What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?
I was all geared up and ready for graduate school in clinical psychology after graduating from Tulane University with a degree in psychology, specializing in neurology. I had my acceptance letter in one hand and my degree a semester away when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and displaced me back to my hometown of New York while Louisiana recovered. To say I was shook up was an understatement, and when I returned that January, my goals were a bit different. I decided to start working and experience the world; my doctorate could wait. I worked as an adolescent at-risk counselor and advocate, travelled, married my high school sweetheart, and became pregnant with my daughter, Soleil, and 15 months later, pregnant with my son, Kingston. I had to find a way to continue being a stay-at-home mom (quite different from my original goal of a clinical neuropsychologist) and that is how King Soleil was born.
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this? How did you turn your dream into a business plan?
My life was consumed with being a mom for a good two years. About a year ago, I took a step back and thought, okay, Morgan, you have the mom thing down. Are you still in there somewhere? I decided I would teach myself how to crochet, as a stress reliever, and refocus a little bit of my ever-dwindling energy back on myself. Like knitting, crocheting was said to have meditative effects, and boy, did that sound perfect. I immediately fell in love with the freedom of design, and the repetitive movements triggered a kinesthetic memory state where before I knew it, I would have have created something all my own. It was when I started making my own patterns (it is quite hard to find modern crochet patterns as easily as knit ones), that I realized I might be able to sell what I made and contribute financially to my family. My business plan is still evolving, and I constantly add and edit as I go.
What was your start-up cost? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
I did not have a start-up cost! A few dollars here, a few there, help from family, and I began to build up a yarn collection and fabric stash. I was always on the lookout for sales, I collected coupons, and I made many visits to thrift shops, Goodwill, and yard sales for my upcycled rugs. Once I started selling my products I rolled the profits into small advances, like my website or new yarn. I make my own labels and designed my own website, and one of the reasons I chose the route of this business is that my materials cost is low. What makes my products unique is the time I put into each one. And who needs to sleep, right?
What was the biggest obstacle?
Balancing being a stay-at-home mom and an entrepreneur. If I put time into my business, my house looks like Toys-R-Us, a Yarn store, and JoAnn Fabrics exploded all together into every corner and on top of every flat surface. My little cottage is bursting at the seams with a million projects, sewing supplies, crochet hooks, and errant yarn balls, not to mention toys, toys, toys. Trying to fit my business life into my mom life is proving to be the biggest challenge, but in all honesty, I am learning to live in my life of organized chaos and love every second.
Did your friends and family support your dream?
More than I could have ever expected. Without my husband's support, my Aunt Melanie's enormous fabric collection, and my mother's constant runs to the yarn store ("Which green, Morgan? Kelly, fern, grass, lime, forest, or dusky? Oh, you need emerald. Okay, I'll keep looking!"), I could never have started up King Soleil. Now my daughter, Soleil, is my little helper and is always on the lookout for new ideas for designs (I make my samples in her size). My newest butterfly crochet children's hat? All Soleil.
How did you maintain your confidence when doors were closed in your face, when people didn't get it or said no?
If a door ever were closed in my face, I would kick it down. I am determined to make King Soleil a success so I can continue to be a stay at home mom. I'll ride out this business until I can't go any further. There will always be people who do not love what you do as much as I do, but I know there will always be others who love it just as much.
How long did it take you to get everything off the ground?
I really can't give an exact time, as I started slow and kept building. I continue to add products weekly. But to give some idea, I taught myself how to crochet last February/March. I opened my Etsy shop in July with a handful of products and started selling in several weeks. I designed and published my website a month later, was picked up by a boutique, and was published in my first magazine in December. I added an online shop to my website, and my next two publications are coming out early this year.
How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
I have been profitable from month one. But again, I had very little start-up costs, so it did not take a lot to make a profit, and a couple months have come close to being a wash. I just keep trucking along and do my best every month. It has worked thus far. I truly believe shoppers nowadays really appreciate handmade products (especially for babies and children), and one-of-a-kind home decor, and this is where I have found my niche.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I have always wanted to be my own boss. Even in college, I wanted to open my own psychology practice. This path is different, but in many ways, very similar from what I always wanted to do and just as fulfilling. I am so lucky my life veered as it did. As long as you are motivated and determined, I do not see any drawbacks from being self-employed.
Where do you work from?
I work from home, a cozy little house in New England.
Do you have employees?
I suppose I cannot count my husband, my post-office errand boy, since I do not technically pay him … although I might argue that folding his laundry and making dinners count for something.
Is your "Dreamer" business your full-time job?
I have two full time jobs: Being a stay-at-home mom and running King Soleil. Each has its own set of challenges, but I cannot see myself being as happy and fulfilled as I am without juggling both.
How has your involvement with Martha Stewart's Dreamers into Doers helped you and your business?
Dreamers into Doers is simply awesome. I have so much respect for the entrepreneurs on this site who are always willing to offer words of wisdom, a congratulatory pat on the back, and make business connections. There is a true sense of comraderie here, one that you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
How have you been using social media to grow your business?
Oh, boy, have I ever. I am embarrassed to say I did not even know how to set up a Facebook business page when I first started King Soleil. And now? I have a Facebook, Twitter, and a Tumblr blog; I am constantly posting on Pinterest, Wanelo, and Stumbleupon; and the list goes on and on. It is ultimately through these sites you will be found and find a following.
Do you have entrepreneurial role models? What's so inspiring about them?
I think everyone in my life exhibits some role as an entrepreneur, whether it's my mother designing costumes, my brother's graphic art, or my husband's tutoring business. Chugging full steam ahead as a self-employed business owner? I'm on my own there, and learning as I go.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
I am always learning and am humbled by all that I still need to learn. The exciting part about that, however, is knowing I can always find ways to expand my brand and make King Soleil successful. When crocheting, for example, I learn a new stitch or technique, and run with it until I have a collection of products. Inspiration comes from colors, nature, yarns, textures, and ultimately, my children. I suppose that is why most of my products are geared toward the little ones of the world. You do what you know, and I know babies. As I learn and they grow, I'm sure my products will grow with them.
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 can offer business advice that I wish was given to me from the get-go; the only regret I have is that I did learn this fast enough: Be your own cheerleader. You know the phrase "When opportunity comes knocking"? Well, I say, go knock on those doors yourself. Email, make calls, write up articles about your brand and your products, make contacts, go after the big fish. I get asked constantly, How did you get published? I sent them a full write-up with pictures! How did you get featured on that website? By that person? I emailed them, him, her! How did you get to be a Doer of the Week? I nominated myself! Best advice? Go get 'em, girl (or boy)!
What is your favorite product/service that you offer?
My favorite products are my line of crochet children's accessories and clothing.
What is your best-selling item/service?
Hands-down, my best-selling products are my Custom Crochet Rugs, whether organic cotton or upcycled. I design a color scheme, style, and optional appliques with the customer to make a one-of-a-kind rug. I love each and every one and get so excited when a new order comes in. My latest project is a shabby chic rolled roses rug for a little girl's birthday. I am thrilled with each request and can't wait to get started!
What advice would you give to Dreamers who haven't become Doers yet?
The timing will never be perfect, you will never feel totally ready, and your doubts and fears of rejection will never totally subside ... until you just do it. And once you put yourself out there, even small at first, and you take baby steps, it will feel so amazing to know that you put yourself and your product out into the world.
Keep up with King Soleil
King Soleil on Twitter
King Soleil on Facebook
King Soleil on Etsy
King Soleil Blog