What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?
In 2008, I "retired" from the banking industry (after 7-plus years) to be a stay-at-home mom to my toddler son, Aaron, and my newborn daughter, Ariana.
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this? How did you turn your dream into a business plan?
Like a lot of stay-at-home parents who leave a career will possibly tell you, I missed being in touch with people and having something of my own. In late 2008, while trying to find some cute, fun items for Ariana, I couldn't find a tutu that I really liked. For the first time in my life, I uttered the words, "I wonder if I can make one myself." So, I purchased a pattern, ordered some tulle in my favorite colors, and … I couldn't read the pattern I purchased, and I just stared at it for a long while. I figured I had to create something from scratch. The first skirt was a pink/purple tulle tumbleweed. It took a couple tries and they just kept getting better and better. I also kept using more tulle.
When I put the first (good) tutu on Ari, I said "Oh, my gosh!" She looked so cute. I made a couple for my cousins' baby showers and received so many encouraging compliments. That's all it took for me -- I created Bella Ariana, trademarking my name and incorporating. I knew I had a great thing here and wanted to have my entire bases covered for the present and future.
What was your start-up cost? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
I love this question because if you're getting ready to start your business you can learn from others like me who spent a little too much.
My direction for Bella Ariana was to start off fabulous and never change my "look." That way, people would remember this brand that I created from the beginning. Trust me, I wish I would have spent less. I think my original direction of creating a brand and keeping it is a great idea. But, what happened was my style and taste changed. So keep that in mind.
- Custom logo: $200 (my new logo is semicustom and was $10.00)
- Custom website: $250 (I just switched over to Etsy a month ago. I like its flexibility and layout)
- First order of tutu supplies (elastic, tulle, flowers, ribbon, all USA made and highest quality): $366.72
- First photo shoot with Ariana wearing my first 5 different skirt designs: $99.00
- Total investment: $915.72.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Time management, for sure. In the middle of research, drafting advertising and marketing materials, designing projects, and so on, Ariana was showing signs of having autism. Naturally, everything for me was put on hold. It would be impossible to focus on this dream for myself when I knew my daughter and my son both needed their mom more. Aside from regular life, there was speech therapy and occupational therapy ... and our 20-hour-a-week behavioral tutor was at our house every day. I would wait till the kids were in bed and I would spend the night and wee hours of the mornings trying to make life out of this little skirt business. The life we knew before had been changed forever.
Ariana was officially diagnosed with autism when she was just over 2 years old. She's inspired our family to slow down and enjoy the little things in life. So what originally was put forth as my biggest obstacle ended up being our new way of life and, of course, a little blessing in its own way.
Did your friends and family support your dream?
Absolutely! My husband has always encouraged me to try new things. I'm always helping others, so he was thrilled when I discussed launching Bella Ariana. My family and friends we're very supportive as well.
How did you maintain your confidence when doors were closed in your face, when people didn't get it or said no?
Fortunately, at the local bank I worked at for all those years, the main focus was top-notch customer service -- offering customers products that would be for their benefit. I feel like since I had great coworkers and training specialists, that gave me the molding I needed to offer my product. If someone isn't interested I know it's not personal. It just doesn't suit their needs or they are already committed to another vendor that offers the same product. Every "no" might one day turn into a "yes." So as long as they know I have made the effort, I feel they might reach out to me in the future if my services are needed.
How long did it take you to get everything off the ground?
All in all, it took me a little over a year to get Bella Ariana up and running. I sought out the best products to use. If you have received one of my packages, you know I use super cute and quality packaging. It's perfect for gift opening. All you have to do is wrap it up. When your item is packaged well, it makes the product feel even more special. All those small addition make for happy customers. Happy customers = Repeat Customers. I'm looking into the future for Bella Ariana; Hoping that all I have done thus far will pay off now and in the future. If you're reading this and you'll see that that theory is actually working. Look! I'm doing it.
How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
I made back my original investment. However, I keep investing money on improving and expanding, and I'm back in the negative again. I'm hoping to be back into profit before Martha Stewart's Office line comes out at Staples so I can reinvest some more cash to make my office pretty -- which I'm telling my husband will inspire me to work twice as hard. Think that will go over well?
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I have to admit, I'm a team player. I thrive on working hard and sharing success with others. For example, when I got the news about this Doer of the Week interview, I busted out of my office to tell my husband, who was watching his hockey game, and he said, "Good job, honey. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm proud of you." Simultaneously a sippy cup was being gently tapped on my thigh as Ariana was asking for "more juice" and Aaron wanted to know if I was done on the computer so he could play. Ahh, gotta love it. Yes, I do!
Where do you work from?
