What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?
I was working as a meeting planner for a national association. I continued to work full-time and manage my business in my spare time until my son was born in April 2010. At that point, I became a work-at-home mom.
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this? How did you turn your dream into a business plan?
My creative outlet had been as an event coordinator. In 2006 I became a meeting planner, and soon realized that the position wasn't as creative. For a time I used my creativity to decorate my home, but I quickly ran out of my own space to decorate. In the summer of 2007, my husband began working on his master's degree, and I felt that I needed something creative to keep me busy as well. It occurred to me that opening an online shop selling home decor items would allow me the perfect creative outlet, and it was flexible enough that I could manage it beyond my full-time job. So in October of that year, Crossroads Cottage, LLC, an online home-decor shop, was launched.
The home decor portion of Crossroads Cottage never really took off, but I did begin placing monthly tablescapes on my website. In January of 2008, I created a pinwheel-themed birthday tablescape and it struck me that I should move away from selling home decor and instead create custom party accessories. I started by adding mini cupcake-topper pinwheels (later named Pinwhirls) to my website, an item I had created for my pinwheel tablescape. Soon after, I opened my Etsy shop.
Within months, clients were requesting other custom pinwheel items including handheld ones, yard-sized ones, and party hats. At the time, there were no others selling handmade pinwheels. My first items were assembled with commercial scrapbook papers, but by early fall I learned that I could better serve custom orders by altering digital papers and printing them in-house. It wasn't long before the personalized party pinwhirls began taking up too much space on my existing website.
I launched pinwhirls.com in December 2008. Along the way, DIY pinwheel items and kits were also added for clients on a budget. Personalized party hats, banners, pennants, tags, labels, cupcake wrappers, invites, and more have been added to the shop. And with more than 1000 exclusive papers available, plus the ability to alter or create custom papers, I can make personalized products for just about anything, including intimate birthday parties, upscale weddings, or large corporate events and trade shows.
As far as a business plan, I'm kind of ashamed to admit that even four years into the business I've never sat down to pen an actual plan. It's been on my to-do list for almost that long, but day-to-day business activities always seem to take priority. Maybe one day I'll be able to cross this off my list. A girl can dream!
What was your start-up cost? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
Start-up costs, around $1,500, were taken from our personal savings. I used these funds to get the website up and running and purchase initial product inventory. Once I switched from home decor to custom party products, I also had to borrow a bit more from our savings for software, printers, and other miscellaneous items.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Time was my biggest obstacle. The business began to take off in the fall of 2008, while I was still working full time. I'd work at my day job, come home, and work until it was time to go to bed. Most of my weekends were also spent working on the business. Despite hours of work, it felt as if there was always more to do. I'd be fibbing if I said there were never any tears of exhaustion shed. When I became pregnant, we made the decision that once our baby was born, I'd become a work-at-home mom. I was more than looking forward to this day, as I thought nothing could be worse than working full-time and running the business. On my last official day of work, I remember walking with my husband and feeling like this huge weight had been lifted. I thought that I'd now have so much more time. Our son arrived the next day -- so much for more time! I laugh now at how naive I was. Years later, time is still my biggest obstacle and I fear that I'll never find the perfect balance between work and home. When I'm with my son, although I enjoy these moments, my work is always in the back of my mind. When I'm working I feel guilty that I should be spending more time with my son. I know that all working mothers can relate.
Did your friends and family support your dream?
Absolutely -- my family and friends are my biggest fans. My husband has been my biggest supporter. In addition to being a huge moral support (see previous paragraph about tears being shed), he's also my go-to guy for most of my technology issues. Since the birth of our son, he's also had to play the single dad role on days when I'm overwhelmed with running the business.
How did you maintain your confidence when doors were closed in your face, when people didn't get it or said no?
I've been very blessed in this area, as I've not experienced many doors closing. However, very early on, especially when I was only selling custom pinwheels, people really just didn't get it. They couldn't possibly believe that there was a market for such an item. Postal and UPS employees were always the most surprised! When they asked why my boxes were so light, I eventually began telling them that I sold custom party supplies instead of telling them I sold custom pinwheels. They just couldn't relate. But, to be totally honest, I'm about as amazed as everyone else that my custom pinwheels business has succeeded!
How long did it take you to get everything off the ground?
The Crossroads Cottage website was launched and live within one month, but the business has gradually morphed into something dramatically different over the years. When it comes to the business, I've always just taken an idea and ran with it (perhaps too quickly). This is probably another reason I still don't have a business plan, as the business seems to be ever changing and growing.
How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
The business began pulling in steady sales within nine months, but I continued reinvesting the profits back into the business for a couple more years. In October of 2010, exactly three years after the business was formed, I paid myself my first paycheck and have been able to do so ever since -- although my pay differs each month, depending on income and business expenses.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
The best part about being my own boss is that I am able to stay home with my son. As mentioned earlier, the work-life balance is still an everyday struggle, but I feel very blessed that he's right beside me every day. I also love that I'm able to maintain some control over the amount of orders I receive. I do so by creating a production calendar, which is listed on my sites. I try to only take a certain number of orders each week. Once that week fills up, I bump custom shipments back by another week. It generally takes us two to four weeks to get custom orders out the door. I realize that this delay isn't always ideal for our clients, but it's truly the only way I can keep my sanity with the business and toddler. Before my son, I loved rush orders! These days, I very rarely take them as I'd never be 100 percent sure that I could keep my promises -- one just never knows when a toddler is going to have a particularly needy day.
