How I ETR’ed It

“At this point, we can’t rule out malignancy,” the doctor said.

I just looked at my husband. I knew he was asking the doctor questions, but I didn’t hear any words. I saw his lips moving and felt his strong hand on top of mine. But all I could think was I needed to wake up. (“This is not happening. I know I am just having a bad dream.”)

It wasn’t until I was in the front seat of our car that I realized it wasn’t a dream. “Are we going home?” I asked. “No,” my husband said. “We are going to get your ultrasound and more x-rays.” “Oh,” I replied.

It didn’t really matter where we were going, because all I could think of at that moment were the three beautiful children my husband and I have been blessed with.

First, my thoughts went to my ten-year-old, Mikaela. Without me, who would she talk to about boys? Who would show her how to put on makeup and help her pick out a college? But the most painful thought was… who would comfort her in her loss?

For the past three years, Mikaela has accompanied me on the Race for the Cure breast cancer walk. She is well aware of the horrors of treatment. She’s often commented about people walking in honor of a loved one. For her, I knew there would be no sugarcoating the truth.

Then my thoughts shifted to Connor, my eight-year-old son — an amazing baseball player who plays it cool with his dad and friends. He is an undeniably sweet boy who always writes a special card for me on Mother’s Day. What would he do next May? Would he pretend to write a card, not telling his teacher that he has no one to give it to?

Suddenly, I felt like throwing up. I asked my husband to pull over.

Once back in the car, all I could think about was Delanie, my four-year-old princess. She is so used to having both my husband and me tuck her in at night. She wakes up each morning with a smile on her face and kisses to spare. Have I made enough of an impact on her life that in 10, 12, 15 years from now she will remember me?

Over the following three weeks, I was poked, prodded, and sliced.

On the 22nd day, I found out that I did not have breast cancer.

You would think that I would be so happy that I could not wait to get back to my normal routine. But no. Something happened. Going through that breast cancer scare changed my life in many ways.

You see, I’ve always wanted to start my own business — a business that would empower the working mom. A business that would provide the tools for EVERY working mom to lead a healthier, wealthier, and more balanced life.

It is my belief that working moms have more influence on what our world will look like than any other single group of people. Plus, they have the responsibility to match. I even purchased the URL for my new business in July of 2007.

But I already had a job. And not just any job. I had one of the best jobs in the world. After all, I was Publisher and CEO of Early to Rise. So I kept saying, “Someday. Someday I will start that new business.”

I’m not sure what kept holding me back before the cancer scare. I think the fact that I loved my job. And that, even as a CEO, I was able to enjoy quality time with my husband and three kids — from attending their baseball games, school plays, and dance recitals to taking walks on the beach.

When I would speak at conferences, working moms who heard about my career accomplishments and wonderful family life always asked me, “How? How did you do it?” Those moms were always with me. Tucked in the back of my brain. Not forgotten, but put on hold for “someday.”

But after the scare, the need to create this new business and help other working moms have the lifestyle they wanted and deserved was overwhelming. I could not NOT do it.

Unlike most working moms, I had developed systems and strategies for leading a complete and fulfilling life. I had escaped the guilt and the feeling of inadequacy. I had raised kids who were strong, confident, and compassionate. And I knew that I could teach any working mom who wanted to make more money to accomplish that as well.

So in one of the worst recessions America has ever seen, with one of the highest unemployment rates in history, I left the best job I ever had in my 25-year career. Three months later, Working Moms Only was a reality.

What I learned along the way will help you jumpstart any new business. You see, I did not take a dime from any investors, even though the offers were there. My husband and I took $10,000 out of our personal bank account and put that money into our new company.

Several of my industry colleagues questioned me about turning down investors and using my own money. My answer was simple. This was the way we had been teaching ETR readers to start a business — and this was the way I was going to do it.

These are the three most valuable lessons I have learned thus far:

1. Less is more.

A friend of mine recently left her corporate job to start her own marketing consulting firm. The first thing she did was find office space. I asked her why she was doing it. She told me that, with the real estate market in the dumps, space was a bargain. So she was able to rent space for $1,500 a month that normally went for three grand.

