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Lawrence Township Women Start Home Businesses

Four Lawrence Township women who have started home businesses discuss the rewards and challenges they face in creating new career paths.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting four women who, each for their own reasons, started home-based businesses. Those reasons - building a resume, helping out financially, fulfilling a dream, supporting a hobby - may differ, but what unites these women is their passion and excitement for what they do and how it feels when they share their passions with others.

Though solid statistics are hard to find, Jill Salzman, creator of FoundingMoms.com, sees a sharp increase in the number of moms starting businesses. FoundingMoms.com was formed two years ago when Salzman wanted to meet other women in her situation - moms who are entrepreneurs.  Salzman writes on her blog, "I had three businesses, two kids and one desire to have a cup of coffee with fellow entrepreneurs who also happened to be mothers."

She set up a meeting and thought maybe four or five women would join her. Two years later, she says, “we have 2,000 members in 30-plus cities around the globe.“

“It ranges from women who need to bring in 50 percent of the household income to women who have a brilliant idea and can't sleep at night without launching to women who want to step out of the corporate world and be their own boss."

Reasons vary

According to Salzman, women start businesses for a variety of reason.

“It ranges from women who need to bring in 50 percent of the household income to women who have a brilliant idea and can't sleep at night without launching to women who want to step out of the corporate world and be their own boss. 

“It never seems to be a ‘fun’ idea for these women- it's a very practical way to bring in income and not have to go through the interview/corporate hours/what-do-I-do-with-the-kids problems.  It's a ton of work but allows certain freedoms that we wouldn't have any other way.  And with the Internet, the barrier to entry is so low for women to enter the workforce in non-traditional ways that it almost seems silly not to."

Salzman says that what unites these women is the difficulty of finding the time to do it all.

“Time management is the most popular issue that arises - everyone's constantly and consistently trying to figure it out - but every single woman who attends has her own way of doing things and it very much helps the others to learn from her.”

I recently met with four women all struggling to achieve this balance.

  • Lindsey Bohra is a new Willow House constultant.
  • Cheryl Curbishly has been selling Creative Memories for the past 14 years.
  • Marisa Seals created her own jewelry business called Custom Creations by Marisa.
  • Marcia Willsie is the chef-owner of Ezekiel’s Table, where she combines cooking classes with dinner parties.

Lindsey Bohra, Willow House

Bohra credits her sister with encouraging her to become a Willow House independent design consultant. Willow House is a merger of Southern Living at Home and Entertaining at Home. At a Willow House Party in February, her sister noticed the material matched Bohra’s style and suggested she look into becoming a consultant. The rest is history.

Bohra is a wife and a mother of three school-aged children. With her youngest now at Ben Franklin Elementary School, she wanted a change from the routine of dishwashing, laundry and volunteering.  With the oldest at Lawrence Middle School, she was also starting to think about college bills.

Bohra has a master's in marketing from University of Virginia, Darden, and an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Maryland, College Park. She has loved spending the past 11 years at home with her children, and being involved with their activities.

“I see this as a toe back in the working world. You never know where a job like this can parlay into. This might lead to a consulting job, or having [Willow House] consultants work under me.”

This summer, for a $199 starter fee, she was willing to take the leap and see what might happen.

An unexpected reward has been watching her creative side flourish once again. Her favorite part of the business has been “helping people with ideas.” As a point of demonstration she pointed to a vintage spiral stand - it looks like a ribbon going down the side of a Christmas tree with lots of tiny loops. She asked me what I would do with that.

I thought it looked perfect with the few glass ornaments hanging off of it. She said she uses it to celebrate birthdays by hanging pictures of her children on it. Her middle child wants to use it to display her earrings. She also uses it in the spring to display seed packets in a window display. It could also be used to display Christmas cards. One item and at least five uses for it. Many items in the catalogue have multiple uses, and Bohra has the creativity to help you use everything many different ways.

Located throughout her home are a variety of Willow House items. As we passed each one, Bohra told me how she uses them in different ways throughout the year. A bucket she fills with ice for drinks during a party is the same bucket she fills with Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters. A bowl filled with sea shells in the summer can be filled with pine cones in the winter. All of the pieces serve more than one function.

