Life would have been radically different if I had been able to build an online business working from home as the mother of young children. Alas, in those days, this wasn’t yet possible. Women my age pretty much killed ourselves trying to have it all – career, relationship, parenthood – and we felt so guilty trying to balance everything. The Simple Mom rightly reminds us that work “is supposed to make our life better,” not contribute to our stress or detract from our quality of life.
Today, creative moms have a wealth of options. Judy Martin, writing at Work Life Nation, tells us, “Thriving is no longer just associated with the pinnacle of financial success, it’s the ability to progress or evolve in other ways. For example, a better work life fit, more family time, more down time, more passionate work, creating the work you love while making a profit and making a difference.” Work-life integration is possible at all ages, whether you’re contemplating a non-traditional retirement or just starting out.
One such mompreneur we know is blazing her trail online by using her creative skills to great advantage. Meet Rebecca Harnish Villarreal, owner of Buttercup*Baby*Boutique and Buttercup*Baby*Designs, where she sells crocheted baby wear and make-it-yourself patterns. Becky mothers a blended family with her firefighter husband in small-town West Michigan. As a young mother, she figured out real quick that traditional employment wasn’t going to work with her family and lifestyle priorities.
We had originally planned to feature Becky and her business activities in our newsletter (and we still will; you may subscribe at right, if you already haven’t), so off we sent some interview questions. What came back in her responses was so much loveliness and smarts that we just had to share with you in entirety.
Looking back on your childhood, what events or ideas shaped you most?
My mom was a working mother, and so my little brother and I spent the days with our grandparents. My grandma is a very creative soul, always reading, writing, painting, gardening, crocheting, crafting. She encouraged me to express my creative side, and taught me to crochet. I loved to crochet because Grandma loved to crochet; she made intricate afghans while I made mile-long chains. It was my friend Cyyndie who helped me expand my skills when I was in my early twenties, but having that bit of experience from childhood helped so much. I was already comfortable with the tools of the trade. In attempting to teach my daughter and friends how to crochet, that seemed like the biggest obstacle for them: being comfortable holding the crochet hook and knowing how to manipulate it. Until you’ve mastered that, you simply won’t be able to achieve decent results. As with many things, it’s all in the fundamentals.
I was also blessed with an incredibly supportive, patient mother. As a child, I just assumed all moms were like mine. As I got older and realized this was not so, I felt so sad for all the kids who were clearing missing out. My mom instilled a belief that I was worthy and special, and that if I wanted something, it was only a matter of how hard I was willing to work to achieve it. Despite a divorce and some bumps along the road, my mom always made sure my brother and I felt loved, secure, wanted. I have never lacked in self-confidence because of this; I have always known my value. I know I’m smart, I know I can conquer. It’s an invaluable gift, and one that has helped me in my self-employment journey. I never think, “I can’t do this.” Ever. Even when things aren’t going as planned. Instead, I think, “What do I need to do differently here?” No matter the obstacle, I am confident I can find a solution. My mama taught me that.
You are an awesome mom – focused, loving, strong – raising great kids in a blended family situation as a very young mother. How’d you get so good at that?
Why, thank you! To answer that: The same way we get good at anything: I had a fantastic teacher, my mother. My mother is, though not technically recognized as such, a bit of a saint. She’s got this amazing capacity for good; a God-given ability for support and guidance. One of her greatest strengths is her heart for people; she never neglects an opportunity to help someone in need. From childhood, one of my favorite books has always been “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Main character Sara Crewe is a kind little soul, full of hope and love for her fellow beings, even when she is left orphaned and penniless. Author Burnett describes Sara’s character: “If Nature has made you a Giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart. And though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that.” My mother was made a Giver.
The fantastic thing is that she also recognizes the subtle -but incredibly important- difference between helping and enabling. My mother has never allowed for self-pity, because she understands how toxic it is. She cares, but she will not coddle. If I attempt a ranting/venting session, she will listen for a minute, and then ask: “What’s the solution here? You’re smart, you can figure this out. Make a plan and move forward. Write it down and make it happen, baby.” You know that saying, “save the drama fo’ yo mama”? Well, not MY mama. She allergic.
[Note: my brother is lucky enough to be married to Becky’s remarkable mom.]
My mother is only the beginning of my support system. I grew up in a large family of wonderful, wholesome people. Again, I just assumed everyone had families like that; I know now I got lucky. I treasure the gift they are to me and to my children. I am proud of my roots, the rich loam of love from whence I came. Some draw their pride from their race or creed; mine comes from the enduring goodness, the decency that runs deep in our veins. German, Polish, Irish…my people are those things, but more than that, they are Good, Honest and Kind. We are only partially defined by our origins; our true identity is in who we become. The lineage of blood means little; what counts is your willingness to spill it to save another.
