This single mom launched a million-dollar business while homeschooling two kids

This is part of a series profiling moms who launched million-dollar businesses from home on my Forbes column.

Who: Leanne Ely, based in Charlotte, N.C,

Business: SavingDinner.com, an online menu planning subscription service

Date launched: 2001

Financials today: $1.5 million in annual sales

In the 1990s my family was living in Southern California, and I’d had a number of small businesses, including a catering company, and a self-published cookbook I sold out of the trunk of my car to little health food stores in my area.

That wasn’t very profitable, and I realized that the Internet was the way to scale a business. Then I won an online recipe contest. That was such a confidence booster! Shortly after, we moved to the country in North Carolina and I noticed the little local newspaper didn’t have a food section. Thanks to my online award I had the audacity to call them up and offer to write a food column.

From there I started freelance writing, mostly about food, and eventually connected with The FlyLady, an online productivity site headed by Marla Cilley. Marla introduced me to all her followers, which at the time was an email list of 15,000. Then, everything snowballed. I got an agent, a book deal, and in 2001 I launched my first online menu planner. When I saw that first $100 in my PayPal account I squealed like a little girl. At the time my kids were aged 10 and 11, and I home schooled them. A couple years later I went through a divorce. I never rdeceive any child support or alimony, but it was important for me to homeschool my children until they went to high school. There was no financial fallback. It was all me. I thought: “Time to put the pedal to the medal and figure this out.”

Even though this all took shape 10 and 15 years ago, remember there was no social media then. While Mark Zuckerberg was hard at work on Facebook, I was hard at work developing menus. My first employee was my mom, who I hired to edit menus and articles. She was the one who taught me how to cook.

My next employee was a customer service rep. That was really important because until then, I was answering all the emails from customers complaining about technical problems. I learned I’m very sensitive, because I took all of this personally, each message upset me and it distracted me. Making this hire really freed me up to focus what I’m good at: Speaking, networking and writing. If I stay true to those three competencies I can conquer the world.

Today I have a team that includes more than 10 recipe writers, a menu production director, web coordinator, customer service rep, CIO and COO. They’re all on contract, and I still work from home.  I can do almost all of my work with my slippers on and no pantyhose involved, and I’ve always been there for all my kids’ events.

My work has saved my life during some very tough times. There were periods I suffered anxiety attacks, thyroid problems and gained 50 lbs. I was a complete and utter mess. But I always had my work. There were many times I believed in my work more than I believed in myself.

I built my business so that other parents can have the same success. I meet with my team once per week, and I encourage them to be entrepreneurial and use their best skills. I have final say, of course, but if someone has a good idea, we go with it, and they get credit for it. I want to give other moms a job in which they can use their passions, and also prioritize their families. This week my COO said her kid was sick, so I told her, “No problem, stay home, see you later.”

I honor the people who work for me, and encourage them to put their families first. I always put my family first, and it always works out in the end.


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4 thoughts on “This single mom launched a million-dollar business while homeschooling two kids

  1. What a brilliant idea. And what an awesome leader she sound like to work for! Encouraging them to be entrepreneurial, recognizing their unique skills and honoring them as people with families? Pretty much everyone I have ever worked for could use some coaching from Leanne Ely. I have two business plans in the works so this was a very inspiring and timely read. I would have loved to hear more about homeschooling as a single mom! Interview Part 2!

  2. As a single, homeschooling WAHM, this is so encouraging! I love that she’s kept family first for her company, even for her employees. That’s such a rare quality to find within a company these days. Thanks for sharing!

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