Mom Boss Interview: Meghan Benson from ellie & james

Another Monday is upon us and if you are dreading your upcoming work week, today's mom boss interview is for YOU! 

How so? 

Well, because it is with a smart, creative, and SUCCESSFUL mom boss who is making a great living while working from home and designing her own jewelry line! 

So, so fun, right?! 

Side Hustle Moms, meet Meghan Benson: A hard-working and loving mom, wife, and former teacher who now runs the popular jewelry line, ellie & james

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Meghan, we know you as a wife, busy mamma to three, and inspiring mom boss, but tell us a little more about yourself! What did you do before ellie & james? Have you always been in a creative line of work?

Hi! Yes, I am a wife, mama and mom boss, but beyond these current hats I wear I have a few hanging on the shelf that I still pick up from time to time. Prior to starting my business I was a high school math teacher and soccer coach (I LOVED working with high schoolers).  Outside of those day jobs I also taught in the Education Department of a local University, encouraging future educators headed into middle and high schools.  On campus I was a technology trainer for educators and spent most of my free time studying the newest ways to integrate technology into classrooms. I actually thought my next position would be in this area, and, I have a Masters degree in Educational Technology. Fortunately, my degree has helped tremendously with running an online business, and I still get to tutor math and help coach soccer from time to time (my daughter just finished her first season in her league of 5 year olds). :)

When did you decide to leave your job as a math teacher to stay home with your kids? Was it something you had always planned to do?

I have always felt career oriented and did not plan on leaving my job to stay home. I thought I could do it all, but once we made the decision to add to our family through adoption, I knew that staying home was super important for the bonding and attachment to our son.  I also could not resist staying home with our daughter. She was so much fun and at 15 months old I started to feel like I was missing out… then began the conversation about what it looked like for me to stay home.  My husband and I moved closer to family, left our Orange County lifestyle behind, and decided that maybe staying home was what I was called to do.  Just to put this in perspective, I did not feel relieved at first… I actually felt like I was sacrificing by staying home because I loved my job and had big plans for where I wanted to go professionally. My husband and I had even discussed the opposite scenario of me in the workplace while he stayed home.  In the end, I chose to stay home and I would do it again. This is definitely where I am supposed to be.  Opening my own business gave me a sense of professionalism and an outlet that I craved. I also learned that staying home is really hard but really important.  Parenting is the most difficult job I have ever had.   

When did you begin making your fabulous jewelry? Did it start off as a hobby or did you begin designing as a potential side income?

I began making jewelry kind of suddenly one day in 2014 while looking for a birthday gift idea for my sister. She had lived in Barcelona and was missing it a lot.  I wanted her to have a map of Barcelona to wear and found the idea through a random google search. I am a little on the penny-saving side so I thought to myself, “I could make that.”   I ordered a kit with 5 pendants and 5 chains and taught myself how to do it.  I made three gifts and one necklace for myself, and then people began suggesting that I sell them.  After about 2 weeks I opened a shop online!  The rest just unfolded in the most unexpected ways, and I learned very quickly the power of social media in today’s business world!  

What was it like to sell your first piece of jewelry (and, if you don’t mind my asking, what was it and who did you sell it to)? Did you begin your sales journey at storefronts or as a vendor, or have you always been online? 

The first sell was exciting, but I will admit it was to one of my best friends. :) She bought a pendant with lyrics from Mumford and Sons on it. The next sale was from her mom… when I began getting orders from people I didn’t know (a few weeks in), that is when it started to get really exciting!  I instantly began to figure out Instagram and how to sell on there. The majority of my sales even today are from customers who visited my site through Instagram.  I do sell in storefronts around the country, but many of the boutique owners found me through Instagram and I have not physically seen my products in the stores (crazy, right?!).

How do you find the time to be a full-time mom, design the jewelry, photograph it, update your website, etc.? Can you walk us through a day in your shoes? 

There are no two days that are alike. I have three kids, three schedules, and they are little so those schedules change ALL. THE. TIME.  I struggled with balance and had a lot of growing pains once the business took off. This happened around year two.  My third year I finally hired help and life makes sense again! No, really, hiring was the biggest game changer because it allowed me time to do the business side of things, creative, designing, accounting, etc. 

