Balloon Business Owner Self Care Tips
As you build your thriving balloon business, it is very easy to put 110% of your energy and time into your business and neglect yourself and your family.
From 2003 to 2015 as I was building my balloon decor company, Party People in Lakeland, Florida and I fell into the trap of being a workaholic!
I was very guilty of of:
- Not getting enough sleep
- Not eating healthy food
- Putting off quality time with my family to work longer hours
Facing burn-out several times, I sold my balloon business in 2015. I now enjoy a bit of a more relaxed schedule as the marketing manager for Party People Events and serving as a mentor through BalloonCoach.com resources. However I find that I am still driven by work more than I wish to be and have to focus on making time in my schedule for me and my family.
Today I’d like for you to meet Rachel Porter, owner of Balloon Splendor in Mount Vernon, Washington. We hope that her sharing her story will help you plan your schedule to include taking care of yourself to help your business thrive!
When did you start in the balloon industry? I started balloons when I was laid off from my corporate job. My sons were 5 and 7 and I wanted to be home with them and doing balloons was a way to do that. Unfortunately, that spiraled down quickly. In my early days, the first 10 years of being in business really, I put the business first, putting my sons (single mom), house and myself second, third and fourth. My children resented me (we’ve since made up and we have a great relationship now), my family never understood why I had to answer my business phone even at the dinner table. I would cancel family get togethers in favor of doing that job. I was more loyal to the business than I was to those that loved me.
Did you have other income outside of balloons? For the first two years, I was living with a friend who didn’t charge me for the rooms we were using. I did have a part time job working for an engineering firm that a friend who worked at the corporate job I had started. I did his front office work and he rented the garage space in the back to me. That lasted for a year. By mid-1997 I was solo. My parents would offer to help with groceries on occasion, I think more to make sure their grandchildren were fed, lol!
What did you do to grow your business? I was an early adapter to the internet. I had a website in early 1997. The delivery business was quite robust because of it. When I did deliveries, I would hand out cards to everyone that commented on them, and sometimes would have new orders called in before I made it back home. I learned to keep order forms in my van. I was also an early adapter to cell phones, having my first one in 1994. I also did a lot of networking through my friends and family. That’s a class onto itself!
How did you get training for your business? Until 2007 when I attended my first convention, I relied on Pioneer’s QBN program and any lessons I could glean from that program. I also attended the rare Qualatex sponsored trainings that came to the Seattle area. I would comb through Images magazines and find designs I could do and change them up to make them my own.
Did you have someone working with you as you grew your business? My husband retired from carpet laying in 2007, so stopped materially contributing to our household income then. He did deliveries for me, errands, moving tanks and bases. He wasn’t much help in actual building of the decor. When we moved up to Mount Vernon, he worked minimum wage jobs for the first couple of years, part time until my business took off up here. He got a job at the school district working less than 10 hours a week (I needed him more hours). He worked for the medical benefits. He was bringing home less than $500 a month. And then he had a medical emergency.
What was your husbands medical emergency? A brain tumor. It wasn’t benign, but not aggressive enough to be malignant either. They removed it, did radiation, and I think the radiation was a poor choice. Had I known then what I know now, I would have opted for quality of life over potentially extending it. But it is what it is. The job he had with the school district insurance covered the surgery and rehab.
How has his medical condition affected your business and health? His surgery was in early 2015. I had a very good New Year’s a couple of months before, so I had plenty of money in the bank. So when his surgery came at the end of February, I was basically out of work for 6 weeks with him. I stopped answering my phone unless it was an existing customer I liked. A local balloon friend was instrumental in helping me maintain my client base in the Seattle area, offering to do jobs for me and giving me most if not all of the money earned from them. That karma has come back to that balloon artist 100 fold.
My husband lost his ability to speak, as the tumor affected language and speech. He knows what he wants to say, but can’t get it out. His right side secondary motor function was also affected, so standing, walking, using his hands… all affected. He required hours of therapy daily, and was improving wonderfully, until he came home. I live in a rural county, so home healthcare options are limited. So there I was, assisting him with everything. And because of the meds he was on, he had to go to the bathroom several times a night. So not only was I a full time caregiver during the day, and running my business, I was also getting up with him several times at night. I was literally exhausted, running on empty, and very sleep deprived. That lasted for a few months when I finally made arrangements for him to be put in a nursing home. My new goal was to help with his rehab so I could bring him home again. The nursing home was 70 minutes away in no traffic (I went after morning rush hour so I could get back before evening rush hour). I was gone 4 hours daily, 7 days a week. He made great progress. But never enough to come home.
