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