Bohra admits her biggest challenge has been asking her friends and family to host a party for her. Many have offered. In the middle of November she had a week with three parties. The business is slowly growing, but it is a lot of work.

“I spend two to three hours a couple of times a week to call contacts and follow up,” she says.

That is in addition to hosting parties and attending vendor shows.

So far, she says, “I am having fun as a way to get back into the workforce and to think creatively. My friends are very supportive. They feel this is the right fit for me.”

Lindsey Bohra can be found at: lindseyb.willowhouse.com

Cheryl Curbishly, Creative Memories consultant

Curbishly’s story dates back to her pre-children days. Fifteen years ago she was a teacher in the Hamilton School District. Her co-workers convinced her to go to a Creative Memories workshop.  “I fell in love with the product.”

“Within six months I signed up as a consultant.” She was fortunate a half dozen of her co-workers immediately signed up to be her customers. “This is a way of supporting my habit, and getting things at cost.”

Fourteen  years later it has become so much more.

For five years she was a team consultant working about 25 hours a week.

“It was quite successful.” Curbishly is shifting her business again. “Now it is a personal business. I help lots of friends with specific projects.”

Curbishly's basement is a scrapbooker's dream. There are three large tables for working on projects, lots of lighting, and tons of supplies - from papers to pens to punches to embellishments, everything you need to scrapbook is in one area.

One to two times a month, she hosts workshops at which women gather to scrapbook.

“Workshops are my main source of connecting with customers. It is the modern day equivalent of quilting bees.”

Like Bohra, her biggest challenge is that she doesn’t feel comfortable with sales.

“I want you to buy it because you want it. I’m a ‘I’m here if you need me’ kind of girl.” She wants her customers to purchase items from her that they will use, not items that will sit in the someday pile in a closet or basement.

“My main passion is putting the pictures with the stories. My pivotal point was when I had kids and I wanted them to know the love and the stories.”

Her son is at Lawrence Intermediate School and her daughter is at Lawrence Middle School. They say they remember things that happened when they were infants, though she knows they only “remember” through the stories in her scrapbooks.

To Curbishly the biggest reward is “the people I have met through this business - the friendships.” She treasures having customers turn into friends as they share their photographs and memories with her. She has developed some “really good friends through this business. “

Today it takes $50 to sign up as a consultant. Consultants are expected to sell $500 worth of materials every quarter.

Cheryl Curbishly can be found at: cherylcurbishley@yahoo.com or at http://www.mycmsite.com/sites/cherylcurbishley

Marisa Seals, Custom Creations by Marisa

Seals said she began “stringing” - or making jewelry by tying knots between the stones - when she was 17 years old.

“I loved it! Then it became my creative outlet.”

Seals is certified by the Gemological Institute of America in pearl and gemstone stringing. She worked in a jewelry store from the time she was in 11th grade until her son was born. She loved it.

A few years ago her son became very sick and was treated at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Seals returned to stringing “as an escape for me.” Her son is doing well now, but she continues to create unique jewelry in her spare time. Now she has several lines of jewelry.

Her first line is called Fortezza, which is Italian for fortress. She uses stones that have different meanings, such as aquamarine for courage, to create bracelets and necklaces. She hopes by wearing these pieces women can find the strength they need to get them through difficult times.

Seals also creates jewelry that supports the Teal Tea Foundation, which raises awareness of ovarian cancer. Though she did not know anyone suffering from ovarian cancer, she felt drawn to the cause. Last year, a beloved Ben Franklin teacher retired from teaching, and has since died from the disease. Seals named a bracelet in her honor. She also worked with third-graders last year to make bracelets as a fund-raiser for Relay for Life.

The jewelry for the Teal Tea Foundation features butterflies, the symbol for ovarian cancer, and freshwater pearls accented by teal-colored beads. They are dainty and beautiful, yet strong thanks to the knots between each pearl.

The third side to Seals’ business is creating custom pieces for people looking for a unique gift for someone special. Seals puts a lot of energy into finding the right stones - they are all good quality stones purchased from vendors specializing in gems. She puts a lot of pride into each piece. Seals loves it when she sees someone wearing a piece of her jewelry that was designed custom for them, and when "people tell me the quality is better" than what is found in retail stores.

