Preparing for Motherhood as a Small Biz Owner – feat. Brittany DeSantis of Peak Paper Co.

February 15, 2022

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The transition to motherhood – It’s one of the most magical and beautiful journies that life has to offer. It’s also one of the scariest journies to prepare for, especially for small business owners because there are just so many unknowns. And if you’re an expecting mom and entrepreneur, you’re probably asking things like, “How much money should I be saving to prepare for maternity leave?” or “Realistically, how much will I be able to work when my baby comes, and should I consider hiring support in my business?” That’s why today we’re bringing Brittany DeSantis, the watercolour artist, calligrapher, and instructor behind Peak Paper Co. on the show to share her strategies for preparing her business to continue generating revenue while also supporting her needs and goals in her new chapter of life, fas she welcomed her precious baby daughter, Francesca into the world!

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Brittany DeSantis is the watercolour artist, calligrapher, and instructor behind Peak Paper Co., based in Alberta, Canada. After making a big cross-country move, she fell in love with the mountains and back in love with art. 

Since leaving her once dream job in marketing to build her own creative career, she’s proud to paint heirlooms for her clients, teach painting and writing workshops worldwide, partner with brands for products and live events, and create prints for shops across the country meant to treasure and inspire. 

When she’s not in the studio, you’ll find her sharing adventures with her family in the mountains, and loving on their precious baby daughter, Francesca, and their Boston Terrier, Bubba, whose cuteness is just beyond. 

Brittany’s promise for her business and to her clients is that everything is handmade and heartfelt. She believes that creativity, thoughtfulness, and gratitude are essential, that love, dogs, and babies are life’s purest joy and that art is always a gift worth giving.  

What led to your decision to found Peak Paper Co?

Brittany [2:50]

So, was on the first webinar that you two put out back in the day. From there, I ended up starting my business in 2017. I have always been a painter, but like most of us, I went to university, and during that time  stored all of my art supplies away under my bed for basically like a decade.

After that. I was building my career in marketing, and then we moved across the country. And I didn’t have any friends in the new city that I moved to, so my husband got me an art class for my birthday. I was super nervous to go by myself, but I showed up and as they say, the rest is history because it was just something that I instantly fell back in love with.

And then also, moving close to the mountains also inspired my business name, Peak Paper Co. too!

How did you communicate your plans with your customers and brand partnerships before you started your maternity leave?

Brittany [12:30]

One of my core offerings is custom pet portraits. It’s  insane. Like they sell out every month. And when I do those releases and I was so nervous to shut that down for like the three months when my daughter Frankie was born, probably like I said, more nervous about that than anything else in my business, but it was fine.

It was totally fine. Like those years you spend building relationships and marketing and having amazing clients. I really didn’t have anything to worry about, but I think over-communicating was really important in that scenario. So in the months leading up to me taking three months off, when she was born, I put out an Instagram post that basically outlined, , what was going to remain open, which was my retail and my wholesale offerings.

And then what, , I was taking a step back from while I was going to be away. So.  tried to make sure that everyone was super aware. And even though we think we’re being annoying by talking about things a lot on our social media channels, I think we all know, like it takes somebody an average of eight times before they digest the information that you’re sharing.

So I put out that post on Instagram and then I would share it probably once a week to my stories, to just, , again, give people a heads up. And then I sent out an email right before I left. And then I did like a summer update. Well, , Frankie was only a couple of months old. Just what we’re up to the first little trip we took to the mountains as a family and just made sure like people still felt involved and what was going on in my life, even though it looked a little bit different.

That’s very cool. I love that you were able to. I don’t know that you felt like you didn’t lose momentum, I guess, which is really cool. And that people should have more confidence in that rather than being afraid. 

How did you diversify your income streams and why do you think that was an important thing to do? (moving from live art and commissions to licensing, retail and wholesale)

Brittany [6:00] 

So, after I found out I was pregnant,  I immediately started to think, how can I start pivoting certain areas of my business, where , things like live events and custom commissions that require me and my hands to be a part of it.

How can I pivot to something a little bit more passive? So I was able to  diversify my income a little bit, and it felt like a slow process  over the months that I was pregnant

And so I was like, I want to start shifting my business to be hands-free for women when I do have a family. 

