Sylvia: Hi Michelle. Wow, you are one busy lady! Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to interview with me. Please tell us about yourself and your business?
Michelle: Hi Sylvia. I appreciate the time with you as well. I am the CEO and Founder of HarpersLove, which is a website where the customer is the designer of their fine jewelry. Our website allows the customer to customize/design gemstone earrings and our HarpersLove Love+Wish+Luck pendants. HarpersLove is a great website for anyone looking to celebrate a moment with jewelry and we will always take special requests as well. I started the company in 2012 after I found myself unexpectedly unemployed and I had recently returned from maternity leave with my second child. During that crazy period, I evaluated what I wanted to do next after spending my entire career (13 years) in Financial Services in NYC which is a tough and competitive world. I always wanted to challenge myself on an entrepreneurial level and I wanted to spend more time with my young children. So the decision to take this idea forward seemed natural and very exciting. I like to call myself a mommy-prenuer and I named the company after my kids (using their middle names: Harper for my son + Love for my daughter (actually translated from Amore).
Sylvia: Wow Michelle, what a wonderful story. I absolutely love how you used your kids middle name to name your business. I enjoyed perusing through your website and I must commend you on an awesome business model. What does success mean to you?
Michelle: Success to me is having a balance of the following: Physical Health (for me and my family) + Financial Health (doing what needs to be done to get all of your ducks in a row) + Time to Play and Enjoy Family + Working towards professional goals and achieving them one step at a time. If I look at just HarpersLove, my short term goal for HarpersLove is to get the ball rolling on sales. I have been fortunate that many friends and family have tried us out but now I need to get the jewelry customers knocking at our doors and buying something so I can move the company towards the next step. Success has to be taken in steps and sometimes you hit 1 out of the 4 and other times you hit all 4 at the same time.
Sylvia: Success is so important and it is so interesting how the meaning varies from person to person. How do you create work-life balance?
Michelle: Right now my life is balanced more towards family because my business is as demanding of me. I take full advantage of that fact and am enjoying the time with my little ones. I know HarpersLove will turn around and ramp up so when that happens, I will continue to focus the time with my children + husband that is most important for us. That time includes dinner time, weekends, movie time and so forth. If you prioritize the family time then it will be a part of your day like any meeting for work would if it was on your calendar.
Sylvia: What steps are necessary for a woman entrepreneur who wants to move her business to the next level?
Michelle:This is exactly the space that I am in so a difficult question for me to answer. What I am focusing on is getting the word out and doing it as cheap as possible. My time is spent on transactional activities like social media as well as attending events and calls where I can get tactical help on my PR + Marketing efforts. As a bit of advice would be to have a daily goal and get it done. Have a plan in baby steps and attack it each day. This is what I am doing with my limited time and it works to an extent.
Sylvia: It is important to give back. In what way do you give back to your community?
Michelle: When HarpersLove went live, Hurricane Sandy hit our area so it was a natural moment for us to raise money for the Red Cross when we had our launch event. We raised $600 for a party of 20 people so I thought it was a great way to establish ourselves within the community. I also have ideas for supporting women in business on a global level and want to set up a fund once the company matures a bit more. I have always believed in philanthropy and it is my vision that HarpersLove will be a successful voice for women in commerce.
Sylvia: Michelle, that is awesome. I also believe in ‘paying it forward.’ I have a global community, ‘National Association of Women on the Rise’ in which I provide resources for women in business and authors. In addition, I provide it through my blog as well. Thank you for your commitment. What challenges and opportunities do you see in the present economic environment?
Michelle: For the fine jewelry business, the key issue is that people will not buy jewelry unless you give them a reason. On top of that, they are not going to spend more than $200 on an item unless they know and trust your brand. While people may be shopping, they are looking for discounts, deals and cheaper versions of the good stuff. So, our opportunity is produce more “try us out” products that are priced appropriately ($100 for silver) and then wow them with a great experience + product so that they come back.
Sylvia: How do you promote/market your business?
Michelle: This is the Million Dollar question and my biggest challenge. Outside of email marketing and social media, we are focusing on PR. We hired a small firm in NYC and we are learning first hand how to promote a product like HarpersLove. Our future marketing plan is to create a sales force of HarpersLove agents (much like a Stella and Dot model) and well as a B2B angle and get the brand in stores. If anyone has any ideas and suggestions, please email me and would love to chat. This is the biggest challenge for HarpersLove.
