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.
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.
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?
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.
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.