CATHOLIC BUSINESS PROFILE: MARY PETERS, Learn how an urgent need spawns an unexpected new career from home

By CBJ staff

The following exclusive Catholic Business Journal (CBJ) interview with Mary Peters, a Midwest former nurse and mother of nine, reveals not only her passion for the home-based business she started 15 years ago, but also an inside look at habits that have helped her succeed; insights that may inspire others to consider following her example, no matter what business they are in. The photo is of Mary, not the author. Here is the interview:

CBJ:  Mary, tell us a little about your background.

Mary:  I’m the mother of nine children—my youngest is 11, my oldest is 27. I also have two grandchildren.  Prior to working from home, I practiced as a Registered Nurse for 17 years.

CBJ: What made you want to go into business for yourself, and how did you get started?

Mary:  Honestly, I never really saw myself as a business person. I always thought that people in business needed to be good with numbers and I had trouble balancing my checkbook. So I used to feel that being a business owner was rather scary.  But now I have an international business that I have owned for 15 years.  The reason I went into this business was because we had a huge financial need.  I was a Registered Nurse working about 30 hours a week at the time. I was doing two, 12-hour shifts on the weekends.  My husband, Mike, would work all week while I was home with the kids and then I would go to work on the weekends and he would be home with the kids.  We avoided having any daycare costs with this arrangement, and either Mike and I would always be home with the children, but we sacrificed time together. We had no family time. We couldn’t even go to Mass together as a family. I would have to get up and go to Mass early in the morning and then head off to my shift. Mike would go to Mass later with the kids, so that really put a dent in our family life.  I was also doing diabetic teaching during the week; something else that took away family time.  I was really spinning my wheels with all that.

Even with all the work I was doing, and Mike was working 40-50 hours per week himself, we still had a lot of debt.  We were really blessed with the number of children we had, and it was becoming very clear that God needed to provide another way for us to feed our family. That was the reason I got started working from home when the opportunity presented itself.  We jumped into this business with a lot of faith and trust, and I ran it from home.  In spite of having no business background, I just thought, ‘Well, I’m going to learn as I go along.’  And so I did.

I started the home-based business with seven small children (our oldest was age 10 at the time).  I continued to work 30 hours a week as a nurse. At first, all I could spare to spend on the home business was one, 15 minute period a day!  That grew to an hour per day and eventually my business grew to the point where I matched my nursing income.  At that point, my husband  suggested I quit nursing so I could work from home exclusively and put more time into the business.  That’s what we decided to do; what started as a leap of faith proved to be an answer to our financial prayers.

CBJ:  What role does your Catholic faith play in your business?

Mary:  The faith infuses every part of my business, and my approach to business.  First, the company I chose to belong to honors the same priorities as I do—God first, family second, business third.  Second, I try to do my best, with grace, to treat people as our Saviour exemplified. This impacts little decisions such as whether I handle something now, when a person might need my help, rather than choosing to put it off because it’s inconvenient.  Third, my faith influences how I view my business.  Of course I want to make a healthy profit, but not at the expense of stepping on people or treating them badly.  Profits follow  strong, healthy relationship-building.  Fourth, the faith impacts the kind of people with whom I want to do business.  Here’s what I mean: When I first launched my home-based business, I told family and friends about it right away.  I also told friends at church. I wanted to approach those whom I knew, loved and cared about; people with whom I shared the same faith. I also am very appreciative of Catholic media, because when people respond to advertising, whether it is me reaching out to Catholic media, or people responding to an ad, the people who are going to be calling and inquiring are likely to share my same values. Right away there is a sense of mutual trust. When you’re teaching and training people how to do what you’ve done, which is essential element of the home business I chose, there must be an element of trust because you have to work very closely with people to help them succeed.  I believe that when you share the same faith and morals, you don’t have to worry about compromising your ethics or your morals because the people with whom you’re working tend to have the same perspective as you do.

CBJ:  What do you like best about working from home?

