O Entrepreneurs!

(Entrepreneur: An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterpriseventure or idea and is accountable for the inherent risks and the outcome.)

When I was a kid, my dad was always creating or discovering new business opportunities for me and my brothers. If we weren’t pulling a wagon full of extra zucchini door to door (a dime a dozen, literally) or hawking baseball caps bearing the family restaurant logo, we were mowing lawns or babysitting or yanking weeds in the garden for a small fee. My older brother Andy and I even assumed ownership of a small name plate engraving business for several years. Teaming up with my best friend Hope and her sister Joy, we got some pretty decent accounts from a local community college and a sports camp. DuBois Industrial Nameplate Company, we called it, (“DINC” for short). Andy  handled most of the business arrangements for the company: I think I was more of a liability than a partner, but he still gave me a generous cut of the profits.


Our machine looked something like this, but more antiquated.



In retrospect, we learned a lot from those experiences. We learned about deadlines and responsibility when we almost had to stay up well past our bedtimes finishing a project that had to be delivered the next day. We learned about the rewards of hard work when we spent a Saturday canning a year’s worth of salsa–a family favorite–from the produce of our garden. We learned about the correlation between work and money by keeping track of our hours spent bent over the manual engraving machine (though, some days, my adult experience doesn’t seem to validate that connection). And, perhaps most importantly, we learned a lot about ourselves. For instance, DINC was the first real opportunity I had to grapple with two significant character traits: my tendency to procrastinate and my abhorrence of trying to sell people things.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not really  risk-taker. I don’t see myself as a business woman. But I am LEAST OF ALL a salesperson. Even if I believe in a product or service with all my heart, I cannot bring myself to try to get someone to buy it. It’s embarrassing: I blush and stutter and stumble over my words. I could barely bring myself to look our sweet elderly neighbor lady in the eye when I was forced to try to get her to take some zucchini off my hands. Sometimes I just gave it away, still feeling like a pest. (One of the reasons I dropped out of the Girl Scouts when I was still a Brownie was the unbearable pressure to sell those cookies!)

Despite my former discomfort with the sales aspect of small business ventures, I’m thinking about starting a little venture of my own.

I’ve been toying with the idea for some time. As my maternity leave approaches (only two weeks of classes left!) I’ve been trying to figure out a way to remain intellectually active and possibly work from home. The traditional housewife business ventures make me shudder: while I am grateful for Mary Kay and Arbonne and Tupperware and all they’ve done to liberate women, I would rather eat a cockroach than try to make a living hosting house parties in order to sell things to friends and their friends. I have to turn down invitations to spa parties and trunk shows because, no matter how tempting the free wine and facials and door prizes might seem, I know I will end up spending at least fifty bucks to assuage my easily triggered sense of guilt.

So, like I said, I’m considering a different kind of venture.

The idea came to me while I was working on lesson plans last week. My principal recently approved the addition of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! to my 8th grade English curriculum and I was putting together a new unit for my maternity sub. It was such pleasant work, reading through the familiar story of Alexandra Bergson and her resilience. I wrote reading quizzes and structured daily plans of discussion questions. I wrote a little guide to major themes. I chose key passages for analysis. I got to do the all the mental work of converting ideas from Cather’s pages and my head into something that 8th graders could digest without ever having to talk to an 8th grader.

While I do adore my 8th graders, there’s something so refreshing about just working with the subject matter. Wouldn’t it be great if I could write curriculum units for home school parents or co-ops who don’t have reliable instruction available for upper school literature? I’ve got the credentials, the experience, the practical know-how, and the time: do you think there’s a market? Could it be profitable? The existence of Sparknotes and other free cheat-sheets worries me a bit, but surely there are some people who would pay for high-quality instructional materials from a conservative, even Christian, perspective, right?

What do you think: good idea/bad idea? Those of you with homeschooling backgrounds, feel free to offer straightforward opinions here.

The thing is that I know that in order to turn this idea into a reality, I’m going to have to grow into the role of salesman that I avoided so diligently as a kid. Perhaps I’ll end up more like my dad than I expected to…

Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.” – Willa Cather, O Pioneers!




Filed under Consumerism, Courage, Domesticity, Reading, Teaching, Writing

6 responses to “O Entrepreneurs!

  1. Janet Schamp

    I like your idea of writing home school curriculum. Would Megan Dunham be a good person to ask?

  2. Rebekah

    I think it sounds awesome! I actually have no idea what’s out there for homeschoolers, but if this doesn’t exist it should. Can you start with preschool? 😉

  3. Nata

    So I just finished watching O Pioneers! movie with my GWA class. Jessica Lang does a great job. 🙂 A friend of mine wrote curriculum (from Christian perspective) for Jane Eyre. I use some of the discussion questions in class. Of course she gave it to me for free. I know that you could do it, but just be aware of the competition. There is so much free stuff online! You would really have to do some specialized marketing. My brother (administrator for a Christian school) gets some of his curriculum through the ACSI conferences. ACSI is actually based here in CS. I wonder if they could be a resource for you.

  4. I think it an excellent idea if you consider starting small with the people you know or could reach personally. Do you know Rebekah Randolph (nee Wilhelm), a Hillsdale grad in my class? She teaches excellent English classes online, primarily to homeschoolers. Her blog is here, or you can Facebook her. Or if you email me, I will happily arrange an email introduction.

    I also just got am email that Landry Academy (online classes for homeschoolers) is looking for teachers. You can get in touch here.

    This is something I have considered but am just too busy right now to pursue. I’m happy to pass along more ideas or whatnot, but those are the first two prominently in mind.

    I work at home regularly to be with my little guy and think it an excellent option for smart mommies who don’t want to sacrifice child or mind! =) Yay for the technology expanding these opportunities.

  5. Nata – You know, I’ve never seen the film. I’ll have to check it out! Cather remains one of my favorite authors….so good. Great point about the free stuff available. I’m wondering if tailoring more upper-level texts (Brothers K, Dante, etc) to the high school level will be unusual enough to attract some buyers.

    Thanks for the connections, Joy! I’ll be sending an email to Landry. Rebekah’s name sounds familiar, but I don’t think we were acquainted. I’ll check out her blog!

    What kind of work do you do from home?

  6. Hannah Dixon

    Hi Laurel! I think your upper-level curriculum guides would be wonderful (as a once-and-future-homeschooler, I certainly wish I had had some in high school!). I found your blog via Elsa’s facebook page, and am so happy to hear of all the lovely developments in your life! Congratulations on little boy, and your wedding as well ( a trifle late, but very warmly felt 🙂

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