All married women with school age children fall somewhere on the “Mom Guilt” spectrum. On the one hand, having a career is satisfying and fulfilling, but might leave you feeling like you can’t dedicate enough time to family.
On the other hand, once you decide not to work, you might end up feeling like a financial burden to your working partner, and the hard work you do around the house may go unnoticed or unappreciated. I know no women who enjoy explaining to their husbands why we need to go to the salon so often.
I have experienced both scenarios at some point in my married life, and have mostly enjoyed both phases despite the lingering mental challenges.
I resigned from my financial services job when I became pregnant, and dedicated myself full-time to my children. Those were lovely years, and I was grateful to be able to spend loads of time with my babies.
Once the second (and last) went to kindergarten, I decided to re-enter the workforce. Our family had been hit badly by the 2008 crisis and it was time for me to contribute however I could.
I hadn’t worked in seven years and English is a second language for me. I felt very lucky to land an interesting job at a prestigious investment bank. I was already old for my junior position, which didn’t matter: I loved being part of a team. The work was interesting and I was contributing to the household.
Going Back To Work
I couldn’t attend chapel at school on Thursdays at 10am, but I felt working would make me a positive role model for my daughter. But I was so happy to be working I didn’t look hard at the numbers right away.
Looking back, it took me a long time to see that my financial contribution wasn’t significant. Our lifestyle had not changed much since before the crisis despite my massive change in my lifestyle.
The first year of going back to work, I barely broke even after childcare costs. My paid, two-week vacation was barely enough time to relax. Summers became long and expensive.
Looking back at that time, I realize I was in deep denial. As I painfully noticed the numbers were not adding up, there was a warrior part of me that did not want to let go. After all, the job was really hard to get, I was good at it, and most importantly, I believed eventually I would start to make more money and then it would all pay off. I was tired and stretched to the limit of my sanity.
When 1 + 1 does not equal 2
It is impressively easy to dig a deep financial sink whole while working full time. Here is how I managed to do so:
1st year paycheck: $125,000
Minus tax and deductions: about 40%, including health, dental, and NY state and city taxes
Take home: ~$75,000
Babysitter: ~$900/month – ($20 per hour, 3pm to 7pm) weekdays for school pickup. She worked 8 or 9 hours on day’s school are closed. Schools close for many reasons we tend to forget until it’s time to write this check.
Summer day camp: $4000 (still need sitter during summer)
House cleaning and laundry: $800/month
Total yearly expenses: ~$76,000
I am aware my childcare costs are above average for most US cities. We were living in NYC, so everything is pricier. At the time, I was adamant that my children needed the best. Our former nanny Duaa has a degree in Mathematics and Chemistry, is bilingual, past president of the chess club at her college, and had complete schedule flexibility as her other occupation was a freelance writer.
It made complete sense to me to give Duaa all my after-tax income!
Because Duaa was busy with homework and after-school activities. She did not have time or desire to help with household duties. The house-cleaning and laundry issue were a problem. I still did all the shopping, cooking and cleaning up after meals. It’s common in NYC to have the laundry room in the building basement, making it very difficult to throw in a load of laundry here and there. With both my husband and I working full time, there was little room for sharing household duties. We had to outsource this, so we didn’t have to spend weekends in the basement laundry room.
I believe my income would have increased slightly over the years had I stayed at this job longer. My former team is part of an incredibly successful group, and the firm had a culture of rewarding hard work, to a point. What I didn’t see then, was that any salary increase would not have been material enough to be life-changing.
Still, I continued on this track, believing that the hard work would pay off eventually.
A Digital Mindset Sets In
About two years after going back to work, my husband showed up one day and sat me down for a chat. He had been talking to a bank abroad for a while. They had finally made an offer to hire him, which meant we would all relocate to another country. I was aware of these talks, but I didn’t believe it would come to anything.
He went on to say he was going to accept it, relocate our family, and it was the right move for us. We were financially stretched to the limit, as our lifestyle did not match the recent financial crisis and my work helped little in that area. He was right.
I pushed back of course, as I hate and fear change. We finally met in the middle: he accepted the job and moved ahead of the family. I would continue working till the end of the school year and we would relocate the following summer.
By the time we joined him, nine months later, my husband was a different animal. Without his family around, he had spent his idle time obtaining a self-guided education on alternative businesses. It was almost an obsession.
He spoke a new language and had this clear idea that I could learn this too. We could create some sort of business online and fulfill my dream of both working and also being able to attend to every single school event. I loved the idea and agreed to give it a shot.
12 Minutes a Day
My husband gave me an online course as a gift and went on to work every day. The course was an introduction to drop-shipping, and a step-by-step guide on creating an online business from scratch that could be managed from anywhere, at my own schedule.
This was an exciting prospect, but difficult for a non-self-starting individual trained to thrive in a structured corporate environment. I was born missing the entrepreneur gene. After a little while, he noticed I was dragging my feet. I was going nowhere without a serious push.
One day–out of nowhere–he purchased an online business! All of a sudden, I had to migrate ownership of an established and
ongoing business, learn that business, and figure out operational aspects.
