By Jamey Bradbury

Raising a family is hard work. The same can be said for running a business. But try raising a family while running a business at the same time.

“Having a business is actually a lot like taking care of an infant,” describes Jennifer Stratton, one of six Alaskan “mompreneurs” we talked with to find out how they balance their roles as mothers and business owners. “You can’t just leave or ignore your business. I have to plan ahead to make things work. There’s sacrifice, but there are benefits, too.”

Some of our featured moms were running businesses long before they had kids, like Susan Houlihan, who found herself filling orders between changing diapers to keep Alpenglow Skin Care in business. Others started a business to address a need: Jennifer Stratton launched Kaleidoscape Play Studio to provide an environment where children like her daughters could play, create and explore, while Annie Ridgley started her guided commercial fishing tour company because she longed to be back on the water after starting her family. Some mompreneurs didn’t even set out to start a business; furniture designer Ana White started building her own chairs, beds, tables and more only because she couldn’t find well-designed furniture that was still affordable for a young family.

Whatever their motivation, these moms have figured out how to make it work. They share their secrets to maintaining a work-life balance and their advice on keeping stress to a minimum.

Salmon Annie’s Fishing Adventures
Age: 33
City: Seldovia
A girl and two boys, ages 4, 3 and 1

The idea of taking tourists on guided commercial fishing trips came to Annie Ridgely when she was a new mom looking for a way to get back to doing the thing she loved best – fishing. “I’ve been set-netting my own commercial sites since 2006, but with three little kids, it became a lot harder for me to be on the water,” she explains. “I needed to find a way for me to do that but also make it worthwhile financially.”

Salmon Annie’s allows tourists to pick salmon out of gill nets, fillet fish and get a taste of “real” Alaska. Annie and her husband were able to hire a nanny who also helps out on the boat and enables her to spend more time with her little ones. Annie hopes that her role as a mompreneur demonstrates to her children that it’s possible to do what you love and live the life you want.

Her advice for other mompreneurs? “Self-care is very important when you’re juggling having a business and a family. Just as I schedule business meetings or trips to the doctor, I schedule in time to take care of myself.” Going for long runs or walks before her family wakes for the day helps her maintain equilibrium. “Once I’ve taken care of that,” she says, “it’s like my sleeves are rolled up and I’m ready for the day.”

Alpenglow Skin Care
Age: 43
City: Homer
A boy, age 12, and a girl, age 9

“Our children are involved in every step of growing, harvesting, drying – I need those farmhands!” says Susan Houlihan, owner of Alpenglow Skin Care. Hers is truly a family business: Her son and daughter have learned the ins and outs of how to run Alpenglow; meanwhile, husband Patrick built the spacious workshop where Susan produces her all-natural skin care products, handmade from wild Alaskan plants and homegrown herbs and flowers.

It’s a far cry from the 16-by-16-foot cabin where Susan started her business. There, she learned the art of efficiency. “Business growth was slow when my kids were babies. The time I had to dedicate to work was very focused, organized time. It forced me to be efficient, especially since my work is so labor-intensive.” Today, her ability to prioritize helps her strike a healthy balance between work and family time. “Life is a lot easier now, though I do find work will easily take up as much time as I give it,” she describes.

While both kids attend public school, the couple sees their children’s education as their job. Susan will take time to explain to them how and why she does her taxes or how her products are made. At the local farmers market, both kids have become expert salespeople. “They get a lot of self-confidence from interacting with people and being the authority on something,” Susan says.

Let’s Build Something!
(furniture design and blog)
Age: 35
City: Delta Junction
Children: A girl, age 8, and a boy, age 1

As a housewife in remote Alaska, struggling to soothe a colicky baby, Ana White gave up on her dream of designing furniture for a living. “I decided my role in life was going to be a support role. I’d support my family, and I was really okay with it.” She figured once her daughter was in college, she might try to get some of her furniture designs published in a magazine – but that was years away. In the meantime, she started blogging.

“I just wanted to build a history of having designed furniture,” explains Ana, who started constructing her own furniture because she wanted something high-quality but couldn’t afford it. “It was never to build a business.”

But that’s exactly what happened. In the beginning, she says, “I did crazy things to be able to work on this dream I believed in.” She cut wood in the garage, with one eye on her daughter, asleep in the idling car outside the window. She blogged at 2 in the morning. She worked tirelessly and learned the secret to being a successful mompreneur: “You’ll probably work harder than you ever have in your life, but if you’re willing, you can make it happen.”