Sylvia: I have a few ideas, so, I will send you a separate email. What books and resources would you recommend to other women in business?
Michelle: I recently read “Lean In” for a book club meeting and it was a very live discussion that generated excitement, tears, anger and laughter. While there are great examples of women in leadership positions in every field, what is evident is that women entrepreneurs are growing at such a significant rate and I suspect that they are done following someone else rules. I loved the discussion and hearing so many women and their views and it made me feel like I had a great support system. When you are going at a business alone, you need to surround yourself with strong women like yourself. Attend as many conferences as possible to get inspired and network and learn. I recently attended Spark & Hustle in NY and it was amazing.
Sylvia: I’ve heard that Sparkle & Hustle is an amazing event. What advice do you have for women who are just starting out?
Michelle: Starting a business is not like dating a guy for the first time. It has to start with your wedding day because you need to be completely committed to making it work, just like a marriage. There are so many emotional ups and downs and a sense of failure is a common theme. If you can get through that, you will be able to put your best energy towards your vision. Take it one day at a time and establish small goals so you can achieve them faster and get to the next goal as quickly as possible.
Sylvia: How do you stay connected in mind body and spirit?
Michelle: With two little ones always around, my only true quiet time is my evening shower. Moms will understand this. I also go the gym 1-3 times a week and do a Zumba class where I can dance and sweat it out. My thoughts are on following the footwork and nothing else.
Sylvia: LOL (laugh out loud) as I can only imagine how focused i’d be in just trying to keep up with the dance moves. I tell ya, I have two left feet! What is your favorite quote to live by?
Michelle: Not sure I have a quote but I really have a “one day at a time” perspective.
Sylvia: I like that! Share with us two industry or general business related tips that could help other women business owners.
Michelle: My first tip would be have a business plan on paper when you first get started. It does not have to be presented to anyone but just write all of your ideas down and keep writing and writing. DO nothing with it for a few weeks then come back. Ask yourself questions like, “am I impressed?”, “does this make sense”, “can I explain this my friends and family”. If yes, get started and file the plan away. Don’t open it up until you have a basic product designed and costs for producing it. Once you have financial about how the business might work, open up the plan again. Keep asking yourself those three questions. Do this assessment every time you hit a major step along the way.
My second tip is to keep a strong record of your expenses and financial. Know your numbers. You can always hire an accountant for the major questions but you need to be organized and have your numbers available.
Sylvia: I agree wholeheartedly about the importance of having a business plan. I am a business consultant and I urge all start up businesses to invest in their business idea by researching and developing a business plan. Share with us two jewelry-specific business related tips that could help other women looking to break into your particular industry?
Michelle: Tip number one is know your style and where you fit in the industry. The jewelry business is huge (I believe around $30B) and fragmented so be very clear about how you define your product and your ideal customer. Tip number two is take really good photos. You can hire someone to do these or do it yourself and buy the right camera and light box. Our first collection was done by a professional and we spent close to 8K. Now that we feel more confident about photography and our products, we will be investing in equipment and setting up our studio for far less.
Sylvia: Share with us what being an ideal Mom-Preneaur looks like to you?
Michelle: The financial reward and flexibility that comes with being a successful mommy-prenuer will provide my family many more opportunities to enjoy our lives than perhaps with a more traditional career. My dream would be for my company to expand and grow with facilities close to home so that I could drop my kids off from school, pick them up from school and have them join me in the office on those days when I need to be there. That ability to mix your family and work life is huge and it allows your children to visualize who you are outside of the home. I am a huge believer in having all your dreams come true and I want my children to see that hard work and a dream can take you far. I visualize all of these tangible elements constantly so that I can continue to climb up what seems like a huge mountain right now.
Sylvia: Michelle, I enjoyed this time. Thank you so much for opening up and sharing with us. Please leave your contact information for our readers and subscribers.
Michelle: Thank you Sylvia. This is a great platform you’ve created for women. Below is my contact information.
- Website: http://harperslove.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HarpersLove
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarpersLove
- Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/HarpersLove/