BEHIND THE BIZ // ERIKA MCMAHON OF CAPE NANNY

erika mcmahon - cape nanny - behind the biz - entrepreneur

ERIKA McMAHON // CAPE NANNY

Cape Nanny is a boutique nanny agency serving the greater Boston area from the cobblestones of Beacon Hill to the shores of Cape Cod. They specialize in placement on the South Shore, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and are committed to matching families with exceptionally qualified nannies, the unique needs of each client are met through a custom, one-of-a-kind placement process.

Was there a moment in your life when the lightbulb went off and you just knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur and start Cape Nanny?

During my early twenties, the question I dreaded most was “what do you plan to do?” As I personally evolved, my answer to this question did, too. At the time, entrepreneurship was not a consideration. I thought the title “entrepreneur” was reserved for people on the cover of Fortune 500. So, the quest for my “plan” continued. Looking back, the idea that I would one day own a nanny agency seems obvious. In middle school, I created flyers titled “Job Needed/ Babysitting” and went on to advertise the rates and services of a “trustworthy twelve-year-old who has taken a baby course.” During college, I spent my summers working as a nanny for families from Boston to New York. After graduation, I landed a sales support role at a corporate design firm. Still, on evenings and weekends, I found myself running from job to job, babysitting for local families in my Boston neighborhood. Once I entered graduate school, my peers constantly asked me to connect them summer nanny jobs. Enter the economic downturn of 2009 and I was pairing families with highly educated, recently unemployed friends. Informally, I have been connecting families and sitters for years. Finally, I thought “this is more than a cool idea … I can do this.” And that was that.

erika mcmahon - babysitting

Once you knew you wanted to launch Cape Nanny what steps did you take to make that a reality? 

I conducted market research for more than a year before launching. I ramped up my knowledge of contracts, licensing laws and procedures. I filled out more paperwork than I have in my cumulative lifetime. I wrote press releases and pitched the launch as a story idea to local papers and magazines. I identified ways for Cape Nanny to differentiate from competitors. An important component of my vision was for the website to have an editorial feel. I wanted to make a strong virtual impression since I would launch without a brick-and-mortar location. I hired Lisa of Step Brightly to bring this vision to life and she blew it out of the water. I called a lot of fellow entrepreneurs to share ideas – in both related and unrelated fields. The really tough days were balanced by the euphoric, I’m-Really-Doing-This days. I’ll never forget the day the website launched. All of my licenses and documents were in order and it was officially go-time. I hit the ground running and haven’t slowed since.

What lessons have you learned along the way?

I have learned so. many. lessons. The most important is this — believe, believe, believe. I have had many days when I have questioned a decision, regardless of how big or small. When you own a business, every decision is an important one. I have learned to trust my instincts and move on. Mistakes will be made, but the world will not end because of them. Have I made mistakes in my first year of business? Yes. They have provided clarity and opportunities for me to improve my approach.

What has surprised you about owning your own business?

Owning a business is a raw and highly rewarding experience all at once. I work harder than I have in my life, but I also enjoy a great deal of flexibility. While I can’t see myself taking a vacation anytime soon, I can arrange my schedule to allow for me to work virtually. Rather than take a sick day, I can hold client meetings virtually, via FaceTime or Skype. Flexibility and creative problem solving are important virtues of a sane business owner.

Do you have a daily routine or rituals you do?

I wake up at 6:30 am and respond to emails for about an hour. Next, I review new candidate applications and conduct phone screenings or in-person interviews, depending on the day. Cape Nanny covers three territories: Boston, the South Shore and Cape Cod. I craft my schedule so that I am available for meetings and interviews in each territory at least one day each per week. I may visit a new client’s home to meet the family and discuss qualities of their ideal nanny. If the day allows, I take a lunch break sometime around noon. I may run a personal errand around this time, if my schedule allows. If the day is jam-packed, I will eat at my desk. Sometime between 2:00-3:00 pm, I will take another break to read industry blogs and visit my social media accounts. I may promote a job description on the Facebook page or create twitter content. At 4:30 pm I close down my computer. I go to the gym, stop by the grocery store and make dinner. My husband arrives home in the evening and, after we eat together, I open my computer again. I create new client contracts, run background searches, answer emails and shut down again by 10:00 pm.

What hardships have you had along the way?

Creating a work/life balance was initially pretty difficult. Because my office is in my home, I had trouble shutting down for the day. My husband and I were married only five months before the business launched, so there were quite a few changes all at once. As much as my business is extremely important to me, so is spending time with family. Eventually, I learned that emails do not always have to be answered as they come in. As I said, I have a shut-down time of 4:30 pm and a return time of roughly 7:30 pm. I chose this window because client calls tend to slow down around dinner time, allowing me to get to the gym and have dinner with my husband. This shut-down window isn’t possible every single day, but I have felt much more balanced since implementing it.

What do you wish you would have known going into this?

I wish I had a glass ball that had allowed me to see one year into the process. And actually, five years in. If my business were a kite, I spent my first year running as fast as possible in every direction for it to take flight. Still, the unknown is what made the first year so exhilarating. I don’t think I would have changed that.

What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?

Before bed each night, I make a to-do list for the following day. I know many entrepreneurs tout these cool tech-y apps for to-do list organization, but I just use a spiral notebook and pen. I find it easier to prioritize tasks that way. Plus, it feels so empowering to scribble away tasks as “completed.” I am, however, a slave to my iCalendar.

Highlight of your career so far?

Hands down, the meaningful connections I have made with my clients and nannies. I have also been so lucky to have had Cape Nanny included in favorites like Daily Candy and Cape Cod Magazine.

Best advice you’ve been given?

The devil always arrives carrying cash. Stay true to your vision and don’t get distracted from your original mission.

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Top photo by Stacey Hedman