Entrepreneur Spotlight: Madeline's Box Posted on 25 May 09:42

Heather Ferguson is the force behind the modern pacifier clip company, Madeline's Box. Not only did she come up with a completely unique product design, she's grown her company into a popular baby lifestyle brand. Often when looking at successful start-ups it's easy to forget they started from zeo and have encountered huge learning curves and overcome challenges. We asked Heather to share some insights from her journey so far.
What was the hardest or most daunting task for you once you decided to start your business? 
When I opened my business back in 2014, I was a stay at home mom with my then 3 year old little girl, Madeline, and 6 months pregnant with my baby boy, Ezra. My husband was in medical school and he had a grueling schedule, often not around. I’m not sure why I decided to open up a business during this insane time in our lives, besides the fact that I loved my product too much to not see it on the market. I had to learn how to juggle being a mom, wife, and business woman all at once. I often would get to work once my little girl was in bed and I’d work until 1 or 2 in the morning. I called myself a mama by day and a business woman at night. 

One of the most difficult times of my business happened just a few weeks before my baby was born. We live on the East Coast and we get some pretty harsh winters out here. That particular winter, we had a bad ice storm and black ice covered the roads. I was 9 months pregnant at the time. I can’t remember what I was doing (or why!) but I took one step out our front door, slipped, fell and broke my wrist and cracked my pelvic bone. Long story short, my baby was okay ( most importantly) and I ended up getting surgery on my broken wrist 2 weeks before he came into the world. There was nothing they could do about my pelvic bone and I couldn’t walk for about 2 weeks. I remember being in bed, so uncomfortable, and any move I made hurt like crazy. Walking at all felt impossible, I could only use one hand, and I felt like I had abandoned my 3 year old daughter. It was a very difficult time for me to say the least. 

I had only been in business about 3 months when all of this happened and I was too stubborn to close down my shop. I was a one woman show at the time: making the pacifier clips, fulfilling orders, answering e-mails, etc. Thank goodness for mothers because my mom flew in from Texas right away to help me with my little girl and anything else I needed. She and my sweet husband also helped me with my business during this difficult time. Since I couldn’t use my arm, I taught my mom how to make my clips, so she made the pacifier clips as the orders came in and my husband fulfilled and shipped them out each day. This went on for a couple of weeks. My healthy baby boy was born shortly after and everything went much better than I expected.  Thank goodness for family and loved ones! Once I could move my fingers again, I got right back into the drivers seat and started making my pacifier clips and fulfilling orders again. 

What about your product made you passionate to the point where you wanted to build a business around it?

When I was pregnant with my boy, Ezra, I was shopping around for some pacifier clips. I really wanted something simple, but cute. I just couldn’t find anything out there that I liked. Everything seemed tacky, bulky, or too long. Do you remember those braided leather belts we used to wear in the 90’s? This is what I envisioned when I was searching for a pacifier clip. I loved the thought of a skinny, simple, leather braided pacifier clip. I even searched the web to see if anyone was selling anything like that and I couldn’t find anything.
This made a light bulb go off in my mind and I realized I could try my hand at making them myself and open my own shop to be the first to sell them online. They turned out really cute and I went out on a limb and opened an online shop. I am big on the fact that baby items do not have to be tacky. I felt there was a huge need in the baby market for simple but stylish pacifier clips and these leather braided pacifier clips were just that! We’ve since added other types of stylish pacifier clips, headbands, and other baby items to help bring “chic and stylish” to the baby market.  

What resources or skills did you draw from to help launch your business?

Honestly, I graduated college in Elementary Education. I had zero knowledge in the business department and never thought in a million years I’d run my own business. What I did have, however, was drive and motivation. I love being creative and trying new things. When I was little, I used to invite the neighborhood kids over and I’d offer to paint their faces for a quarter. I used to do things like this all the time. I don’t even think I kept the money, I just loved pretending like I owned a business at a young age without even realizing it.
My dad is an entrepreneur and I think it’s just in my blood. I have 2 sisters who are artists and also run their own businesses. When I first opened, I spent many hours and countless nights reading articles online on how to better my business. I also asked advise from close friends who also run their own successful businesses. That helped a lot! I think I’ve become more seasoned with time and experience, but still at times - I just do what my gut tells me and I go with it. Sometimes I fail and sometimes I succeed. It’s all a learning process and I love it! 

