What My Twins Taught Me About Motherhood

This last year has been one of the best, and one of the hardest, in my life. In many ways, I felt like a brand new mother this year. Having one baby was challenging. Life changing. So, so, incredibly hard. I felt like I made all the rookie mistakes with Anthony - mistakes I swore I'd never make with my second. 'I learned the hard way' I said. Baby #2 will fall sleep on their own. Will sleep through the night. Will not sleep in my bed. My convictions did not change when we found out Baby #2 was actually Baby #2 AND Baby #3. I was going to things differently this time.

In exactly one week, Luca & James will turn one. Looking back on the last year - the anticipation of their arrival, juggling two newborns and a toddler, learning to enjoy the dance of it all - I can say I've grown in ways I never imagined. With Anthony, I always felt like I was playing house. Like someone was going to walk in one day and take it all away. That I didn't really know what I was doing. Luca and James changed all of that.

1. I did not screw up my children.
Just a few years ago, I longingly gazed at the moms who had "easy" children. They were always happy, slept all night, never fussed, sat and played alone for hours... and I thought I somehow made Anthony high-maintenance. Was it my daily cup of coffee when I was pregnant? The formula I supplemented with? The twins - arguably exposed to identical environments from conception, and only separated in age by 11 minutes - have polar opposite personalities. One can fall asleep on his own the second you lay him down. The other, needs to be cuddled. One is loud and rambunctious and never stops moving. The other? More reserved, quiet, shy and is happy to sit on your lap and just 'be'. My children are who they are, not because of something I did - or did not do. They become who they are because of something and someone far greater than me, and embracing their differences is all part of becoming a parent.

2. Be the Mom
I tend to avoid confrontation at all costs. I'm the peacemaker, and never want anyone to think I'm the bad guy. With Anthony, I wasn't always the Mom I should have been. I found it hard to speak up for what I thought was right, or what I felt needed to be done. I always held a professionals opinion above my own - if the doctor said 'let's wait and see', more often than not, that's what I did. And most times, that was fine. But there were plenty of times when it wasn't. Where 4 trips to the doctor were necessary because I didn't say what I felt the first time - that Anthony was getting sicker when he should be getting better. Thank God it was never anything serious, but plenty of times I regretted not saying what I thought, because I didn't want the doctors or nurses to not like me. When Luca & James were born, that all changed. I realized that it's my responsibly to be their advocate at all times, not just when they've been sick for two weeks. They deserve a mom who doesn't shy away from the doctor just because she doesn't want to seem confrontational. I need to BE the mom. I now ask 100 questions to the nurse without caring if she thinks I'm annoying. I don't apologize more than once for taking up too much space with my double stroller or because someone is impatiently waiting for me to be done buckling them in their car seats so they can get in their car. I say 'no' when someone has the sniffles and wants to hold them. I finally feel confident in my right to be those things - to say those things - to be the mom they need me to be.

3. You do whatever it takes.
I could probably write an entire post on this, but countless people asked me if we were going to have help once the twins came home. As in, a night nurse. A friend with twins actually told me that not hiring someone was going to be a huge mistake. And to be clear, we did have a lot of help during the day. Monday through Friday, when Craig was at work, we had at least one grandparent here to help. Sometimes two. To help bring A to preschool, to help with the laundry, to be an extra set of hands when I had to shower or needed someone to console the twin that had to wait to eat. At night? Every night - it was just us. Every two hours, for 8 weeks, we'd get up and start our 45 minute process. I'd take one twin to nurse, Craig would take the other for a diaper change. Then we'd switch. And then we'd swaddle, soothe, and get them back to sleep. We'd sleep for an hour, and do it all again.  For 8 weeks. And we were exhausted. Actually, exhausted does not describe the depth of our tiredness. But never once did I think going into this, that someone else should be doing that for me. That I'd pay someone to do the dirty work, so I could wake up refreshed and energized. Because you know what? You do whatever it takes. You live on coffee and forget to change the laundry and leave the house without diapers (true story), but you adapt. You do whatever it takes. Its a season of life and it doesn't last forever, and circles under your eyes are a badge honor that I wear with pride. 

4. Loving them is all that matters. 
In the end, the love I give them is all that matters. They will not look back on their childhood and wish that I did more Pinterest crafts, or read more books, or had their closets color coordinated. They'll look back and remember laughing in the kitchen over dinner, snuggling under the covers on cold winter nights, and that they were loved beyond measure. All the other stuff, is just that - stuff. Loving them is the most important job I have, and I'll spend the rest of my life trying to do it well. 

