Life in the Studio

Small Business and Motherhood

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I’ve gone through most of my pregnancy with a pretty cheerful attitude. Sure, the twin thing was a surprise. But they are growing well, and I feel okay most of the time. Then about a month ago something changed. I started creating spreadsheet upon spreadsheet. Outlining our design packages, updating our cash flow spreadsheet, and talking worries to Dusty 24/7.

I think this is nesting? Or at least how small business owners nest?

So in the darkest of hour, I did what any seasoned entrepreneur would do. I emailed my friends, “How the heck am I going to do this!?”

They came back with some AMAZING advice.

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prepare for a deep shift in perspective.

“Becoming a mom eclipsed anything else I had been in my life, and I was totally unprepared for that and surprised in the best way. Before having my son, the business was my baby. Everyone says this but a child puts things in perspective. I think I’m able to enjoy my job more because the little things don’t worry me so much. He lights up my whole life.”

Maddie Morden, Personify Shop

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Plan and work for that maternity leave.

“My best advice to a new working mom: take time off. You'll be sleep deprived, a little hormonal, and smitten with your new babies right after they get here. As a business owner, I hired an admin assistant to handle day-to-day communication while I took three months off with Sophie. It took a lot of work to get to that point while I was pregnant, but hands down, that was the best decision I made pre-baby!

Decide now if you want to keep working and make a tentative plan for when you'd like to return to work. Recruit help (we use family and daycare!), and use your work hours efficiently. You'll be surprised how quickly you can work when you're apart from your babies!

My best online resource is the Moms On Call Scheduler app. They provide scheduling help, feeding guidelines, bath time tips, sleep schedules and more! My favorite new mom book has been The Wonder Weeks.

Last but not least, give yourself so. much. grace. I can't say this enough to myself and my fellow mamas out there.”

Laura Balfour, Fleecher Design Studio

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Outline priorities ahead of time.

“Before Atlas was born, I wish I had given myself a strict maternity leave. At 2 weeks postpartum I worked on a couple different orders, and while I enjoyed a small amount of normalcy, at two weeks I should have been soaking up that newborn yumminess instead. My advice, therefore, would be to check in with your priorities ahead of time and commit to them! They are only so little for a small amount of time, and your emails can wait.”

Becca Doane, Little Moon Rising

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Leave room to feel differently about work.

“Leave room to feel differently about work. I thought I'd just jump right into both my day job and my side hustle after baby, but I felt changed in unexpected ways. Ask for help! I'm notorious for just working through the hard times while also not asking for a little time away. Don't be afraid to ask for help often from everyone - you shouldn't have to do it alone. Lastly, take advantage of all of the time you have now. I never realized just how much time I had before, so I felt overwhelmed at how little time I didn't have post-baby. You WILL find strategic windows of time to create and work; it just won't be the same. Enjoy the quality time...soon enough they will be grown.”

Barbara Billings, The Stranded Sheep

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Embrace the next chapter, and behold, the Instant “NOPE.”

“Take it slow. I jumped so fast to get back into the game and it wrecked me (not really but you know what I mean). I actually ended up taking time off again 6 months post baby to process all the mental changes. So give yourself grace and if you need time, never hesitate in taking it. Babes are only little once.

Motherhood truly changes you in ways you don't expect. So it goes without saying that your work, how you structure your day, and even what your work looks/feels like will change too. It took me a while to come to terms with this, but I actually love my work so much more now. In terms of style, I feel like my work is more natural and authentic and I've actually switched to shooting mainly motherhood, family, and children. I've stopped worrying about what other people want my photos to look like and just do what I want now. Its unbelievably freeing. Plus, those jobs you currently feel like you need to take? Yeah, they become an instant "NOPE" because those are precious hours you can spend with family instead.  

And for me, baby wearing was my go to. Our little love refused to be put down so the Solly Baby wrap was the best investment we could ever make! And the Doc-A-Tot, because as a mother you get paid in sleep. So if they stick to their routine and can actually sleep during the night... you get more done the next day. 

Alyson Jarvis, Alyson Jarvis Photography

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I am so thankful that I’m not alone in this. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by strong mothers who run are raising beautiful families and building businesses. What about you? Any advice for a first time mama?

