Julie Ball is the owner and “Chief Sparkler” of a booming subscription box company, Sparkle Hustle Grow. She is dedicated to inspiring women entrepreneurs to grow not just in their businesses, but in their personal lives, too.
We spoke with Julie about how she got started, why she is so passionate about supporting her “tribe” and what’s next for her outside the box.
Julie, what did you do for work before you started your own business?
The long story short is I spent ten years in corporate America, most recently as a digital sales manager in radio. When I found I was pregnant, I had a mindset shift that I wanted to start my own business. I have a masters in Internet marketing, so I can work anywhere I have an internet connection. I launched a business in 2011 called Grow Web Marketing, a web design and development firm.
Fast forward six years, and my business had turned into an all-female design and development firm. At that point I started craving a physical product. All I did was work behind a screen, and I really wanted a tangible product. I asked myself, “How can I support my audience, and what am I spending my money on as a female entrepreneur?”
I was spending it on books, online training and office supplies. I like to surround myself with inspiring things -- instead of a boring black ballpoint pen, I want a pen with an inspirational saying on it. I thought I could package and deliver these things to other female entrepreneurs.
Did you have a specific “aha” moment when you knew you were going to go out on your own and start a business?
About four months into Sparkle Hustle Grow I had my first profitable month. At that point, I started making projections to go forward. Once I put those into a spreadsheet I saw the idea had legs, so I shifted over from web marketing and focused on the box.
I went to an event in 2017 called Boss Mom Retreat, a conference for women entrepreneurs who were also raising a family. Getting in front of my audience and being present with other smart, female entrepreneurs was validating. They liked the concept, so I knew that my idea was going to work.
How did you get started?
I did a pre-launch a couple months before I sent out the first boxes. I held a contest through social media to give away a one-year box subscription, and as a result, I was able to grow an email list. From there, I did a pre-sale, selling about 45 boxes, which provided me with the capital to buy the products for the first box.
I started with a budget of $0, and that first month, I ended up shipping 65 boxes I’d had custom made. I knew they needed to be beautiful because female entrepreneurs are drawn to well designed things. I initially purchased 250 boxes, and my goal was to sell all of them. It took me three months, but I did it. Today, we are over the 1000-subscriber mark!
How do you choose the items for your box?
A lot goes into choosing the items. They have to be pretty, practical, good quality and cohesive, as we have a theme each month. In the box there’s always a book, an online training and then products to support the training.
For instance, in February our theme was money management. We had a book called Work Your Wealth, a calculator and a budget book from Erin Condren. We included a notepad and pen set that said “Hustle and Heart” for Valentine’s Day. We also had planner stickers that say “Taxes due today” to remind our subscribers to pay their quarterly taxes.
Why do you think subscription boxes are such a big thing now?
There’s this level of excitement in treating yourself and getting a surprise. It’s one thing to get on Amazon and intentionally purchase a book, but the majority of subscription boxes have that element of surprise. I’ve had customers tell me they’ve received items they didn’t even know they needed but now can’t live without! It’s all about the delight of discovering new products.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned working for yourself?
Hire people you can trust. As you scale your business, there’s no way to do it all on your own. I outsource things I can’t do myself or others can do better. For instance, I have a director of customer experience who helps me manage our private online community. I have an accountant to handle money management and taxes. My first few years in business I had hired someone who really dropped the ball, and it caused me so much stress. I have since hired people who fit the bill better and understand my business.
Julie shipping off a load of 400 boxes from North Carolina (@sparklehustlegrow)
Tell me about the name of your business.
Initially, Sparkle Hustle Grow was going to be a side business to Grow Web Marketing. I thought the two could complement each other. I put “Grow” in the name because our mission is to help you grow. We’re super intentional about the products we put in there -- they will help you grow, and they will help your business grow.
“Hustle” is a word a lot of entrepreneurs and solopreneurs use these days. “Sparkle” was used to appeal to female customers. It’s meant to draw in women who like beautiful design and are inspired by beautiful things.
Why are you passionate about supporting women entrepreneurs?
In my first few years of self-employment, I felt like I was working on a desert island. I knew that, like me, a lot of solopreneurs get lonely, so when I started discovering these communities filled with other female entrepreneurs who wanted to collaborate and lift each other up, it was a life raft for me. It allowed me to grow, and I learned so much. Sparkle Hustle Grow provides our subscribers with a private online community where we collaborate, do book studies together and have a lot of fun.
What are the best and the worst things about working for yourself?
For me, the best part is having a flexible schedule. I really love being able to have lunch with our six-year old daughter, and I can do pick-up or drop-off at school. Flexibility is everything for me.
The worst part is loneliness. Working for yourself is a lot of pressure, and you have to make the all judgement calls and hiring decisions. The life of an entrepreneur is lonely. Sometimes I have to force myself to get dressed instead of wearing yoga pants all day!
What is next for you and your business?
We will continue to grow past the 1000-subscriber mark and seek out higher and higher levels of experts to do our trainings. Also, now that I have this specific skill set I can share, I’ve fallen into this coaching role. I have women coming to me who want to start a subscription box business, and they’re asking, “How do I begin?”
For me, it’s about helping other women, in person, at events and conferences. It’s a great visibility strategy for the box, but I also thrive being part of a community.
And you have a book!
Yes! I practice gratitude a lot, and it’s been a game-changer for me. One thing I did in 2017 to show gratitude to my community was to invite my subscribers to collaborate and write a book with me called The Happy Hustle. It’s about addressing the loneliness and finding your tribe.
I believe we should lift each other up and grow together. This book is something our subscribers can be proud of, because now they’re also published authors, in addition to being entrepreneurs!
Before you go
QB Community members, how do you get support from your fellow entrepreneurs? How, in turn, do you give support?
I've worked in print, broadcast and digital media for 20 years and managed to start a couple small businesses along the way. I love collaborating with and supporting creative folks who have great ideas. As Content Creator for the QB Community team, I’m excited to help other small-business owners be the best they can be!