The biggest drawback is that I can never really stop working. With a business that is always live, one can never just walk away. There are always emails to respond to -- including evenings and weekends, and, sadly, even on vacation. I've tried vowing to shut my office door at 5 p.m. and not go back in until the next morning, but I always find myself sneaking in to check my messages.
Where do you work from?
I work from my home office. In April of this year we made the decision to move to a larger home. One of the deciding factors in the move was the lack of space at our former downtown Indianapolis home. I upgraded from a 10' x 10' office (with a barely existent closet) to a 19' x 20' office (with a huge walk-in closet) in the new home. Since the move, I feel as if I'm able to accomplish much more now that I'm able to spread out the business. I've also been able to block off a large area of the room as a play area for my son. So, while I work, he's able to play and spread out as well. (As I type he's creating a pile of toys at my feet!)
Do you have employees?
Yes, I have one employee. My sister, Erin, has been my master Pinwhirler for over two and a half years. No words can explain what a huge help she's been to me and the business. I would not be able to function without her - there just aren't enough hours in the day. Although I still assemble a pinwheel here and there, she does 95% of my assembly work. I think she can assemble in her sleep (and probably needs to) as she does most of the assembly after her four kiddos are off in dreamland. I've also periodically hired part-time employees to help with web updates, marketing, writing, packaging, and shipping orders. Within the past year I've also hired an accountant to manage my books, and I also use an online payroll company. Both take a huge amount of stress off my shoulders.
How has your involvement with Martha Stewart's Dreamers into Doers helped you and your business?
I have formed some great partnerships with some truly talented vendors on this site. More importantly, it's become a welcoming community of women entrepreneurs who are all very helpful and supportive of one another. I'm continually amazed at the discussion board and group areas of the site and the amount of knowledge and advice that is freely given to help others become 'Doers.'
How have you been using social media to grow your business?
Although Pinwhirls has had a Twitter account, Facebook page, and blog for several years, in the past I did find it difficult to manage them along with the day-to-day activities of the business. In 2011 one on my goals was to actively begin using these social media outlets, and since this time our followers have slowly but surely been increasing.
Do you have entrepreneurial role models? What's so inspiring about them?
Most definitely; my parents are my greatest entrepreneurial role models. My dad became the owner of a Chicago bakery when he was in his very early twenties. After my mom had my older sister, she stopped her teaching career and helped my dad manage the business full time – with three young children by her side. Although they sold the bakery when I was still pretty young, I have very foggy memories of sneaking the cherries off the cakes in their display cases. My dad knows first-hand the stress that a business can have on a person. Although, the way he talks about it 35 years later, I know that he has great memories and wouldn't change it for the world. Whenever I fret to my mom that I think I'm spending too much time on the business and not enough time with my son, she reminds me that my siblings and I practically grew up in a bakery, and we turned out just fine!
It goes without saying that Martha Stewart is also another role model. How could someone as successful and as business savvy as Martha not be? On a side note: She's such a huge role model that several years ago not only did I dress up as Martha Stewart for Halloween, I also ended up winning the department costume contest. (Okay, maybe that's a bit too much info!)
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
Creativity is the backbone of my business and thankfully it runs in my family. I have fond memories of the elaborate children's parties my mom threw while we were growing up – this was before the age of scrapbook supplies and digital cutters. She used to draw designs such as Pac Man ™ and Cabbage Patch Kids ™ by hand on construction paper and hand cut party supplies and hats. I always knew that I wanted to do the same for my children, but what I never would have imagined is that I'd be creating items for thousands of other children as well.
My business has grown with my clients' needs. I started out only selling mini cupcake topper pinwheels and every product added since has been at the request of one of my clients. They have unintentionally forced me to learn how to create new products and looking back at it now, I have them to thank for the growth of my business. If I had turned down some of these requests, I don't think the business would be half as successful as it has become. More and more of my orders seem to be not only for pinwheels but also for the coordinating pennants, banners, cupcake wrappers, and invites that we've slowly added since our start.
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?
Instead of initially giving yourself a pay check, try to reinvest as much as you can for as long as you can back into the business. If I had started paying myself earlier than the 3 year point, I don't think my business would still be here today. To create stellar products you need the business equipment, supplies, or additional staffing behind you. Reinvesting also helped me purchase items that, although costly at the time, have helped streamline my production tasks.
If I had to do it over again, instead of initially selling home decor items, I would have initially begun selling custom party items. The moral here is to do what you know - I knew party planning. Home decor- not so much.
What is your favorite product/service that you offer?
My favorite product would have to be our Peony pinwheels. Instead of the traditional 4 quadrants, they have 8. To me, they are just as pretty as a flower.
What is your best selling item/service?
Due to requests from our clients, our product line has really evolved and grown over the years. However, our personalized pinwheels still make-up about 75% of our business.
What advice would you give to Dreamers who haven't become Doers yet?
There is no better time than now to take the leap from Dreamer into Doer. Even if it means that your dream is part-time for a good bit of time. But, do go into it with your eyes wide open. If you are thinking of starting a business just because you'd like to be your own boss, get up late, and work in your pajamas, then perhaps think a bit more before diving in. The road to a successful business won't be easy. It's much like parenthood. It will require more work than any other job you've ever had for little to no pay in the beginning; but because it's your own, you'll gladly toil while seeing it evolve, grow, and someday flourish.
Is your "Dreamer" business your full-time job?
Yes, it's my full-time job, along with raising my son, Gabe.
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