Here is a ‘typical’ day… when my older two have school:
6 AM - up and get dressed before kids are up (otherwise it’s hard to ever get totally dressed)
7 AM - breakfast for all, nurse baby, snack for my son’s preschool, lunch and snack for my daughter in Kindergarten
7:45 AM - Out the door and the drop offs begin, kinder first, maybe a quick drive thru Starbucks run, Pre school drop off
9 AM - home to feed baby food and myself because I usually don’t get to eat when feeding the kids
9:30 AM - baby plays in office while I answer emails or plan out work for the day. Maybe I get things ready for my employee or I design something I plan on making later in the day (custom orders, wholesale, etc.)
10 AM - nurse baby and try to get her to take a nice nap :)
10:15 until baby wakes up - WORK AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!!! The small window of “kid-less” time is so important if I have any making to do, business calls to make, or anything that needs undivided attention
11:45 - pick up time for pre school and kinder… race around getting kids
12 PM - lunch for all! 
12:30 PM - Homework time (yes, there is homework in Kinder and my Pre Schooler loves to do ‘homework’ too)
2 PM - nurse baby again and hope for a second nap (sometimes this is the first one)
2:15 PM - Back in the office! Photos, gluing, chains, charms, packaging, shipping… get it done! 
4 - 5 PM - Wrap it up for the day, post office trips, emails, etc.
5 PM - make dinner, the occasional dance party to celebrate the end of the work day, take kids outside to play
6 PM - Family dinner when daddy arrives home
7 PM - The bed time routine begins...
8 PM - We made it! Parents celebrate with some homemade sweets or This is Us/Fixer Upper. I try not to do work after hours so that my husband and I can spend time together but occasionally I have a thing or two to finish up.

What tips can you give to anyone out there interested in beginning their own creative side hustle? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently? 

Find a small group of local creatives like you who are running a business (and moms!). I have a group of 3 mamas that I meet with 1-2 times a month to talk about our businesses. We encourage, support, advise, review, etc. with one another and because each of us runs our business alone it is great to have others to bounce ideas off of. Also, we are all in different industries so it works really well to have outside perspectives (and not be in a group with a competitor… instead we can collaborate).

Second tip, don’t reinvent the wheel, but don’t steal. You will see others in your industry with awesome ideas. Learn from them, but make it your own. DO NOT STEAL OTHERS’ WORK.  It happens all the time in the creative world and is obvious. If you want a creative side hustle, get creative with your product. No copycats!

Learn your target audience. Who do you want to sell to or appeal to? What is unique about you, your product and your audience? Don’t waste your time with events or avenues that have nothing to do with your target audience. This is one area I would have examined more if starting again. I wasted a lot of weekends at un-targeted events. It puts a strain on your family when you have a lot of littles running around and you are away, especially when it isn’t productive. 

What is your favorite way to market your brand? Do you stick to social media or have you found better ways to promote ellie & james?

Social media and handmade events have been successful for me. Again, find your target audience and run with it!

Let’s end our interview on a fun note: Is there a certain piece or collection you have designed that is your absolute favorite? What was it and why?

Oh, I am always changing my favorite as I come up with new things here and there. Currently, I LOVE the bar necklaces (I wear those all the time). I created one that said 'I am enough’ just for me, one of a kind. That was probably my favorite. But now it lives with a friend who was at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Vegas.  It was one of those times I knew she needed it more than I did and I probably designed it with myself in mind but was always meant to give it away. :) 

Meghan is so awesome, right?! Now that you know all about Meghan, be sure to connect with her via the ellie & james website, Facebook, and Instagram

3 Easy Ways To Begin Making Extra Money TODAY

(Please Note: This article contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small kickback -- which, if I am being honest, will go back into growing the site -- if you click any of the links. Thank you for supporting the Side Hustle Mom mission!)

As a busy mom, there is nothing that sounds more appealing to me than a long, uninterrupted nap; peeing without an audience; and making extra money without having to rearrange an already crazy schedule. 

All of the above are impossible, right? 

Wrong (well, in terms of the last one, anyway)! 

What if I told you that you could start making money TODAY without doing anything differently? Would you be interested? Yes? Good! Then let's get started by talking about these 3 super easy-to-use apps:

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1.) Ibotta

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You have to grocery shop anyway, so why not get PAID for your everyday purchases? With Ibotta, it’s as simple as downloading the (free) app, unlocking rebates on everyday items (milk, eggs, etc.), scanning your receipt, and then cashing out once you’ve reached at least $20! I literally just downloaded the app this weekend and am already up to $13 cash back… say what?!

