Just about two years ago, on July 7, 2017, I received my New Jersey Business Registration Certificate in the mail. I remember proudly taking a snapshot of it to send to my mom, probably with a caption like “shit just got real!” I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness, boldness and trepidation all at once. My husband and I agreed that if things didn’t go too well, we’d pack up shop and say “at least we tried.”
As many of you know, we evolved….and evolved…and evolved. And so, here I am two years later, with a longer lease for an even bigger space. We’ve GROWN.
For anyone who isn’t a business owner, I can’t emphasize enough how unlikely and amazing this is, or how fortunate we are. Did you know that New Jersey is the SECOND most difficult state out of all 50 to open a business in?? Flemington, as much as I adore this town, is particularly difficult to do business in. It is difficult to find a vacant space in good condition, reasonable rent, a reasonable landlord, and then…..customers. And yet, here we are, GROWING.
I’m sure many of you have seen the saying to the tune of “When you shop local, you are helping pay for a little girl’s dance classes, a grocery bill…” --- something like that. For me in particular, this is so true. By the time I pay rent (too high), utilities, internet (too high), self-employed income taxes (way too high), sales/use tax, and my expenses, I try to pull a little bit to pull out every few months to help my family. Some months, there is nothing to pull from.
I’m a bit of an odd duck in that I can’t say I do this primarily to make money. I’ve created a business that I truly feel has enriched our community, created friendships, inspired creativity and imagination, and FUN!
In May of this year, instead of pulling out any profits from Chirp for ourselves from the last 6 months, we made the decision to put every cent of that money (and then-some) into a new space --- including a higher security deposit, higher rent, and thousands of dollars in renovation --- for our COMMUNITY.
Why am I telling you this? Because July is “Independent Retailer Month”. Please, please remember that where you do business COUNTS. Please continue (or start) supporting Chirp Workshop in its path to creating a more family-friendly community. Share events. Attend events. Go easy on us when we falter. Spread the word.
Thank you to our loyal, ongoing customers for your passionate praise, encouragement, love and support.
There is nothing quite like the brain of a child. They are curious, mischevious, and wildly creative and imaginative. Why don’t we retain these beautiful attributes as we navigate adulthood?
Well, the frontal cortex in our brain evolves as we age. As we enter young adulthood (think early 20s), this section of our brain is responsible for us becoming more “rational” beings with better decision-making skills. On the flip side? We don’t think outside the box as often anymore. Additionally, we can feel defeated by mistakes, rather than consdering them a part of our creative process.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is a real bummer. It’s also why I believe we need to harness, encourage, and savor our children’s creative nature as much as possible.
Have you ever gifted your child a big or expensive toy and they wound up more interested in the box it came in? Well---throw in some (safe) scissors, markers, glue, and embellishments, and they will turn it into a freaking rocket ship or puppet theater. It’s amazing when you think about it. When is the last time in your adult life that you’ve thought about something like that? I get about 50 Amazon packages in a month and I have never once looked at one of them and thought “I shall make myself a robot with that nifty box!” But our children do this nearly EVERY DAY. Seriously---let the fun, innocence and wonder of that marinate a little bit.
PLEASE, encourage this creativity at every opportunity.
Ask your child what they see in the clouds. Start thinking about what YOU see in the clouds.
Point out how eclectic and unique nature is --- how many different types of bugs, lizards, furry creatures, plants, and colors there are around us. Ask them their opinion on these things…. “Hey, why do you think these frogs have sticky feet?” (I can only imagine some of the answers.)
Do you have a child who likes to paint? Create an area of the house that they CAN get messy. Throw a tarp down, pitch an easel, and give them their first set of high-quality paint and brushes.
Do they love mythical creatures? Give them some clay and ask them to make you a mermaid or a dragon. Ask them to create their own creature…..then name them and assign attributes to them.
Create an "art studio" for your child. They will feel so empowered by this when you tell them that it's all theirs!
We can be creative in the most mundane ways possible, too. Nearly every morning, my son says wants to play the “Color Game,” something I started with him years ago just to keep him occupied so I could spend more time in bed in the mornings. What I learned from this is that his answers are interesting, funny, smart, and surprising. What is the Color Game, you ask? Wait for it…….I simply name a color and he names all the things he can think of that are that color. Then we switch. That’s it! He loves it and it gets his brain going. You can do the same thing with “how many words start with this sound?”
