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Momtrepreneurs share their business tips

    I feel honored to have been part of the Mom2Mom Business Workshop that took place yesterday in Miami. The turnout was amazing. Here's my Miami Herald story and some of the tips shared by Momtrepreneurs:

As a writer and mom, I've watched one of the most amazing trends of the Millennium: women in huge numbers taking control over their work schedules by becoming business owners. On Tuesday, more than 300 South Florida mothers showed at a workshop sponsored by MomsMiami.com to learn how to be a successful entrepreneur.

Moms, some recently downsized, are finding niches in all kinds of unique areas. I met Joan Alini, a laid-off school teacher who sells aprons packaged in pie boxes. Crazy? You may think so, but she's found her target audience in schoolteacher friends -- and she's making money. I also met Mary Pat Pankoke, a mom who has joined with her mom. They formed two businesses, one that conducts coupon classes and the other a website for used children's items.

Of course, balancing a business and family isn't the cakewalk many mom entrepreneurs envisioned. If there is a message the audience walked away with Tuesday it's that the reality of managing a business comes with both the benefit of flexible schedule and a dose of harsh reality.

Misha Kurlya-Gomez, founder of the popular Misha's Cupcakes, is a Miami success story. She started her business from her home kitchen after giving birth, when her husband nudged her to get a job. She told moms her company now sells more than 20,000 cupcakes and 50 cakes a week through its retail store and wholesale business.

But Kurlya-Gomez's path to profitability came packaged with experiences such as her dragging daughter on customer calls, sparring with her spouse over whether to stick with the business, opening and closing mall kiosks, and learning some pretty ugly lessons about employee ethics.

Being a mom entrepreneur also means questioning some of your business decisions and learning from mistakes. Marla Brock, a former lawyer, started PlanetZee.com, a family travel website. The idea came from her passion for travel and her experience staying in a hotel that wasn't geared for kids. But now, a year after her website is operating, and making money, she's wondering whether she should have targeted an even smaller niche - families traveling with kids between the ages of one and four. ``What I've learned is not to be afraid to be targeted and small. You can grow organically.''

For me, one of the most eye-opening statements of the day came when Brock said anyone thinking of launching a business needs to start today, this minute, by taking out a piece of paper, writing down your business idea and identifying your target audience. ``You don't have to have a grand business plan.'' Isn't that what scares some moms and dads from moving forward?

Of course, having the idea for a business or invention often is the easy part. Finding the money, devoting the manpower and growing the business are where the bigger challenges lie.

Sheryl Rosenthal and Rebecca Joseph of Plantation are on the verge of taking their home business to a new level. Their company, Free to Be Studio, designs and sells T-shirts for special events. The two moms started by targeting their children's elementary schools, designing class T-shirts for field trips or field day. They expanded from there.

``We ran around with the kids in the car, distributing fliers to schools,'' Rosenthal said. Their next step was making samples and going through training. ``We took a class in Adobe illustrator so that instead of paying an artist we could do the design work ourselves.''

Just like Kurlya-Gomez, in building their business, the two admit to making some mistakes, and learning from them. Initially, they priced the shirts too low, making only their investment back. They also learned the hard way that offering too much selection is unnecessary. They now know they want to aim for big orders of at least 100 items with a minimum of 24.

As their shirt business takes off, another opportunity has come along. Sheryl's mother-in-law, Florence Rosenthal, has offered to transition her longtime home-based invitation printing business, Calig-aPrint, over to them. ``We thought immediately that it is a perfect combination,'' Rosenthal says. ``We could be a one-stop shop.''

What lands them business, Joseph says, is their ``can do'' spirit: ``When anyone asks if we can do something, we say yes, and then we figure out how to do it.''

To read more about the Mom2Mom Business Workshop, visit momsmiami.com.

(photo of Shannon Koonin, mother and founder of  www.PlayGROUPConnect.

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