But she did not stop there. She bought a desk, chair, filing cabinets, and a couch. She spent $5,000 before she wrote a sales letter or had a website built.

After two months of trying, she finally landed her first client. That client is paying her a $2,000 a month retainer. You do the math.

I have a four-bedroom house and three kids who have their own rooms. I do not have a library, den, or office. Still, I did not go out and rent space. I converted my rarely used dining room into my office. (Heck, we’re kitchen people anyway.) It overlooks a golf course, and I find it very conducive to writing. When I need a change of scenery, I take my laptop and sit out by my pool. I did not buy filing cabinets or print business cards. I have a really good computer and I understand the value of knowing how to use it to it’s fullest.

2. Work on your business every day.

When you are starting a brand-new business that is going to be your livelihood, there are no weekends. You don’t get the day off because it is your wedding anniversary or your kid’s birthday. You have to make sacrifices.

Now does this mean I missed Connor’s ninth birthday? Of course not. But after he went to bed that night, I worked. I worked until I finished everything I needed to do. Sure, the goal of having your own business is to get it to the point where you are living your desired lifestyle. But this does not happen over night.

You must take your business seriously. For this very reason, I vowed that I would not work in my PJs. I still get up and go to the gym first thing in the morning. I then shower, dress, and dive into my work.

I don’t stay in bed an extra hour or talk on the phone. I treat my business with respect — as I have always treated someone else’s business that I was running.

I know far too many “entrepreneurs” who are still in their pajamas at 2:00 in the afternoon. These are the guys who are always asking why they are not doing as well as their competitors.

3. Know your market intimately.

It’s best if you are a member of your target market. This is the road I have taken. I knew what it was like to be an executive before I had kids, and I have been a working mom for 11 years. I honed the new skills I needed over those 11 years. I am now in the top percentile of highly paid working moms.

If you are not personally in your target market, there are several things you can do to get yourself up to speed. Start with these:

  • Study your competition. Understand what they do and figure out how you can do it faster, better, and/or cheaper.
  • Use Amazon to get insider information about your prospective customers. Read reviews on products similar to the ones you are thinking of developing. Decide how you could address buyers’ concerns and enhance the features and benefits they like.

So… what do you do now?

Well, if you are a working mom, join me.

If you are not, I bet you know a working mom that you care enough about to want her to be healthier, wealthier, and enjoy a more balanced life that includes quality time with her loved ones. So please pass this issue on to her.

You will be hearing from me, from time to time, in ETR. In the meantime, connect with me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/maryellentribby.

But before I sign off today, dear reader, please accept my sincerest appreciation. Your feedback over the years has helped me grow tremendously. And if you are one of the hundreds I have met in person, it has been my honor.

A special thank you to the ETR team. They taught me how to be a better leader by demanding more.

And to my mentor, Michael Masterson, who selflessly taught me more about the business of doing business in the last three years than I learned in the previous 22, my deepest gratitude.

[Ed. Note: As you’ve just read, MaryEllen Tribby has followed her lifelong dream and started a new company, Working Moms Only, to help working women balance work and family life. But MaryEllen, while no longer ETR’s Publisher and CEO, still has an active role with us as an advisor. Keep an eye out for her columns on the challenges facing working moms, marketing, business building, and more. And check out her new company, Working Moms Only, here.]
  • Trey

    I will definitely be following MaryEllen on ETR now. How many of use have seen someone successful at teaching (preaching) wealth principles at ETR only to say, “Well, if starting your own business (website) is so great, why don’t you do it”? Well, Mr. Big Mouth – Here ya go!

    Now, let’s see how it goes. I wish MaryEllen all the best in her new venture. I also appreciate that she is actually following what ETR preaches in their ‘stuff’ about doing it. She is not setting up yet another site to sell you on setting up your own site, but rather chose a topic that is near and dear to her and is publishing what she believes will be beneficial information to her audience.

    Go get’em Mary Ellen!
    Your success in this venture would be the best advertisement that ETR could ever hope for.