Encourage them to partake in hands-on play more than they look at a screen. Hands-on activities are how children learn to comprehend how things work.
Sit on the floor with your child and pull out some old-school favorites, like Legos or even Lincoln Logs. Another great option is "Tinker Toys."
As they get older, let them help design their own room. Let them decorate their backpacks. Let them experiment with weird-ass outfits and hairdos (within reason, of course.)
JUST LET THEM BE CREATIVE -- they are only young once.
“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”
-- Pablo Picasso.
Oh Lordy, Lord. If you are a mom and you are reading this...you probably know that I could fill several pages on this topic. If you're a fellow momtreprenuer, then you know I could fill about 15 pages!
A little backgound on me --- I have always been a working mom. I was raised by a working mom. I continue to work a full-time job outside the home in addition to running Chirp. So many of my thoughts and struggles apply to more traditional working motherhood as well.
That being said, the first struggle will come as no surprise to any mother. So here we go:
Oh brother, what don't us mothers feel guilty about??
I feel guilty that I'm not home or with them as much as I "should be."
I sometimes wonder if they'll think I put my own "dreams" ahead of them.
I feel bad when we have conflicting schedules and I can't attend something.
I get paranoid that they will resent me or resent Chirp.
Need I even explain? Holy crap, I need sleep. I crave sleep. I daydream about sleep. (And you know what happens if I actually sneak a nap in, right?.....Yup, GUILT!) The sad but true fact is that in the world of momtrepreneurship, there is little room for sleep. So many tasks are taken care of after bedtime and into the wee hours...
3) ALONE/QUIET TIME FOR WORK
I'm sure you work-from-home moms are giving a "Hell yeah" and emphatic nod to this one. Yes, I've been typing an email to a client while simultaneously picking up dirty underpants. Have sorted thru inventory while a small human being clung to my body. And I've been deep in the throes of book-keeping when my young son will come happily over to fart on me (yes, ON me) and laugh.
When working from home or on the entrepreneurial "side gig", there's very little attention/respect paid to "work space" or "quiet time." In fact, I have basically sworn off work calls all together, because they simply will not go well. If I can even answer the phone, there will be some annoying YouTube video blaring in the background, arguing siblings, or that pesky farting again.
I'm in what I assume is a reallllly lucky minority here. As I started getting more involved in my own businesses, my husband truly stepped up to the plate and took on about 90% of housework. Yes, you read that correctly. 90. PERCENT. And no, I don't blame you if you hate me right now.
By the grace of God, my husband cleans the floors, folds the laundry, does the dishes, strips the beds, etc., so that I can focus on Chirp. And he does it all while he also works a demanding full-time job.
I realize that not everyone has this amazing support system in place. And as a mom, I understand how overwhelming all of our other duties are on top of our business. There is so much to do. I don't know how I'd maintain my house without my husband. And it's a struggle to even chip in what I do!
And.......YES.....there's more guilt associated with this one!
Yes, you read that right. Listen, some of you always look gorge and Instagram-ready no matter how much you have on your plates. I'm not that girl. Kudos to those of you who are.
I spent an entire day of birthday parties and an evening of craft workshops this past weekend looking like freaking Albert Einstein because I showered and ran out of the house without touching my wet hair. Yikes.
Do I care? Well, the good news is that I don't really have the time or energy to care.
Does it bother me? Of course, sometimes it does. I like to feel pretty, I like to feel like I'm taking care of myself, I like the occasional hair or nail appointment. But those things are few and far between. There are only so many hours in the day.
6) FREE TIME
There really is none. I wish I was exaggerating. I steal small moments to myself here and there. But I haven't had a day completely free of work or Chirp in a long-ass time and I don't have a free weekend until February 9th---and by the time that rolls around, the weekend will be booked. When I do manage a little bit of free time and I nap or read or watch a movie, I feel.............yes, GUILTY......because I feel like I should be working!
Oy. The stress! I worry, worry, and then worry some more. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about something I may have forgotten or something that needs to be done the next day. My stomach hurts before every big event I throw. I'm anxious during each event until I hear feedback. I stress about cutting costs and I obsess over my book-keeping to figure out what went where. I stress about the fact that I have no clue WTF Instagram is supposed to do and don't even get me started on Pinterest! I stress that I'm running low on blue paint and that I don't have time to get more before the next workshop. I triple-check how to spell each name that goes on my birthday party chalkboard and still worry it's wrong. I hand-paint a personalized sign and convince myself the buyer will hate it. You get the gist. So much to stress about!