If you could tell your fledgling self something at the beginning of your venture that would have made a big difference what would you say?

I love this quote by Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

What are some skills you've had to learn along the way to get your business to the point it's at now?
1. Customer Service: This is number one in my book. Being kind, helpful, honest, and giving my customers the best of the best. 
    2.  Learning to let go and let others help. It got to a point where my business was growing and I was in need of help. I just couldn’t do it alone anymore. Some advise I received from a good friend and a fellow business owner was to do the things I enjoy doing for my business and hire out everything else I don’t really enjoy doing. This has helped tremendously because I’m now able to have more time to be creative and grow my business. 


    5 Ways to Grow Your Email List With People Who Are Really Into You Posted on 19 Apr 12:02

    If you’re being real about reaching your ideal customer--someone who wants to be along on the ride with you and is truly into what you do--you don’t need to resort to spammy methods for growing your email list.

    Instead, capture the attention (and email addresses!) of the community you really want to be attracting by being authentic, genuine, and by giving more than you are getting. Here’s how to do it:

    Offer a free ebook. And make it a really, really good one. Not some vague idea that’s skirts around the details. Put your best stuff in there. If it makes you feel kind of funny that you’re giving away so much good information for free, then you’re doing it right.

    Offer content upgrades. Create a worksheet, cheat-sheet, printable, summary, or another kind of supporting digital product that complements an existing piece of content like a blog post. If you’re a freelance photographer, write a long-form blog post that’s all about how to get ready and dress the kids for a family photo shoot. To complement this post, develop a one-page checklist of all your tips in list form, together in one printable. Readers can join your list at the end of your post via a custom opt-in that delivers this specific freebie.

    Offer a discount. If you have an online shop, offering a discount code is a fantastic way to grow your list. Best part? These potential customers are more likely to make a purchase if it’s a coupon code that initially drew them to your list.

    Run a giveaway promotion. Set up a legitimate giveaway of your product or services. (Consult an attorney to understand how to set up a contest that abides by the law.) Here are some good practices to follow: Require an email address for entry, not a follow on social media. Post contest rules. Skip out on those “win a $1000 credit card” giveaways — all you’ll end up with is a lot of unsubscribes, or a lot of people hopping on your list who don’t care about your brand.

    Write guest posts. Where are your customers? Back to the family photographer example: are they reading industry magazines about photography equipment? Or are they reading parenting blogs? Be the expert in your field and reach a wider audience by sharing valuable content that helps your community where they already are. (Not where you are, deep in those trade magazines!) Close out your post with an offer to join your list.

    Anything I’ve missed? What are your tried and true ways for growing your list with authenticity? I’d love to hear.


    Written by: Rebecca Pitts

    Rebecca Pitts is a writer and children’s products designer. She is the founder and creative behind Hudson + Daughter. Each month, she sends an exclusive letter to friends who write, make things, or want to. Join her list here or visit her online home at

    Stuck on what to say in your emails to customers? Posted on 08 Sep 20:32

    The one trick to knowing whether you should hit send

    Have you thought about emailing your list of customers or readers with regular updates and news but aren’t sure what you should say?

    Today I want to tell you about a very easy method you should use to see if your content is up to the test. OK, ready for it?

    Your email newsletter should be, above all, useful.

    That’s it. Begin with Usefulness.

    Only you know your particular audience, so what’s useful for a recent college grad making her way in the Big Apple on a budget is different than the homeschooling Dad in the Midwest, right?

    Usefulness comes in different shapes and forms. Your email newsletter should do some or all of the following:

    • entertain and bring joy
    • inspire, motivate, and empower
    • educate and enlighten
    • create a sense of exclusivity
    • make it easy for your customers to purchase your products

    Your goal is to provide value. Give your best ideas away. Bring a smile to your reader’s face. Give early access to purchasing tickets for an event, or send an exclusive, subscriber-only coupon code for a deal. And mix it up! You can do all of the above over a series of emails.