Mary:  I think the thing I love the most is that I’m always available to my family. Since starting this business 15 years ago, we have had two more children.  Now, six of our children have left home, mostly for college and some of them are married; we only have three left at home.  Because my family’s needs are often changing, and with all the different ages, the thing I love the best about working from home is that I have flexibility. I can drop everything in a heartbeat if needed and go have lunch with my college-age daughter who just needs to talk, or I can go help out at my younger daughter’s school.  I also love that I can be available to my elder parents who don’t live too far away. I am able to change my schedule around whatever is most important. So I think the thing I love the most is the flexibility of this type of business.

One other thing I think I really appreciate now is that as a really busy mom I must use my time well. I was forced to become more and more organized with every additional child.  I had to learn to use my time more efficiently. Now, in my business. I teach and train other distributors to do what I’ve done. I teach  them to become successful and I try to empower them to begin to build their own businesses in a way that fits their individual lives.  The way this particular business is set-up, I receive a percentage from all of their sales. I am rewarded financially for the efforts that I put into helping other people. It’s a business where you invest in others. When I’ve done that, when I want to go and spend time with my family, my distributors who I’ve taught and trained are building their businesses and at the same time I’m providing financially for my family.  It’s very satisfying—helping others to succeed and helping your family at the same time.

CBJ: Can you give us an example?

Mary:  Sure. When my daughter got married recently, the whole day was spent on the wedding festivities. A few days later, when I logged onto the computer to check on the status of profits, I saw that all the orders that were placed the day that my daughter got married profited me $500. So while I was spending time with my family, I made $500 to help provide financially for my family. That’s a real comfort.  I see my home-based business as a great way to leverage my time. And that’s what I hope to do in teaching other families, because I know if people really knew what my business was about—and the home-based business I chose is almost too good to be true—it’s a great way for a really busy person to leverage their and get a good return.

CBJ:  What challenges are there in running a business out of your home?

Mary:  One of the biggest challenges is setting priorities. There is always a lot to do in the home. And as your business starts to grow, there is a lot to do in your business as well. It’s critical to set priorities; to be clear about what has to get done first. It’s a judgment call. You can’t put it off, you must make those decisions.

CBJ:  In what ways have you addressed this challenge?

Mary:  Absolutely.  The way I’ve become more organized is that every day I get a clean sheet of doing some type paper and fold it down the middle. On the left hand side, I list all my personal and family responsibilities; such as, grocery shopping, picking up my mom, writing a letter to a friend.  I even include tasks relating to different seasons of the year; for example, I have to start preparing for our family Christmas party long before Halloween. Those responsibilities get included in my left side list. On the right hand side of the sheet, I put down all the things pertaining to my business:  my business appointments, and so forth.  Even this interview with you is on that list right now.  Today, for example, I also have an appointment at 11:30 a.m. and another at noon.  It is all scheduled. So, that’s my daily road map.  Just doing this one thing every day gives me a clear plan of action.

Having a clear, daily road map allows me to accommodate changing demands of each day.  For me, working my business alongside my family responsibilities requires extreme flexibility yet still business objectives must be met in a timely manner.  So, there are other little tricks I’ve discovered, probably not unlike many others in similar situations.  For example, I use my cell phone, with an ear piece, and if I have to go to the grocery store or the post office or a similar errand, I plan on making some calls; especially relationship-building calls.  It might be just a follow-up call, but it helps strengthen a relationship and move the business forward.  I have become very efficient and flexible in squeezing in calls while running errands.

Here’s another quick example.  While driving home from my son’s basketball practice, I had a call come in from a distributor who had a question about figuring out an order.  I answered her questions and told her the best way to put together her order.  Thanks to the Bluetooth, both hands remained on the wheel, so I’m being safe, but I was able to move the business forward in a quick, small way.  Interestingly, after that call was finished, my son asked me ,” Mom, was that a business call?”  I said, “yes.”  And he responded, “Now, how much were your profits from that call?”  I figured that it was about $100 profit that I had made.  And he laughed and said, “Well, you just made $100 driving me home from basketball practice, and now you can buy me new basketball shoes!”  We had a good laugh. My son didn’t get the shoes this day, but I realized that through my example he was nonetheless learning a valuable lesson in productivity—without sacrificing a family-first philosophy—that may serve him well in his future.