It was finally in 2018, after another surgery, and two more nursing homes that I finally had to make the decision to stop being his therapist and just be his wife. The guilt of giving up on him was tremendous. I ended up in the hospital from the stress, guilt and extreme grief of it all.
Meanwhile, I am treading water as Balloon Splendor. I was such an emotional wreck that I still didn’t answer my phone. I have a handful of very faithful female customers who were empathetic. I could talk with them on the phone, through tears, and it wasn’t awkward. But because I always did an excellent job for them, they were willing to continue working with me, in spite of me crying through my jobs sometimes, being run down, being human. They listened, asked about my husband, they were very kind. My revenue was literally a fraction of what it was before, but because my husband and I have been debt-free since 2008, (except for our home,) it wasn’t a hardship to live on as little as $3k a month or so for a couple of years while I focused on him. Desperate times they were.
What discovery did you make recently at a doctor appointment for yourself? In finally coming around to take care of me, and having been fighting severe fatigue, apathy, and depression for the last year, I FINALLY went to a new doctor for may annual check-up. I brought him up to speed on everything and he ordered a LOT of blood tests. Found out I am low on iron, and extremely low on Vitamin E, both of which are causes for my symptoms. There were some other things that were bordering out of range, and other things going on, and it was a huge wake-up call for me to take care of myself first. I don’t want to end up in the hospital. Who’d advocate for me? My family isn’t local, and they all work full time. My mom has her own health issues and my dad cares for her.
When unable to work what is the cost to hire in another balloon decorator? I had a job recently at a casino, and when I was about half way through it, I suddenly broke out in a cold sweat, and felt like I was going to pass out. I was hydrated, I had just eaten, you know… going through the checklist… I was in bad shape. So I called a friend of mine, who is a CBA and a fully competent balloon person in her own right, and she was able to drive out and pick up where I left off and finished the job for me. I’ve learned to have a Plan B ready all the time. When I hire her, I pay her $50 per hour. I respect her skills, the fact that she is willing to do what it takes, and I NEVER have to worry about her trying to steal my customers.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
So think about that for a moment. What is your labor rate? What are you billing the customer? Are you charging enough that if the “caca” hit the fan, you’d be able to hire another balloon artist to step in and take over? Have you built those strategic relationships? Are YOU willing to step in at $10 or $15 per hour and cover for another artist? Some do, and I’m not judging. I know some artists who have a “token labor rate” of minimum wage that they charge one another, and if that works for you, fantastic.
Another thing to also think about, if you’re running your business solo, is if you had to ditch on your customer for a family emergency, is that going to break the bank? If you had to refund? Is that going to destroy your business? If the answer is yes, then I strongly recommend you build those reciprocal relationships as a Plan B, make sure you’re charging enough to cover premium labor if it comes to that, AND, to always have enough cash in the bank that you won’t go under if all else fails. Being a sole proprietor is very risky business. The stress of that risk isn’t worth putting you in the hospital.
What is your advice to other balloon professionals as they grow their balloon business? Learn from my mistakes, learn BALANCE. You will be a better balloon artist for it. You will be a better business boss for it. You will be able to give 110% when you need to. Including when you need to rest and recreate. The customer isn’t #1. Your business isn’t #1. You are. Without you, the customer goes elsewhere and your business dies.
What training do you offer balloon professionals to help them price for profit and plan for situations where they use staff or outside contractors? I have a Pricing Clinic coming up which I will go in-depth on the math, and will address the labor portion and why it’s important to plug in numbers that may be a lot higher than you’re used to. Having taught the pricing class several times already, I see a tendency to plug in $15 per hour for labor, and 50% for profit on the other end. My Pricing Clinic will reveal to you why that may not be the best strategy.
Any other words of wisdom you would like to share? A wise woman recently told me, “Rachel, you need to put your oxygen mask on first, then put it on others.
Thank you Rachel for sharing your story so we can learn from your situation and make plans for our business to prepare for personal and family situations that may arise. These were great Balloon Business Owner Self Care Tips!
I created BalloonCoach.com resources to give YOU the resources I wish I would of had back in 2003 when I jumped into the balloon industry full time.
I now serve as the marketing manager for the company I once owned. Johnathon Gerber is the owner and a Balloon Boss as he has a TEAM around him that helps market and run the business so he can have events going on that he knows little to nothing about and can take a family vacation and spend Sunday’s with his family knowing the team he has put in place is serving our clients. I share this information so that you know that it is possible to build a team to grow your thriving balloon business.
Your partner in success,
Joette Giardina, CBA
Mentor. Motivator. Speaker.
Build Your Thriving Balloon Business