I'm writing this post at 11:30, with a sleeping Luca on my lap. He's getting his molars, and sleep has been hard the last few days. And I'm the only one he wants. This wasn't how tonight was supposed to go - once the kids are asleep, its my time to get work done and finish up orders and catch up on the DVR. But, you do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to get through the next hour, or the next day... that's just what you do.

Next weekend we're celebrating Luca & James'  birthday with an appropriately-themed circus party. It perfectly sums up this season of our life - every day is a circus. By the time I get home from work, two of three kids are crying, there are dirty diapers on the porch that need to be brought to the trash, the dog is crying to eat, the house phone is ringing and we're trying to remember what time the twins had a bottle. Most nights Craig and I just laugh to ourselves that this is our life. Next weekend is a celebration of an amazing first year for the twins, but also a very big celebration for us as a family. We survived, we laughed, we loved - and it is only just the beginning.

Pictures c/o Tanya Charlesworth

Are you new here? Hi! I’m Jillian. Wife & mom, and small business owner. Bella Carta Boutique is a custom design studio, specializing in invitations, announcements and stationery for all of life’s most special occasions. We are located in Northern New Jersey, but serve clients in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and can ship worldwide. If you’d like to work with us, or learn more about what we do, click here!


Journey to Rebranding: Part Three

This is the third post in this series. If you missed the first two, you can find them here and here.

With my logo and brand board complete, the last steps in my brand development were a website, collateral and packaging. Arguably, some of the most important pieces of developing a brand. These are the elements that my clients would see and touch, and judge me by, so that had to be perfect. 

For my brand collateral, I had to think through presentation and packaging, and most importantly, what I wanted my client experience to be. When I chose my business name, many years ago, the word boutique was really important to me. I wanted clients to get the same feeling you do when you walk into a local boutique: comfortable, inspired, and that you’re the only customer they have. So I designed my brand packaging to be boutique-like: kraft tissue paper, twine and a hand written note. Once I introduced address stamps into my assortment, I added linen bags so that customers had a place to keep them long after throwing their box away.

I was never a fan of packing up orders. (Maybe one day this is something I'll hire someone else to do!) But working with my brand elements & keeping all my packing supplies in one place has completely changed my outlook on this task. I always felt like it was so much work, and so disorganized. But knowing what goes in each and every package, and where all those items are, has been a game changer. 

Next up was my website. Once I hired a web developer, I sent her my thoughts, ideas, logos, brand board & functionality requirements, and she got to work building our current website. She did an excellent job turning my vision into reality, and I’m so thankful for her patience during this process. The entire process took 6 weeks from start to finish, and we finalized the website details just in time for our brand launch.

Because I continue to host my shop in Etsy, I did my best to brand my site there, too. Updating my header, changing the terminology in my listings, and creating links back to both my website and social media handles, made the whole experience more cohesive.

Building a brand is so much more than a logo. It's about creating an experience and lasting impression on your customers. It's about telling your story through imagery. A powerful brand can completely change your business, and its is important to be thoughtful and intentional about the process.

Of course, now that I've shared all of this, our brand is going through a slight tweaking right now. If you read my business goals for twenty-fifteen, you'll know that I plan to move our website hosting platform early this year, as well as integrate my blog into the website (instead of it having its own domain name). All that means some small revisions for the brand - nothing crazy - but making sure that everything - web buttons, categories, links, Etsy listings - are all completely seamless and consistent. I can't wait to share some of the changes with you all, very soon!

Are you new here? Hi! I’m Jillian. Wife & mom, and small business owner. Bella Carta Boutique is a custom design studio, specializing in invitations, announcements and stationery for all of life’s most special occasions. We are located in Northern New Jersey, but serve clients in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and can ship worldwide. If you’d like to work with us, or learn more about what we do, click here!


My Favorite Things Series: Baby Mama Sew Shop

Happy Tuesday! I had such a nice long weekend, and loved being off yesterday. I was able to devote some time to work yesterday morning – in peace and quiet – thanks to my very gracious parents, and then was able to bring my oldest to hockey practice (something I don’t get to do often as a working mom). So when he told me last night that he was “so happy I could bring him to hockey and he had so much fun with me being there”, I just about died.

