Bal­anc­ing par­ent­hood with run­ning your own busi­ness

Agitha Achindu of­fers five lessons learned af­ter she started her baby food com­pany

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - AGATHA ACHINDU The Wash­ing­ton Post

I didn’t plan to start a baby food com­pany. This busi­ness found me.

I grew up on a farm in Cameroon, West Africa, eat­ing sim­ple, home­made dishes filled with fresh veg­eta­bles and fruits. I wanted the same for my chil­dren. So I be­gan mak­ing baby food in my kitchen, and shar­ing it with friends and teach­ing them how to make their own. One thing led to an­other, and soon I was teach­ing work­shops and cook­ing classes. The re­sponse was over­whelm­ing.

The idea for my com­pany came from my be­lief that fresh, home­made, or­ganic food should be avail­able to all ba­bies, not just a priv­i­leged few. Many par­ents make baby food from scratch, but what about all the oth­ers who don’t know how, or don’t have time?

As the de­mand ex­ploded, I asked my hus­band, Ge­orges, what I should do. We were liv­ing com­fort­ably as a two-in­come fam­ily. I was work­ing full-time as an IT ex­ec­u­tive and was afraid to leave my job be­cause it would be a sac­ri­fice for our en­tire fam­ily. But I also knew that turn­ing my pas­sion into a suc­cess­ful busi­ness would take 100 per cent of my time. I knew that all kids de­served high-qual­ity food — and I knew it could be done on a com­mer­cial level.

Ge­orges en­cour­aged me to take the leap, so I left my cor­po­rate ca­reer. We put ev­ery­thing we had into the busi­ness — our en­tire sav­ings. The risk was fright­en­ing, but it was worth the sac­ri­fice.

Here’s what I learned along the way about bal­anc­ing home and work.

Learn to say no

When I was just start­ing, I was ea­ger to gain ex­po­sure for my busi­ness. The prod­uct was catch­ing on, and I was busy fill­ing or­ders, spend­ing late nights in the kitchen and get­ting up early to get the kids off to school. As word of mouth spread, I was over­whelmed by calls — in­vi­ta­tions to speak at schools and civic groups, or non­profit groups look­ing for demos and do­na­tions. I was afraid to say no, be­cause I thought the busi­ness would suf­fer. Once, I had a day full of back-to-back events — and I woke up that morn­ing with laryn­gi­tis. That’s when I heard what my body was say­ing: don’t overex­tend your­self. We don’t al­ways have to say yes. You can say no or even “Let me think about it.”

Elim­i­nate dis­trac­tions

Like most small-busi­ness own­ers, I wore all the hats. When you are try­ing to do ev­ery­thing, it is easy to lose your fo­cus on the things that you do best, and the things that al­low your busi­ness to grow. For ex­am­ple, so­cial me­dia is an im­por­tant mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­ity for small busi­nesses. But how much time do you spend on so­cial me­dia ac­tu­ally pro­mot­ing your busi­ness vs. post­ing fun per­sonal up­dates? I learned to look crit­i­cally at how I was us­ing my time. I dropped the things that were not re­lated to my goals. Elim­i­nat­ing even two or three things can make a huge dif­fer­ence.

Lose the guilt

When I started my com­pany, my youngest child was still in di­a­pers. I some­times felt guilty when I had to leave and go to the pro­duc­tion kitchen af­ter I put the kids to bed. My hus­band was there, of course, but I wor­ried that my com­pany was in­ter­fer­ing with my par­ent­ing. The life­style of an en­tre­pre­neur re­quires jug­gling and com­pro­mises. It is hard work — and that work af­fects the en­tire fam­ily. What I have re­al­ized is that kids see what you do. They watch you pur­sue your pas­sion while or­ga­niz­ing the house­hold and sup­port­ing the fam­ily. Fol­low­ing your heart and lead­ing by ex­am­ple is the essence of par­ent­ing, so stop be­ing so hard on your­self.

Stay true to your vi­sion

Two years into my startup, a com­peti­tor came on the scene. I was in­tim­i­dated when I heard that the prin­ci­pals at this com­pany were gos­sip­ing about me and my busi­ness. I was re­ally wor­ried and up­set, think­ing that this would dam­age my rep­u­ta­tion. Turns out the best course of ac­tion was to say noth­ing. I de­cided my com­pany would al­ways project a re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, take the high road and stay fo­cused on our vi­sion. This was, and con­tin­ues to be, a strength.

Ac­cept that the only con­stant is change

I never an­tic­i­pated how much adapt­abil­ity it takes to bring a prod­uct suc­cess­fully to the mass mar­ket. I imag­ined that de­vel­op­ing my prod­uct was a one-time thing. I thought I would hire a packaging de­signer, cre­ate a de­sign and then the prod­uct would be ready for re­tail. But ev­ery re­tailer has dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments. That left me in a con­tin­u­ous cy­cle of devel­op­ment and re­de­vel­op­ment. By em­brac­ing the cre­ative process, though, I even­tu­ally be­came com­fort­able with con­stant change and learned to make it fun.

YUMMYSPOONFULS.COM

Agitha Achindu grew up on a farm in Cameroon, West Africa, “eat­ing sim­ple, home­made dishes filled with fresh veg­eta­bles and fruits.”

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