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Have you ever listened to the podcast “How I Built This” or watched Shark Tank?
I am an addict. I don't watch much TV, or ever have enough time to listen to all the business podcasts on my list, but I LOVE both of those two series when I have a quick minute.
Well, I thought it would it would be fun to give you a sneak peek of how, um, how I built this? and how daily life looks for this stay-at-home-mom-weirdly-turned-entrepreneur each day. Especially since we launched our Student Academic Planners today and our 2022 Home Planners are right around the corner, I thought it might be a kind of fun read in case you're interested.
(If not it's totally okay. Scoot on over to the next penny pinched post)!
When I started blogging way back in the ancient days of the internet (2009!), I really didn't know blogs could make much money. But I was a stay-at-home mom to my three kids, I obsessed over coupon deals because our family's budget was tight, and I read that you could maybe make a little extra moo-lah as a blogger.
All I was hoping for was a little extra income, and I didn't want to put my kids in daycare (because honestly my “hourly rate” would never cover the daycare fees). I started researching and dreaming and thinking about what I might be able to do online. I had no skills other than typing fast and some serious persistence, but I haven't really had a day off completely since that very first day way back in 2009 when I was a baby blogger and a momma at 34. (I'm 45 this year ~ eek!)
These days, life looks so very different than they did back then. I have an incredible team of women who make all the pieces of the puzzle work together. (Seriously ~ scroll down to the bottom for more on what they do each day!)
I just found this pic from maybe 2015? Whew! 🙂
So what does real-life-entrepreneurship look like behind the scenes? So much more work than you can even imagine. But also the very most fun work . . . most days.
When I started blogging I never really dreamed that I'd actually create real life products. I promoted products for other companies only, which worked well, except I hated the thought that I didn't control any of my income or business myself. (For example ~ I'm an Amazon affiliate and truly do love Amazon, but they frequently cut our commissions to as low as 1% and even 0% on some items, and they basically controlled my income. I didn't love that as a business owner!)
As a full time working mom with no childcare though, I saw gaps in things I truly needed personally to succeed in my life at home. So starting in 2018 a friend encouraged me to dream up making those products for other families in real life, and it's been a serious game changer for me. Having someone encourage you to dream big can totally change your future. Look for those folks in your life!
Over 150,000 families have supported our little PPP product ideas, and goodness, watching it grow has been so very fun from this side of the screen.
So now in a way we have two completely different sides of PPP ~ the deal blog side (which I love and is my happy home!) and the product side (which is a ton of work in an entirely different way, but also so much reward.) I often feel like Gumby (remember him?) being pulled two directions, but for right now, making the pieces of the puzzle all work is life giving for me.
I have learned so much along the way, and if you geek out on this stuff (like I do!) it might be kind of interesting for you too. Here's what I've learned that I didn't know before (especially on the product side):
1. The process of getting things made isn't as easy as you might think. Here's what normal product development looks like around here (WHEW!)
- I come up with an idea (often after seeing something in my own life that doesn't work the way I'd like it to) or someone on the PPP team thinks up something that just would be amazing for other moms like us to use.
- I send a message to my friend Andrea on Slack (usually in the middle of the night . . . .) and say “Andrea . . . PPP READERS NEEEEEED THIS. Can we make that happen? Pretty please?”) 🙂
- A few people on the PPP team start to think about how logistically that can happen. We come up with what types of materials we'd like, what sizes we need, how we want everything to feel in real life, and how we want all of it to look.
- We submit the ideas to a printing company to check out the concept ~ they review, let us know potential problems, and get us a quote on the idea I'm still staying up all night dreaming about. 🙂 This part of the process usually takes a few weeks.
- Once we've all agreed on the product/concept/process/volume, we (meaning my hubby and I from our savings account) pay a 50% deposit on each product. I come up with a very basic shell of the content for each product, then the appropriate folks on the PPP team fill out the rest of the gaps. (A LOT OF GAPS. I think pretty broad, they get into the weeds for me!) Recipes are created and tested, spreadsheets are completed, content is written, stickers are designed. Watching it all come together is so much fun for me!
