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Work-from-home moms get balance

"Microbusiness moms" toggle business and play times. Valerie Gunderson

left state government to start her own home-based communications
consulting company -- and a family.
By TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune. Published Feb. 18, 2008
As a communications consultant, Valerie Gunderson crafts messages for businesses and
government agencies.
Except when she is taking care of some other important clients, of a sort -- her two young
"Everybody has meetings," Gunderson said. "Sometimes mine are with my kids."
Gunderson refers to herself as a "microbusiness mom," balancing dual roles of running a
home-based business and raising children.

An early riser, Gunderson, 37, works several hours each morning before her sons, who
are 9 months and 3 1/2, wake up.
She does more work while they nap and sometimes at night after her husband gets home
from work. When she needs to visit clients, she hires an on-call nanny service.
When she can't take calls from clients or can't make meetings, she just says she's
unavailable, without going into detail about the time she blocks out for parenting.
"As I toggle back and forth between work and kids, I think [that] helps me be better at
both jobs," she said. "When it works as it should, there is an invigorating flow to it all."
Gunderson said she knows of at least a dozen other microbusiness moms, including
several in her south Minneapolis neighborhood.
Among them is Mary Dale, who quit her office job nearly four years ago when she was
expecting her first child.
Dale used the time to build up Keka Design, the company she and her husband, Ted, run
from their home. The company makes shin guards and forearm guards that are popular
with Olympic skiers, among others. Dale has remained at home, with Keka Design and
her daughter. Her husband has a full-time job and works with his wife in his spare time.
"I had the baby, and the business just kept growing and growing," Dale said. "Some days
it's very challenging, wanting to spend time with your child but the business is screaming
at you. But I am running a business and raising a child, and it's a good thing."
Bringing business and parenting under one roof can pay off. Having entrepreneurial drive
helps, Gunderson said, along with a desire for an alternative to the typical options of fulltime day care or full-time parenting.
"Women tell me things like, 'There is no such thing as work-life balance, there's just a
point where you come to peace with your choices,'" Gunderson said. "I'm sad when I hear
them say that."
Balance can be off
Gunderson admits she does not always achieve "the work-life balance or the workmotherhood balance I want. But it is much more likely to happen under this scenario, and
I don't think it would at all if I were in my traditional 50-plus-hour-a-week position."
Gunderson, press secretary to then-Gov. Arne Carlson, left her job as communications
director for the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2002 to launch VMG Communications.

Carlson, whom she describes as a mentor, helped inspire the move when he advised
Gunderson to list 10 things she wanted to do before she died. Near the top was starting
her own business. So was having children.
The list gained urgency for her after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Gunderson said.
Something her grandparents said in the oral history she had done with them also began to
carry greater weight.
"They said the favorite part of their life was when their children were young," Gunderson
said. "Out of everything that happened, that was their favorite time.''
She used $5,000 from savings to buy a computer and other home office equipment.
Clients include her former employer, the state Supreme Court; the Carlson School of
Management, and the Humphrey Institute, both at the University of Minnesota.
Revenue dropped last year, when she took six months off after she had her second child.
The full-year figure ranges from $100,000 to $130,000, she said.
Gunderson said she sometimes goes months between trips to the gas station, making for a
greener existence and less time stuck in traffic.
"I am much more creative and productive doing this on my own terms," said Gunderson,
who has resisted hiring employees so that "my clients get 100 percent of me.''
'Wrecked' on regular job
Still, well-intended friends keep trying to find her office jobs, assuming that's what she
"I think I'm wrecked on the traditional full-time position at this point, given the freedoms
I have and what this allows me to do," she said.
The expert says: Diane Paterson, business development consultant with WomenVenture,
said Gunderson has been exceptionally successful in her transition to self-employment.
"Gunderson's advantages, besides low start-up costs, included going into a field where
she had worked and also had developed high-profile contacts, including her previous
employer,'' Paterson said.
Service businesses such as consulting, accounting, marketing or technical writing are
good candidates for someone considering self-employment, she said.
"Time management is critical,'' said Paterson, who operated a home day care for 12 years
while she had young children.

"Her story is a really neat one, but I do find it to be an exception,'' Paterson said. "My
only concern would be that it may lead some women to be overly optimistic on their
[revenue] projections."
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is

VMG Communications
Last update: February 17, 2008 - 4:35 PM

Business: Public relations and public affairs consulting for private companies and public
and nonprofit agencies
Founded: 2002
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Executives: Valerie Gunderson, managing partner
Revenue: From $100,000 to $130,000 a year
Strategy: Maintain a high level of personal service to retain current clients and generate
new business through referrals; continue to encourage future microbusiness moms