I'm planning a post to share some great tools I use to stay organized, but had to share this one for all of you fellow planner lovers. Every year, without fail, I start January off with my pristine new planner and I tell myself that I’m going to be super careful with it. No carrying my lunch, or a bottle of water or a sippy cup in my bag, because I don’t want anything to spill on it. But all of that is completely unrealistic, and usually by March or April, I’ve spilled coffee or apple juice in my purse, and my planner pages get all grimy, and then for the rest of the year I get a little annoyed every time I open my planner. I know there are more people like me out there – that love something to look new for more than 15 minutes.

In December, I searched high and low for a perfect sized tote that would allow me to keep my planner safe in my bag, and was also cute. And? I came up empty handed. Nada. And then I remembered the Baby Mama Sew Shop from a giveway we had both participated in, and I reached out to her to see if she could make something custom for me. A few conversations back and forth about size and fabrics, this adorable little tote was at my door the following week.

Navy and white twill stripes, a coral pink bottom, and a tiny gold dot interior. I adore it! And, it also happens to match my brand. Win-win.

I’m able to keep my planner and my notebook all in one spot, free from animal crackers and puffs and sticky baby fingers. Some people may think it is ludicrous to protect a planner in this way, but for me – for my family – my planner keeps us organized and helps us make room for the things that matter most. Those pages are filled with birthdays and vacations, preschool events and family gatherings, doctors appointments, bill reminders and all the things its takes to run a household of five. The things written on those pages are what make up our life, and its important to me that I keep them safe.

It should go without saying but I'll say it anyway, I was in no way compensated for this post, and purchased this product on my own. My review expresses my honest opinion, and is only shared so that other readers can benefit from a product I find useful! 

Are you new here? Hi! I’m Jillian. Wife & mom, and small business owner. Bella Carta Boutique is a custom design studio, specializing in invitations, announcements and stationery for all of life’s most special occasions. We are located in Northern New Jersey, but serve clients in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and can ship worldwide. If you’d like to work with us, or learn more about what we do, click here!


Twenty-Fifteen Business Goals

 For the last two years, I’ve hesitated to set intentional and thoughtful goals for my business. I had broad visions of what I’d like to see happen each year: more sales, new designs, connecting with my customers – but they were vague, and too broad to measure against at the end of the year. Honestly, I thought that goal setting was just another buzz word people used to talk about their business growth. Another way to compare ourselves – another way to boast that we were successful. I’ve learned in the last few months that intentional goal setting is really a way to stay focused, to be more efficient, and to help narrow our vision when you’re devoting time to growing your business.

So this year, I’m being intentional with my goal setting. These were all written down, in one form or another, during December. After my time at Creative at Heart, I decided to modify them slightly, and add actionable steps for each.

1. Optimize Etsy & Launch Ecommerce
This is something I feel very strongly about. I think Etsy is an amazing platform for small business owners, and I think I can do a better job of making my shop ‘work’ better than it does now. I also want to be able to offer direct checkout through my own website – something I’ll share more in a separate post.
·       • Revise listing copy, titles, tags and add-ons. I want customers to not have any questions when they’re checking out about what they’re buying, and what happens next.
·       • Optimize my photos for each listing. Using stock photography has been a huge blessing for my shop, but what I realized this year is customers don’t want to see a styled desktop on my Etsy homepage. They want to SEE the invitation.
·       • Migrate my site & blog to a new platform, and add an ecommerce option. I want customers to feel like they can checkout directly on my site, or shop on Etsy – whichever they prefer.

2. Connect with Customers
I want to feel more connected with my customers – new and old – in the coming year. I want to share more about myself, the struggles of growing a business, and about the heart of my brand.
·       • Set a consistent blogging schedule. Planning posts each month, and being realistic about the time I have to devote to blogging are important steps in making blogging part of my routine.
·       • Deploy monthly newsletters. I love getting newsletters from other small business owners – highlighting new products, things we’ve been working on, blog posts I may have missed, and of course, sharing exclusive sales & promotions. I want my customers to receive these from me, on a regular basis.

3. Expand My Offerings
A crucial part of growing a business is to always be learning. I want to challenge myself to invest in learning two new skills/programs this year to help grow my product base and services that I can offer my clients.
·       • Launch a wedding collection, including save the dates, invitations, day-of paper goods and thank you notes. Establish a pricing guide to share with potential brides & grooms that answers questions about paper types, quantities, and the wedding suite design process.
·       • Practice hand lettering. I’ve always had a fascination with the art of calligraphy and hand lettering. I’ve taken several classes, but need to invest more time in practicing. I hope to offer hand-lettering services on my printed pieces later this year.
·       • Illustrations & Graphics. Illustrator is a weakness of mine – I don’t know the program well, and always find a work around. I want to learn more about vector graphics, and how I can start creating these on my own, rather than relying on purchasing them from other sellers.
·       • Brand Development. I feel passionate about adding this service to my business this year, and am excited about working with other small business owners on developing & executing their brand.