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I. love. Ebates!!! I have seen the commercials for years now but always brushed it to the side (after all, where are they getting the money and why are they giving it away for free, right?) but decided to give it a go as I researched this article. You guys: You can use your Ebates pretty much anywhere (including Amazon, where I shop almost daily) and earn up to 20% cash back just for using their affiliate link. By using their link (which adds *maybe* an extra 10 seconds to my shopping time, I have already earned $5, which is CRAZY considering it is all stuff I was going to buy anyway. Check it out!

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Let's be honest: You're checking your phone first thing in the morning, while the kids are napping (or -- if it's a rough day -- watching an episode of Sesame Street so mamma can have ONE minute of peace!), and before you go to bed, so why not make a habit of taking a short survey each time and earning CASH?! With Swagbucks, it's seriously that easy! (In addition to taking surveys, Swagbucks rewards you for watching short videos, shopping, and even playing games.)

Do any of you already use these apps? Do you have another you recommend? Spill the beans in the comments! 

Mom Boss Interview: Melissa Williams from Persnickety Plates

Happy Monday, hustlers!

It's a brand new week, which means the possibilities are endless... on that note, what better way to kick it off than with another inspiring interview from another inspiring mom boss? Today's mom boss is a blogger that I have followed for a very, very long time (and whose Cinnamon Sugar Candied Almonds are to DIE for!) who took some time out of her busy schedule to share her secrets for starting, marketing, and growing a blog! 

Mammas: Meet the beautiful and talented Melissa Williams!

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Tell us a little bit about yourself, Melissa (What is your professional background, hobbies, family life, etc.).

Hi :) I'm 34 and live in Metro Detroit with my husband and two girls (3.5 years and 7 months). I work in commercial real estate as my 9-5, as a mom all day, and Persnickety Plates is my all-consuming "hobby".

Has cooking always been a hobby of yours? Is that what inspired you to begin your popular food blog, Persnickety Plates?

Yes it has! I have always loved being in the kitchen and watching cooking shows. I originally started Persnickety Plates after I got married and needed a place to compile all the recipes I was trying/tweaking. I had a wedding website while we were planning and enjoyed it, so a food site was the next step for me. Blogging was just starting to get popular, I think, and I loved finding new ones and reading them. I honestly never thought anyone was going to read mine, it was just for my record keeping. 

Give us a little background about your blog: When did you start it? Did you begin it with the hope of one day monetizing it? 

I started Persnickety Plates in 2009. Like I said, I had just finished wedding planning and wanted to fill that void. I never (ever, ever) thought about monetizing it. A couple years into it, when it was still purely a hobby, I realized people were making money from blogging. I decided to give it a try and made pennies (literally pennies) in the beginning from ads. My first sponsored post was for $25 and I was in awe that anyone would pay me to promote their product. 

How has Persnickety Plates grown over the years? Has it exceeded your expectations?

It has grown tremendously but still has sooo far to go. I always call it my "hobby turned side hustle" [which made me open your email!]. I never imagined that it would be a source of income for me but I'm thrilled that it is. It is enjoyable to me, even when I'm up late working on a deadline or shooting a recipe with my 3 year old "helping" and asking me 7,000 questions. 

Can you give pointers to other moms reading this who have thought of starting their own blog? How does one even begin a blog, much less grow it?

Oh man, that's a loaded question without a simple answer. Had I known then what I know now about blogging, I would be much further along. I see people starting blogs with a clear plan and focus and are able to be successful. I was willy-nilly for so many years that I spend a lot of my time trying to fix years of mistakes. There are a ton of good resources (podcasts, ebooks, etc.) for getting started. Sabrina from Dinner then Dessert has a great book, called Sprinting the Blogging Marathon, that I would recommend. If you think blogging is a "get rich quick" gig and you're not willing to put in a lot of work, it's not for you. My blogging peers that I interact with, admire, and look up to are savvy business women. 

What are your biggest tips for marketing your blog? Has one platform performed better than another (FB, Pinterest, IG, etc.) or are they all equally beneficial?

Well, since they all like to change their algorithms all.the.time, my biggest tip would be to diversify your marketing. Pinterest is always a top source of traffic for me but it has changed over the years, and will continue to. I love the interaction I get with people on Facebook, but it's never been a big traffic driver for me. I think it's important to be present on all platforms, but focusing on SEO and growing your email list are really important. I currently spend a good amount of time updating old posts and SEO. I have a lot of great content (with crappy cell phone pics...like 1.3MP pics) that no one is seeing because it's so poorly formatted.

