This turned out to be really long. I thought about turning it into separate posts, but decided against it. I did add pictures though, because I know you people don’t like posts without pictures and I’m hoping at least a few of you will actually read it all!
It all started when Summer was two and Camryn was one. I was a stay-at-home mom and wife to a plumber who worked harder than anyone I knew but his paycheck wasn’t enough to let us feel anything close to comfortable.
I had always had aspirations of going to college and having a career, but was sidetracked by my beautiful babies, who made me feel whole and fulfilled, but also a little “off”. Some women can be homemakers and spend their days taking care of the kids and house and feel completely satisfied with their life. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all, but that’s not me. I need a little more.
I wanted to do something to make money and feel like I was contributing to our family. We discussed me getting a part time job in the evenings, but we knew that if I did that, it would wipe me out and take away from my abilities as a mother and caregiver to the girls, which was the whole purpose of me staying home with them full-time. I’d dreamed of working from home ever since I found out I was pregnant with Summer and knew I wanted to spend every second with her until she started school, so I started to search for something I could do.
My first venture was Summer Grace Baby Cakes. I made and sold diaper cakes to friends and strangers over Craigslist. I had a website made, along with business cards. I would consider it a success. Business certainly didn’t “take off”, but I think that you only get out of it what you put into it, and at that time, marketing wasn’t something I understood completely. I was enjoying having a purpose other than being a mom, but knew this wasn’t the right fit for me. It was fun and I loved creating things, but the diaper cakes took so much time and money to make, that the profit wasn’t worth it. I had to find something else.
Throughout this time, I was blogging. At some point, I had a custom blog design made that I loved. Eventually, I wanted to change things up. Not having the money to pay someone to create a new design, I took things into my own hands and starting working with digital scrapbook kits. I had no software for this kind of thing, so believe it or not, I was using Open Office (similar to Word) to create headers and signatures. I Googled and Googled to learn how to do each step in the design process. Looking back, my first creations were downright awful!
One day I came across a tutorial for iron-on t-shirts. I knew how to create the design from working on my blog, so I thought I would make something for Summer and Camryn. I made a few really cute iron-on transfers and made them into custom t-shirts. The girls got lots of compliments, and a light bulb went off in my head. Since I was wanting to find something else to do after ending the diaper cake business, I thought this might be the perfect venture. I could make custom t-shirts and sell them to my blog friends and over Craigslist.
I got to work making designs. I started a blog for the business that I not-so-creatively called “Dirt and Lace Shirts”. I added the designs there and started posting ads on Craigslist and advertising the shirts on my blog. To my surprise, I got orders! Some from bloggers and friends, and a lot from my Craigslist ads. I was shipping shirts out every few days and once or twice a week someone would come to my house to pick up an order. I was working hard… I had to market and advertise, keep up with my ads, answer e-mails, design the shirts, print the designs, keep up with ink levels and the transfer paper supply, cut and apply designs, pack up shipments, print shipping labels, etc. Nothing horribly difficult, but as a mom of two active little girls, the $3 profit on each shirt just wasn’t enough to make me feel like my time and effort was worth it.
I didn’t know what to do. I needed to raise prices, but I didn’t feel like I could… these weren’t screen-printed, professional shirts. I knew the iron-on designs wouldn’t last forever and I didn’t think charging people any more for them than I already was would be right. I loved doing something creative, and I loved the appreciation I felt from Joe for working to do something for our family. I was frustrated that this was turning out like the diaper cake business, and didn’t want to be a quitter… but this still wasn’t what I was meant to do.
It took me weeks to decide whether to end Dirt and Lace Shirts. Throughout that time, I was still working on my blog and offered to do a few designs for friends. It was fun! I was learning a lot and surprised myself by picking it up fairly easily. I knew of people who made money doing blog designs, so naturally, as I learned more about it and I started to second guess the shirt business, I decided to see what would happen if I offered my design services.
Slowly and steadily, I got clients. I couldn’t believe people wanted to pay ME to design their blogs. I learned more every day and as I built my portfolio, I built my confidence. I had taught myself something that other people didn’t know, I was making a decent profit doing it, and I finally felt like I could call myself something other than “stay-at-home-mom”. I was now a work-at-home-mom. I was a mom/wife/blog designer.
That was 2009. Throughout the last two years I have had ups and downs with Dirt and Lace Designs. I’ve gone a few weeks without getting a single order, and I’ve also had weeks where I get five. I’ve met tons of great people. I’ve learned so much and still have a lot to learn. On a good business week, I’ve made enough to pay a bill or two, or buy our groceries and gas. It’s not a lot of money, but it helps.
Working from home comes with a lot of positives, and a lot of negatives, just like I imagine any job would. I get to spend every day with my girls, which is priceless. I feel a little more fulfilled than I did before I began working from home. I make money that helps my family be successful. My parents get to tell their friends that their daughter is a blog designer, and not just their daughter that got pregnant twice in two years straight out of high school. I’ve also learned invaluable lessons about life, business, marketing, and people.
The negatives? Not many people realize how much time and effort I spend working. I will be having a conversation with someone who is expressing their stress and exhaustion over their job, while I’m sitting there thinking about the 10 hours I had put into designing and working that day, on top of taking care of the kids, making lunch, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, running errands, and essentially being on-call 24/7…. and I can tell that they feel like they are venting to a stay-at-home-mom who has no idea what it’s like to work every day. A little frustrating. I also have to make a lot of effort not to take things personally. I’ve had a few people use other designers after using me. I’ve had people completely ignore my terms of service and use a design I created for them for several purposes, technically cheating me out of money. I’ve even had someone take an entire blog design I did for them, copy it, and put it on another separate blog. It’s hard not to be hurt or upset when people do things like that.
Yes, my paragraph about the positives is smaller than the negatives, but they still outweigh them. Whether I continue designing blogs or not, the knowledge and experience I’ve gained throughout the process is priceless.
Currently, I’m debating about whether I want to take my love of and interest in photography to a new level. I have always thought being a photographer would be an amazing career, but never thought it would be possible for me. After successfully creating a business for myself the last two years, my attitude has changed a bit. I CAN be a photographer. Anyone can do what they want if they put their heart and soul into it. But… I’ve seen enough horrible photographers who think all they need is a camera and Photoshop to start a business to second, third, and fourth guess myself about moving forward. Am I good enough? Is it the right time? If I do, should I keep Dirt and Lace Designs running? Would it be worth it? There are so many photographers out there, is there even a place for me? Would anyone take me seriously or just roll their eyes and say, “Ugh, another ‘photographer.’”? I’m asking myself all of those questions and more.
Where will I be career-wise in five years is a mystery to me and everyone else but God. What I do know: It will be what I’m meant to be doing, and I will love it.