Home Work Three Maryland mothers started their own businesses and set their own rules

by Liz McMahon

Flexibility is a “tremendous benefit” when it comes to being a parent and a business owner, says Kelli Gravelle, owner of Kelli’s Sign Painting Parties and Custom Vinyl.

Gravelle, 34, of Reisterstown, is the mother of three children aged 6 and under. She had career in law enforcement, working in prisons and as a parole officer. Recently, though, her professional life has shifted from rules and regulation toward creativity and personal ambition.

“I wanted personalized items for my kids,” Gravelle says. “It gets expensive, so I wanted to learn how to do it myself. I started making custom shirts and signs—first as gifts, then friends wanted to buy them.”

Gravelle was also struck with the idea that “making signs means more if you make it yourself.” She began organizing sign-painting parties, where groups can come together to create one-of-a-kind decorative sign with their friends, families or co-workers.

Kori Pomerantz, owner of PomPomz Personalized Gifts and mother of two children aged 5 and under got her start after becoming “obsessed with personalized gifts.” After purchasing numerous personalized baby gifts for both her own children and babies of friends, Pomerantz, 27, of Pikesville, realized there was “a real need for this and I have the skills.”

“I’ve always been a do-it-yourself type of person, so I figured why not give it a try,” Pomerantz recalls. After working in marketing and information systems, she, too, took a turn toward the creative. “My little idea turned into a huge business with over 75 different products,” including baby, wedding, and housewarming gifts, “and everything in between.”

“It’s very fulfilling to see what you can build by yourself,” she says.

Sam Smith, owner of New Vintage by Sam and mother of a 22-month-old, was driven by the same dream of autonomy and flexibility. “The whole purpose of me doing this is not to need permission to live my life,” says Smith, 32, of Randallstown.

Smith worked in account management and community relations for a few different companies before going solo. On her former career, Smith reflects, “I was great in a corporate setting, but I just wasn’t happy there—I wanted to design a lifestyle for me.”

With experience in modeling and fashion and a fascination with “taking things apart and putting them back together,” Smith began creating.

“I started making things, and when I wore them, people would like them,” Smith recalls. “I would literally be selling bracelets off of my person, earrings right out of my ears.” She now sells her custom pieces both online and in select boutiques.

Each woman weighed in on her top tips for parents interested in starting their own home-based businesses:

  1. Take a Leap

“If you have an idea, run with it,” Pomerantz says. Smith shares that her “gut feeling is truly important and truly a guide,” while Gravelle believes “the biggest thing is finding something that you enjoy, that’s really what has kept me going.”

  1. Know Your Market

“You have to know your target area,” Gravelle advises. Smith says to “make sure you’re clear and understand your purpose, and that your voice is clear and concise.” Pomerantz adds, “As a mom, I know what kids need and I know good quality. I want to give my customers something I would want as a mom.”

  1. Set Boundaries

Pomerantz suggests having a “separate phone and separate email to create a boundary for yourself, and bringing in help if you need.” (She has one employee). She creates while her kids are at school and after they go to bed, dedicating the time in between to family activities.

  1. Find a Balance

“Remember as a mom, it’s important to give time to your kids,” Pomerantz says, otherwise business ownership “could consume you.” Smith adds: “I wear many hats, but they all fit comfortably.”


About Liz McMahon

Jessica Gregg is the former editor of Baltimore's Child. She is a happy rowhouse dweller and mother of two.

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