Building a business is hard work! How do you know who to hire? Where do you find the right wholesale opportunities or meaningful collaborations? Will you have to spend sleepless nights in front of your computer? We asked Emily Ley all of this and more, and we think you’ll find her answers just as perfect her product line.
Something we very much admire about you is that you’ve always been protective of your weekly schedule—not working the traditional 9 to 5 and putting motherhood first. How do you manage growing a business and a family at the same time?
I love routine and structure, so at the beginning of my career, I tried to find a “set schedule” that would work for my job and my family. I quickly learned that my working hours had to be fluid and flexible to support the kind of family life my husband and I wanted to have—the ability to go to classroom parties for our kids, midday workouts when the weather was nice, and time to do laundry when the pile got too high. I had to learn to go with the flow of things and that’s really been a blessing.
What does your typical work week look like now, after 10 years in business, compared to the early years?
The biggest difference is that all three of my kids are in school now, so my days are usually pretty similar. I get up early and get ready before my kids, then get them ready and out the door to school. I try and keep my “work” during “work hours” (their school hours) and try not to work on Fridays. Again, things are fluid, so that’s not always the case, but I usually reserve Fridays for lunch with friends, grocery runs, etc.
You seem to have an amazing team of women working for you. What was the first position you hired when you expanded your team? At what point did you know you were ready to hire extra help?
I do have an amazing team. They are the reason this brand has grown so much the last few years—their talents and creativity are incredible. The first position I hired for was a basic assistant. Sweet Gina came in and sat next to me at my computer and took task after task off my plate as we came across them. She is incredible and was with me for six years before leaving to be a full-time mama.
Did you struggle with handing over the reigns to another designer? How did you go about finding a designer who shares your vision for the Emily Ley brand?
I used to struggle with this. Until I met Whitney Hawkins. I followed her on Instagram for years before she came to work with me. Meshing our styles together has been one of the best creative moves we’ve ever made. She is able to take my vision for a product or a campaign and execute it in creative ways that far surpass what I could do alone. I’m so grateful for her. I’ve found that working with designers who are different than me—whose styles and tastes are not the same as mine is so much better than working with someone whose skills mirror mine.
You’ve had many amazing collaborations over the years, most recently with AT-A-GLANCE. How did that partnership come to be? Did you seek them out or did they come to you?
AT-A-GLANCE approached me in Spring 2017. And honestly, it has been a match made in planner heaven. Their team cares deeply about why we do what we do. They understand our dedication to keeping things simplified and have helped us reach goals we never thought possible.
One of the biggest goals aspiring designers have is to see their products in stores around the globe. You’ve had amazing success with this, but eventually made the decision to discontinue your wholesale program. Tell us what brought you to that decision and how it has changed your business.
Put simply, we closed our wholesale business because it was so much work. I was on 48 airplanes the year we ended it. With infant twins at home. It just wasn’t working. I decided to pull back and focus on our core community (online) and our core products. We got really good at nurturing and growing that core business. Taking that good, solid brand and product out into the world has been such a joy.
How did you handle the financial burden of starting your own business? Did you have a day job to provide steady income when you first began, or did you dive in full-time right away? What advice do you have for others who would like to take the leap into starting their own business but aren’t sure how to handle the financial aspects?
Yes, I worked for the University of South Florida’s Women in Leadership & Philanthropy program for years while I started my business. I didn’t take a paycheck [from my personal business] for two years. Because of our early dedication to being a debt-free business, we had to grow slowly. Ten years later, I’m so glad we did that. I would encourage everyone starting out to bankroll as much as you can. Make a little money, invest it back into the business. Stick it out at the day job so that you can get your business off on the right foot. You won’t regret it.
You’ve been blogging consistently since the very launch of your business. Do you think this has helped you build your audience, brand, and overall business success?
I do. I’ve always been a writer at heart and it’s my first love, for sure. Social media is the new “micro-blogging” if you ask me and that has helped us a lot as well. Connecting with the women we make products for (through my writing) is my favorite part of my job.
Best moment in your career thus far?
Watching my son, Brady, film a commercial for Target about my books. He talked about learning entrepreneurialism and “how to chase a dream” from his mom. I was a puddle of tears behind the cameraman.
What advice do you have for aspiring planner designers?
Find your niche. There are so many planners out there. Find a need and fill it. Discover what makes you uniquely YOU and build your brand around that. Don’t make planners just to make planners. Make planners for the real reason you pick yours up every day.