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LeslieBarber
Level 6

Jenny Wong-Stanley Balances Work & Life By Bending Like Her Beautiful Wooden Planters

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Staying up late and bending wood until 2am wasn’t exactly how Jenny Wong-Stanley envisioned life with two small children. Nevertheless, she's found a way to make her new passion pay by selling her unique handmade planters online — and her future looks bright. 

 

We caught up with Jenny recently to chat about how she's learning to balance being a small business owner *and* a mom.

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Name: Jenny Wong-Stanley

Business: Art of Plants

Started: December 2012

 

What inspired you to create your business, Art of Plants?

It was sort of a fluke how it worked out! 

 

I taught science before having my two kids and planned to go back after maternity leave the second time around, but it didn’t quite work out. One day, during nap time, I was reading about deforestation and found a misplaced article on bending wood.

 

I’d never heard of bending wood before, but thought it sounded cool, so I found an old wooden ruler, steamed it and tried to bend it into a new shape. It broke in under a second, but I was hooked. Many attempts later, I found the right wood, applied just the right amount of pressure and finally got it to work.

 

At first I didn’t plan on turning it into a business. When I eventually started bending wood successfully, I had little sculptures all over the house and decided to give them away as gifts. My husband suggested I sell them on Etsy, so I set up my shop and sold a few items in the first week. 

 

At this point, I was still planning to go back to work. But when my husband saw how happy I was sculpting wood, he encouraged me to make a go of it instead of returning to teaching full-time.

 

Who was your very first customer?

Although I remember my first customer, a guy from the Midwest, my second order stands out much more. 

 

A woman from Florida purchased my most expensive item, a bentwood planter, and asked me to customize it for her. I had to research which type of wood would suit her environment — Florida has a tropical climate — and work out how to ship it there without it getting damaged. 

 

I ended up making a new sculpture from scratch, and a crazy shipping contraption that took an additional ten hours. I probably should have turned the order down, but it taught me a good lesson — be more selective with taking custom orders!

 

What's next for your business?

I’m not yet in a position to run Art of Plants full-time, but I really hope that’s what the future holds. 

 

I worked a couple of 60-hour weeks in 2015 and got enough orders to keep me in the black for the first year since starting. However, because I recently relocated from Brooklyn to Oakland, the business is up in the air right now. I'm currently trying to find a new studio so I can expand and make more ambitious pieces.

 

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What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?

I was naive to think I could juggle two kids with an entrepreneurial career and still have time to see my friends — I hardly have time to shower! 

 

My husband is very supportive, but he can’t help much because he works long days. Sadly, we lost our brilliant babysitter when we moved to Oakland, even though I begged her to come with us. I had no idea I’d have so little time. But luckily, my kids are very understanding.

 

How do you price your products?

Right now, I just try to make sure I cover my costs plus a little extra. 

 

In the beginning, I didn’t take my time into account. I felt I needed to sell my products for whatever I could get because if I wasn’t selling, I didn’t have a business. 

 

I still don’t account for all of my time, because some pieces take five to seven days to produce, which would make them unaffordable. When I start making bigger items, I’ll make more profit.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

 

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My husband and I both wake up with our kids and prep them for the day in a sort of whirlwind, then I walk the dog before dropping the kids off at school. 

 

When I get back to the studio, I go through emails and check social media. After that, I look at the list of things I have to achieve during the day and see where I’m at with each of the pieces. Then I go down to the workshop, put on my gear, turn the machines on and get in the zone. I work until 2.15pm when I stop, clean up and go pick up my kids.

 

Once the kids are home, I do mommy things like grocery shopping, laundry, making dinner and helping them with homework. 

 

When they eventually go to bed around 8.30pm, I get back to work. The latest I've ever worked during holiday season is 2am, but I make sure I keep things in perspective. What I do isn’t brain surgery, so if there’s nothing urgent on my plate, I always make time to see my husband and go to sleep at a reasonable time.

 

If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?

I’d get an accountant and small business consultant before starting, just so they could show me the path of least resistance. 

 

My current accountant is my best friend. She’s not afraid to tell me off, but I love her for it because it keeps me in check.

 

What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?

I’d love to know how other people who handcraft their products balance their lives. 

 

If I want to free up some time to spend with my family, is raising prices my only option?

 

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Do *you* have tips for Jenny when it comes to managing work-life balance?


QB Community members, have you learned that raising your prices is key to making more time in your business and in your life? How do you strike a balance if you work from home?

 

Share your story with us below! :-)

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