I recently sat in awe in a room full of women - most of them moms - who are powerful influencers reaching giant audiences. They are doing that through a variety of social media platforms and creating small media empires - from their homes.
Through Internet postings, vocal opinions and business acumen, these tech-savvy women have amassed millions of online followers and captured the attention of the big brands. They are doing it on their own schedules - in between scout meetings and soccer games - and redefining what it means to be working moms.
"These moms have actually made it acceptable to run businesses out of the home," said Maria Bailey, CEO of BSM Media and founder of the SheStreams conference I attended in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
As I listened to the women talk about their successes, I realized an evolution has occurred. A decade ago, the first phase of mom businesses began rolling out. Moms were starting Internet sites and blogs to stay connected to civilization as they dealt with diapers, temper tantrums, potty training and teething.
"The assumption was they were running little businesses from their bedrooms," Bailey says. But these pioneers found an audience among other mothers, a powerful demographic coveted by big consumer companies. Now these moms are running half-million dollar businesses out of their home and that's acceptable, even professional, Bailey says.
Today's home-based business owners are podcasting, vlogging, marketing through Facebook, holding Twitter parties, pinning on Pinterest, creating YouTube channels, publishing newsletters and reaching across the digital sphere. They have used social media and their relationship-building skills to catapult their careers to the next level. Brands like Disney, Hewlett Packard and Ford have taken notice.
"These moms are cyber celebrities selling their identities and endorsements," says Bailey, who personally connects with more than 8 million parents a month through her podcasts, radio show and websites. "They give advertisers the ability to reach moms through multiple channels."
Take Abbie Schiller, CEO and founder of The Mother Company, for example. Four years ago, she left her high-paying job in media relations at ABC News in Los Angeles to start her online parenting company. She actually funded the company with a mission - "helping parents raise good people" - by reaching out to 22 parents who she convinced to make an investment. Today, The Mother Company (www.themotherco.com) operates a parenting website and sells a line of children's products that includes books, shows (on DVD and download), dolls and apps. It reaches hundreds of thousands of mothers a month and has products in Whole Foods.
"Our investors saw the opportunity in creating media opportunities for parents and children. That's not something a corporation can do well. It's something a mom can do well," Schiller says. "Now we have companies clamoring to see how they can be involved in what we're doing." In only two years, The Mother Company has attracted Fortune 500 sponsors and advertisers including The Gap and Johnson & Johnson. Schiller plans to expand further by offering an interactive digital platform for children.
As social media explodes, these early adopters with legions of fans see the wave as an opportunity to not just hop on and ride, but to lead.
When Teana McDonald of Margate, Fla., became a mom, she began making adorable hair accessories for her young daughter. Soon after, she decided to start My Little Diva Accessories from her home, and later expanding into showrooms. To attract more customers, she created a Facebook page and became active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Within a few months, she had engaged thousands of other mothers online, and her audience still continues to grow. She's about to launch an online TV show, 3 Loud Women, too.
"People buy from people they like, moms especially," McDonald says. However, she says building an online brand has become competitive as more mothers have discovered the opportunities. "They're realizing it's a big bubble that's not going to burst."
Recently, McDonald began talking about her online success with other women business owners and that led to her new business, Get It Done Divas, as a social media marketing specialist. Her most common advice: "You have to figure out what platforms are good for your business."
Cristy Clavijo-Kish says the same phenomenon is sweeping through the Hispanic community of online moms. Not only does Clavijo-Kish run her own bilingual blog and resource site for multicultural parents of tweens, called Los Tweens, she also co-founded Latina Mom Bloggers. Latina Mom Bloggers is the go-to place for Hispanic online moms to learn new ways to leverage social media presence and partner with top brands for social media campaigns, product reviews, ambassador programs and advertising. Even more, Clavijo-Kish sits on the management team of Hispanicize.com, which offers services to social media marketers and bloggers.
"Latina moms are learning, from mainstream moms," Clavijo-Kish says. They are choosing niches for which they have a passion, using conferences for learning opportunities and figuring out how to find sponsorships and advertisers. "They are starting to make money."
Linda Carmona-Sanchez says she finally realized what these savvy online moms have figured out - anyone who wants the business of young parents must embrace the web. Last week, Carmona-Sanchez attended a Google sponsored workshop in Miami to create a website for her alliance of child-care providers (childcareflorida.org). She plans to take what she learned at the workshop and help day care operators build their websites. "The belief has been the best advertising is word of mouth," Carmona-Sanchez said. "Not anymore. Parents will talk to each other, but they are more tech savvy and will also look you up online."
As moms begin to see financial payoffs for online efforts, they're starting to understand the tradeoffs. While they have flexibility and time with their kids, most say they work late into the night and through weekends. Bailey says 80 percent of mom moguls work online regularly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The sacrifice, typically, is time to sleep and time spent with their spouse.
"Having ongoing, good content takes work," says Clavijo-Kish. "Sometimes though, I just have to learn to walk away."
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