This past July, we bought our first home. Lucky for me, it's a four-bedroom. I turned one bedroom into my home studio/office. Before we bought a house in town, we lived in the country on my husband's family farm. I stored my stuff all over the house. Every time I needed to make a tutu, I had to dig everything out and make the skirt in the living room. It was super hard to start and stop projects. The kids would get a hold of my tulle rolls and make pyramids in the kitchen, and then use their bodies as torpedos to smash into them. It was sure a sight to see. I'm sure other Doers who package their products and send them on their way must have thought, If the person who bought this could have seen the production that went along with it.
Do you have employees?
Not yet. I would love to open a local shop -- a fun shop that you could learn how to do DIY projects and crafts, with sewing classes, a handmade boutique, etc.
How has your involvement with Martha Stewart's Dreamers into Doers helped you and your business?
I can't say enough how much Martha Stewart's Dreamers into Doers community has helped me professionally -- and personally. I have made such great friendships here. I would be honored to meet up with fellow Doers in New York in 2012. Discussion groups on DID are also great places to find help if you need it ASAP.
How have you been using social media to grow your business?
I try to keep quality over quantity for Bella Ariana. Facebook has been great. I sign onto DID almost every day. I think it's best to keep motivated with others who can fuel your passion. I love seeing pretty things and sharing them with my Facebook followers. Now that I'm on Etsy, people have been using my items in Treasury listings. I'm so grateful.
In January 2012 my friend Jessica and I will create a lifestyle blog with lots of fun DIY projects, parties, everyday stuff, features, and giveaways, and I'll be writing a great piece on turning a dream into a business and doing it without breaking the bank (or even spending much at all). I'll use all my knowledge that has helped me with Bella Ariana. I promise this article will be a great source of information.
Do you have entrepreneurial role models? What's so inspiring about them?
There are many. But here are a few of my most inspiring DID friends: Nikki McGonigal from Nikki, In Stitches; Courtney Dial and staff from Pizzazzerie; Jessica Remmele from Prop Shop Boutique (my local friend and soon to be co-blogger); Bird from Birds Party; and, of course, the ultimate Dreamer into Doer, Martha Stewart.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
I would love for everyone to think I have always been a crafty chick. However, it started off the complete opposite. I was a buyer and supporter of all those crafty friends of mine. That buyer still lives in me. In fact, several Doers will tell you that I have purchased items from their shops. I spent many years watching Martha Stewart create such "good things" that on several occasions I would say, "Why can't they make up a limited supply for those of us with craft ability-dysfunction?"
What's the best piece of business advice you ever received? If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I have donated a lot of my time and materials in getting my business off the ground. At times I was burned a little by giving away too much. When you start giving too much, it can be discouraging.
Get paid for your time. Set standards with yourself on how much you'll give away and if it's even possible with your business. My tutus take about two hours to make from start to finish (including packaging, which is also fabulous); if I were to "give" one away, you can see how that adds up. So, respect your time and efforts before you give too much. For example, one standard that I made, which at first sounds harsh but I had to do it, was to not give tutus away to family and friends. Not as gifts or just because. Not at all, period. This is my business and I'm trying to make a profit. It's not personal; it's a business decision, that's all. This was a good decision for me and for Bella Ariana. I do at times donate a skirt for a giveaway, for a local fundraising donation, and, of course, to fabulous photographers I want to work with.
Family and friends should want to support your business. Don't ever feel obligated to give your products (or time) away. Trust me, this was a very hard decision because I always want to make people happy and "be nice." Making this decision early on has shown me who really wants to support my home business. I'm proud of my work and want others to be as well.
What is your favorite product/service that you offer?
My most favorite skirt to date is the Pink Crush tutu. It's my favorite picture of Ariana from our first commercial shoot. It's a picture of her sitting on a big rock, looking down with a peony flower in her hair. The tutu is just gorgeous with the three pink tones combined.
What is your best-selling item/service?
Hands down it's my SugarPlum Fairies tutu.
Is your "Dreamer" business your full-time job?
I'm honored to say yes! And more to come for Bella Ariana in 2012.
What advice would you give to Dreamers who haven't become Doers yet?
If you wait for the right time to turn your dream into reality, it could possibly never happen. One of the main reasons I mentioned my daughter's autism above is because I kept saying, "I'm just going to wait until things settle down a bit till I jump back in." I did do that for a good while. Luckily for me, one evening in January 2010 while on MarthaStewart.com I stumbled upon this little community called Dreamers into Doers. It was just in time for the upcoming Doer event 2011 trip in New York. I told myself I needed to stop dreaming and start doing so I could be there in 2012. Since then, my business has grown leaps and bounds only because I knew I was the only one who could turn this dream into reality. I have shipped my skirts all over the U.S., Canada, and France. I have met women who deal with the same obstacles that I face, and created some dear friendships. Remember I said above I was a team player? I have made Dreamers into Doers into my team. This could be you, too. Start now!
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