    The trick is to balance the selling and the giving. I see business owners making one of two mistakes:

    1. You are selling too much. It might be tempting to sell, sell, sell in every message, but don’t forget your long-game. You’re building trust with your readers and establishing a relationship. You’re listening to their questions, asking them for feedback, and adapting your offerings. And, yes, ultimately you’re going to sell your products or services.
    2. You are selling too little. Get this--by selling your products and services, you’re helping your customers. I’ll say it again: When your customer makes a purchase from you, you are helping them. They don’t want to be making the thing, doing the thing, or researching how to do the thing themselves. You are helping them. Truly. Their purchase is just the next logical step in the context of a broader relationship where you have provided valuable, insider content. So make it easy for them. Tell your readers exactly why and how they can buy from you.

    It’s a balance, and if you’re ever unsure if you should be putting out a particular piece of content, keep coming back to the idea of usefulness:

    Is this offering, article, story, link, promo, (or whatever you’re sharing) actually useful for my subscriber?

    I have a feeling that if you ask yourself this question, you’ll get to the right answer, every time.

    Your Turn

    Establishing a relationship with your customers over email is a fantastic way to turn your subscribers into real fans and paying customers. Ready for the next step? In my free ebook, How to Create Email Newsletters Your Audience Can’t Wait to Open, I get into the details of list management and newsletter creation. You can access it for free right here.

    Written by: Rebecca Pitts

    Rebecca Pitts is a writer and children’s products designer. She is the founder and creative behind Hudson + Daughter. Each month, she sends an exclusive letter to friends who write, make things, or want to. Join her list here or visit her online home at


    September Desktop Calendar Download Posted on 01 Sep 16:01

    Time to refresh your desktop again! This month I am bringing you paper airplanes! 

    I wanted to share with you how easy it is to use your own quick illustrations in Illustrator by showing you what I did to make these airplanes. 

    1) I drew these paper airplanes on a piece of white scrap paper at my desk with an ordinary black pen. (Okay, full disclosure, I was really busy, so I asked my HUSBAND to draw some paper airplanes for me quickly while I hopped into the shower: MULTITASKING + DELEGATION!!) 

    2) I took a picture of them with my iPhone. No scanning involved. (HINT: Tap the picture and you will see a yellow box with a sun. Tap and drag up to lighten your photo. Ideally your photo will be bright white and dark black.)

    3) I texted the picture to myself because my computer receives my text messages, and I pulled the file into Illustrator. (I could have also emailed it to myself.)

    4) In Illustrator, I performed an "Image Trace" (the Image Trace button appears at the top in your control panel whenever you have a photo selected). I used the Image Trace panel to adjust the threshold as necessary (the threshold controls what is black and what is white in your result). 

    5) I clicked "EXPAND" (in the control panel). This made my image into editable Illustrator objects.

    6) I used the magic wand tool to click any white parts of my image and deleted them so that I was only left with the black outlines of my airplanes.

    Once all that was done, then my artwork became editable Illustrator objects. I ungrouped the planes, regrouped any disconnected pieces as necessary, and then I was able to move them around, change colors, etc!

    If you are interested in using Illustrator to create illustrations, take my classes! 

    Illustrator 100: Essentials: This will get you up and running in Illustrator. You can have zero experience or basic experience and come out pretty confident at the end! 

    Illustrator 110: Patterns: This class required only basic Illustrator skills. You'll learn how to make perfectly repeatable patterns using your own artwork!

    Illustrator 120: Paper: If you are interested in creating stationery or other printed materials, this is the class for you! I will bring you through printing basics and teach you how to format your files correctly.

    Illustrator 210: Illustrating: Use Illustrator as a tool to create your own illustrations! This class is an overview of several illustration techniques that harness Illustrator's tools.

    I hope to see you in class!

    Written by: Alma Loveland

    Alma is a designer who specializes in patterns, illusrations, and print design. Her work can be described as happy, modern, colorful. She loves Adobe Illustrator and has taught thousands of students to use and love the program as well.