4. Organize & Streamline
Last year, I felt like I was always 10 steps behind. Part of this was my failure to set realistic and intentional goals for the year, but more importantly, failing to choose the items I felt were important to my growth.
·       • Yearly / Monthly / Weekly goal setting. Keeping my tasks realistic and attainable.
·       • Finances. Separate our personal and business finances, establish a monthly day where I can categorize expenses, file receipts and evaluate the budget.
·       • Shipping. I spend way too much on shipping, and need to find some new and creative ways to lower my costs for each package.
·       • Creating a Production Schedule. This was SO helpful to me before last holiday season, and I want to develop it to be reflective of the whole year. This means planning for the holiday card rush beginning in September, so that come November, I’m not rushing to get my listings up and photographs taken
·       • Clean up Email. This needs no explanation. At some point this year I’d like to have my inbox at 0 at the end of every day.

This lists seems sooooo long. And I know that all of it may not happen, and that’s OK. Something that’s come a little more naturally to me this last year is keeping things in perspective and giving myself a little grace. I don’t beat myself up anymore. I’m a mom, I work full-time, I volunteer on the Board for A’s school, and I want to look back on every year and remember watching my kids grow and laugh and learn. Of course, I also want to grow my business, but keeping that in perspective with the rest of priorities has helped me define success in a better, more rewarding way.

I hope to share monthly updates on this list to keep myself accountable, and also to help you all see a little of what happens behind the scenes with Bella Carta Boutique. This business is a big part of my heart, and I think there is such joy in the building of a business. It’s important to share both your successes and failures, and remind your customers, and cheerleaders, and family and friends, that there is so much more to this than pretty paper and Instagram pictures and the number of orders. The heart of my business is in the not-so-pretty, 1:00 in the morning, running on 2 cups of coffee designs and taping up packages with Otto at my side… and I’m excited to share that journey with you.


Journey to Rebranding: Part Two

Before the Christmas break, I introduced a new series: The Journey to Rebranding. This post is the second in the series, and if you missed the first one, click here to read it!)

Once I narrowed down my imagery and finalized my inspiration board and colors, I got to work on both my logo and brand board. I felt strongly that I wanted the words “Bella Carta” to be hand lettered. I knew going into this rebrand that hand lettering was very popular, and maybe not quite as timeless as some other options. That said, I’ve always loved calligraphy – talented calligraphers always make it seem effortless, and I adore that no two letterers are alike. Calligraphy is a true, and rare, art form, and I felt strongly that having my logo lettered with a slightly whimsical tone would keep my brand authentic and approachable.

Back when I was pregnant with the twins, I had been searching Etsy for the perfect calligrapher to help me make a custom art print for their nursery. I stumbled across West Sheridan, and we got to work on the print that now hangs in their room. Fast forward a few months, while attending the Emily Ley Playbook Webinar - Nicole popped up in the attendee list - and we reconnected. She was probably thinking, who is this stalker that remembers working with me 6 months ago?! =) I emailed Nicole a week or two later, sharing my ideas for a rebrand, and asking her if she’d consider hand lettering my logo. What attracted me to Nicole in the first place was her whimsical, imperfect lettering (and her sweet disposition!) and she got started on the first round of my logo. After a few tweaks, and the decision to add an alternate logo, this is where we ended. Nicole was a dream to work with, and in the many late nights I was working on the rebrand and the new website, looking at this logo made me know there was light at the end of the tunnel.

With my inspiration board complete, colors chosen and my logo files in hand, I set to compile a brand board of all of the key elements that would make up Bella Carta Boutique. I searched for patterns & textures I thought best fit my brand, as well as fonts that could play off each other well. Being able to carry each element of your brand through to your website, print collateral and the client experience is so important, so I spent a lot of time experimenting with all of these elements until I found the perfect combination.

Confession: I love this brand board. I have a copy of it printed on my desk, and sometimes just pull it out of the folder to take a look. It is such a sweet reminder of the hard work that went into building this brand over the summer, and was the first time I actually considered offering branding as a service to clients. The entire process, and especially the methodical planning of each element, really speaks to my type-A heart, and hopefully some time this year I will begin offering this service to other small businesses!

