Welcome to Week 3 of Motherhood by Design – the series where mothers who also run creative businesses share their inspirations and their experiences juggling the demands of raising children while growing a creative career.
"Life isn’t made of GPAs and letter-grades, it’s made of dreams, willpower, and action."
This week’s guest is Emily Thompson of Indie Shopography, a brand, web design, and strategy consulting company for creative entrepreneurs. In addition to designing and developing drop-dead gorgeous websites, Emily helps creatives plan, launch and manage their businesses. In addition to running a successful company, Emily and her partner also homeschool their daughter. You will love Emily’s candor on business, life and parenthood!
Welcome to Fuller by Design, Emily – can you please describe your family?
My family is perfectly small. There are only the three of us, myself, my partner (love partner, business manager, baby-daddy; he wears many hats) David, and our 6 soon-to-be-7 year-old daughter Lily. We also have a furry child, Jane, who is a 3-year-old boxer-pup.
What is your business?
My business is helping other small creative businesses. I run Indie Shopography, a design and strategy studio for creative entrepreneurs. I run a team of 3 designer/developer/badasses in our Florence, AL studio, and together we coach, strategize, design, implement, and launch online businesses for creatives. Our specialty is in coaching and web design, but we also handle branding, marketing, and overall well-being and encouragement.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
Never still, that’s for sure. I played outside a lot. I read a lot a lot. And I just generally did stuff. My parents were pretty protective, so I had tight boundaries, but I learned to do all kinds of things, including how to overcome boundaries.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Absolutely. As a kid, my mother and grandmother (and a variety of crazy, old great aunts) taught me to sew, crochet, knit, and cross-stitch. I also painted, collected leaves, cooked, and scrapbooked. My entire life has been filled with making. I love that about myself.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a mother? Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
I never wanted to be a mother. Ha! It’s a funny family ‘joke’ that I never wanted to have kids. And though I had that stance, and having Lily was not planned, it works. It’s hard and testing, but it’s gratifying. She fills my life with all kinds of things, and I certainly don’t hate it. But, no, as a kid, I never saw myself as a mother.
In your early years of motherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the latter, when did you pick it back up?
I started my career in the creative biz world in Lily’s first year. So, no, I certainly didn’t put them on hold! I began my jewelry business when Lily was a baby, and transitioned into my current business when she was almost two. Having a child drove me to work harder, to not put it on the back burner, and to make it work. I owe a lot of my success to Lily coming into my life. She didn’t hold me back, she drove me to succeed.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
Answered above! But to get a little deeper with that first biz, I started it with the intention of giving myself a creative outlet, but also to bring in cash. It’s also important, I think, to point out that I was also a full-time student at the time. My jewelry business blew up! And I ended up transitioning out partly because I simply could not keep up with the demand. Kids are hard, but they pack a lot of empowerment into those little bodies.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
I started my jewelry business to have a creative outlet and some cash, but I found myself wiggling into Indie Shopography with the same reasons, but the added benefit of getting to help other creatives – many of them moms, just like me – build a successful business, too. I never ever planned to be a web designer, developer, or business coach. My degree is in geography! But as a teenager I taught myself coding, I learned design basics in regards to maps in school, and my jewelry business needed a website. Next thing I knew people were contacting me about my site just as much as my jewelry, and the shift may have not been expected, but it felt natural to me. The rest – if I may be cliché – is history.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
Well, to make my life seem a little bit more nuts, David and I also homeschool Lily. So, not only do we work together to build this biz, but Lily is there with us. So, balance looks very different for us. As the full-time business owner, I spend most of my time at the studio. David manages both Lily’s education, and the business part of my business. He does the bookkeeping, handles billing and collections, and makes sure all of my licenses and things are up to date. No doubt, he’s just as much a powerhouse in this relationship as I am. So, our balance is all kinds of shades of grey. We’re pretty good about keeping home at home (though sometimes I can’t help a little planning, scheming, or gushing at the dinner table) and we keep work at the studio. Homeschooling happens in both places, with workbooks, handwriting, etc happening at the studio, with lots of reading and hands-on fun happening at home. It’s a lot, but it works, and doesn’t feel overwhelming to us anymore. (Though there was certainly a time when it did.)
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
Well, the fact that Lily is with me at work for half the week make her affect it a lot, but she’s also a great kid and knows when it’s crunch time. She gets boundaries, and tests them like any kid would, but she gets that time here is important, that it helps us eat, live, travel, and do things, and she respects that. Most days. I mean, she’s still a kid. For example: she just interrupted me writing this *again* to ask me if I wanted a tangerine. It makes for a little less productivity, but I also see her understanding design, and even business (she *gets* The Profit!), and that’s worth a couple of interruptions, if you ask me.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
Honestly, I can’t think of any. Haha! Though Lily is here with me many days, and is definitely becoming part of the process, I could just as easily be childless and my products would be the same. Most of my clients don’t even realize that I have a kid until they see her photobombing me in Skype meetings (that’s a boundary she’s continually testing; lucky for her all my clients think she’s adorable). Where her influence has come in is in the business even existing. Everything else is me, and I like having a part of my life that is me.
What is the biggest impact that your child has had on your business?
Other than her being the catalyst for it’s existence, our studio environment is shaped greatly by Lily (and Jane!). They really make the studio a family environment, and though we seriously get shit done, we play a lot, too. Lily reminds us to chill out, have fun, and sometimes you just gotta play with some Legos. And the team are some of her best friends. I don’t think any of us really realized the impact she has on even our day-to-day operations.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your child?
Because of our business, we get to homeschool, we provide for her, we travel and do fun things. Because we homeschool and she gets to spend so much time here, she is seriously smart. Hearing her talk about design aspects of her toys or packaging, or suggesting business model improvements when we visit local businesses is equally hysterical and mind-blowing. This business will shape her on a level I know that I can’t even comprehend yet, and I can’t wait to see what amazing things she is able to do because of it.
Is there something you hope your child learns from you by having a creative business?
That you can do whatever you want. It’s not about “education,” it’s about experience, and there’s no limit, if you dream big enough and work hard enough. Life isn’t made of GPAs and letter-grades, it’s made of dreams, willpower, and action.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Welcome to life as a woman with kids and dreams. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, so don’t delude yourself into thinking it will be. This is your life now, and you can either let it pass you by in a swarm of hormones, crayons, and snotty tissues, or you can own it, go after your dreams, and do whatever you want to do. You just gotta do.
Thank you so much, Emily, for sharing with us today! You can find Emily and her beautiful work at the following places: