Celebrating a Decade in Business
When I think back to my life ten years ago, it looked a lot different than it does today. I was newlywed and in a lot of student loan debt. It was a personal goal of mine to not have children until I had my student loans paid off: I had a long road ahead of me. I worked full-time as a finance officer for the intelligence community and was gone from 4 AM-6 PM every day. The Northern Virginia commute and lifestyle were slowly chipping away at my eagerness and ability to take on more because I was so exhausted from the daily commute.
In October 2012, my husband was deployed to New Jersey for power restoration efforts following Hurricane Sandy. I was bored at home in our 4th-floor apartment, but ambitious. I took $300 that we absolutely could not afford and bought my first Silhouette Cameo die-cutter machine (fun fact: it is still one of the machines we use for daily operations). I watched countless youtube videos and practiced making items for friends and family members. On January 13, 2013, I launched my Etsy shop which changed my life forever.
How did I come up with the name, BellaCuttery? My oldest sister was ALWAYS the crafty one. She is very talented with art and design. She had an online store that ended in “-ery”. Bella was our first dog (recently passed in June 2022) and we cut vinyl, so BellaCuttery was born.
I can talk at great length about the launch and growth of BellaCuttery on Etsy, but I think that is a story for another day. It took a lot of hard work, but in November 2014 I paid my student loans off. It was a moment I will never forget. I welcomed my first son in March of 2015 – I hit my first goal! It was far from easy, but more than worth it.
Due to having my Etsy shop, I accepted a part-time position and took six months off work for the government to stay home with Carter. I felt like I was living the absolute dream. Even when I returned to work, having a few days off with him was the best. I will never, ever forget that quality time I had with my first baby, and I was SO grateful for the opportunity to create flexibility due to the subsidized income I made from Etsy.
PTSD came in full steam ahead. I wasn’t prepared for that (is anybody, though?) and a large part of my crippling anxiety was sending Carter to school and him coming home sick. When our kids get sick, it wrecks the whole schedule. Will & I would have to compare schedules and decide who had enough time off, who had the least meetings, etc to stay home. I felt the guilt so strongly. Why on earth did I bring a child into this world without having the plan to take care of him as best as I could? I never had enough PTO due to my health and the stress was unbearable.
I thought – WOW – what if I could run my business full-time and have the flexibility to be there for life’s unforeseen events? I mean, it can’t be impossible right? Will & I are both extremely risk-averse people. We both thought it was absolutely insane to think I could replace a great government salary, benefits, retirement, give up a pension, etc.
In November 2019 I was able to resign from the federal government and run BellaCuttery full-time. Two short months before the world shut down due to a global pandemic.
I was forced to learn about myself and my business in ways I never anticipated as we navigated our first global pandemic. Pivoting was my secret sauce. It was NOT easy. I remember that day in March 2020 so vividly. The world was shutting down, my kids’ birthday parties were canceled, and my sales turned off overnight. I sat in my driveway sobbing. What on earth did I do? I left a steady job with a reliable income to run a business in the wedding space that was now shut down overnight. Many tears were shed but I did not let that stop me. I picked up and kept moving forward. 2020 was BellaCuttery’s best revenue year up to that point.
A DECADE later. We are a SWaM-certified business. We have 3 employees, 2 contractors, and 1 CEO. We moved from a 4th-floor apartment dining room to a basement to another basement to a 1000 sq foot warehouse to our current 2,600 sq ft warehouse. We are a community partner of Worthdays and donate personalized gifts monthly to youth in Virginia’s child welfare system. We also facilitate the distribution of their WorthyBox program. We support our community and have provided thousands of dollars to local women in need, local food boxes, provided school supplies to local elementary schools in need. We are in the top 1% of sellers on Etsy, we sell on Amazon (even have products eligible for Amazon prime) and operate our own website.
When I was younger, I often said I wanted to be like Ellen Degeneres. I am empathetic and naturally take care of others. I loved how she was able to surprise people and take care of so many people's needs while bringing joy. Sure, I’m not a millionaire (YET!), but I do feel like I’m my version of what I dreamed to be and my heart is overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity.
Ten years ago, I saw this. I am a visual person, I usually need to paint and draw and make ten lists I’ll never look at, then talk to everyone I know about it and ask for advice and then lose the note and never follow up on it again. But I saw this. I visualized it in my head. I knew what this could be, and what difference I could make for my family and my community. I am so proud of myself and what I have built. We celebrate today. We celebrate the path we took to get here. All of the bosses and coworkers I had along the way to encourage me, hell, even the ones who looked at me like I was absolutely bonkers for wanting to leave behind a Top Secret security clearance to run “a stupid Etsy shop.”
I want to thank my first employee and dear friend Elizabeth. I just don’t deserve her. I hired her in 2014 having not a clue about running a business effectively, nonetheless managing people! I’m pretty sure we stretched some legal boundaries with our work environment and hours, but she showed up every single time with excitement and was ready to learn. We laughed, we cried, and we ate (a lot). She was there for me as I was growing my business and starting my family. She has seen me during hard times and the good times and taught me what I know about hiring and maintaining employees. The ONLY reason she’s not on staff is that I relocated to Richmond. Elizabeth – THANK YOU. I love you so much!
I celebrate my husband who gently challenged me, and asked difficult questions, BUT ALSO strongly supported me every step of the way. He weeded vinyl (horribly but he did it) He shipped packages late at night. He drove to the post office to make sure our packages went out timely. He drove all over the state to get inventory. He celebrated my wins with me, picked me up off the floor in 2020, and encouraged me to KEEP GOING. I can never thank him enough.
I could not do this without the team of ladies who keep this operation running. Thank you is insufficient, but THANK YOU to Amanda and Mary who juggle the daily tasks and create absolute magic. Thank you to Madison who is faithful to us and comes back to work during her breaks from college. And so many thanks to the ladies who serve as contractors (Brittney & Rosalie) for our ad-hoc needs. It really takes a team of remarkable people to keep us afloat.
Here are ten things that I live by and that anchor me as an entrepreneur:
- Believe that you are worthy.
- Trust the process.
- Never stop learning & never think you’re the smartest person in the room.
- Work harder than everyone around you.
- Surround yourself with like-minded people.
- Believe in spite of what you can see.
- Rules are made to be broken.
- Think in opposites.
- Don’t rubber stamp it.
- Don’t allow your story to become your excuse. Allow your story to be your fuel.
IF NOT YOU, THEN WHO?
Congratulations, Kathi!!! A celebration much deserved! You’re an inspiration. Can’t wait to see what another decade holds for you!
Tears in my eyes. I’m so proud of you Kathi!!
Congratulations on 10 years!
Congratulations and Happy 10th Birthday! You are an inspiration to every small businessperson out there! May the next ten be even better!