Company: HIP Chicks
Entrepreneur: Beth Allen
Location: Ambler, PA
Website: HIP Chicks
Facebook: HIP Chicks Facebook
Twitter: HIP Chicks Twitter
YouTube: HIP Chicks YouTube
At some point in just about everyone’s life, they have the need to tackle a project around the house. The problem is that many of us do not have the knowledge, or confidence, to take on a DIY project, so we either call in an expensive expert, or hope that our handy friend is up for the challenge. This is especially the case for women, many of whom have never been given the training needed to be a DIY’er, as this is often looked upon as being a man’s domain.
Beth Allen of HIP (Home Improvement Project) Chicks is looking to change this by empowering women with the skills and knowledge to take on home improvement projects. While often times seen as a task for the man of the household (assuming there is one), Beth is looking to give women the ability, and confidence, to be handy around the house.
In this Talking Small Biz interview, Beth talks about how she started HIP Chicks, where she sees it going, and shares what she has learned during her entrepreneurial journey.
From registered nurse, to full-time mother, to interior designer, to handywoman educator, that is quite the career path, not to mention career shift. Have you always been good at tackling projects around the home, or is that a skill that you developed out of necessity, and later turned it into a business?
HIP Chicks: Well, I was always handy and I rearranged or redecorated my room constantly! I had creativity, but had always wanted to be a nurse after being hospitalized as a kid and never capitalized on my creative side. Growing up, our family lived modestly and within our means, so that meant hiring help was just not an option. We managed the home as a family. As a child, I gardened, mowed, helped my mom wallpaper, and I even installed a faucet at 17 years old. One time, my dad came home to find my mom and I had cut a hole into the wall and installed a ventilation fan. Out of necessity and interest, I learned to try these tasks at a young age. Now, I see these tasks as basic skills for any homeowner. I am trying to instill that same sense of self- reliance and capability in my sons.
Just this past summer, you switched business models from being an interior designer to becoming a handywoman who educates others (specifically women) on how to handle DIY projects. Was this shift a natural extension of what you were doing previously, or was it a whole new direction?
HIP Chicks: As an interior designer, I tried to educate clients how they could do part of the design project on their own. Basically, I hate to pay someone to do something that I could do for myself, plus I like to have the control. I wanted to give clients that same option. Some wanted guidance to shop for the right décor items or right sized sofa. Some wanted me to just pick it all out. I preferred giving clients the ideas, fundamentals and guidance, sparking their own creativity and confidence. I saw them grow as they started to envision the design goal and have such pride that they contributed to the process. So, I thought, “Why can’t I teach them DIY repair and maintenance?”, teaching them self-reliance, and saving them real money, too.
We think your niche is brilliant! You have chosen to not only provide handywoman services to a mainly female clientele, but you provide DIY education so that women can tackle general home maintenance, as well as larger projects, on their own. You educate both on a one-on-one basis, as well as by teaching classes to larger groups. What was your “ah-ha” moment where the light bulb went off and you thought this could be a viable market to go after?
HIP Chicks: I had been in the decorating business for about 3 years while teaching DIY workshops at a few venues. For years, girlfriends have asked, “How do you know how to do these things?” Then, in conversations about what “did I do”, I found that I got little reaction from folks regarding design work. In contrast, everyone was so intrigued by these classes I was teaching and loved the name, HIP Chicks. My mentor, Jamie Broderick of Network Now, helped me analyze where my passions and talents were. We listed “Hell yes, Hell no” options for furthering my business plan. Without any doubt, all the answers said HIP Chicks was the direction I needed to go.
Your goal is to empower women when it comes to fixing things around the home. Have you found it a challenge to convince women this is a skill that they need, or is there a pent-up demand for this type of education?
HIP Chicks: The answer is a little of both. I may never convince some women to wield a hammer; they may still choose the manicured nail over the galvanized nail. I happen to like both! I try to take the manly stereotype out of the equation, showing that you can be girly and capable, too. But I really want to focus on the women who are on the ledge – those wanting to do it themselves, tired of nagging and waiting on others, and needing to do it themselves for lack of money to hire help, but who are afraid to let go and believe in their own abilities. They think DIY is too hard. I say if you can give birth and raise a teenager, you can tackle a toilet. So, I want to inspire, motivate, and educate women to take that leap wisely and confidently.
There are many DIY resources out there. The book store shelf is filled with guides and cable TV programs have plenty of pretty projects to showcase. But there is still a void in the market. The void is in giving the basics. So many shows and books assume the viewer/reader has a general understanding. They often don’t. This is where DIY disaster begins. You have to walk before you run. I want HIP Chicks to fill that void. I want it to be a resource that guides women in a simple, clear, and engaging way without condescension. Humor is a must for the delivery to be engaging. I will use some silly and unorthodox means to inspire the ladies to start a DIY journey of their own. Let’s talk hot flashes when learning to winterize the windows or introduce leak prevention with a box of Depends. No one has opened the DIY door to women in a way that is very inviting. I want to do for DIY what Rachael Ray has done for cooking; take the basics of owning a home and make it a fun journey. Wow, now that I put that out there, I have a lot to accomplish!
You have been getting some great press on local television, as well as local websites. You also are a regular contributor to the Hatbox-Horsham Patch website, which gives you great local exposure. How did you go about getting this kind of exposure?
HIP Chicks: I have grown quite bold as I have gotten older, in a good way, so I just reached out to some local media on my own. I have not worked with a publicist yet and am thrilled that HIP Chicks has gotten so much attention so early on. I approached the Patch organization as a blogger. Editor Theresa Katalinas has been very welcoming, and it is from there that freelance reporter, Mia Gieger, sought me out for the article in Secondact.com. I sent emails to Amy Buckman, Philly’s ABC consumer reporter, and Joey Fortman of Real Mom Radio on BEN FM, simply telling them about HIP Chicks. Both responded eagerly and featured me on their programs. My NBC connections came from my business network, Network Now. As part of its mastermind group, we are given face time with local women in the media that can support our business goals. LuAnn Cahn and Tracy Davidson helped me educate their viewers through the NBC 10 Show and the evening news.
What other steps have you taken to get your brand out there in front of your potential customers?
HIP Chicks: By teaching workshops in the local adult evening schools, I have reached a large number of “chicks”. I have used little to no traditional advertising. It doesn’t have the reach that I need. I believe I need to sell me and the energetic fun that HIP Chicks brings to the DIY experience. You can’t get that in a paper ad. Social media is a better suited angle for HIP Chicks, especially video. I only began making videos a few weeks ago. My 13 year old son is my videographer/editor, and I think he has done a fabulous job so far. Should I hire a pro? Well, that’s costly, not time flexible, and goes against my DIY philosophy, so we are doing on the job training!
HIP Chicks has a FaceBook page, in addition to a Twitter account and YouTube channel, giving you a presence on the big social networks. More importantly, you are active on these channels, which is important if a business wants to connect with potential customers. What sort of social media strategy do you have in place?
HIP Chicks: The current plan to increase HIP Chicks’ social media presence is to target primarily single, divorced, or widowed women locally for workshops, but the larger plan rests upon building a flock of web subscribers large enough to command corporate advertising from products I love. That will support the more long term goals of books/products. It is imperative to have a large social media presence before I bring a DIY book to market or launch HIP Chicks products. I was thrilled this week when social media tools connected me to Jeff Devlin, the host of DIY Network’s “I Hate My Bath”. We met in person and chatted for two fabulous hours. He shared some invaluable insights on the DIY market. How cool was that?
How much time do you spend a week keeping up on your social media efforts?
HIP Chicks: I am spending about 15 hours a week working FB, Twitter, blogs, and You tube videos. HootSuite is a big time saver that I am grateful to have discovered. It helps me streamline time for posting content. But generating content takes up much of my time-researching projects, creating humorous deliveries, and making videos from scratch.
