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‘You’ve got to go for it’: Kids help mom start family business

A. Pawlowski, TODAY contributor
Monday, 16 Sep 2013 | 11:02 AM ET
Tanja Poley, far right, enjoys a sunny day with her children Noah, left, and Grace, middle.
Source: Tanja Poley
Tanja Poley, far right, enjoys a sunny day with her children Noah, left, and Grace, middle.

Sometimes, a family business starts with a family vote.

Facing furlough days at her job as a human resources manager, Tanja Poley needed a way to make up for the lost income. Her daughter's art would play a key role in the new venture, so the single mom sat down with her two kids this spring to decide what to do next.

"We had a tax return and we really needed new mattresses – all three of us do – so we took a vote. Do we use this money to get our new mattresses or do we use it to start this business?" Poley, who lives in suburban Sacramento, Calif., told TODAY Moms.

"The kids both voted for the business."

It's the latest chapter in their long journey together. Poley adopted her 12-year-old daughter Grace and 10-year-old son Noah from Taiwan when they were both infants, feeling adoption was the right way to start her family.

She became a single mom after she and her husband divorced. Then last year, money suddenly became tight when her employer asked her to take two unpaid days off a month.

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"It really impacted our finances," Poley, 42, said. "So I needed to look for a way to stay afloat and to be able to stay in our home and continue to be able to pay the bills."

Looking around her home for things to sell on sites like eBay, Poley noticed she had a lot of bags. At the same time, Grace started a new school where she knew few kids, so she often spent her lunch hour drawing. The art got a lot of attention from her classmates, who were always requesting copies, Poley said.

So she asked her daughter: What if we try putting your art on a bag? The family vote this spring sealed the deal and Ten Four Goods was born. The business is named after the CB radio code for "affirmative" and Poley's birthday on Oct. 4.

(Read more: 10 cool 'Made in USA' products)

The canvas bags feature two of Grace's drawings, a turtle and a wolf, as well as art contributed by Poley's mother and sister. Poley, who has an MBA, says it's the perfect pairing of her business skills and her family's artistic talents.

Noah—who is "fantastically people and detail oriented"—helps to fulfill the orders, Poley said. The family works on the business every night, though school work comes first and Poley is careful to be a mom first, not a boss.

She's sold several hundred bags since the business started on April 1 and is striving to break even, she said. She still works full time for her employer, but hopes to eventually devote more time to her company.

As an aspiring entrepreneur, Poley even auditioned for the show "Shark Tank" in May to pitch her business and show her kids "this is what life without regrets looks like."

"What they really are getting from it is you've got to go for it, even if you're scared that something might not work out," she said.

By A. Pawlowski, TODAY.com/money.
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