So.....how do I handle all of this? As I've said in previous blogs, I mostly just "keep on swimming." But I also think this about each of these...
Every time I worry about my kids "missing out", I remind myself of the amazing experiences they've had because of Chirp.
My son lost his first tooth while dressed as Willy Wonka for our first movie night of the summer. What a memory that will be. The same night, he got to see his Mama wobble around as Violet Beauregarde-- as a big fat blueberry.
My daughter has gotten to lead a painting class and be a mermaid in Chirp's Under-the-Sea themed Halloween car trunk.
When I worry about them resenting the business, I remind myself what they are learning because of Chirp.
My son cleans Chirp's windows, knows how to prepare the main room for a party, and practiced counting money at the register.
My daughter has learned to work the register and run an entire transaction. She's become adept at interacting with customers and can show kids how to "stuff-a-plushie" like a champ.
When I worry about them feeling like I've chosen Chirp over them sometimes, I remind myself what Chirp SAYS to them:
That they can have a vision and make it happen.
That they can use their best qualities for a good cause.
That hard work pays off.
That mommy loves them and will work her ass off to provide for them.
I know that someday my children will recognize all that I put into my business and that they'll be proud of me. And that's an amazing feeling.
As some say, "I can sleep when I'm dead." Point taken.
Yes, I'm tired, but it won't always be this way.
And for now, those stolen naps are all the more delicious in their rarity.
3) ALONE/QUIET TIME
While I may not miss the incessant farting in my home, I know, to my core, that someday I will miss those little bodies clinging to me...calling out for me....and yes, even following me to the bathroom. So for now, I'll put the work calls to the side and do what I can after bedtime. Because they are only little once. And let's face it, their laughter is sweeter than any work-time silence I might manage.
Some things are vital in life. But some aren't.
Can the dishes wait another day? Yup, they can.
Will the kids die if I don't change their sheets till next week? Nope.
Pace yourselves, mamas. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but eventually--you'll get to it.
No, I don't have time to primp. I rarely get to wear anything sexy. And I don't often have time to look at myself. But do you know when I feel my most beautiful?? When my own mother tells me what a great job I've done at an event. Or when a child hugs my leg, looks up at me, and says "that's the best party I ever had."
I am a true believer in the "we are all beautiful" mantra. So many good qualities. So many talents. Give yourself some recognition for those. And remind yourself that's part of what makes you so beautiful ---- Albert Einstein hair or not.
6) FREE TIME
Someday, our bodies won't work like we want them to. We'll be sore or rickety or ill. Someday, our children will be grown and will only come around to visit every so often. So let's enjoy and appreciate this energy to go-go-go while we're able to.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
'Nuff said, Teddy.
And on that note.....Keep doin what you're doin, fellow momtrepreneurs.
You're not alone.
And your kids will notice.
1. You lose most, if not all, of your “free time”.
When I first started, I stayed up into the wee hours of the night entering inventory into my computer. I spent weekends organizing said inventory. And it was never done. It was an endless cycle. I’ve since changed my business model, but sorting through shipments and inventory and then organizing remains a major part of my business.
I have about 20-50 unread emails at any given moment, despite the fact that I spend at least one hour per day answering emails. I wake up to at least 25 notifications, including messages, for my Facebook business page. (This leads to 10 post-it notes to remember to get back to this person or that person regarding xyz.)
I spend at least 2 hours per day on advertising alone, even if it’s just research. I spend about 1-2 hours per week sorting through and editing photos. I spend at least 1 hour per week updating and/or editing my website.
I spend hours organizing, scanning, uploading receipts, and going over my bookkeeping.
I spend hours scanning contracts and agreements.
I stop into the shop at least once per week to make pick-ups or drop-offs, tidy-up, organize, etc.
I meet prospective clients or purchasing clients at least two evenings per week.
On top of online shopping for supplies several times per week, I run endless supply errands.
I prep at home for many workshops and parties----for a painted sign party, for example, I spend hours on the graphic design, stencil cutting, sourcing and purchasing wood and materials, cutting the boards, sanding the boards, and often pre-painting the boards.
I spend hours prepping for each event and party and likewise cleaning up after each event or party.
I check voicemails, answer texts, messages, and emails while on vacation.
