When a business looks for a place where they can advertise, it usually means they need to look for affordable advertising in an area that is related to the market they are trying to reach. Our Milk Money takes a different approach to that by giving parents a place to promote their business amongst others that are just like them. People that just want to work from home whether it’s to care for their children or even their grandchildren.

The credit for this directory belongs to two women, Ally Loprete and Kelli Shand. Although it is not very old, they have been able to create something extremely successful and already a great resource for anyone looking to purchase from a parent-owned business.

I recently got a chance to ask Ally a few questions about the business and being a mompreneur. She is out traveling but she was kind enough to find the time and get back to me. Hopefully what she has to say will inspire others to see that they can do anything that they want to do as well.

What is ‘Our Milk Money’?

We are an organization that is dedicated to helping parents earn more for their families. The basic function of OMM is a national online directory that lists all the self-employed parents across the country. We encourage our members to make purchases from each other and create a mini-economy amongst ourselves so that our businesses will thrive more. The basic concept is about educating the public on the value of making a purchase from a family rather than a mega store. We work to inspire parents to contribute to this movement and we believe that we can make some significant changes by working together.

It is imperative that we look to support each other. In some ways the life we lead as parents is so much more difficult than when our parents were raising us. In this society most families cannot survive on one income- and we weren’t prepared for this struggle. It’s easy to blame ourselves for not choosing a better career, a better school, a different industry. It’s easy to blame our parents and teachers for not preparing us better, or politicians, or old bosses…but all of that is so counter productive. We really believe in looking forward and that we can make a difference by looking at the power we have from within. the stronger our membership, the better chance we have at succeeding in this concept.

How did you come up with the idea for a parent-owned business directory?

I was a working parent and hated it. I hated the daycare my son was in and the number of hours I spent in the car with him. I wanted to come home desperately but could not find the right opportunity to leave my job, and we would not have been able to survive without my income. During a strange turn of events, I was let go, and was able to collect some severance. While at home, my son started to flourish and I realized I never wanted to leave him again. I started thinking of ways to help others stay home and support their families as well. I am a big believer in karma, so I felt that if I started contributing to others, I’d be taken care of as well. I didn’t have the money to just give away, but I realized I could use the budget I had for our every day purchases simply by giving my business to the right people. So, I started searching for parents who sold the everyday products and services that I was spending my money on anyway…but this wasn’t easy. I couldn’t believe that there was nothing out there to aid me in my search. I am usually pretty good at finding just about everything I need online so I was surprised that nothing like this existed. I told my friend Kelli about how there should me a directory that lists only parents who are working from home. Kelli loved that idea and urged me to create it myself. I had never run my own business before and didn’t want to attempt it alone. Because I saw Kelli’s passion in the idea, I knew she’d make the perfect partner. So I asked and she agreed.

How many businesses do you currently have listed?

By the time we launched we had 1800 business listings…but that was 2 months ago. I would guess that we are now about 2500.

What does it take for someone to be able to get their own business listed there?

The only mandatory criteria we have is that you must be a self-employed parent. We also list grandparents, and family members who are contributing to a family run business. Membership is only $25/year – which gives you a local business listing in your community, and full access to your profile. There are options to buy into other communities for an additional fee.

How long has Our Milk Money been online?

Our official launch date was March 24, 2008. However, we started collecting applications for members in January of 2008.

What hav eyou learned since you launched that you wish you had known in advance?

This is difficult to answer because although there is a lot we probably should have known before starting a business, and we have the war wounds to show for the “mistakes” we’ve made, I feel like all of it is just part of our journey, and I appreciate where it has taken us. Had we not stumbled through some of the things we did, we may not have learned such wonderful and valuable lessons. We’ve learned a lot about the importance of getting a high ranking by the large search engines- which is imperative for a business directory, we’ve learned how to balance our partnership, balance our time with both family and work, promote ourselves and our concept on a slim budget…all things that came from knowing very little in the beginning. Since we feel very passionate about helping others start their own businesses and want to support them, it makes sense for us to share with others all that we learned from our own mistakes to save them from making the same ones. Learning is a process that you need to embrace, because every day there is more to take in. No one can know everything, so we need to keep ourselves open to new information and experiences.

