VOL. 127 | NO. 237 | Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Discovering New Paths
By ERINN FIGG
In 2009, Charity Helvie, 35, left a successful career in the investment industry to start a home-based business, MadiBella, a custom clothing boutique featuring her handmade children’s clothes and women’s accessories.
Arlington momtrepreneur Charity Helvie, who makes custom children’s boutique clothing and accessories through her business MadiBella, works on wristlets in her home office.
(Photos: Lance Murphey)
The decision to leave a lucrative job and start a small business during a struggling economy was an extremely difficult one, Helvie said. And then there was one additional challenge.
“I didn’t even know how to sew on a button,” she said.
Regardless, the Arlington mother felt a spiritual calling to leave the corporate world and work from home, where she could be more accessible to her children, now ages 10 and 13.
“I just felt this tug from God to be a stay-at-home mom, and then it came to me that I needed to learn how to sew,” she said.
So she bought a sewing machine, read some books, and began deconstructing some of her old clothes to try to re-create their patterns. It was a trial-and-error process – “lots of tears were shed” – but she eventually got the hang of it. Three years later, MadiBella is proving successful, with a loyal base of repeat customers and a steady growth in new ones.
In this modern era of catchy coined descriptors, Helvie is known as a “momtrepreneur,” one of a growing number of mothers starting businesses inspired by a shift in personal values, financial necessity or circumstance, such as an unexpected job loss. While there are no concrete statistics on how many U.S. mothers own businesses, in May 2011, USA Today business writers used U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Labor statistics to estimate that at least 4 million mothers in the United States – about half of the nation’s women business owners – own businesses or are self-employed.
Consequently, resources for momtrepreneurs are abundant. Popular websites such as The Founding Moms (foundingmoms.com), The Mom Entrepreneur Support Group (themomentrepreneur.com), The Mogul Mom (themogulmom.com) and The Power MOB (thepowermob.com) offer mom-specific resources, support, advice, tutorials, seminars and a sense of community. The website Bizymoms (bizymoms.com) allows mothers to connect on a local level and includes several Memphis forums for mothers dealing with business issues. And the Tennessee Small Business Association and Memphis Small Business Council offer free support, networking opportunities and education.
Arlington momtrepreneur Charity Helvie makes custom children’s boutique clothing and accessories. Her wristlets recently were featured in swag bags at the Annual CMA Awards.
Looking back, Helvie says when she started MadiBella she had no concept of everything that starting her own business entailed.
“It cost more to start a business than I ever imagined,” she said. “I thought that by working at home, I wouldn’t have a lot of overhead. I was wrong. I also learned that branding is super important.”
She started raising brand awareness by creating a Facebook page and a MadiBella website (madibella.com) and building a subscriber base for email newsletters. She sent emails to editors and journalists throughout the Mid-South to tell them about her product. And while social media and email has been crucial to her marketing and PR efforts, she also places just as much emphasis on face-to-face networking.
“I try to do four to six craft shows a year, and even if I don’t make a single sale at them, I definitely reach a lot of people. Just to hand them my card – it drives traffic to my website.”
She also joined The Artisan Group, an art promotions group representing artisans around the globe at Hollywood’s most prestigious celebrity gift lounges. Through the group, she was able to distribute MadiBella’s wristlet handbags in gift bags at the 46th annual Country Music Awards last month.
“I’m a huge country music fan, so when that opportunity came along, I grabbed it,” she said.
And she’s glad she did. Since then, her website traffic and wristlet orders have significantly increased.
Rik Tiwana, a Memphis-based independent public relations professional who has provided agency representation for major clients such as Verizon Wireless and Terminix, says Helvie is doing everything right. He encourages small-business owners on a budget not to be intimidated by the PR process. When undertaking their own PR initiatives, small-business owners can sometimes be just as, if not more, effective as a professional PR representative can, he says.
“When I’m pitching something for a client, I really need to think about the product from a consumer’s point of view – what aspects of this product or service will interest a potential customer,” he said. “In Charity’s case, she is her customer. She’s a mom, she’s marketing to moms, so she has a distinctive perspective that an agency representative might not have.”
He advises momtrepreneurs and other small-business owners to make sure their emails to journalists are brief and compelling enough to make people want to know more.
He also can’t place enough emphasis on networking, and suggests carrying visuals and “leave-behinds” to keep the conversation going.
“Distribute business cards with product pictures on them or at least the link to your website, or use digital tools such as your smartphone so you can quickly pull up a picture during a conversation. Sometimes you can let the product itself do the talking for you.”
Helvie’s advice to mothers who are considering starting their own business is simple: Go for it.
“If you have that creative side and you’re feeling that inspiration, just do it,” she said. “You can’t be afraid to fail. If you do, so what – you can just try something else. We’re so programmed to succeed that sometimes we get locked into something that’s not right for us. But we make our paths, and sometimes we have to be still and quiet to figure out what that path should be.”