    August Desktop Calendar Download Posted on 03 Aug 12:08


    Welcome August, aka “Oh shoot we still have a bunch of things on our summer bucket list” month! This month’s desktop calendar is a beach theme because I have not made it to the ocean yet, and I have got to get my kids there before school starts or else I’m a terrible lying mother!

    One thing on my bucket list that I did do this month is learn more about adding texture in Photoshop. As I use Pinterest to collect images that I love and that inspire me, I have noticed that many of the illustrations I am drawn to use texture. But I do all of my work in Illustrator, which is not an app that is very versatile when it comes to texture. Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to add texture and depth, and I cover a few key ways in my Illustrator 210: Illustrating class. But the texture I have been drawn to is not the type of texture that can be easily created in Illustrator.

    So I scheduled a training session with an illustrator I admire, Stephanie Fizer Coleman, along with my design partner Melanie Burk. Stephanie showed us how to layer texture into our document, and how to use brushes to add depth to our illustrations.

    What do you think? Here’s a before and after of my shells. The before is what I did in Illustrator. The after is what happened when I brought my Illustrator work into Photoshop and added texture and depth.

    Is this something you are interested in learning? Maybe I could convince Stephanie to put together a great class that shows her amazing process?

    In the meantime, enjoy a beach-theme for your desktop this month! Even if you’re stuck in the middle of a desert like me!

    And if you want coordinating printed stationery, I have started offering that every month as well as a $3 download over in my shop! Click here to check it out!

    If you are interested in learning Illustrator, check out my classes here on atly:

    • Illustrator 100: Essentials — Start from zero and learn what you need to know to be up and running!
    • Illustrator 110: Patterns — With even basic Illustrator knowledge, you can start making amazing patterns!
    • Illustrator 120: Paper — This class focuses on using Illustrator for print projects like stationery, calendars, etc. You’ll learn the best way to work with tabs to make a calendar like what you see on in my monthly desktop calendar downloads.
    • Illustrator 210: Illustrating — This course covers various techniques in Illustrator to create original illustrations.

    Hope to see you in class sometime!

    Written by: Alma Loveland

    Alma is a designer who specializes in patterns, illusrations, and print design. Her work can be described as happy, modern, colorful. She loves Adobe Illustrator and has taught thousands of students to use and love the program as well.

    Open Homework: White Ink Scripting Posted on 30 Jul 11:19

    (See $20 promotion details at bottom of post)

    I get a lot of questions on which white ink is best to use when scribing with a calligraphy pen. There are a lot of options, & it mostly depends on the paper you use, & the effect you're going for. In my experience, & the look I tend to gravitate towards, Liquitex Acrylic Ink in Titanium White ...more

    Student Feature: Sara Alread Posted on 22 Jul 09:50

    If I could live in any time period ever, I would pick right now (sorry, flappers). Why? Because in 2015, my husband can fix our washing machine…with YouTube. I can design a wedding invitation for a bride in Australia who found me from a blog post. I can connect with people all over the world with a hashtag on Instagram. It’s pretty amazing what you can find when you look online.

    While I was in college, I designed wedding invitations at a small shop in Athens, Georgia. After graduating in 2009, my husband and I were both freelancing and working full-time jobs. Working and designing for ourselves has been one of the greatest and hardest things we’ve ever done. One of the real challenges is finding ways to stay inspired. It’s easy to get stuck in your usual design habits when you work for yourself, and I never want to get stale.

    (photo by Jessica Burke Photography)

    Enter Atly. At this point in my career, I’ve been using Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign for 8 years. And I’m not even close to knowing everything there is to know about these programs. The best way for me to learn is to take a class. Alma Loveland’s class, Illustrator 110: Patterns, could not have been better. All those fun, silly drawings I was making are now fun, silly patterns. And those patterns can be whatever I want them to be — wallpaper for my phone, fabric thanks to Spoonflower, mini art prints. I love the possibilities.

    When my daughter was born in December of 2013, I quit working my 9 to 5. I knew I wanted to continue designing wedding invitations, but I also knew I wanted to start making other things. Thankfully, Eva Jorgensen took the time to teach Stationery Biz 100. Eva is someone I have admired and followed on Instagram and her blog for quite some time. She’s an inspiration as a business owner, designer, and mother and the perfect person to learn from. Because of that class, my shop now has mini art prints, digital downloads, and custom stationery. Plus, my phone has a list of about a thousand late-night ideas to add in the near future.