My girlfriends have to schedule things with me three months in advance. I miss countless family functions.
I have had days with three birthday parties followed by two events, wherein I never see my own children.
And my favorite, I have sleepless nights worrying that I’m forgetting something or reminding myself what’s on my to-do list next.
Like many small business owners, I have children…….so add three of them into the mix and almost none of these jobs are finished in one shot. I’ve created price tags while my daughter has tried on clothes at Kohls, I’ve brought my laptop to the pool for a ‘focus’ group during a mommy and kids playdate, and I’ve incorporated my children into many, many events.
Maybe a little less common, but there are many others who do it---I work a full-time job every day too. The fact that my job consists of ten hour days may be the unorthodox part.
Anyway---these are all things to think about. I would be lying if I said I was prepared for the way it has taken over my life. Did I expect some upheaval? Of course! Did I expect the stress of every waking moment of my life being consumed by my little business? No. Definitely not.
Am I complaining? No, not really. It’s hard, but it comes with the territory and I’m just starting out. I do have one complaint though---I AM TIRED!!! I definitely miss sleep.
2) You (probably) won’t make money for a while.
Not only did I not make any money in my first tax year, I lost money—quite a bit of it. Starting up is expensive! I was prepared for my security deposit and a few months’ rent, but not for a lot of other things. Let me break down costs most brick-and-mortar small business owners would incur…..
Inspections & Certificates (zoning & fire)
Water and Sewer
A/C & Heat
FIXTURES!!! (They are so damn expensive!)
Spackle, Paint, Wallpaper, Screws, etc…….
Software & Apps
Small Business Accountant
Taxes! (Quarterly Estimated Taxes, Quarterly Sales Tax, Quarterly Use Tax)
(If you don’t know what “use tax” is….you will! It’s the devil!)
Advertising (also not cheap!)
Business Cards, Copies, Flyers, posters, banners, etc.
I could go on. And on. But you get the gist.
Then there’s the less tangible stuff….. Changing my mind cost me money---time and time again. Decorating for holidays cost me money. Hosting too many free events cost me money. Being overzealous cost me money.
Luckily, I feel like I’ve gotten better and better at cutting unnecessary costs as time has gone by.
It took me eight months to get at all into the green, and even then---it was only green for “2018” and still in the hole overall. Into year two of my business, my green is a little bigger but nothing to write home about it. Then again, I read that it takes many small business up to three years to profit! So I will just keep on truckin.
3) Be prepared for your business to change.
Looking back, I wish with all my heart I’d started out with a clearer vision, like the one I have now. But alas, hindsight is 20/20.
I started out as a retail shop….then launched workshops and parties….then grew my workshops and parties….and now that’s all I do. I’ve also networked and have made great relationships with other business owners that have added to Chirp’s offerings.
I felt better when I started researching about all this “change” within a business and realized that evolution is a major part of any new business. In fact, some say that if your business didn’t outright morph into something else, then something is wrong.
I really tuned in to exactly what I liked doing the most and what I feel I’m best at. Year two will be about perfecting my trade and gaining more exposure to share that with others.
4) You need thick skin.
Don’t get this one twisted……I learned that I need this, but I don’t have it and doubt I ever will.
Regretfully, I take everything to heart (and stomach), so this is one of the hardest things about this business for me. For the most part, I have been beyond blessed with AMAZING clients. But I’ve also been yelled at, called “greedy”, and have dealt with my fair share of rude customers. And let me tell you……greedy is the furthest from the truth, but it still broke my heart. And yes---I have cried about this sort of thing.
I feel perpetually anxious, like I’m waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.
I aim to please, but need to learn that I can’t do it at the expense of my dignity, time with my family, or my financial expense. Saying no to any request is extremely difficult for me. These are things I’m STILL working on. Work in progress.
5) You will compare yourself to other businesses in your market—a lot.
This one has obvious pros and cons.
I think it can be really helpful to follow others in your own market. Watch what they are trying. Is it working or is it flopping? How are they attracting (or detracting) customers? Can you emulate the things you like about them, without copying them? These can all be great learning opportunities.
But then there’s the dark side---the one where the comparisons lead you to beat yourself up. You’ll have days where you want to crawl under the covers and quit. And yes, I mean that literally. There are days I’ve been like “ugh, what am I doing this for?!” and luckily snap out of it fairly quickly.
