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GeniusBabies.com: Turning Passion into a Successful Business 
Michelle Donahue-Arpas pursued her two passions on the Web -- staying at home with her baby and pre-natal or infant stimulation.  She proves that you can make it big on the Web even with little cash and limited technical expertise, as long as you have guts and determination.

by Isabel M. Isidro
Managing Editor

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What were your greatest difficulties during start-up? How did you overcome your start-up challenges?

First, the issue of money. I did not take out any small business loans, as I imagined they would probably laugh at my idea. We were going from a two income home to a one income home... wonderful time to "take" money from an already stretched budget. We started very small. We literally started with just a few thousand dollars invested - less than $5,000 -- and then only about $300 a month to sustain the business, with more supplies, business phone and fax lines, web hosting and such.

The $300+ a month out, with no money coming in, was not what I hoped for. It was not like I put my website up today and tomorrow I have a sale. Not only did we have no customers, but also we had no visitors. It took three months before we got our very first order. I guess I didn't know how to get it started.

Our main investment went to hiring a novice web designer who was not at all knowledgeable and built a user-unfriendly site with an order form that didn't work most of the time. I found him from the phonebook. Oh goodness, he set it up in frames, which looked really pretty to me visually and aesthetically. But the search engines kicked it back, so no wonder nobody could find us. And he said, well, they won't find you from the search engines. That was his first advice. And I guess I knew nobody else.

I met another e-mompreneur and began networking with her. She was very knowledgeable about building traffic, the starting point and an essential part of building a successful e-commerce site. I began working through wee hours on the night, adding my link wherever I could, asking for link exchanges with complementary businesses, networking with a great bunch of other e-mompreneurs.

The hard work started to pay off, traffic started to grow, then slowly the orders followed.

How did you contact the manufacturers? 

That was a challenge. I started with small manufacturers, calling them up and saying, "I want to start this business, can I buy 12 and can I have a discount?" I started small: paying very small money and paying things upfront. I told the manufacturers, "I believe that it can be bigger, if you could have some faith in me. And hopefully, we're really going to grow."

One of my first products was the Baby Einstein video series that another mompreneur started three years ago. When I met her, it was just Baby Einstein, then it was Baby Mozart then it was Baby Bach. Her business then was small, but has now grown to become a multi-million enterprise.

In the last year and a half, maybe even two years, all the big companies started coming and courting us, such as Learning Curve and Brio. It is such a nice change to have them courting us than offering shipping promotions and 60-day and 90-day net terms and not have to pay cash upfront. It's been a nice change.

What are the advantages of being a home-based online business? What are its disadvantages? 

Certainly, the greatest advantage is to be able to spend time with my daughter, Trisha Gabriella, now 3 years old. The flexibility is wonderful: if my daughter has a dance lesson or recital, we are there.

Secondly, I do not even own a pair of hose anymore! I am ecstatic at the thought of never having to get "dressed" for work again! Never having to commute, and stuck sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic ... and, honestly, not having to answer to a boss.:-)

The advantages far outweigh any disadvantages. The most difficult part of running an e-business, is that it is a 24/7, 365 days a year demand. Visitors and customers expect expedient service and response. To be successful, you must be prompt in your customer care. It is a tremendously time consuming business, which includes many late, late nights working, and no weekends off.

Some home-based entrepreneurs make their business appear bigger than it is. What do you think of this?

In the beginning, I tried to act as if the business was bigger than it really was. I remember the phone would ring, and I had a baby on my hip, juggling her around while writing down the order with the other hand and say "just a moment please.' I was hoping that the dog would not bark right at that moment or that my Trisha would not let out a wail. I was thinking, if they could only see this. But I realized that I couldn't do it. This is really who I am. Now I tell customers that I am a mom.

Do you have any employees now?

Right now, we have 2 Full time moms, 2 pt. time moms and then seasonal help for the crazed Christmas shopping season, where our business quadruples. My mom, and even my 89 years old grandmother, Mamie, is involved in NY, as she put the Genius Babies! logo stickers on the gift cards for us!

 

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