If you had to choose one, what advertising style have you found to be the most effective?

There is nothing like word of mouth. You can’t pay for that kind of good publicity. Just about everything we do seems to come from what everyone else is talking about. It’s how we know what movies to see (or not to see) and what restaurants to go to. Even networking sites like MySpace and facebook came because people were talking about it. I almost felt that I had to join these things so that I could stay up to date in current conversations.

How have you been able to manage your time between work and your family?

Actually, I was pretty terrible at managing my time until I recently learned a great lesson the hard way. I recently ended up in the hospital from the exhaustion and it gave me a huge wake-up call to start taking better care of myself and managing my time better. First I’ll tell you what I was NOT doing: I was not sleeping, not eating, not giving any attention to my toddler, not taking time talk to my husband, and not taking time for myself in anyway. I was working over 100 hours a week, staying up almost every night until 4am answering emails, blogging and networking, I was not functioning properly because of all the malnourishment, and I was always cranky and stressed out. Everything was suffering, including my relationships. Thank goodness I ended up where I did, because I had to make some drastic changes to make sure that never happened again. Now, I work only 40-45 hours a week. I have allotted certain times to work on certain things and time for my family each day. Every little task has a time slot, in my week, and although I can make adjustments when things come up, this new schedule is working really well for me and keeps me in control. I also never work on my laptop anymore in front of my 2 year old. I only work in the morning before he gets up, his nap time, just after I’ve put him to bed and for a few hours that he’s in preschool or day camp. We have about 5 hours together every that I have set aside just for him and I to be together….which may include running errands and house hold chores…but I always include him and make our time together fun. I have 2 hours each night for my family at dinner and bath time- no working allowed. And, I am also committed to being in bed by 11pm each night…no matter what. This was the hardest adjustment to make, but has proven to be the most valuable. Sleep is important! Weekends are no longer used for work. My rule is only to answer emails (no meetings or projects allowed) and never more than 6 hours of work in a weekend.

What kind of things have you learned as a mompreneur that has had a positive effect on running a website such as yours?

The good news is that we are living in an age where the internet is thriving and we can connect to anyone in the world for free. We can also get any information we need for free, and even most services can be found for free. This has opened up a world of possibilities for all of us! I’ve learned, that as a business owner, I need to remember to set my own boundaries and call the shots in my life. I no longer have a boss so I have to remain in control. I can slow the pace down if I need to- no one else can do this for me…so I must keep on top of my hours and my sanity. This isn’t to say that there won’t be stresses. I know now that I probably won’t be able to start paying myself a salary for another year or so- had I realized this, I may not have started my business- but I am glad that I did because what we are accomplishing is far more important than money. This has been very difficult for us financially- but I see the light at the end of the tunnel and it doesn’t stop me from working to achieve these goals. We need money to survive, but somehow even when we don’t have any we find a way to make it work, so eventually it becomes less of a burden.

What advice do you have for someone who might be interested in starting their own business?

I make a point of encouraging parents everywhere to work from home if that is where they wish to be. So many people don’t feel that they have the opportunity to work for themselves, but with the right tools, there are so many services that can be provided out of your home. The question is what are you doing for someone else that you can be doing for yourself? We encourage people to use the tools they already have. Do you love pets? Why not dog groom in your back yard? Do you bake? Why not offer some catering services? Are you a great book keeper? Are you good with spreadsheets? Writing? Emailing? All of these things can be done virtually, and OMM is a way to promote it for a very small annual fee. We don’t sell ads to big companies so the small service listings will not be drowned out. OMM is constantly looking for ways to help empower the self-employed parent and we will always be available to lend support or advice.

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