    (photos by Towson Collective)

    So what’s next? That’s easy. It’s Lindsey Buck’s Calligraphy 101. When we met at Maker’s Summit in March, she told me it was getting ready to launch and I bought it the day it went live. I’ve been using my handwriting in almost everything I do, but now I get to learn a new technique and a new approach. Internet friends becoming real friends is the best.

    To all my new internet friends: I’d love to “meet” you too! You can find me on Instagram (@alreaddesigns) and at my website Plus, I’d love to offer you 20% off my shop with the code ATLYLOVE at checkout.

    Written by: Sara Alread

    Sara and her husband, George, started Alread Designs in 2011. She works out of her home on St. Simons Island, Georgia while taking care of her daughter, Wren, and french bulldog, Walter.

    Student Feature: Keera Job Posted on 14 Jul 15:04

    ‘When I grow up I want to be a fabric designer’! I won’t start by saying this is every little girl’s dream, but it has always been mine. I have always had a great love of all things creative; to make something beautiful with my own hands and to express myself in this way is what truly makes me happy. I started quilting when I was a teenager with my Grandma – we laid out, cut and pieced my first quilt on her sewing room floor. There was love in every stitch and a desire to make so many more. I started LIVE.LOVE.SEW Pattern Co. in 2012 after I had my first daughter; I design and sell quilt patterns that showcase the fabrics I have to work with, and so continue to fall deeper in love with this medium with each new design and each new project I create. It is this fabric that I want to see my own name on – my very own collection for people to make gorgeous things with. I draw inspiration from the place and space around me, my beautiful home in rural Australia and my growing family. I aim to tell a story with my designs, to share precious moments in time and to help someone to make something truly beautiful themselves.

    I enrolled to Alma’s Illustrator 100: Essentials class on atly through the advice of some great friends in the quilting community. This class was the biggest boost of confidence in a world where I’m both my biggest critic and biggest fan {depending on the day!}. I purchased an Illustrator license, watched the class videos and set to making my dream come true one step at a time. My biggest inhibitor was feeling as though my drawings weren’t good enough, that I would struggle as I didn’t habitually pick up pencil and sketchbook, and that my ideas weren’t original enough. This class, along with Alma’s follow-up Illustrator 110: Patterns course, stepped me through the process, allowed me to make mistakes and celebrated my successes with me. I picked up a sketchbook and drew for the first time in so long, transferring my ideas, thoughts and dreams into my own collection, and into something that I am so very proud of. Rose Gold is a collection of my favorites – the color palette, the childhood memories it evokes, the motifs and the inspiration behind them. It is by no means perfect, but its mine and it’s a step towards making that ultimate dream a reality. I’ve had my collection printed on fabric at Spoonflower, I’ve ordered iPhone and device cases and covered my desktop in my patterns! I do believe that you never know until you try – I didn’t and now that I have, my dream is all that more achievable.

    I feel so blessed to have found Alma through this course. Her faith in her students, her honesty, guidance, expertise and insane talent are what makes this experience all the more amazing. I felt like I had Alma sitting next to me, and that she would have my back if I failed. I still have a lot of work to do, but I have renewed confidence in what I can achieve, and what I will achieve as a surface pattern designer. I’ve started drawing my next collection, inspired by gorgeous Australian native flora, and am so excited to see it come together. The skills I’ve learnt in these classes have given me the ultimate creative outlet, and have allowed me to share my designs with others. The response via my website and on Instagram {@livelovesew} has been overwhelming and the biggest motivation to keep designing. 

    This has been a path that I never dreamt I would be on, a dream I never thought would evolve into what it has, and a career that until now, always felt a bit too out of reach. You have to start at the beginning, and through Alma’s classes, and my design work since, it’s a skill I now say I have, and the title of surface pattern designer I attach to my name! Turning dreams into reality feels good!

    Written by: Keera Job

    Keera is farmer's wife, mother to two beautiful girls, quilter, designer and teacher for LIVE.LOVE.SEW Pattern Co.

