help carry the load. It's hard not to go it alone at first, especially if a spouse has separate, full-time employment.

But it can be done, insists Kristi Gorinas of Lawrenceville, whose startup, the Kristi G Company, makes fashion handbags for women that can double as a diaper bag. The bags have an outside accessory pouch, which she calls the EZ-Wipe System, that holds wipes or napkins.

"It's very doable, even with a big family," maintains Gorinas, 39, who has four girls, 11, 9, 5 and 2 —- and another on the way in four months.

"It's being organized and having a lot of energy," she explains. "And not procrastinating."

She goes through e-mails each morning to check on overnight orders. Afterward, she gets her daughters up, fed, organized and, sometimes, out the door. Then it's down to business.

Working hard is essential because a mompreneur can face financial pressure even with a spouse who's the main breadwinner.

Gorinas calls her undertaking "a major risk," saying, "We've invested all we have and more in the company."

Her hopes for Kristi G: build the business, pay the bills, give back.

Primo-Jones foresees Primo as "a multimillion-dollar company," but expects it to take three to five years to be profitable.

Women become mompreneurs for different reasons, often personal. For Gorinas, her fourth daughter was 2 months old when a mompreneur moment struck.

"I wasn't feeling intellectually challenged doing laundry and diapers," says the former corporate human relations executive.

Gorinas had had many product ideas over the years when she conceived an indoor/outdoor portable chair for infants to schoolkids.

Her Go & Grow seat should be available for sale this fall after two years in development. While pursuing that project, she developed the Kristi G line of bags.

Now, Gorinas says she feels fulfilled. Even better, she gets to see her children grow, and be with them more than if she had a corporate job. And that, she says, is "the best thing," adding, "You can't get the time with them back."