Reader Spotlight: How Stephanie Quadrupled Her Children’s Art Business and Cut Her Workload by More than Half

Stephanie Brandt wrote me recently saying:

Your post on how you found your calling and putting your desires out there for the universe to respond to really resonated with me and got me thinking. My Etsy business has been going really well and is not only a great source of income for our family, but is also a great creative outlet for me.  Your blog post has caused me to re-evaluate where I want to take my business.

Stephanie and I met when we lived in an apartment building for medical residents that they called “the dorms.” While our sons played together in the playroom, we would chat about Twitter and starting a babysitting co-op. We haven’t talked since Stephanie had her second son, and I am amazed at the transformation of her hobby into a business. Here is her story.

“Three years ago, my husband, six-month-old son and I moved to New York City (where I met the lovely Amy) to start his residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital.  It was sort of a lonely time for me, as my husband was working 80 hours a week, and I was home many nights alone while he worked 24-hour shifts.  Additionally, we were pretty tight for cash.  Residents are not particularly well compensated and, although I was working three days a week, life in Manhattan is quite expensive.

I met some young moms through a class I was taking with my son and one day at coffee, one of them mentioned that she had opened a shop on Etsy selling her art work. I had never heard of Etsy, but the rest of the moms were raving about all these great things they had purchased on this website, which was basically a marketplace for hand-made and vintage items.  Anyone can open a shop that they can populate with their handmade treasures.

I rushed home to check it out and immediately purchased the most adorable mitten clips for my son.  I was hooked.

But I was also inspired.  I have always had a passion for painting, drawing, creating, and crafting so I decided I would invest $40 in starting my own Etsy shop.  I used the money for brushes and paints as well as listing fees. I had a few canvases lying around my apartment so I designed a few simple children’s name paintings.  One was for my son, and I made three others for friends and family who had small children.

I posted my four designs in my new shop Just Bunch Designs.  I didn’t really tell anyone, because I had a pretty strong fear of failure.  What if no one liked my paintings, which I was so proud of?

But within a few days I had sold my first painting.  I was ecstatic.  Soon people were contacting me to create custom designs and each time I created a new design, I would take a picture of it and list it in my shop.

After about a year, I was creating about five to seven paintings a week.  I had transformed my lonely nights into a mini-business.  I was making a few hundred dollars a month and it was amazingly empowering.  I could help support my family and I could now purchase the occasional skirt or pair of shoes with feeling guilty.  It was great.

Then about a year and a half or so after opening my shop, I put in writing that I wanted to quadruple my earnings.  It was a random number which just seemed really big and like it would be really helpful to my family.  I had no plan of how to achieve this goal.

A few months later I was ecstatic to become pregnant with our second child.  While the money from my shop would be more helpful than ever, I had no energy and lost almost all of my motivation to continue painting.  I was pretty resigned to closing my shop when I had a thought in the shower one day. Perhaps I could create new designs which I could have converted into prints.  It would take some upfront effort to create the new designs but after that, the work load would be very low.

I was so excited about the new idea that I created about 100 designs in a month and listed them as quickly as possible.  Within two months after posting the prints, I had achieved my goal of quadrupling my income with about a fifth of the effort I was putting into my old business.

My experience with Etsy from the start has been extremely positive.  It has brought out a creative side to me which I had lost touch with when I started having children, and it also showed me that there is money to be made as long as you have an idea and a plan.  Like I did before, I have put into writing new lofty goals and I am excited to see where I can take my business.”

It’s only been a few weeks since Stephanie wrote me her story, and she’s already moving forward.

For one, she has started a new blog, also called Just Bunch, about crafting, family, cooking, and pretty things. And she just informed me that she was approached last week by a company that produces children’s art for large-scale children’s retailers about licensing her designs.

In addition, she would like to offer Frugal Mama readers a 15% discount on the prints in her Esty shop Just Bunch Designs. To take advantage, use the coupon code FRUGAL15.

Finally, thanks again to that post I wrote on the subject of setting goals and realizing our dreams, I’ll be appearing tonight (Monday, August 29) at 6 p.m. on a program called The Movement Within on CBS New Sky Radio. I’ll be talking with the charismatic host, April Claxton, about what worked for me in my long and winding path to writing success, as well as the difficult topic of how to know when to say no — even when things are moving up.

If you don’t make the live show, which you can hear on your computer, you can always find it at The Movement Within.

What about you all out there? Anyone else want to share a story of a budding business, a calling found, or an income soaring? How about a hobby that takes your mind off shopping, or a group of friends that co-operate to save money? If you’re doing it, I want to hear about it!

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  • Vanessa Jubis August 29, 2011, 10:40 pm

    Hi Amy!

    Thank you for this lovely post. I love reading about how other moms have made their dreams a reality. It’s very inspiring and it definitely makes my aspirations of turning my own writing into a ‘monetizing’ career. My motto is ‘what you think about you bring about’ so if you can dream it then it can definitely become a reality. Congrats to Stephanie! I’ll check out her Etsy shop :)


    • Amy September 1, 2011, 9:47 am

      Hi Vanessa,

      I’m so with you on the visualization and believing in your dream.

      Best of luck to you and making your writing profitable. I know you can do it!

      Please check back with us and share your methods and stories,

  • Michelle August 29, 2011, 9:39 pm

    I’m not particularly creative like you or Stephanie, but I turned my love of writing and politics into a career that gives me the flexibility to be the kind of mom I want to be.

    After nearly 20 years on Capitol Hill, I left my job as a Congressional Chief of Staff and now do freelance political writing. I’m making almost as much as I did when I left the Hill, but I’m not at the beck and call of the 24/7 world of politics so I can pick my daughter up at school and help with Girl Scout errands during the day. Plus, I still feel like I am contributing to the “cause” and the part of my brain that is still paying for law school doesn’t feel like it has atrophied.

    • Amy August 29, 2011, 10:03 pm

      This is awesome, Michelle! I love that you barely lost any salary, but you gained a ton of flexibility. And plus — who wouldn’t want to trade in the D.C. commute?

      Good for you, Michelle, and thank you much for sharing your story.