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Entrepreneurial Ventures
by Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin

Starting a business can be an ideal way to relaunch and have more control over your schedule. You may end up launching a business almost accidentally. It may grow out of a hobby or volunteer assignment, or because you get rejected for more conventional opportunities.

Despite many positives, including more control over your schedule and the opportunity to build significant wealth, launching an entrepreneurial venture poses major challenges, not the least of which is the need, in many cases, to raise capital. However, even women who work full-time on their businesses report that they have greater flexibility than they did when they worked for someone else. Alternatively, some of the entrepreneurs with whom we spoke consciously slowed their business growth rate to preserve their family time, with the intention of revving up their ventures as their kids grow older.

Starting with a Small Home-Based Business

Dawn Oldham, Creative Memories' highest-earning salesperson since 1997, is responsible for fifteen million dollars in annual Creative Memories revenues. The homeschooling mother of five was profiled in a January 2005 New York Times article about her entrepreneurial success with the scrapbooking company. After hearing Creative Memories founder Rhonda Anderson interviewed on the radio, Dawn thought she had finally found a source of an acid-free photo album for which she had been searching. The distinguishing feature was being able to write on the photo page. But she couldn't find a Creative Memories representative in Orlando where she lived. So she called the company and ended up buying not just an album, but also the $165 start-up kit. she decided to hold a "crop" where invited guests gather in a rep's house to purchase the supplies and create the albums. Some close friends and her sister attended, netting seventy-five dollars in sales. Gradually, this grew into a few hundred dollars a month. Now she earns more than thirty thousand dollars a month, plus another hundred thousand in annual gifts of trips, jewelry, and cash bonuses, from commissions on sales made by other representatives she has recruited. As of January 2005, she had recruited seventy-six representatives since her humble start in 1990. How does she run this large business and homeschool and care for her kids? Her success enabled her husband to quit his job. He now helps with the children and her business.

Opening A Franchise

If the word franchising makes you think McDonald's, think again. In addition to fast-food restaurants, a whole host of new franchise concepts have been developed in the last ten years, some of which may help you leverage your skills without having to start from scratch. For example, there are franchises for telecom consulting services, computer services, and more.

One of the hottest new franchises, with particular appeal to women, is iSold It, a nationwide chain of drop-off stores that's now the number one seller on eBay. People with an item to sell bring it to iSold It's local store. iSold It sells the item on eBay and takes a percentage of the price as commission. The company was founded by Elise Wetzel, a former marketing executive at Unilever. In 2002, having just decided to stay home with her two kids, she volunteered to raise funds for her children's preschool playground by holding a virtual garage sale. But when she started trying to list the castoffs on eBay, "it quickly became apparent that it was a lot easier to buy things on eBay than it was to sell them." So she looked for a local drop-off center that would handle eBay sales. No such store existed. And so her idea for iSold It was born. "The idea went through me like a lightning bolt," Wetzel recalled. "I couldn't believe there wasn't already something like this out there." She opened her first iSold It store in Pasadena at the end of 2003. As of October 2005, the company had more than 140 franchise stores open, with 600 under contract.

Gail, a former marketer for Frito-Lay and mother of two, was looking for a business she could own and run herself but that would eventually generate enough income to allow her husband to quit his job and join her. Having bought and sold on eBay, she knew she had found the perfect business opportunity when she spotted an article about iSold It in a May 2004 issue of USA Today. Within a year, her store was up and running. Although managing her own business is a bit "like having a third child," she's able to spend afternoons with her two kids by putting her brother in charge of the store. "I'd like to be able to spend more time on marketing and less time on operations," she added, "but I expect that will happen when we get a bit bigger."

If the idea of opening an iSold It franchise sounds overwhelming, you could test the waters by holding your own virtual garage sale on eBay and, if you enjoy the process, marketing yourself as an eBay trading assistant, selling other people's and businesses' unwanted goods online. According to Business Week, "Upwards of 430,000 people in the US alone--more than are employed worldwide by General Electric and Procter & Gamble combined--earn a full- or part-time living on eBay."

A Shifting Spectrum of Opportunities

In addition to full-time, part-time, consulting, and entrepreneurship, there's also telecommuting, job sharing, temping, interim assignment--a veritable rainbow of work arrangements. And the categories overlap. Some consulting work could be considered entrepreneurship, and vice versa. More importantly, we've seen women relaunch at one point on the spectrum and migrate to another as their family situation changes and/or additional professional opportunities emerge.


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