This involved (but wasn’t limited to):
- Establishing a corporation for our business
- Obtaining a corporate tax ID
- Producing something called a “Re-seller certificate”
- Establishing merchant relationships
- Transferring ownership of a domain and store
- Learning how to use the shopping cart platform
- Learning how to process orders
- Learning the specifics of products I now sold
- Transferring ownership of emails
- Meeting suppliers and obtaining account approvals
- Dealing with customers and their many issues
As much as I admired his vision, and appreciated the gesture (the push, really), I wasn’t feeling warm and fuzzy that day. I was still adapting to a new country, kids in new schools and lunch boxes that had to be made. I still didn’t have a local driver’s license, and to top it all, we were moving from temporary housing to our permanent home– on that very day!
I still remember him turning his head while holding the door on his way out, saying, “It will take you 12 minutes to get this done.” Right!
None of this was easy. Step by step, I learned and overcame each challenge. Just like you don’t notice your children getting taller, only in retrospect do I realize the enormous learning that took place in those first 6 months.
The drop shipping course had given me the understanding I needed, and was critical even though I never ended up building a store from scratch. We continued to purchase established stores, as we saw great value in them. Those were businesses already profitable. Everything I had already learned could be applied to the next business with much less pain.
I started hiring virtual assistants (VAs), failing to obtain positive results at first, but learning from my mistakes. Slowly, I was developing procedures and systems, and the business became more and more automated.
Outsourcing was a crucial part of the business success. Undesirable tasks (customer service) got done by someone else. Most importantly, I hired highly specialized outsourcers for tasks, such as AdWords and website development work. Those tasks were too complex and time consuming for me to learn. The online model allowed me to take advantage of an international pool of workers. This cost me a fraction of the expense of an actual employee in a traditional business.
The lessons are so many. Slowly I got better, but not without many serious jiggles.
Fast Forward Three Years Later
I am writing this from a first class seat on a long-haul flight. I have asked the flight attendant for a fresh cup of tea every 15 minutes. It’s lovely. I am coming home from New York City after a girl’s weekend with my stepdaughter.
This flight and the five-star hotel where we stayed was all paid for with points I earned purchasing from our suppliers with my corporate Amex what we sell on our stores. Besides food and some shopping, this trip is costing my family zero dollars. And I still have enough points left for a summer outing with the whole family.
I didn’t have to ask permission from anyone to go on this trip. I don’t have to take vacation days. I was able to keep up with work, as no one on my team of 8+ knows where I am or what I’m up to. All I need is my laptop, and not even a paperclip more than that. I work about 4 hours on a bad day, 8 hours on a good day. I choose which hours I work, so I can enjoy experiences that matter to me.
We now own 12 online stores, 5 of which are profitable. The rest are dormant, simmering in the pipeline and awaiting my focus.
Our best store was purchased for $25K in November of 2015, and it had about 3000 active products. The average product price of that store is ~$1000.
This business was modestly profitable in the first year, but revenues increased 5 fold in our second year. We never saw this coming and struggled the entire first year.
The purchasing of an established online store is really a brilliant strategy. From a perspective of investment, the general pricing of online stores is of a bargain if you consider it includes uploaded optimized products and supplier relationships. You also know the concept works and avoid the high failure rate of new businesses.
In 2016, we continued to upload products and invested in paid advertising. We started researching additional sales channels (third party marketplaces). That year we sold about $400K in products. At this volume, and with my husband acting as the chief strategist I needed, we decided to scale up our activities.
We did this by:
Pursuing additional suppliers for more products.
Investing in creating a significant presence on third-party marketplace.
Purchasing additional “add-on” businesses.
Creating documented procedures and outsourcing whatever work we could.
By 2017, we had:
An American PPC agency responsible for all Google Ads and SEO.
4 full-time Philippine virtual assistants doing all the order processing and customer service during US business hours.
An accounting wizard from India doing all the record-keeping.
3 full time developers either uploading products or helping with ad hoc website issues beyond my ability.
I continue to manage all aspects of the business from my desk in my bedroom or my laptop. I do most of my work when the children are at school. I fell into a routine, improved my productivity. I learned how to manage VAs and developed a special bond with a committed team.
That year ended with ~$2mm in sales. The profit margin is about 10%. All the profit was reinvested in the business growth of this and other stores as we continue with the scaling strategy.
2018 will be an even bigger year because of this investment. It’s easy for us to see why our drop-shipping business will eventually be our family’s main source of income.
The Bottom Line
I wish I had found this online business lifestyle sooner. I could have handled this work even while caring for my children.
I have tried to tell my friends about what I do and how great it can be, but I am met with confused faces and very mild interest. Sometimes I wonder if they even believe I actually work, as we play tennis and lunch together often.
Everyone in their 30’s or 40’s who has ever held any job in the past already possess the skills necessary to build their own successful drop shipping business. Everything I have learned to get here can be learned by anyone. I’m even willing to share my mistakes so others can avoid the same pitfalls and achieve success faster.
My advice for anyone mildly interested in starting an online business is to jump-in, head-first, then learn to swim as you go. There are wonderful resources out there to help at any stage or level of expertise. Any type of corporate experience is very helpful, but this also works for anyone without any experience but some common sense.
No part of this journey was easy. I worked hard. My brain burned as I learned new stuff. I have stayed up late many times. I cried when I couldn’t solve issues for my customers and they got angry. I work on weekends on regular basis.
My kids complain I’m always on the computer. I am not trying to portray a wonderful or perfect life-work balance, but this is pretty darn close to ideal. Even if work sometimes it does take up all my time, at least it’s flexible, and I’m able to be there for my kids in a way the old 9-5 never allowed me to.
I would like to point out that success came with persistence and education but I started with zero knowledge and experience on how to run an online store. If I can do this, anyone can.
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