Empowered Women Empower: Julie Benson 

May 03, 2017

Name: Julie Benson  
Name of Company: Julie G. Benson Handmade 
Year Started: 2016
Based In: Charlottesville, VA till the next PCS 
Military Affiliation: Army

First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand/company
I took the winding road with a few forks to get to this point in my life. My dad has this running joke about my trail of W-2s. I have tried a wide variety of jobs in my employment history; everything from zoo educator to ICU nurse. I have never seen myself as an artist and never did I imagine I had a future in business, but here I am running a handmade quilting business.  Through Julie G. Benson Handmade, my customers can shop modern quilts that I design and make from start to finish.  Additionally, my customers can commission a custom quilt for something that is entirely their own.      

Why did you choose entrepreneurship? 
When I became a mom I felt uncomfortable leaving my son to go back to work the long shifts required in acute care at the hospital.  After my second baby emerged from the newborn phase I realized that I needed to flex my brain with something that was apart from my family but didn’t take me away from them.  A close friend gave me the encouragement and guidance I needed to get started with turning my quilting hobby into a business.    

 

What were some of the big challenges you faced along the way?
How did you overcome them?  Oh lord, the big challenge is coming soon...my first move with my longarm machine and the 10ft. frame it is mounted on!  I kid, that’s just muscle.  My biggest challenge is establishing trust in my customers; particularly with commissioned work.  It is a huge responsibility that they (the customer) take on to chose someone (me) to fulfill creative work and then to take a role in the design of the finished product.  I think it takes a really brave person to commit your vision to another, especially when you are working with something that is so personal and intimate like a quilt. Social media has been a really powerful tool for me in letting my customers get to know me. I gain their trust by keeping everything I post completely true and authentic to my brand, my work, my life.   

What was the defining moment that made you start your own company? 
I made a tummytime” quilt as a baby shower gift for a friend.  When the mamma opened it, she totally geeked out about having something that was so functional yet beautiful and unique.  After high fiving myself on good baby shower gifting, I thought, I can do this, I can help people give really special gifts to their loved ones (or to themselves!).  

 

Were you nervous about starting your own business or did it come naturally?  
Super nervous.  I remember the moment of my first sale.  I was climbing into bed just about to turn the lights out and all of a sudden my cell phone started making all these crazy noises; it was the sales notification from Etsy.  I was out of my mind with giddiness and disbelief, then, once it sunk in that someone actually bought one of my quilts I wondered if I needed to get back out of bed and go down stairs to package up the order.  Ultimately, logic prevailed, I got a good night’s sleep and prepared my shipment the next morning. After I shipped that quilt, I had to quickly make another quilt so that my Etsy shop wouldn’t be empty.  Looking back, I made it through those early moments step by little step.  As my dear friend would say, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” 

 

How do you balance family life and your business? 
I don’t.  Again, I kid...sort of.  My business is so labor intensive, my kids are so labor intensive, running a house is labor intensive, etc, etc.  I just do what I can, when I can.  I do well to remember that all things are a phase - a season, and to stay really fluid so that I can accommodate all of the phases of my life, my family, and my business.    
 
Do you ever get stuck creatively? What do you do when that happens?
Inspiration is literally everywhere and I try to keep a roving eye open for it.  I keep a little folder on my phone of pictures of things I come across in person or on the internet and I look to that folder when I need a little creative shove.  I have even been known to pause House Hunters International to take a picture of the TV because there is a cool pattern in the wood on a door in the background.  Thank goodness for DVR, right!?!  I struggle more with so much inspiration, so little time.  I have this drone image of a street in Shanghai that I am just itching to use but it is not happening in the foreseeable future.  

 

As we all know, starting a business takes a lot of time and dedication. What inspires you to keep going?
I am a nurturer at heart and quilts are a thing of great comfort.  I always tell my customers that I want their quilt to speak to them and by that I mean when they look at it, when they touch it, I want their heart to swell and their fingers to tingle.  My drive comes from the desire to make something that will nurture people in that way, over and over, every time they hold it. All of the pieces of my business lead up to and augment that moment for my customer so I try to keep that interconnectedness at the forefront of my mind.   
 
What are some pieces of advice you can share with other women entrepreneurs?  
With self awareness and feedback from others, edit.  In my experience, I have arrived at a business that I am really proud of by tinkering with all of the elements that make it go as I go along.   

Who are some of your entrepreneurial heroes? 
Every military spouse entrepreneur.  I mean, this is tough work.  There are many days where I feel like I am up to my eyeballs in alligators.  I stand in awe of every military spouse that runs their business, big or small, while navigating the super challenging world of being married to a service member.  
 
What do you love most about what you do?  
The people!  It is such a privilege to be invited into someone’s private little world for a brief time, to hear their story and to make that story come to life with fabric and thread.    

What is one of the most proud achievements of your career this far?
Every time I see a picture of one of my quilts in their new home snuggled up with their new love....that’s my proudest achievement.   

What's on the horizon for your company? 
In the somewhat near future, I am pulling away from Etsy and relaunching my website through Shopify. Etsy has been a great platform for me and is a great community for makers but I am really excited to stand on my own and to make my website the exact little corner of the internet that I want it to be.   

 

More about Julie:

Starbucks order? I’m a Louisiana girl, I’ll take my dark roast Community Coffee black please. 
Go-to workout? Right now I am having a great time with kettlebells and a Strategic Athlete program. 
Guilty pleasure? When I turned 24, my roommate got me an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins….I still dream about that cake.   
Your phone camera is filled with photos of my kids.  I don’t feel like I’ve done the day right if I don’t have at least one picture per day per kid. 
If you could have dinner with any woman, who would it be and why?  I would give my right arm to sit down with both of my grandmothers.  Everyday I think of a new question I would like to ask one of them.   

Connect with Julie:
Website  | Instagram | Facebook