“And Now for Something Completely Different”: Working Moms In the Age of Online Entrepreneurship

Big, big changes are happening in the Dunn household this spring. It’s best not to dump those details here, but the essential points are: (1) I’m going to be severely limited in my ability to work with my special education law clients this year, but (2) there’s a burgeoning business opportunity I will be able to harness this summer if I play my cards right.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, the key is to shift my time and energy away from in-person interactions to online communication. But just as importantly, I need to move away from work that requires active case management, and toward projects that are more short-term, focused on products rather than service delivery, and involve more automation and routine than the unwieldy world of special education law and advocacy.

That’s right.  In 2017, I’ll be ramping up my fashion resale hobby into a real business, while scaling back on lawyering.

The circumstances that heralded this change are not new ones. Parents in the post-industrial age, and mothers in particular, have consistently struggled to delineate and refine their roles and responsibilities as the needs of their families evolve throughout the various stages of childhood/parenthood. That’s why we have entire blogs like this one, which over time have transmogrified vague musings like “having it all” and “work-life balance” into the familiar, endless bleating we now hear echoed across social media and other online fora.

So what’s different now? Online business is hot, internet marketing is no longer an option but a necessity, and job titles like SEO Consultant and Director of Social Media Strategy have entered our lexicon. In the working mom space, we’re seeing less discussion of part-time meat space jobs, and even traditional WAH jobs like telemarketing and medical billing.  It’s a hell of a lot cheaper, faster, and less fraught with risk to start a blog and start slinging local SEO packages or sell stuff online than it was even a few years ago.  For the ambitious and talented, YouTube stardom and Insta-Fame may lie but a smartphone video or two away.

Of course, the opening of these floodgates also means more competition from a much larger group of wantrepreneurs vying for our attention, with the natural selection process taking considerably longer to cull the prizewinners from the thinning herd. But in a way, this renders the vision of success that much sweeter for the most motivated of online business owners, particularly those of us who want to create, build, and share a vision, and not just simply make sales.

For those of you too young to get the Monty Python reference, what strikes me about all of this is just how easy it now is to shed the past and completely reinvent yourself online. That’s not exactly what I plan to do. I just don’t think I can let go of being a lawyer, and I’ll always have that as my first career, whether I rely on legal work for income or not. But if I tried to shift the majority of my work from lawyering to fashion resale say, ten or fifteen years ago, the assumption would have been that I was going through some midlife crisis, not seizing a business opportunity ripe with potential. These days it’s a bit more normal to have many irons in the fire as once, sometimes related to one another, but often not. The ability to build these portfolio-style careers gives us a much more dynamic economy, and allows families greater opportunities to create the lifestyle they desire for their households. We have an abundance of choices where previously there were very few. We can generate income, launch a passion project, or pivot into a new career entirely without a costly master’s degree or needing to move across the country. It’s an odd era we’re living in, with social unrest, many unsolved problems, and new and scary challenges.  But this is also an amazing time to be alive, when almost anyone who wants to make something incredible out of their lives most certainly has the ability to do so.

I have a website to build, decisions to make on investments, and kids to pick up at 3:25 dismissal today, kicking off a three-day holiday weekend that could lead to massive productivity or a backlog of dirty dishes. At the very moment that I drift into a new creative idea or marketing strategy, I also remember that we need milk, and that there’s a dentist appointment that really should be scheduled today. It is maddening, overwhelming, and an opportunity for which I must be grateful, despite the sensation that some things are likely to go wrong before they can go right. It’s amazing, and I would not want this stage of working motherhood to be any other way.

I’ll keep sharing any new insights, successes, and failures as they come. I would love to hear the same from you, because this community helps to keep me sane, and reminds me that we can somehow be united by our respective uniquenesses.

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