I was just about to declare “blog bankruptcy” for not being able to do a new interview in a while when I came across Jamie Lentzner’s blog “JPD Mom – Running a business while raising a family – priceless.” After reading some of Jamie’s posts, I realized she has a similar writing style to mine and has an interesting Small Business Entrepreneurship story to tell. She runs 2 sites to display her work: http://www.poshpetgifts.com/ and http://www.jamiespnd.com/.
Jamie, what do you do?
Jamie: I make ceramic keepsakes for children and their families. I am the artist and designer of all 9 product lines and 251 different designs – all of our products are ceramic, so they are long-lasting keepsakes for years to come. We are sold all over the country in boutiques, catalogs, and on websites.
So your target customer is?
Jamie: Our target customer is anyone that wants to buy a baby gift or a gift for a child. Any family member that has to purchase a gift for children – is our customer. Babies are born every day – so we figure our customer base is always growing.
I think there is quite a lot of competition in your business field. What’s special about your products?
Jamie: Ah…you have been reading my blog! Yes, competition is fierce, and there is always someone trying to rip you off – but then again, that is business. Our products are special because they are ceramic, and the artwork does not rub off or fade – other products in our industry are on canvas or wood. We have a way of pressing the artwork into the tiles so that it is long-lasting.
How did you learn to run a business? Trial and error? Outside help?
Jamie: By the seat of my pants, and definite trial and error. I read tons of business books, and I subscribe to all the trade magazines and business magazines. My husband has a business degree (I have an art degree), so his advice and suggestions are usually considered. One of the blog’s reasons is I believe in supporting other entrepreneurs and helping people, sharing my experiences with them. When I started the business, I could not get anyone to give me any help, so now that I am in a position to help – I want to.
I must say that I’m really very impressed by your blog – I couldn’t stop reading it! But, how does a blog helps your business?
Jamie: Thank you for the kind words, sometimes writing the blog is the favorite part of my day. The blog gives me credibility in my industry; it also helps me with my writing and has opened many doors. The blog gives brand awareness, and I get to meet some wonderful entrepreneurs – which is great! I also write a blog for Working Mother, and this November will be writing an article for a trade magazine in my industry.
When I talked to you some days ago, you were very upset by the competition copying your work. How bad is this for a small business? Are there any good ways to fight it back?
Jamie: That is a good question, and I am not sure I have the correct answer. This is horrible for a small business owner, especially one without deep pockets. Being an artist, I have been copied my entire life, so I am used to it – though I do not understand it, nor do I ever condone it. I think that it hurts sales, it dilutes the products, and in the end, it confuses the customer. As far as fighting back, I have a few ideas, and I have a plan (I always need a plan). I would say you need to concentrate on what you do and not let it totally overtake your time; also, if you continue to do great things, make great products, give excellent customer service – your customers will be loyal.
OK, so you are a mom, and you run a business. How do you work on priorities? I assume times when you are more focused on the family and vice-versa when you are more focused on the business. What’s the balance secret there?
Jamie: Life is a balancing act, and I do not always do everything as best as I can – when I find I am doing everything poorly and nothing is getting all of my attention, I step back and prioritize what needs to be done. I am very anal and organized, and I keep lists. The balance secret is to get help – from family members, friends, gardeners, baby sitters, and cleaning people – whatever it is you need. I am also able to multitask quite well; then again, most mothers are!
Noticed quite a few pictures with your and your team. Do you think being a mompreneur did your business…” more human”?
Jamie: I don’t know about more human, or just more flexible. I am very understanding of people’s private lives and priorities. Being a parent is a priority for me, and my kids come first – even if the business has to suffer for a short time, I need to be there for them… Being a female can sometimes be harder; women tend to hold grudges, and everything is personal – I like to try to make it NOT personal.
Your company just about to go past the first 5 years. That’s an important name in entrepreneurship, so I really have to ask you about the myth “most companies will go belly up in their first 5 years”. What kept you going for so long?
Jamie: The pure will to succeed. If you think you will fail – you will. I am never willing to sit on my laurels, and I am never complacent either. I keep up on trends, I watch my competition (as you know), and I am always looking at new product ideas, new ways to produce my products, and new sales channels. Many other artisans snubbed their noses at the internet when I first started – not me, and I embraced it. They are trying very hard to get on these top-rated sites, and it is too late – they are not taking on new artists. We are also extremely efficient, as again take customer service very seriously. In my industry, if you are not willing to go the extra mile for your customer – they will go somewhere else.
You seem to be going to a lot of tradeshows to display your products. Isn’t that difficult being a full-time mom?
Jamie: It sucks; no, really. Trade Shows are a huge suck on finances, time, and my patience. Sorry if that sounds vulgar – but it is true. I had not done one for over two years, up until the two I did this year. Being away from my children for a week is very hard; however, I have the full support of my husband, parents, and sister to help me out. My parents live close by and watch my children all the time.
Do you think that it is better to start a business before becoming a mom?
Jamie: I would not know; I started the business when my second child (my daughter) was six months old. I do know I would have probably grown it quicker and spent more time at it in the early years had I not had children already. However, there is no ‘perfect time to start a business – when the entrepreneurial bug hits you – there is not much you can do but go for it.
You moved out of the home office and got a “proper office.” Some are afraid that running a home business is not really “professional” and shows that you are tiny and even can’t get any decent customers because of that. What do you think?
Jamie: I think whether you run your business out of your home, an office, or your car, you need to give the impression that you are professional and handle a large workload. I never let on where my company was located, and from very early on, it was assumed that I had a large company – so I went with it.
What advice would you give to any mompreneur wanna-be’s? What’s the biggest business mistake you ever made?
Jamie: Well, I would do your research before starting any business. Delve deep into the industry you are thinking of entering. And know, most of what we entrepreneurs do on a day-to-day basis is not glamorous; it is hard work, it is time-consuming, and it not for everyone. Also, you need to get your spouse on board – I have seen many women try to start a business without the support of their husbands. There will be sacrifices; you need to be aware of them and recognize that you will be working long hours.
The biggest mistake I ever made was not changing my process sooner. When I started, I used to hand-paint each product by hand. I wish I had really embraced the manufacturing sooner; it would have given me an earlier edge over my competition and would have let me grow the business instead of being IN it.
Reading your excellent article on Business Stress. I suppose there were times when you wanted to quit? How did you manage to pass over customers/money/time crises?
Jamie: Thanks again for the kind words – I often say if anything, I am honest, and running a business is stressful. When I am having a bad day, I tend to want to throw my hands up and say the heck with it. The thought of selling it has crossed my mind – but when I seriously consider it, I realize I can not sell it. I am the business – it is all my designs, my artwork, I would need to give that to someone else – and I can not do it.
When I hit rock bottom, I let others know (my husband, family members, even my children), and I recognize that I need to ask for help. I sometimes take a break or work all weekend to get something done, or I have to accept that I can NOT do it all. I sometimes have to say no, cancel plans. There is nothing so bad that a night out and a few drinks can’t calm me down – and as I said, if I can talk it through with my husband or others I work with and find a solution – then I am good. Information is good is my motto – even bad information.
I would be nothing without the support of my family, especially my husband. He is my rock; he helps me, listens, and tells me when to quit my whining. Being the boss and owner of a company can be lonely – so I lean on him, and it helps.