A few of my stay-at-home mom friends, have told me that they are going back to work in the fall. Whether it is the economy or the fact that their kids are finally old enough to take care of themselves, there seems to be a lot of women returning to the workforce.

“What are you going to do?” I asked them. Most of them have no clue. They have been out of the workforce for many years. Their skills are rusty, their contacts have moved on or they were in an industry that is overwhelmed with unemployment.

The main problem for the working mom is how to have a job AND be there for your kids. If you still have little ones, day care is expensive. Even when the kids school-aged, the problem still remains. Not all kids take the bus and not every day is pleasant to walk to school in Chicagoland. In addition, how do you get your child to the softball field at 5:00 when you are still at work? What if your child is sick?

One of my friends has recently gone back to work after being home for 12 years. Her family situation has forced her to return to work and they rely on the money she brings in. However, with gas over $4.00 a gallon and the cost of her sitter after school (she doesn’t get off work until 7:00), she is not bringing home much.

So what is the solution? Start your own business! According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, in 2002 women-owned firms totaled 285,072, an increase of 19 percent from 1997, and generated $47.2 billion in revenues. Women represented 34.6 percent of the self-employed persons in Illinois (The 2007 results come out in a few days – I guess it takes government a long time to tally results!)

So there you have it. Women represent over 34% of the self employed in Illinois. I’m proud to be one of them. That statistic was nine years ago. I believe that number has gone up.

Whenever I have suggested that a friend start up her own business, their first reaction is, “I can’t do that.” Why not? I did. Their comeback is often the same – “But you are different.” The only difference is that I tried it and didn’t just wonder if it could happen.

For those of you that don’t know, I am a dog groomer. I work out of my house from 9-3 and occasionally after school. I have only been grooming for four years. In order to be a groomer, I had to find a path to get there. I needed to go back to school (500 hour program) and still bring in money. I worked as a graphic artist and a printing production coordinator before that. My family counted on my income. My kids were 8, 6 and 4 at the time. How could I find a job that worked around my kids’ schedules, didn’t require daycare and did not take up my evenings so I could go to school?

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I took a long time to decide on grooming in the first place. I wanted to find something that I enjoyed, that I could make work around the kids, and that wasn’t going to cost an arm and a leg to start up. My poor husband had to listen to every crazy idea I had before I settled on this path. Once I made the decision on the career, I had to figure out how to get there. Where would the money come from for the classes if I was taking a paycut from graphics job? Like most moms, if I had extra money, it went to the kids. Who would watch my kids while I went to school and my husband was working?

My solution was this: I started a dog walking business for dog owners who worked. I worked most days from 10-2 and brought my 4 year old with me after preschool. I also did pet sitting on the weekends and for vacations. Again, the kids could go with me. I also started doing before and after school care in my home. I had to be here anyway for my kids, so why not? That was my contribution to the family income. It wasn’t too much less than I was making as a graphic artist.

I found a local grooming school that had flexible hours. During the day, I had my sitter watch my son and my husband got home in time to pick the girls up from school. I went to school one evening a week when my husband was home. When I was in school, my dog walking was covered by my husband and friends of mine (that I paid). I still found time to volunteer, keep up the house and socialize. It was a crazy time but it all worked out.

My point of this very long story is that you can find a path for yourself. You can be a small business owner and be a mom. Start by making a list of what you like to do and what skills you have. Next, research careers in those fields both online and at the library. There are TONS of books on the subject of home based businesses.

I believe you can do it. What are you waiting for?

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