February 22, 2011

Working from Home: A Love/Hate Relationship

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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14 comments:

clauren said...

Steph, it saddens me to know that people completely blew off your terms of service but isn't a huge shock because of how some people are :/. Like a slap in the face!

I wonder if there can be a contract disclaimer where it states you will be charged extra if you violate the terms, but I'm sure it would not be worth it because you cant debt their account without consent? etc etc.

I say follow your heart, whatever you do you will do it well esp in the creative artsy field. You are a fast learner and have trained yourself which is impressive! What about some online classes? Good Luck : )

Cass

maren said...

Being a mom is hard work, regardless of what we're doing on the 'side' to make ends meet--it's the hardest thing I've ever done, for sure! Keep up the good hard work!

Kelley's4Kids said...

You are fantastic with doing blogs and photography! I will use you again and again, etc....
Kelley

Stephanie said...

I actually read the whole thing and you know I haven't been keeping up with posting much less reading blogs lately :)

I hope you continue your design business - you are awesome at it!!!! and when I acutally get around to blogging again you must be around :)

Hugs!

Brandi said...

I'm sorry that people are cheating you like that. Just keep keeping on. I know you will do great at whatever it is you decide to do :)

Nicole said...

WOW, you and I have so much in common. I also had to put my schooling on hold when my son was born, and have not been able to return. I worked until my oldest son was a little over 1 and had to quite because I was having complications in my 2nd pregnancy.

We are barely making in on one income, but I am not sure what to do either. I can't put all three kids in daycare because we definately can't afford that. And because of Tim's job and hours getting a night or evening job really won't work.

I wish I had some kind of creative talent that would help bring in a little extra money. I really think you should get into photography. Your pictures are beautiful! Oh and I might just have to check out your designs I really need one bad!

Susie said...

I know I don't know you personally but what I read everyday from your blog you are a very talented woman. Whatever you put your mind to you can do. You are a great mother, it shows. I think you would be a great photographer because you take great pictures.Good luck in whatever you choose to do. You will not regret being able to spend the time with your children in their early years. I did read your post all the way though as I always do.

K said...

I think you are one of those women who are just made to do something entrepreneurial (I'm not totally sure I used that in the right context but you know what I mean)! I also think you have a great eye for design and for knowing what clients like and want, and that would transfer really well into becoming a photographer! And you know of course that I've loved all your new photos!!

Karen said...

My husband and I opened an online business about 2 weeks ago. It's going well, but it's a LOT of work, so I totally understand what it's like. Good luck with your decision. Just follow your dreams!

Anonymous said...

I feel bad being this person. Your photographs are great, but with all of the new software and fancy cameras available, anyone can take a good picture. I have had countless friends tell me "i'm a photographer" only to find that they work at a pizza joint and take pictures on the weekend. the blog design is something you definitely need to keep doing. you're good at it AND not everyone can do it. that takes some talent. i've done my fair share of photography, and maybe sometime you could take pictures at a friends wedding or something. However, it takes a lot to become a professional photographer.

Kristine said...

I enjoyed reading this post, Steph. I had forgotten all about your diaper cake and t-shirt ventures! I think if you seriously want to pursue photography as a career, there's no reason you shouldn't. May I recommend joining clickinmoms.com (if your not already a member, lol!)? The environment there is positive and encouraging...there is a wealth of knowledge there too. You totally have a knack for it, which IMO, is the biggest hurdle. I'm mentoring several people who just don't *get it*. You can teach someone how to properly expose a photograph, it's the creative aspect that needs to come naturally.

Take it day by day...before you know it, you will see that you've grown into the photographer you want to be. Good luck and enjoy the journey!

Anonymous said...

hi! i just wanted to say that the anonymous jerk who posted above should go jump off a bridge.. fuck you for discouraging someone who is trying to follow their dream. p.s. i hope you die bc you're a douchebag =)

Missie said...

Dear Anonymous, even with all the software and great cameras out there, you need a special eye that Stephanie has. It's the eye thats able to catch that one moment that makes a a great photograph and Stephanie is awesome at what she does!
Missie Ruth
www.what-comes-next.net

Monica said...

I just got laid off in Dec. I'm kinda thinking that now might be the time for me to start an at home business. I'm wanting to get a vinyl cutter and start making signs, iron ons for shirts, vinyl decor and things like that. I will have to get you to do a blog design for me if I go through with it.

I'm not surprised to hear that you might branch out with your photography.... I kinda thought you might be heading in that direction. And I think its a good idea!

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