- Everything moves to the design phase and our design team sets to work. (That sounds way more fancy and big than it really is. Our design team currently is pretty tiny but AMAZING with additional outside support as needed. They're so good at what they do, and put up with a good bit of whining from me!)
- After the designs are finished, they get edited, and edited, and edited, and edited AGAIN. (AND WE STILL FIND OCCASIONAL ERRORS. IT MAKES US ALL A LITTLE NUTS!) The designs are then submitted to factories where they create a few dummy samples, and we review the product.
- Once everything is reviewed and we love all the things, everything goes into production usually overseas. (TheAcademic Planners were printed here locally, which we were super excited about! Our cost was significantly higher for these than other things we've made, but we were excited to get them in sooner and had a great experience printing locally. There were definitely limitations on what we could create here in America, but it's a great way to test an idea in the market before waiting a year for design!)
- What I love most about this part of each project? The factories send us pictures and video of our products being made, and I love seeing so many folks work so hard to make sure they're creating high quality products. It's so cool to live in a time where we can see that real time ~ and I love the behind the scenes sneak peeks!
- After production is done, we get a few samples, make sure there aren't any major errors, and agree to the shipment. (At that point we pay the full amount of all the products ~ even though they may not actually land for several months. Not gonna lie ~ my hubby and I hate this part of the process the most!)
- Each item has to find a spot on a boat before shipping. When there's space on a boat, the boats are packed, shipped to loading docks on the East or West Coast, depending on the season and product, then spend about 6-8 weeks to make it across the ocean.
- Once stateside, the products may spend weeks (um, months) waiting to board a train or semi truck to Nashville where they'll get packed for shipping.
- After they finally make their way-too-long journey to Nashville, the PPP products finally are packed by our heavenpsent shipping facility. (We work with a fantastic 3PL and I love them so so much. I visited a few weeks ago, and seeing their sweet team work so hard for us meant so much to me!)
- We have a product launch, and I cross my fingers real tight that hopefully a few folks like my idea and buy. 🙂
- Finally they hand everything off to FedEx ~ our primary method for shipping. A few days later you finally get your final product in your hands, and goodness, if you're one of the sweet folks who posts a pic of a PPP product in your home on social media, you have made my whole year and made all the work worth it for me.
- Our customer service team then goes into action making sure you have what you need, encouraging folks inside our Facebook groups and sending links to any extra information that's been missed. We create Facebook ads, I do a whole lot of sales on video, and we let people know that this new idea is finally here.
From start to finish almost every idea I have takes about a year to actually happen in real life. (We have a new product coming out later this year that have actually been on the back burner in my head for a few years, but we've finally perfected it ~ I can't even wait to show it off to you in just a few months)!
2. It's not as easy as you might think to have things made in America.
Goodness, I wish it were easier. Because we're a small business, large manufacturers charge incredibly high fees to work locally with them, and you can't get the same quality level in most cases because there aren't a ton of plants in the U.S. that do the work.
However, even things products made overseas require a ton of stateside labor. Our tiny business employees 14 women, helps support a team of 25 at our shipping facility in Tennessee, the company we work with to source the products, hundreds of Fedex workers, and freight companies that manage getting each product into place. While sourcing products locally would be amazing (and maybe that will happen some day!), there still is a lot of work being done in the United States to make a project land in your hands.
3. It's much harder than you'd expect to get perfect quality.
I obsess over the products we make right now. I hold the paper. Pull the stickers. Use the recipe cards. Try out the dry erase. Write in the planners. Check off the grocery lists.
I try out all the things.
There are tiny things that make every product feel “just right”, and that's super important to me (and also to my team).
But it is so easy to make a tiny mistake in the process. It's made me realize that when purchasing products from a major retailer (think Joanna Gaines, Nike, American Girl Dolls ~ any product that you love that produces mass quantities on a large scale . . . ), it is so hard to get consistent quality. Paper changes. No two trees are alike. If you accidentally agree to one material for a sticker or use one certain magnet quality instead of something else, the whole product might not work the way you'd expected. I simply had no idea.
