BEHIND THE BIZ // ASHLEY OF SUGAR & CLOTH

Ashley of Sugar & Cloth

 

ASHLEY ROSE // SUGAR & CLOTH

 

Ashley started the Sugar & Cloth blog in September of 2011 with the intention of sharing projects and life with friends and family back home. It blossomed into more including a new Sugar & Cloth studio and workshop space where she is constantly crafting and baking lots of pretties with her other half and resident photographer, Jared.

How did you two come up with the concept behind Sugar & Cloth?

I actually started Sugar & Cloth a little over three years ago on a whim while I was working as a waitress at restaurant. The only thing I really did in my free time was DIYing budget home decor and baking cupcakes, so Sugar & Cloth got it’s name through those two things and eventually it grew from there into what it is now — it definitely wasn’t overnight! Originally it was just an easy way to show friends and family back home in West Virginia what I was up to living a thousand miles away, and I had all of 30 pageviews a day and was pumped about it!

Once you knew you wanted to launch Sugar & Cloth what steps did you take to make that a reality? 

Because of it’s not-so-business oriented start, I can’t really say I had any specific steps in the beginning. Once Sugar & Cloth started growing and I was getting opportunities to work with companies I thought I could only dream of. They weren’t paid, mind you — I had no idea I should actually charge for things! That’s when I started rethinking things.

I got a DBA, tax ID (for my non-existent payments, of course), and opened an Etsy shop. No idea why I thought trying to run a shop from a DIY blog would work, but I knew I needed to make money somehow and I wasn’t charging anything to style product or make projects for brands or blogs online. I thought if I was getting product to cover the cost that was doing well!

Long story short, I wised up the hard way by being product rich, rent poor, and the post office’s worst nightmare with miscalculated Etsy product shipping. I closed the online shop after two months (and one month of that was shop sabbatical to try and keep my sanity) and decided I needed to start charging for my blog posts. I got the courage to tell a (quite large and well known) blog that I was contributing DIY projects for, that I needed to be paid at least $30 per post and was told no. So then I kind of gave up on making any money from the blog.

I met a lot of people through blogging, and ended up getting a new job a doing graphic design and photo editing with Smilebooth. I worked there for almost two years before finally making the leap to do Sugar & Cloth full-time this past October. A lot of little victories along the way taught me how to properly charge for projects and run things somewhat efficiently. I don’t know that I’ll ever really master everything that goes into being a small business owner.

Ashley of Sugar & Cloth

What lessons have you learned along the way?

You would genuinely fall asleep if I started listing all of the lessons I learned. Two of the most important lessons being not to compare my journey to others and that I can do anything but not everything. I used to get discouraged really easily by looking at numbers and comparing projects and popularity, and it’s just the quickest way to drive yourself mad. In case you’ve already done that, you can follow the second piece of advice which is hire out the things you’re not the greatest at or are your least favorite to do, to someone who does love it and will be willing to tell you you’re being ridiculous. Hence my boyfriend and resident photographer, Jared. He fits those shoes really well around the office.

What has surprised you about starting & running this business?

I was surprised how a lot of things that I was completely oblivious to owning and running a company in the beginning now feel like second nature. Who knew self-employment taxes could be so fun?! Just kidding. I’m only interested in that part for cute storage bins to sort receipts.

Do either of you have a daily routine or certain rituals you do?

We both have a general morning and night routine, but not so much so that we’re in a certain place at a certain time everyday. I’m not really a morning person and Jared is, so he’s usually up stroking birds and singing songs at the crack of dawn while I refuse to speak until I’ve had coffee. Everything in the middle is kind of a melting pot because some days we shoot projects in the studio, and other days we’re meeting with clients and sorting through emails. We just have a little pow wow of what needs done each morning or at the end of the day before to keep the ship sailing.

What hardships/obstacles have you had along the way?

My biggest obstacle so far has been the weight of realizing that a lot of things will always rest on your shoulders as someone who owns a company and has people working underneath you. My grandfather and younger cousin both passed away this past fall within a week of each other, and it happened to be the same week that we were the busiest of the entire season. Part of me wanted to find a dark corner and sleep forever, and the other part of me knew I had people depending on me and that walking away because I was hurting wasn’t an option. There are no paid vacation and sick days to use up when you’re a small-business owner, especially one of a blog that needs updated frequently to stay afloat.

Ashley of Sugar & Cloth

What do you wish you would have known going into this?

I wish I would have taken the time to learn more about general business practice and accounting in the very beginning. It would have made things much much easier, as opposed to winging it because that was easier at the time.

What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?

I have to get the most important things that I enjoy doing least accomplished first in order to be less stressed for the creative parts. It’s also one of the only ways I can really let myself relax at the end of the day without thinking of all of the things I should be doing in the back of my mind. As for staying organized, the easier I make it to file or save things on the fly, the more likely I am to keep it that way.

Highlight of your career so far?

Seeing “Sugar & Cloth” on the door of my first studio. If someone had told the girl waiting tables that had just started a little blog with 30 pageviews that she’d be standing in front of that door three years later, I would’ve never believed them.

Looking back, what would you do differently?

I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff nearly as much.

Best advice you’ve been given? Any advice that you’d give other entrepreneurs?

Best advice I’ve been given is to never think more highly of yourself than you ought to. In a lot of ways you have to focus on yourself to lead others successfully, but not get caught up in yourself and your successes as your identity is an entirely different story.

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Photos by Kimberly Chau