One of the great things about the Internet is that it allows someone to take advantage of technology to expand their client base from a local area to a national, or even international, scale. Do you have plans on expanding your business to include clients outside of your local vicinity? If so, how do you plan on leveraging technology to do this?
HIP Chicks: Yes, my goals are far reaching and I need social media to make it happen. I need to grow the following on Twitter and Facebook to draw chicks back to the website. When I have larger numbers on the website feed, I can leverage national products for endorsements and take HIP Chicks nationwide. I have already been contacted by a nationally known household product regarding cross promotion. Paid promotions are part of the larger goal. I am developing a DIY book/video series and pursuing product education through video mediums as well. I have a cool techy concept to pursue but am keeping quiet on the details for now!
It would seem that you are on the go a great deal of time. Are there any technologies that you use to help run your business while moving from place to place?
HIP Chicks: I’d be lost without my Droid and my laptop. Sometimes, my kids protest that I have two computers going and I’m texting on the phone. They just want to play Angry Birds. The iPad is on a wish list, but other expenses have to come first. I was recently introduced to HootSuite and I love the option of presetting my social media posting all at once. Now, my posts can happen without me being at the computer. Finding time to create the posts is still the challenge. Are there any techy devices available to slow down time? I need one of those!
The choice to become an entrepreneur isn’t always an easy one, especially if one doesn’t have a good support network. Some people just can’t fathom the thought of leaving the ‘security’ of their job and starting a small business, while others are openly supportive of the idea. What type of reaction did you get from your family and friends when you told them about your plans to start HIP Chicks?
HIP Chicks: Well, I am in a very fortunate position where my husband is in a stable career and that gives me a bit of cushion that others may not have. I have set very big goals for HIP Chicks and am taking time to make wise decisions, focusing on long term goals, and not a quick ROI.
My support circle has been incredible. Family and friends are my personal cheerleaders. I am truly humbled by their words of praise and encouragement. My husband is very proud of my progress; he has said for years that I have a lot of talents to offer the world and is thrilled that I finally believe it myself.
My business group, Network Now, provides me unending support. The group has so many talented and bright women who give me sage advice, connect me to other disciplines, and offer real friendship. The guidance from my mentor, Jamie Broderick, has been a key part of my progress. It is always wonderful when people close to you see something special, but when a newer person in your life sees your potential and pushes you beyond it – that is powerful, and Jamie has done that for me.
Finally, what advice do you have for the person looking to turn something they are passionate about into a viable business?
HIP Chicks: That is a tough question. I knew this journey was going to be hard and I have only scratched the surface. My mentor challenged me to turn a hobby into a business. But with that comes taking on business duties far beyond your passions and talents. I have never taken a business course. You may love to sew, but do you want to do it for money, have to sew it the way others want it, and do ALL the business processing to make it viable? Be open to advice, ready to work hard, and ready to learn more than you ever thought you needed to. It can work and work well; just don’t jump in blindly.
My best advice is to understand your limitations – family, financial, personal, etc. For 12 years, I was a full time stay-at-home mom. I loved every minute (well, ok, maybe not every minute), but came to the point where I was ready to work on something for me, about me. My family is very supportive and my kids get involved in many ways, but I still struggle with mommy guilt. I have missed school events and soccer games. But my kids are older and see the bigger picture. I work through this and believe what I am doing will benefit my family and so many others, especially moms. My sons see a smart, capable, confident mom! I think they are proud.
Building a business is not a sprint; it is more of a triathlon. Some days, you roll along the road, some days you are drowning in a sea of paper work, and other days you are pushing through one stage, prepping for the next. You have to train for it. Understand your financial needs and what you are willing to sacrifice to fund the goals. Understand that you will have less time for family, friends, and hobbies. Make a plan for child care, housework, errands, pets. You know, the list of things that you are responsible for that you will now need help with. Join a networking group, gather trusted advisors, and leave some quiet time for self-reflection. It is where my best ideas start. Remember that anything worth achieving is worth the sacrifice.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Read more Talking Small Biz interviews with other entrepreneurs to learn what they are doing.