I also challenge myself to be more efficient. For example, I won’t go into the grocery store until I make three follow-up calls while I’m sitting in the parking lot.  After all, I started this home business with infants. I’ve done it with babies in my arms, while I’m rocking them or pacing around the house, trying to lull them to sleep.  Yet I quickly learned to be doing calls with my headset.   There would be times when I’d be on the phone, on an appointment, and while I’m wrapping up the call, the kids would pour the cereal on the rug and start dancing on it.  I would learned to keep my cool and just be OK with that for that moment, and put it in perspective by deciding to focus on continuing with the call.  It wasn’t a life-or-death situation, the kids were having a moment of “fun” that could be cleaned up later.  I became much more laid back, I would say, learning to focus on what was most immediately important at any given moment.

CBJ:  Do you have any other useful tips regarding effectively running a home-based business?

Mary:   I can only speak from my own perspective; I am a mom first. That’s my first priority, my first responsibility.  Others are business professionals or high-level competitive athletes; but the reality is that whatever our vocation is, any person is most likely going to start a home-based business around something else they are already involved in, such as a full-time job, or being involved in their parish or a nonprofit, or something else.

Yes, you should be organized, but the important thing to remember is: Don’t wait for the perfect time to come around where you’re going to sit at a desk and do your home-based business,  because the perfect time will never come.  Never.  Instead, you must dive in—just seize the moment– and take every opportunity you can.

I’ll give you another example.  I was at the grocery store and one of my distributors called me. She was bringing in a new distributor and again needed help figuring out what products  to order. I could have said to her “You know what, I’m grocery shopping, and I’ll call you back in an hour and we’ll talk then,” but I  figured, hey, I’ve got her on the phone now, I’m just going to seize the moment and we’ll do it right now. I pulled my cart over to the side, got out my calculator and a pen, and I’m writing on top of a pasta box or whatever is in the grocery cart. I figured out the order and explained it to her.  It probably took 10 minutes but when we were done, we were done.  Was that the perfect moment? No. Not at all. But I felt like I needed to take advantage of that situation because my distributor called me at the moment when she really needed me.  I needed to be available to her in order to make things happen.  So, my tip would be to seize the moment and don’t wait for the perfect time, because the perfect time may never come.

CBJ:  What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own business from home?

Mary:  Residual income is one component to look at.  It’s an important consideration.  Now that I’ve done my business for 15 years, I understand the value of repeat business. I really didn’t understand it at first, but it enables you to build steady profits more quickly; profits that compound over time.  To this end, make sure the home-based business you are considering has products that are, first of all, consumable and, secondly, that these products appeal to a wide range of people. With these kind of products, the work that you do today will continue to pay you for the rest of your business life because customers must reorder regularly as they consume, or use up, your products. You will have repeat business. And if the product is something that everybody needs, this gives you a wider potential customer pool.  Ideally, find something that’s good for young people, for pregnant moms, and even for people into their nineties. Not only will this give you a huge market base on which to draw, but it will also attract a wide range of interest.  In other words, if I can’t use it, maybe I have an Aunt that could use it. That’s the first thing.

Something else that’s really important, although it’s more internal, is that you have to have a commitment that you’re not going to quit. Life has its ups and downs so you’re going to have to persevere during the hard times. I think that is the biggest reason why I’ve been successful; I’ve been very committed to my home-based business and I decided early on that I wasn’t going to quit.

Another factor is to have a really huge “Why.” Know clearly why you are doing this business. Because if you don’t have a big enough reason to do a home-based business, you’re not going to want to overcome the obstacles that crop up. You’re going to say “Oh, forget this, it’s too hard.” No matter which business you choose to do from home, I can guarantee that you’ll have problems and obstacles and you’re going to have to overcome them. My big “why” was that I had a lot of mouths to feed.  I needed to help put food on the table.  This was my original “why” factor.  Once I achieved this level, I was able to start paying down the mortgage; this became my new “why” factor. After that, we were able to do some extra things like take vacations. So make sure your  “why” factor evolves and gets bigger as you reach personal goals in your business.