From stay-at-home mom to launching a 783% growth business.

May 17 2019 | PayPal editorial staff

Returning to work after taking time off to raise a family can leave a gap in your resume. Instead of trying to climb back on up the corporate ladder, one path back to the workplace could be starting your own business.
Nikki Gentry’s path from corporate career to entrepreneur is a great example of what you can accomplish with a unique idea and some marketing smarts. In 2014, St. Louis-based Gentry launched My Dreamlines, which creates framed sketches of wedding dresses; in her first year of business, she saw sales rise by a whopping 783%.

Find talent among friends and family.

Ideas for businesses can come from your own talents and skills – or from a combination of your skills and someone else’s talents, especially if those talents inspire you to create a product or service. Ask yourself: Who in my circle of friends, family, or colleagues has skills I could use?
 
In Gentry’s case, that someone was her aunt – a skilled artist living in the south of France. After rejoining the workforce in marketing, Gentry was looking for an idea for a business that might allow her to work from home. She thought wedding invitations, with personalized sketches by her aunt, might sell well.
 
The wedding-invitation business was modestly successful at first, but not enough to allow Gentry to stop her corporate career. Then came the moment to completely reinvent the business – something every entrepreneur should look out for: when a business can go from ho-hum to runaway success. One of Gentry’s invitation clients asked for a sketch of her wedding dress. “I thought, that’s really pretty!” Gentry recalls, and she placed the drawing on her business website.

A bridal magazine got wind of the sketches and featured them – and the orders took off. That’s when Gentry quit her job to run My Dreamlines as a wedding-dress sketch business full-time.

Reach a new audience.

It’s one thing to invent a product, it’s another to keep the sales pipeline full. Like most successful small-business owners, Gentry knew sales wouldn’t just keep walking through the door – she’d needed to market the sketches. She also knew she’d have to broaden the audience for the sketches beyond the brides themselves. “There’s a lot of emotion involved in a wedding – people want to give the best gift ever,” she says. She began marketing the sketches as perfect wedding or bridal shower gifts for the happy couples, and sales took off.
 
Gentry then applied her marketing savvy to widening the base for potential buyers for the sketches. This is where creative thinking comes in handy for business owners – that is, considering where untapped customers might be waiting for the product of their dreams. For Gentry, the answer was men.
 
“The bridal industry doesn’t target grooms or husbands at all,” Gentry says. “I feel like they've totally missed the boat on this.” This gap looked like an opportunity: “I thought, what’s a great gift for men to buy on these special occasions?” She started aiming her marketing campaigns at the guys – in particular, touting the dresses as the perfect one-year anniversary gift for their new wives.
 
Gentry was fortunate that her instinct paid off, but she also wondered if she could gain some solid intelligence about what would drive groom and husband traffic to the My Dreamlines website. As every new business owner should do, Gentry researched new target audiences and tested products with them.
 
“I put a chat button on my website,” Gentry says, to get direct feedback from customers. “That completely changed my business. I learned exactly what the guys were looking for – they’d search for ‘one-year anniversary gift’ or ‘first-year anniversary gift.’ I knew I had to start marketing with those keywords.”

Work with great partners.

Small-business owners can’t do it all on their own. Gentry says that her network of valued vendors and partners play a role in her success. In addition to her aunt, she works with four other U.S.-based artists – and a high-quality framer, which keeps customer satisfaction high.
 
“I had a mentor, I had a life coach, I became very involved in the community and the Chamber of Commerce,” she says. “I just surrounded myself with as many people as I could, since I had no idea what I was doing at the beginning, and I didn't want to reinvent the wheel.”
 
Gentry counts PayPal as one of these valued partners. She uses PayPal to process debit and credit card transactions; she also uses PayPal Invoicing to deliver invoices quickly. “Sometimes a customer will add to their order, and I can send them an invoice within a minute, which they can pay immediately,” she says. “Everything is clean and simple.”
 
Gentry has also used PayPal Working Capital* to fund some marketing efforts, such as email blasts and upgrades to her Wedding Wire page.
 
Add new sales channels.
Just as small-business owners need to keep brainstorming about new target customers, they need to also hunt for new sales channels. Besides MyDreamlines.com, Gentry also sells on Etsy and Wedding Wire. “You have to have as many layers as possible,” she asserts. “Don't just have an Etsy shop – you have to be wherever your industry is.”
 

The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent business, tax, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.
 

*The lender for PayPal Working Capital is WebBank, Member FDIC.  To apply for PayPal Working Capital, your business must have a PayPal business or premier account for at least 90 days and process between $15,000 (or for premier accounts $20,000) and $20 million within 90 those days or within any time period less than or equal to 12 months. PayPal sales include processing on PayPal Express Checkout, PayPal Payments Standard, PayPal Payments Pro, and PayPal Here.