Probably the best thing I did last year.

2017 was our official third year as a business and we learned a lot. A lot, a lot. All that learning gave us a better idea of where we want to take our business this year. Here’s a look at what we are celebrating and what we’re looking to improve in the new year.

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The Good

I went part time, and it was probably the best thing I did all year.

I cut back on Mad & Dusty and started working part time at our local yoga studio. Not only did I get a sweet discount on freelance uniform staples (yoga pants, yay), I got to be around people again. (A surprising win for this introvert.) Adding a part time job took a lot of pressure off our business and allowed us both to pursue projects we feel passionate about. I started using my limited time more wisely. And Bonus - I've gained a much better understanding of brick and mortar small business - the struggles, the wins and how design plays a part in that. This is probably the best thing I did for my business last year.

We joined our local network. 

We love our creative group here in town. Small Town Creatives meets monthly at Reformation Brewery. Each month we dive into a creative topic and build relationships. It’s been great connecting with people I see around town all the time. Dusty and I even got to help coordinate a Holiday Pop Up Shop with 20 local makers.

We traveled and enjoyed this business. 

Last year, we took a little trip to Savannah in combination with Plywood Presents. We spent our anniversary in New Mexico. Then Christmas came and we stayed put. I feel like this year more than last, we really took time to enjoy the things that this business allows us to do. Spend time together. Travel. Learn. Year 3! It's been really great. 

 

The Bad

We did a bad job with bookkeeping. :(

I was so used to checking in once a week and once a month. When our sale tax filing changed from monthly to yearly frequency, I dropped the habit. I was lucky to form a partnership with an excellent bookkeeper. She offers quarterly bookkeeping help. Yes, please. I’ve also got weekly check ins on my schedule again. 

We spread out too wide and lost our focus. We got too narrow and lost a few clients.

Our third year in business was a learning year. (I’ve yet to experience a not learning year.) We had grown too wide. Then we got suuuper narrow and focused into offering only 2-3 project types. It’s a smart business model, and it mostly worked for us. I now realize - I really enjoy it as a starting place with clients, but I need to think of ways to continue working with the great people we've met. (Web check ups, packaging, photography maybe?) 

We had trouble closing projects. 

I know a designer who charges a fee anytime a project runs over. I love this, but I’m a little scared to do it! Eeek! We did implement timeline and project templates, but I still struggle with wrapping up projects. A few of our clients have needed to pause their project midway. Totally cool! But it's been a struggle to get some of those back online and finished. I will be spending some time defining the project close process and what to do if a project needs to be put on hold. (Let me know any suggestions!) Time to refine.

How did your 2017 go? I'd love to hear about it! If you have any suggestions on the above ^, let me know! I'm so glad we get to do this together.

Hugs!
Mads

Where is Your Water?

“Where is your water? Know your garden.”
Hopi Teaching

Self care doesn't come easy in the small business world. Dusty and I recently took some time to think about the things we love about our business and how we could do more of it. 80 hour work weeks are the norm, but not the goal. If our business is our garden, our water is working closely and collaboratively with a few clients at a time. One at a time ideally - but no more that 3, for sure. Our water is taking time to experiment, play, push boundaries and adventure.

The last 6 months have been busy. At one point we had almost 20 active projects in various stages. That wasn't our water. That almost washed our soil out. 

We're working to move towards a more slow and deliberate pace with our design work. At first, it was hard saying "No," or "Not yet," or "We can't make your deadline and do our best work, so sorry." Now I think I'm finally in a good place with it. I woke up to an email this morning about a project that we couldn't complete within the client's deadline and I happily sent a list of brilliant designers who may have more availability. There was so much peace in that.

It's easy to get sucked into the trap where you feel like you need to take on all the work - that work is scarce and hard to find - that you'll never get "there" if you don't hustle 24/7. That's not our water. I want to be a designer for a long time. That will take a lot of water, and sunlight, and time, and laughter, and joy. Growing slow is okay with us. 


photography by Angie Webb, styled by Madison, for Marie Mae Company
succulents on loan from Brenda's House of Flowers, thank you! :)