Couples who jointly own businesses comprise about 14% of small businesses. Here is the story of one way to build a business while focusing on family, while struggling through on-going change and growth, as all entrepreneurs do.
Elizabeth and Page Moon founded Focus Data Solutions (FDS) as an answer to their interests and needs.
“The opportunity to start our company was an opportunity to merge my experiences with those of my husband, build a company, and raise my daughter.” Elizabeth says.
“I started my career working in museum administration, in membership and development,” she continues. “I moved to association management. Then into business management and leadership development… with the association’s local chapters to improve their operations and volunteer management. When I had our daughter I wanted to work and have a flexible schedule, so I moved into consulting in these areas.”
Tell us how you decided to go into business together.
“My husband, Page, and I decided to go into business together in 2001. We were excited by the challenge and interested in charting our own course. We jumped in feet first. He was caught in the dot-com crash. I was an independent consultant. We had an opportunity to purchase some assets and serve some clients from his former company. Page managed technology while I worked on business growth. Those roles now blur and we’ve each developed new talents we never knew we had!
“We had to decide if we were willing to risk our total financial security on working together. Starting out, we both kept our day jobs for about nine months. When we went to work solely for FDS, we took salaries immediately. We didn’t take large salaries, but we felt this company needed to support us and our goals if we were going to work in it full time. ”
These are two critical points for all entrepreneurs:
You need to manage financial risk when you are starting out. Having a job, plenty of savings to invest, or other income sources so you can develop and grow is critical. But you also need to be able to pay yourself from the business within a reasonable time frame. Otherwise, you have a hobby.
What changes have you made to FDS over time?
“The most impactful change we made was when we elected to redirect our original emphasis from electronic mail and Web development into hardware, network management and IT project development. Now, Focus Data Solutions offers technology solutions to businesses. Our primary clients are professional service firms, associations, not-for profits, and their employees.
“We found our passion and our niche. We’ve steadily grown since making that choice. It was scary, but it was the right move. ”
What mistakes have you learned the most from?
“Bad hires! Pretty resumes and long lists of technical certifications don’t insure a good match for our team or our clients. Bringing in team members who share our passion for service makes all the difference to our success.”
How have you had to adjust to being together full time?
“Working together is a daily challenge. We started with guidelines, such as ‘we won’t talk about the company after 5:00.’ That foolishness really didn’t work! Our marriage and our family come first, the company is a close second. When we mix those priorities up, we strain our relationship and our company.
“There are still a few guidelines. We talk constantly about our roles and how we work best together. We do try to apologize when one of us loses it completely. ”
How do you cope with running a business together and caring for your daughter?
“In short, we both flex. I am the primary caregiver. My working day is tailored around our daughter’s schedule. In the beginning, I worked from home. When she started school, I moved into the office from around 8:15am to 2:30pm. And then work at home as needed. If I have a meeting or deadline, Page and I shuffle that schedule. Sometimes, we decide who is going to work and who is doing child care based on which one of us might make money that day!
“This schedule also affected our roles. Page manages all aspects of daily operations and client service/sales. We share business development. I manage strategic planning, financial operations, marketing, human resources, and community development. These are all functions we’ve determined I can develop and oversee no matter where I am or what my day might bring.
“Technology is so important! I have computer access at all times and keep in touch electronically when I am out of the office. Conference calls also make my physical location irrelevant. A calendaring system allows the staff to know my schedule and find me if they need me.”
I know you are active in the community, could you please talk a little about the how you got started doing that?
“From the beginning, we felt that community involvement was important. First, it was a business development tool. More importantly, we wanted to give back to the community that was supporting us. In addition to business related organizations, we quickly figured out that we needed to define our philanthropic interest — as suddenly everyone was asking us for time, talent and treasure! We selected children and education, largely because of our daughter. There are a lot of needs in our community and we want to make an impact.”
Like many women entrepreneurs, Elizabeth sees her business as a way to do work she loves, to keep growing, to raise her family, and to give back to her community. Flexibility and technology play critical supporting roles in making all that happen.
This interview was conducted by Women Grow Business contributor, Patricia A. Frame, an experienced management consultant, speaker, and executive with expertise in human capital, and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. She helps small to mid-size organizations achieve their goals through more effective human capital strategy and management.