I just thought that maybe Nike and American Girl and other retailers were skimping out on their products after making them for a few extra years, but now I know that keeping products consistently amazing simply isn't as easy as you'd expect, especially as sales volumes grow and more products get added to the list. It's made me so much more impressed when I see companies doing product creation well, because goodness it simply is not easy. Thankfully we're still small enough that I can obsess over every product, and honestly I hope we never outgrow that place.
4. There are so many crises each day.
The biggest “disasters” I deal with most days on my end are ~
- Figuring out how to keep up with social media strategies when they change every minute
- Navigating legal issues
- Having the PPP website break (I hate when that happens!)
- Spam comments (not so much comments, but people posting inappropriate things on our Facebook and Instagram pages. I hate that!)
- Not being able to get a product we'd been promised in stock. (For example, we've been waiting on our Summer Series and Celebration Series menu plans to ship for six months. While it's not any one's fault, things are simply delayed. At the end of the day, I'm the one who puts out the money for it and that's just hard. But so thankful we're in a place financially that everything is paid for in cash, and just hoping it'll all get here soon while we wait!)
- The hardest crisis I have to get over most days in all honesty? Not getting my feelings hurt if someone's unhappy with the quality of a product they get. Or if they get mad at me because I'm “selling” too much on video. Or simply that they just don't like my voice, that I talk too fast, that I chop my onions weird, or that for whatever reason they choose to call me out online. (NOT GONNA LIE. THAT IS HARD. I try simply not to read all the comments, but there are some days that I just get sad when I read through them. It's not easy for this introverted-pretty-dorky-mom-to-fake-confidence online most days, however I am SO CRAZY LUCKY that 99.99999% of the folks crazy enough to keep up with this stuff are also cheering for me!)
5. I understand why big businesses quit.
(In case I'm lucky enough that that concerns you, I DO NOT PLAN ON QUITTING EVER ~ read #6 for why.)
It is hard to put your heart and soul into things and not be sure that everyone will love something just the way you do. Once you're at a place where you have financial freedom, it's awfully tempting to step back, consider your options, and think about what life might look like if you didn't have to type so fast or create so much content each day. I used to always wonder why successful entrepreneurs would ever sell their companies ~ and while I have no intention of every doing that, now I get it. The work simply isn't easy, and many days it ultimately lands on the business owner. WHEW.
(This is why I'm CRAZY thankful for my team. They really do take such a huge amount of this burden off of me!)
6. But ultimately? Getting to impact folks on a big scale is kind of crazy worth it.
You may know that when I started PPP way back in 2009, I felt pretty called to donate a good portion of what we made to missionaries overseas. Um. that's a lie.
The truth? I prayed about starting PPP, chatted with God about whether or not this was even something I should ever consider, and as I was praying felt Him clearly mention that it sounded like a fine idea as long as I gave a nice sized chunk to those in need.
I truly remember mulling that one over in my head. Doing the math. Figuring out how that would really look if I ever made even $100. I think I kind of challenged Him on it honestly. And I decided to start up anyways.
So today, we're dreaming a wee bit bigger. Our goal is to dream big about what kind of legacy of giving we can leave one day with whatever crazy ideas we come up with each day. So, while the fun part for me is in the idea-making and marketing and even the big sales days, I love that I get to use the quirky gifts God handed me to serve Him faithfully each day.
But what I love most that makes me keep typing and creating and video-ing each day?
I LOVE when I read that you made dinner for the first time and your family all squealed “wow mom!” Or “honey, that was so good!”
I LOVE when I read that you shined your sink and now your home feels fluffed up and made.
I LOVE when I read that you were struggling with depression, but today you hopped up and walked around the block for 5 minutes.
I LOVE when you share that made your bed for the very first time in months and life feels a little lighter.
I LOVE when I get messages from my friend Shannon like this: “Just wanted to say Thank You for doing this study group! I started really reading and studying the Bible for the first time in January. Since then I have accepted Christ and been baptized. God put you in charge of this group for a reason. Thank you again. It really helps to read and then go back and see what everyone else got from reading. Thank you!”