Her biggest challenge is “finding the time to make the jewelry. I’m trying to stay organized with the kids, dinner and life. I put a lot of myself into each piece. I decide what to work with. I lay it out on a board. I make a demo on wire to see if I like it, then I transfer it to silk or other materials (for the thread).”

“I use materials, stones, that are hand-drilled.” I try to make it look uniform and pretty--color, shape and size. I take it apart and put it together again. I put a lot of feeling and thought into each piece.” Each piece is a special.

Her hope is that her new business helps the family financially. Her husband works for the state. She jokes and says her son recently announced he wants to attend Harvard University. She wants to be able to afford to send him and her daughter to their dream college choices.

Marisa Seals can be found at: Fortezza3@aol.com

Marcia Willsie, chef-owner of Ezekial’s Table

Marcia Willsie is living her dream. At age 50, while living in Seattle with her husband, son and daughter, she went to chef school. She knew she wanted to run her own cooking school and live in a historic home.

Twelve years ago while her husband, Bruce, was driving through the area on his way to the airport, he called Marcia to tell her he found the perfect house for them. Seven years, and much renovation later, Marcia and Bruce moved to a 1710 farm house on Princeton Pike, in what is known as the former Stony Brook, on the border of Princeton and Lawrence. Their two children both graduated from Princeton University.

Immediately after starting her cooking school in 2005, Princeton Township began questioning whether or not she was legally able to operate her school. Marcia decided to close her business herself and research what was needed for her to run a cooking school at which students dine on the food they create.

It was a complicated process. The Willsies credit New Jersey Assemblywoman Bonnie Coleman Watson with clarifying the law for them. On July 2, after a complicated, and expensive, two-and-a-half-year process, Willsie was given the green light to start her school again as a home-occupation business.

Ezekial’s Table is “a labor of love. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing.” There are some new regulations, such as they are allowed three cars and eight students for each class. Everyone who eats must also have helped to prepare the meal. She does not mind working with these restrictions.

While Marcia works with all groups of people wanting to learn how to cook, she has developed a niche with area corporations looking to have fun team-building programs. This connection was made possible through the Princeton Tour Company. She teaches business people to “work collaboratively by working creatively.”

Marcia said her biggest challenge has been that this is such an unusual business, so she has a lot that she has to create. She is not aware of anyone who has done exactly what she is doing.

The rewards have been many. For many years Marcia was a stay-at-home mom who did a lot of volunteering. As she was ready to re-enter the work force, she "didn’t know how I would be valued.” She highly recommends that everyone start their own business, but especially women. While being the caretakers, women develop many varied skills. It is hard to translate those skills into something appreciated by the business world, but are excellent skills for entreprenuers.

Her daughter recently followed her mother’s lead. She has her own pet portrait business and is a food writer on a website aimed at helping teenage girls with weight issues called Fitsmi.com.

For Marcia, she is running her dream restaurant.

People come in and cook for two hours, and “I see their eyes light up with a feeling of empowerment.” Cooking, she feels, gives them “control over their lives. It is cheaper and healthier than store bought food.” After cooking, the class dines in the Willsies' historic dining room while Marcia and Bruce clean up in the kitchen. She can “sense the energy level in the room. There is camaraderie - exhaustion paired with connecting in new ways. Everyone seems to leave feeling great. It is what I wanted in my life is so many ways.”

I wondered how she came up with the name Ezekial’s Table. In 1766 Ezekial Smith died in their home. He left no will, which meant a list of all his assets was created - including a rather large number of chairs and plates for that time. He was described as “a fast living friend,” which is a Quaker term for a party animal. There are also biblical references to Ezekial, which are also appropriate for her business.

Marcia describes their historic home as a stage. Upon entering the home you are greeted with the aroma of dried spices. The first floor rooms are filled with museum-quality artifacts. The home is furnished in a Colonial style. The kitchen has modern appliances and is very spacious, yet maintains a Colonial feel by having an exposed brick wall (which used to be a brick oven) and a large wooden table with benches. It is a very inspiring room.

Last May, their home was featured on the Lawrenceville Main Street house tour of hidden treasures. Next time their home is included on a tour, I would recommend seeing it. Better yet, sign up with a group of seven friends and make dinner together.

Marcia Willsie can be found at EzekielsTable.com.

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