    July Desktop Calendar Download Posted on 01 Jul 15:07

    Last month for my desktop calendar download, I used a pattern that I was able to complete from start to finish in under 15 minutes. Today's desktop calendar download features a bit more of an ambitious pattern. I created this pattern as part of a warm-up this Monday morning after having been away from my computer for a week, and it felt great to just sit down and create. I would estimate that this pattern took me about 3 or 4 hours to develop. Years ago, this certainly would have taken me a lot longer.

    I recently met a young woman who is just starting out in graphic design school. She is good with children and had thought she'd go into education, but as she learned more about design, she realized that she was also very interested in pursuing a career in graphic design and decided to change her major. I shared two pieces of advice with her that I have come to learn myself:

    1) If you are interested in design, the best thing you can do is JUST START. Right now. Don't wait for the right program at school, and don't wait for your courses to tell you what you should be doing. Just start doing something. And unless you are a very special exception to the rule, understand that what you do right away will not be The Best Artwork Ever Created. And that is okay and it is normal! But the more you create, the more you play, the more you experiment, the more you have fun, and the more you allow yourself to create just for creativity's sake, the better you'll get.

    2) If you are interested in design AND you are interested in children, then that is an asset. You can substitute any other passion here for children (cooking, accounting, business, outdoors, etc.). Choosing to pursue graphic design does NOT mean that you are choosing to ignore your other talents or interests. Your work can be informed and elevated by these other areas of interest. So you are passionate about children and education? Then as you learn to be a designer, how can your talent with children influence your work? What problems can you solve with your design because of your skills with children? What gaps can you fill? What can you think of that no one else has yet?

    This young woman has signed up to two of my classes this month, and I look forward to seeing her work this month, and I look forward to seeing her work continue to develop over the next several years!

    So that was all a round-about way to say, HEY EVERYONE, I have a new monthly desktop calendar that you can download and use for free! Yay! Last month someone suggested that I start designing coordinating printable planning pages every month, and so I am trying it out this month! If you want planning sheets to match your desktop, they are available for $3 in my shop!

    And if you are interested in creating calendars, patterns, or illustrations like this yourself, I recommend my Illustrator classes here on atly! In Illustrator 100: Essentials I teach the basics of Illustrator. In Illustrator 110: Patterns, I teach how to use Illustrator to make patterns. In Illustrator 120: Paper, I teach how to use Illustrator for printed design, as well as how to do calendars. And finally, in Illustrator 210: Illustrating, I teach different techniques of using Illustrator to create vector drawings, including using the pencil tool, which I have done here!

    Written by: Alma Loveland

    Alma is a designer who specializes in patterns, illusrations, and print design. Her work can be described as happy, modern, colorful. She loves Adobe Illustrator and has taught thousands of students to use and love the program as well.

    Free Birthday Card Download + Free Stationary Biz Advice Posted on 26 Jun 15:09

    Next time you need to wish someone a happy birthday, just download this free PDF, print it out, trim the edges, and you're done! I designed my animal sounds birthday cards with kids in mind, but I've found that adults get a kick out of them, too. And everyone appreciates a hand written note on their birthday (or anytime, really).
    Speaking of birthday cards, here's a tip for those of you looking to start a stationery business: Make as many birthday cards as you can. Although you'll want to have cards for a variety of occasions, when in doubt, design another birthday card. They are the biggest sellers by far, so no use fighting it! When I design a new line of cards, just the fact that a certain design is a greeting card gives it a much better chance of being a big seller. So I've learned to just go with that, and have even made collections of designs that are comprised of nothing but birthday cards. (You can see them here, if you're curious: animal sounds birthday cards and copper foil no. 10 birthday cards.)
    This may sound like a simple tip, but it's something that's not super obvious and yet can make a BIG difference in your bottom line. Take it from me, I learned the hard way!
    For all 8 years of my stationery business experience wrapped up in a pretty package for you, check out my classes: Stationery Business 100: Start Strong and Stationery Business 200: Wholesale.
    And enjoy the birthday card!

    Written by: Eva Jorgensen