Check back next week for Part Three in this series! 

Are you new here? Hi! I’m Jillian. Wife & mom, and small business owner. Bella Carta Boutique is a custom design studio, specializing in invitations, announcements and stationery for all of life’s most special occasions. We are located in Northern New Jersey, but serve clients in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and can ship worldwide. If you’d like to work with us, or learn more about what we do, click here!


Community Over Competition: Creative at Heart Recap

Here we are, 3 days after the conference has ended, and I still don’t feel like I have the appropriate words to share how attending changed me. What I originally hoped to walk away with – clarity on the future of my business, tangible changes to  my marketing & product offerings – were quickly replaced with things I wasn’t expecting. Inspiration. Community. Friends. A new perspective on not only my business, but also on my personal life. The women at this conference left a mark on my heart, and made me feel more confident and inspired than I have in a long time.

One of my fears about this conference was that I wouldn’t learn enough. That maybe this conference wasn’t right for me, or where my business was. Many of the speakers and panelists were professional photographers, florists and wedding planners. What could they share about their businesses that would be applicable to mine? As soon as the very first speaker began her presentation, I knew that fear was completely unfounded.

Do any of you follow Katelyn James? If not, you should start now. No really, click over and read through her blog (after finishing this one!). She is AMAZING. She began her business in college. And now? She and her husband run one of the most well known photography businesses in the world. Brides pick their wedding dates only after hearing when Katelyn James has openings for the following year. You guys – that’s amazing. So when Katelyn started to speak – about the importance of blogging for your business – what she had to say spoke to us all. Stationery designers, florists, event planners, jewelry designers... every single one of us were scribbling away, soaking in all of Katelyn’s wisdom. She didn’t build her business on advertising, or social media. She built her business on blogging. Most, if not all of her clients read her blog. And they want to book her for their wedding day because they connect with her on a personal level. They’ve witnessed her struggles, shared in the joy of her successes, and fell in love with Katelyn before they ever wanted to be a KJ Bride. Katelyn was so inspiring, so full of wisdom and thoughtful advice. She passionately believes in education, and giving, and changing this entire industry to become one of community instead of competition. That’s what made this conference unique. That idea – community over competition – was the heart behind each and every presentation, and is still what I’m hearing days later.

I could write for days about each speaker and what they had to offer, and honestly, all of them were incredible. Katelyn’s presentation most certainly set the tone, but each and every business owner shared their hearts and wisdom with us, and changed each of us for the better. I was fortunate enough to meet some woman whom I’ve admired from afar, during our breakout sessions, and got to know them on a more personal level. I will forever be grateful for their graciousness and willingness to open up to our group. And a huge thank you goes out to Kat & Taylor for pouring their time and energy and their hearts into bringing all of us together. You both saw this vision long before we could, and we are all so thankful for your commitment to cultivating community. 

For those of you that know me personally, you know that I struggle with feeling like my business is real. In the most literal sense, of course it is – I have a tax ID number, a website and a steady stream of orders. But in the back of my mind, I have always felt like this was a hobby, mainly because I was not in a position to take it full time. And what I heard over and over this weekend, was that I was the only one holding myself back. I was the only one minimizing my business. My commitment. My dreams. Nothing tangible was ever going to make me feel legit, until I started to own who I was, and what I did. The amount of hours I devote to my business may not fit into a perfect 9-5 schedule, and that’s OK. Starting, and growing a business is hard work. And whether its 5 or 10, or 50 hours a week that I’m investing in this dream of mine, its still mine.

I’ll be sharing my 2015 goals soon, which have changed slightly since coming home from Creative at Heart. I want to be more transparent with you all, about growing this business, about balancing a full-time job and being a very-present mom and wife. Sharing my goals seems scary, but writing them down and saying them out loud, in this space, will keep me accountable. I feel like this week is my January first all over again – all I see is a blank slate, full of opportunity, and am so excited for the changes to come this year. I hope you all will follow me on this journey!

Are you new here? Hi! I’m Jillian. Wife & mom, and small business owner. Bella Carta Boutique is a custom design studio, specializing in invitations, announcements and stationery for all of life’s most special occasions. We are located in Northern New Jersey, but serve clients in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and can ship worldwide. If you’d like to work with us, or learn more about what we do, click here!