Today, Ana’s website attracts millions of visitors looking for simple yet beautiful furniture designs they can construct themselves. Six years into a successful business, she has employees, including husband Jacob, who can do the work she doesn’t need to do herself. It’s a significant change that’s helped her find a balance between maintaining her business and her sanity.

Kaleidoscape Play Studio
Age: 43
City: Anchorage
Children: Two girls, ages 14 and 9

Jennifer Stratton grew up on Disney. She spent her childhood in Florida visiting the park twice a month and loved the sense of discovery she felt there. Years later, she wanted her own daughters to experience that same kind of enchantment. But Disney World passes and roundtrip tickets to Florida weren’t exactly cheap.

“I was waiting for someone to come up with a special place, something with magic, discovery, surprises, silliness,” Jennifer describes. Children’s Museums, she knew, were increasingly popular. Anchorage had the Imaginarium, but Jennifer longed for something focused on art and creation. So she talked it over with her husband and daughters, prayed about it – and one short year later, she opened the Kaleidoscape Play Studio, an indoor space where kids can enjoy structured and unstructured play that emphasizes art and fun.

Running her own business means Jennifer can spend more time with her girls, both of whom lend a hand. Her oldest comes up with concepts for new exhibits, while her 9-year-old counts the till each morning. Both act as test subjects. “Because of their age range, if they both think an exhibit or activity is cool, I know I’ve hit the sweet spot.” Meanwhile, her husband, Bob, builds exhibit items.

There haven’t been any family vacations in the two years Kaleidoscape has been open, but Jennifer says that’s just another part of running a business. “My girls have firsthand experience with what it takes. There are benefits, and there are sacrifices. That’s a valuable lesson to learn.” Photos by Sweet Action Photography

Alaska Photography & Design
Age: 27
City: Wasilla
Two boys, ages 2 and 10 months

Motherhood always changes things. But Britany Denoncour didn’t expect it to change the subject of her work from families to babies. When she quit a 9-to-5 office job in favor of doing something more creative, a gig taking photos at a friend-of-a-friend’s wedding led to a new career. Soon, she was booking up to 40 weddings a year with her business, Alaska Photography & Design.

Then she had her first son. “(I was thinking,) am I going to just take a break from photography, or what?” she says. “But he was born in the middle of wedding season, and I had 20 weddings booked that year. I couldn’t really stop.”

But she did cut back – way back. To fill in the gaps, she expanded to taking photos of newborns, moms-to-be and families. Now, with two young boys, baby photography makes up the majority of her business, which has evolved just as her family has.

“It’s really difficult to find that balance,” she says, “but once you do, it’s rewarding to own a business and be able to do something for yourself and take care of your children.” She keeps a strict schedule to maintain that balance and give her sons a sense of stability. Rather than feeling constricted, she feels that scheduling makes her business more efficient and fun. And it keeps meltdowns – her sons’, and her own – to a minimum.

Tiny Ptarmigan, Classic Woman, Portfolio
Age: 31
City: Anchorage
Children: Two daughters, ages 17
and 12, and a son, age 21 months

“You can never really get everything done,” admits Lauren Blanchett. This was true enough when she was busy running her two women’s clothing stores, Classic Woman and Portfolio, while raising two step-daughters. But after she gave birth to her son, she realized that Anchorage stores just didn’t offer the kinds of clothes she wanted for her little one.

“I prefer something kid-appropriate but stylish,” she says. “Something more unique than what you’d find in big box stores.” She’d been considering opening a third store; in 2014, she took the plunge, launching Tiny Ptarmigan, which offers clothing and specialty items for babies and toddlers.

Most people would find opening another business while already running two stores and taking care of a family overwhelming, but Lauren found balance in the chaos. “Starting a business is exhausting emotionally and physically, so having something that requires you to leave work behind is really helpful. I’m the kind of person who could easily work all day and night. So knowing that I have to come home and play with my son, help my daughters with homework – that’s so therapeutic for me.”

Lauren has learned to rely on help from her family and employees. Both of her daughters have pitched in: One works at Tiny Ptarmigan, while the other helped unbox and price items when the store first opened. “You realize you can’t do it all,” she explains. “You have to ask for help and accept that you really have to balance work and family.”