I mean for real. How lucky are we?
I LOVE that God uses the work of our incredibly inadequate hands to in some teensy tiny way encourage you each day.
So there you have it ~ alllll behind the scenes and possibly more than you ever wanted.
Goodness. Thank you for reading this far. Thank you for supporting this business. Thank you for each comment, each note, each vote of confidence. I am so thankful, so crazy humbled and so very passionate about what we do around here each each day, so much so that when I'm 99 years old you'll probably see me in a messy bun on FB live (or whatever we have then?) schlepping out some chicken into the fanciest crockpot you've ever seen.
Thank you for letting me love what I do.
And the TRUE work behind the scenes? THESE AMAZING LADIES. Here's a peek at what they do (they work anywhere from 5-40+ hours each week depending, on their job and season!) A few have been here for the very, very long haul which is just so humbling to me. I'm so thankful each and every day! Here's a peek (even though by NO means does this even scratch the surface of all they do, and there are a few other contractors not included here too!)
- Amber – writes deals, schedules FB posts, organizes SO MUCH content on PPP and tries to read lots of old content and make sense of it all (bless her!) started November 2018
- Andrea – hmmmm ~ she's got a whole lot of titles around here, but the primary one is keeping me on track and using her super savvy tech skills to make what's in my head actually happen in real life. She also is the starting place for creating systems and processes for everything which helps us get so much done so fast, and helps me to think big! 🙂 started September 2018
- Ashley L – customer service (and does a few Instagram posts too + she's my neighbor who walks with me!) started September 2019
- Ashley P – makes the design ideas I have in my head happen on paper ~ she completely sees what's in my head on product development, making the process so seamless for me! started June 2020
- Hannah – shares content to our main FB page 🙂 started August 2016 I think?
- Cheree – writes recipes, creates menu plans, does FB live video to share so many fun ideas with you ~ and she's gonna be our very first PPP grandma soon! started May 2017
- Cheryl – creates and strategizes FB content, does a bunch of design, manages behind the scenes email opt-ins and is a real life database for all things PPP (I'm so thankful she remembers all the things!) started April 2012
- Jamie – manages the blog side of the business, works with sponsors, writes emails, comes up with a ton of happy content for PPP, shares deals, and is my personal psychiatrist (this girl listens to my overwhelm and puts up with me)! started May 2016
- Kristen – project management, creates fun content and lately orders groceries for me ~ EVERYONE needs someone to help order groceries ~ we're working on making that even easier one day! started January 2021
- Mary – manages affiliate promotions, shares deals, writes emails, takes the happiest in store pictures and finds HOT HOT deals on PPP! started June 2020
- Misty – listens to me a whole lot as my long time friends, tests recipes with her family and shares a few deals and DIY ideas started May 2011 – at least that's when we're guessing around then!
- Nicole – oh my word ~ Nicole is my serious secret right hand – she basically writes everything in my voice and knows exactly what I'd say (and think!) about alllll the things. I hardly ever hear from her, but she's a secret ninja working like crazy behind the scenes! started March 2015
- Shannon – THIS GIRL was my very first hire and while she primarily works on store deals, she's also kind of the heart of PPP. Her heart is crazy about missions, and she and I just somehow created a real simple no drama-mamas set up behind the scenes. We used to teach coupon classes together, but it's so cool how God has used our little ideas on ways to save money to even create an online free Bible Study with thousands of folks from the PPP community. It is so cool how God uses the internet in some seriously fun ways! started February 2011
- Staci – customer service lead – she manages to make everyone feel happy and cared for at PPP with “CFA-style” customer service each day! She started out as a mom who headed out to Kroger once a week to look for deals, but now encourages folks in our Facebook groups and manages customer service emails (sometimes for 12 hours a day on launch days!) started sometime during VBS volunteering in the summer of 2011 🙂
So there you have it. If you have a crazy idea and aren't sure where to start, you just never know where it might land. Thanks for supporting our team and trying out our products. I'll keep trying my very best to make sure they're exactly what you need, and goodness, I AM SO THANKFUL FOR YOU!