How do you find the time to be a wife, mom, work full time, AND run a blog? Can you give us a glimpse into your daily routine?

Another loaded question. I'll give you a typical weekday rundown:

6:00 - get up before the girls & answer comments from the night before and schedule out a couple Facebook posts for the day. I also leave links for my VA to work on during the day (social shares & such).
6:15-7:45 - get us all ready, out the door, and dropped off. 
8:30-12:30 - work my day job - I do marketing/transaction management in commercial real estate - sneak in a few blog related emails, if time permits
12:30-1:30 - lunch with my mom and girls. Every day. 
1:30-5:30 - more day job
545-8:30 - pick up the girls, do dinner, play, bath, stories, bedtime
9:00-11:30 - hang out with my husband / work on a post / workout / take a shower / clean up / any number of things! 

I've moved to making/shooting recipes on the weekend so I have natural light for photos. Then, I can edit photos and write up the posts after the girls are in bed during the week. It helps me to split it up. 

Our days are often hectic and crazy but I remind myself that this is our current season and I'll miss it when it's over so I try to enjoy every day and be present with my girls. 

Do you see yourself ever going full-time with Persnickety Plates?

That's a hard one. Yes, I would love to, but I also love my day job. I see how successful a lot of my blog friends are but comparison is the thief of joy and I remind myself how lucky I am to have two (three?) jobs that I really love.

How To Make a Quick Flip on Craigslist

If you are like me, you enjoy scouring Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other local classified sites for deals on clothes, electronics, and other goodies... but have you ever SOLD anything on one of these platforms? Through the years, I have sold little things here and there, but decided to dabble a bit more and report my findings to you, my fellow side hustle moms! 

While I have the urge to purge, sell, and donate (two boys = TOO MANY TOYS), I decided to try a little experiment: thrift for merchandise and try to flip it for at least 2x the profit! How does one decide what to flip on Craigslist and other marketplaces? Well, it could vary, but I feel safe in saying that your best bets are electronics, furniture, and any size of appliances. While I would have loved to pick up some larger pieces to fix up/resell, time and car size just aren't on my side, which is why I decided to experiment with toys. 

Now, keep in mind I dabbled in selling toys before Christmas (which I think made things move a lot faster), so I am not sure if they will sell as well this time of year, but if you can get items at a low enough price, why not try?

Ladies and gentlemen, moms and dads: I give you a few of my toy sales:

Bought at Goodwill for $1.99 (and cleaned up with Clorox wipes and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser), sold in less than a week for $15 = $13.01 profit

Bought at Goodwill for $1.99 (and cleaned up with Clorox wipes and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser), sold in less than a week for $15 = $13.01 profit

Bought at Goodwill for $1.99 (and also cleaned up with Clorox wipes and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser), sold in 2 months for $15 = $13.01 profit **PLEASE NOTE: I overpriced this at first because my boys were loving it, but finally lowered the price when we all had had enough**

Bought at Goodwill for $1.99 (and also cleaned up with Clorox wipes and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser), sold in 2 months for $15 = $13.01 profit **PLEASE NOTE: I overpriced this at first because my boys were loving it, but finally lowered the price when we all had had enough**

Bought for $6.99, sold in a week for $12 = $5.01

Bought for $6.99, sold in a week for $12 = $5.01

Bought at Target for $12.99, sold in a week for $20 = $7.01

Bought at Target for $12.99, sold in a week for $20 = $7.01

As you can see, my profit margins weren't terribly huge, but with the extra money we made from our Craigslist sales, we were able to turn around and spend on the families we adopted for Christmas, so it was fun to have that little bit of extra money to shop with!

If you do decide to flip on Craigslist, be SURE to take these necessary precautions, all via Craigslist (especially the first one; I always met my buyers at the parking lot of our local police station):

  • Insist on a public meeting place like a cafe, bank, or shopping center.
  • Do not meet in a secluded place, or invite strangers into your home.
  • Be especially careful buying/selling high value items.
  • Tell a friend or family member where you're going.
  • Take your cell phone along if you have one.
  • Consider having a friend accompany you.
  • Trust your instincts.

I know that this is a pretty short and sweet post, but I plan to do a little more sourcing/selling in the near future, so stand by for more updates! In the meantime, have you made any big sales via online marketplaces? What tips do you have?