Each entrepreneur is driven by something, whether that’s a need to effect change somewhere, a desire to work without a boss looming, or simply a recognition of an opportunity.
Usually, however, there are several things that drive small business owners, forces that are both internal and external.
When we spoke to Jahje Ives at Baby Jives Co. for our small business success guide, we were struck by the way these forces seemed to reinforce and battle against each other at different times. As an artist, Jahje draws inspiration from her family, but as a business owner sometimes her role as a mother runs headlong into her productive momentum.
We spoke to Jahje about how she strikes those balances.
Extra Space Storage: Inspiration from your family is baked into the foundation of your business. How does family continue to inspire your work today?
Jahje Ives: My kids are getting older now, so they don’t have cribs, but they still love their mobiles. I find that their interests still drive my new designs; for instance, both of my kids love fairytales, and to transform their mobiles I paired them with starry strand lights to create a kind of fairytale night light.
Also, the way I feel about my children often inspires the sentiment behind my work. Many of the illustrations for my swaddles and my artwork come from little fragments that pop into my mind — like the heart blanket that simply says “you are my why” or the quote blanket that says “create what you want to see in the world,” which is something I talk to my children about often, especially as they get older and start to really see how what they do can make a difference in our world.
EXR: What else inspires you?
Jahje: I’m definitely inspired by nature and love to be outdoors exploring the area around us. I’m also an over-educated artist, having both a BFA and MFA as a painter and sculptor, and I often look to art history for inspiration.
One of my most popular swaddles, angel wings, was inspired by the Renaissance sketches I saw when I lived in Rome. I loved the idea that the simple act of adding wings to a person could transform them into an angel. That idea of bringing fine art into the world of children’s décor is actually something that drives much of my work. I often think of the items we make for Baby Jives Co. as a child’s first artwork that they will hopefully grow up with.
EXR: Working from home requires major discipline, particularly when it comes to time management and productivity. What are some things you’ve learned that help you stay productive?
Jahje: One huge help: I put my kids in school so I can actually get something done without them around. I’m kind of joking, but not really, because it is actually one of the best things I’ve done to give up some of my mom guilt about taking time for myself.
Running a business from home means that I often feel like I should be able to do it all with everyone around me, but I’ve actually found that if I let everything spill together it just gets too chaotic. So, I’ve set up times that I work without interruption and then times when I work with my kids running in and out of the studio and then times when I am just focused on family. Drawing those boundaries has been invaluable.
I’ve also started a habit where, after I drop my kids off at school, I spend at least my first hour or two working on the most important things for my business that need my best focus because that’s when I have it. I try not to schedule any calls or any distractions so I can really dig in. Doing this has allowed me to make some big progress on goals that I always felt were getting pushed back.
EXR: What are your methods for balancing work and life? Is your family involved in the day-to-day work you’re doing?
Jahje: There is no real way to attain the mythical work/life balance if you’re running your own business, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying if you think there is. What I’ve found in my years of doing this is that balance is constantly shifting. Some days your business needs more attention. Some days your family does. And you just have to go with the flow.
When I feel overwhelmed, I take a deep breath. I evaluate what I’m doing, and I decide if I really need to do it all or if there is somewhere I can get help with what I’m doing. And getting help has been a big part of maintaining balance. This past year, I took on a studio manager who can run things so that I can run out at 2:30 and get my kids and actually stay at the playground with them for an hour while my studio runs without me. It’s been amazing.
And then there are some days when a big project needs to be finished that I call my mother, a.k.a. gran-nanny, and ask her to get my kids and “keep them away from the house,” and she does that because she is part of my team. So, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you feel overwhelmed: ask for help and then let go.
Someone else really can handle it. Really.
EXR: You told Red Tricycle in 2013, “To make your mark, you must find your own voice.” How have you discovered your own voice and expressed that as an entrepreneur?
Jahje: I think I have, and I think that’s what’s helped make Baby Jives Co. such a success. I have a very specific focus for all the items made for Baby Jives Co.: They are all works of art meant to be part of the everyday in a family.
Our mobiles are the first work of art you might buy for your child, the swaddles we make are drawings that you’ll document your child’s growth with, and all of these items are designed with a sense of whimsy and wonder because childhood is a time when anything is possible.
EXR: What would you say has contributed most to the growth of your business? What could other entrepreneurs learn from that, as well?
Jahje: Not being afraid to take the next step. I am actually taking some big steps for growth this year, and I’ll be honest they’re definitely out of my comfort zone. We just did our first major trade show, I’m working on majorly scaling up my production with a move to fair trade manufacturing for our core items in India, and I’m setting growth goals of trying to double our revenue every year for the next few years.
But if you don’t leap, you can’t move forward. So here I am. Leaping.
images by: ©Baby Jives Co.