I was nineteen when I married and had my son, so I became a mom of three in one fell swoop (my two stepchildren live with us most of the year). It was overwhelming, but I had the benefit of youth. I wasn’t too far removed from my own childhood, so it was easy for me to connect with my kids, to understand their feelings. I was perhaps naïve at first, but that carries its own sort of energy. It’s when the greenness wears off and we become wiser (but hopefully not jaded) that we begin to slow down a bit. I myself had navigated the tricky, treacherous “Divorce Mountains” with relative success as a child, and I know the terrain well. The difference is, as the parent, I’m now the trail guide. I can force my kids down scary, ugly paths looming with dark words and dangerous bitterness, or I can stroll rather merrily with them along sunlit streams, flowing with acceptance and optimism. I aim for the sunny stuff, because that’s where my mom led me.
And last, but certainly not least, I have a super supportive husband. He understands me, he accepts me, he makes me want to be worthy of his love. He is the cheese to my macaroni, the peanut butter to my jelly. All of that, and so much more. At some point, I must’ve done something very right, something that made God smile upon me and dropkick this miraculous, magnificent man straight into my life. And He saw that it was good, and the people rejoiced.
How did you arrive at your career path? What choices did you consider? How structured was your plan?
I didn’t really set out to sell baby hats and patterns. But I did like selling online, and was happily enjoying an affair with the fiber arts, and so the two naturally merged.
I tend to follow a free-flowing, organic path. I do what makes sense to me, researching and trying out ideas that excite me. It’s not always the most efficient, but I learn my own lessons and do it on my own terms. Looking back, my progress in self-employment has always been slow but sure. My main interest has always been in the creative side of it all, less so the “businessy” aspects. My mother (and her Masters degree in marketing) is my business guru, and she has helped me tremendously.
A few summers ago, just before I started Buttercup*Baby*Boutique, I applied to work at a local gas station. The hours were terrible, the wage was minimum and my heart wasn’t in it. It was just a job, just a paycheck. My mother (smart woman that she is), discouraged the gas station idea from inception. She told me, “You can make a lot more than minimum wage working for yourself. Don’t sell yourself short.” And she was right. I quit the gas station on my second day, and went on to achieve excellent results selling on eBay that summer. I loved doing it and made triple the hourly pay the gas station offered. It was then I realized I would never again have a “real job”. Shortly thereafter, I began offering my baby hats on eBay and Etsy. I was contacted by online retailer Melondipity.com, who was interested in selling my designs. Once on Melondipity.com, the hats were selling as fast as I could make them. They were even featured in several pregnancy and baby magazines!
I think so many people miss this fact: when you work at a “job”, you are selling your time and your freedom. You are making only as much as the job will allow, and you must adhere to their rules. Sometimes it’s a good deal, sometimes not. In the case of the gas station job, it was a definite NOT. And so I chucked that idea and followed my free-flowing organic heart (and my mother’s advice) right to self-employment. Hallelujah.
Buttercup Baby is your most visible revenue-earning element. What other things do you do to make money?
Garage sales and eBay! I usually do one big sale a year during our city-wide sale days. They’re a lot of work, though, so once a year is enough for me. More than running a sale, I LOVE to shop garage sales, and so I tend to find lots of good stuff for resale. I take those resale treasures and list them on eBay (and sometimes Craigslist) for a quick profit. Some of my favorite garage sale gold: a pair of designer jeans (purchased for $4, sold for $120) and a tub of Legos (purchased for $12, sold for $200). Of course, not every purchase yields that kind of profit, but it’s awesome when it does! There’s a lot of money to be made if you know what to look for.
My friend Michelle (eBay user ID 2779michelle) is an eBay whiz. She sells trendy and fashionable plus size clothing and makes a tidy living doing it. She’s got a real eye for fashion and always gets rave reviews on her outfits. It’s great having a friend who eBays successfully, who understands all the ins and outs and can give useful advice.
What are your plans for Buttercup Baby and your other revenue-making activities?
My main goal is to sell patterns exclusively. This way I can design rather than recreate. The profit margin is much higher, and it will provide me both monetary resources and the time I need to spend with my family. Plus, it’s a “job” I can do from anywhere in the world.
What do things look like 5 years down the road? 10 years?
At five years, I plan to be selling patterns exclusively, and to have found new venues through which to sell my designs. I also want to start a blog and maybe even learn to knit. At ten years, I’ll still be growing my design business, having published a book (or two) of my crochet patterns. Through all of it, I will be working toward true financial independence and early retirement. Though, to be honest, I can’t ever see myself “retiring”, except perhaps to a quaint cottage by the sea, where I will go with stacks of good books and my bag full of yarn. *happy sigh*
We don’t see ourselves ever retiring either, Becky! Especially if the cottage by the sea has an internet connection!
Buttercup Baby is offering a giveaway in our June newsletter for subscribers. Look for details in your email inbox shortly. In the meantime, visit her Etsy shops: Buttercup*Baby*Boutique to purchase pre-made baby wear, and Buttercup*Baby*Designs to purchase her crochet patterns. Also, connect on Facebook with Buttercup Baby, too!
Check out our Work-Life Integration page for useful resources on the pathway to job and lifestyle independence. If Becky’s story has inspired you, we’d love to know! Please leave your comments!