What I can say about the negative comparisons is simply not to do it. Instead, focus on what YOU do best. Put 100% of yourself into everything you do. Be your best cheerleader. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” Cheesy? Maybe. But I like it.
Oh damn….my first blog post and it’s giving me ALL the feels!
How did Chirp begin?
I couldn’t help but laugh when a vendor came into the shop before it was officially open and they said “Wow…how long have you been dreaming of doing this??” I can only assume they thought I’d tell them I’d been thinking about it my entire life. But, right at that moment, my husband popped out from under the front counter he’d been working on and said “About 3 months.” And he was right….
I have admittedly always been a creative soul with an entrepreneurial spirit. Much like my own father, I tend to literally dream up ideas in my sleep. But unlike my father (and most men I know), I’ve also daydreamed incessantly about all I could accomplish in life. I’ve always wanted “something more”. Something creative. Something that inspires creativity in others. Something that feels meaningful and dare I say fun. But a store?? That was never realistically in the cards.
I have a Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in Creative Writing (yes, I still want to write a book someday) and my Paralegal Certification. I’ve worked in the legal field for fifteen years now, spending most of my time in Criminal Law and have more recently joined the world of estate disposition. But I've always needed "more". I’ve been an active volunteer for as long as I remember, ranging from a teenage candy-striper to a founder of New Jersey’s first “Becca’s Closet.” From 2010 to 2016, I moonlighted as a cake decorator. When my husband and I downsized two years ago, I decided to go for it and paint our 80s kitchen cabinets a Monica Gellar teal. I loved it. And so, I traded in my rolling pins for paintbrushes and became obsessed with refinishing any furniture I could get my hands on.
When I had somewhat surprising success privately selling my painted pieces, I started looking for a true venue to sell them. I did this for months and tried every idea you could ever imagine. I went to flea markets, antique malls, shared spaces, and networked like a true woman on a mission. Between my full-time work schedule and my distaste for every place I saw, none of these options seemed possible. Nothing “fit.” I came home exhausted after another failed attempt at a dim and dusty, ghost-town market and asked my husband “Can I just open my own shop?” To my surprise, relief and delight---he unflinchingly said “sure.” (My children would be the first to tell you that a “no way” wouldn’t have stopped me anyway, but I thought asking first was the polite thing to do.)
Mind you---my husband and I are as working-class as they come. We have three kids and we had no savings. We live paycheck-to-paycheck, so there’s never any money “left over”. This was a massive risk we were about to take. I would be lying if I said it didn’t worry me, keep me up at night and downright scare the crap out of me. But I’m more afraid or regretting the things I haven’t tried, so I just kept on swimming. We found a venue we fell in love with, crossed our fingers, and agreed that if my endeavor wasn’t a success, we wouldn’t renew our lease.
What an insane journey I was about to embark on---especially atop my job and children! I can’t describe how many overnighters, absurdly long days, and ridiculous situations I’d endured to make Chirp happen--especially in just three months from inception to opening! As many of you know, and perhaps some of you don’t, the furniture was actually quite quickly phased out of Chirp. I had no more time to paint! Over time, Chirp evolved even further until there was no retail at all anymore. (Stay tuned on a future blog about the evolution of small businesses.)
After a year, I’ve just now fine-tuned and honed in on exactly what I want to be doing. I run community events for children, ladies, and families alike. I hold public workshops, crafts and classes. And most of all—I host unique and creative birthday parties for children of all ages.
When I walk into Chirp, I smile. It’s one of my happy places. It has truly become mine. I get choked up thinking about the beautiful support I’ve received from family and friends. I get choked up thinking about how many customers have become new friends. I get choked up thinking about the moms who’ve pulled me aside and thanked me for creating Chirp. And of course, I get choked up thinking of all the little sweeties who’ve jumped up and down after winning a giveaway, dropped off letters for Santa, or hugged me after their birthday party.
What a lucky, lucky lady I am. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for supporting and following Chirp on this amazing journey.
To end on a cute note, here is my favorite interaction and biggest laugh from my entire first year of Chirp:
ME: Let’s go wash our hands. Anything you can’t get off your hands now, your mom or dad can get off with rubbing alcohol at home.
BOY (age 5): Hmm?
ME: Mom or Dad can use alcohol. Most of us have that at home.
BOY: You mean like Vodka?
And on that note---here’s to Year 2! Hope you join me for the ride!