So like, in my head I was already  like making those changes at the point that I decided to  pivot in my business. Planted the seeds of a few different changes wholesale specifically. So it was actually a Cami, you talking about a paper camp and, proof to product with that inspired me right when I went full-time with my business, at the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic, I took my first a solo business trip to California and I did the paper camp conference and I learned I did.

Yeah, it was  one of those things where I was taking the leap to go full-time and it was almost like a little bit of a reward and something to look forward to, to go to that conference and  celebrate that big step in my business. So I went to the conference, learned all about wholesales.

So that was  the biggest, first change that I made was diving into the. And then I was sort of looking at, , what are my top offerings right now? What am I seeing the most success in my business? And how can I maybe make those a little bit more passive? And that’s something I think I’d recommend for, any small business owner listening, thinking of starting a family is to  see what’s already working and then if it’s possible to pivot.

So, now, after the pandemic, I think we’re all expert pivoters and I met a friend in a scene with Ross on the couch. So I completely. Went virtual with one of my in-person offerings like workshops. So I used to teach workshops in person. And then, during the pandemic, it was  one of those blessings in disguise where, I helped lay the groundwork for what I can do now virtually by going virtual with those classes at the time.

And I was actually contacted by Montblanc last may. And, they’re a global  luxury brand with the iconic fountain pens they’ve been around for like a hundred years. And that was super cool. So they asked me to be their virtual calligraphy workshop instructor. And from that, , people would be learning for, or looking for extra learning.

So I actually created beginners kits for watercolor and calligraphy and, , I was like nine months pregnant and could barely fit under my desk, but I was recording these online lessons to use during my leave, Instead of needing to be there in person during those early months of maternity leave, that people could still have that value from me and, and get what they’re looking for without me needing to actually be there.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while balancing business and motherhood? Can you talk about some of the positive aspects of balancing business and motherhood as well? 

Brittany [31:15]

So we  touched on this briefly, Cami, when you were saying, , like, If you’re not putting out a new collection as frequently as you are, there’s  this dull fear in the back of your mind.

Like, am I still going to be relevant? Am I still, , I’m going to be seen by my sockets as , being top of the industry are best in class. So I think that comes down to feeling that I need to be productive. And, and when you build your own business, like it’s, I think we all  feel that way.

We’re overly ambitious and we always have, , a vision for the future. So I would say the biggest challenge that I’ve been facing and that I face definitely in those early days is just that pull to always need to be productive. So like going from working crazy hours, like I think I was working an average of like, 50, 60 hours a week last year to then all of a sudden being in bed at 1:00 PM on a Wednesday, cuddling with your newborn.

It definitely plays tricks on your mind. Like, I know this is what I want to be doing and what I need to be doing. But that part of your life and your business and your personality and your ambition, it just doesn’t go away. You still have those millions of ideas that you did beforebut now obviously my daughter is my full-time focus.

And I would say now it  takes me back to the days of running this as a sid e hustle and the evenings and the weekends. And , like, as I said, Frankie’s my full-time focus. So now those evenings and weekends are getting taken up primarily with the business. But I finally read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Did you guys read that? I did know about it. Okay. So it was one of those books I bought years ago and I don’t think I was ready to read it, but I just read it recently. And there was  a quote about how most of the great works of the world were written or  painted in what she calls stolen moments.

So when those people also felt like they didn’t have enough time, I think we all have this vision of having full weekends to create uninterrupted and, , unlimited cups of tea or whatever else inspires you. And I feel like I’ve had maybe like a handful of those days in my career as a full-time artist, but the reality is like, that’s not my reality anymore, especially as a new mom.

So instead of getting frustrated that I only have an hour to paint in the evening or feeling like, , I need three hours to paint a pet portrait, or I need five hours to paint this new collection. I’m trying to just reframe my perspective that, , the moments that I do have, I’m really blessed to have.

Brittany [35:23]

What I  see as the biggest benefit of being a mom, and also owning your own business. Is, is that exact freedom that you were talking about is like, even if Frankie, when she turned seven or eight months, if she becomes a different baby and, requires like a lot more of my attention in the evenings or,  if we have to go home for an extended period, like you own your own business, which means you get to create those boundaries and communicate the type of business that you want to run.

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