When Jessica Chester launched Yard Cards by Jess in September of 2016 she had a mere 6 hours a week to dedicate to it. While such a small amount may seem daunting to some, Jessica took what she had and learned to make every hour count. Her oldest was in 5th grade at the time and she also had two young children in preschool.
If you are like me, you may not have heard of, or seen, yard cards before. Earlier this year, I stumbled upon Jessica’s Instagram page and since she is actually located in my city, I have actually had the pleasure of happening upon one of her displays when out dog walking a few months back! Jessica was first exposed to yard cards through her family, “Yard cards seem to have originated in the Southern U.S.,” she says, “I mean one of the mottos is ‘Bigger is better! I grew up in Kentucky and most of my family is there and my dad’s cousin owns a yard card business. That was my first exposure to the concept. I thought they were so fun! What an original, over-the-top way to share with everyone what you’re celebrating in your life. And what a fun surprise to receive!”
What a fun surprise, indeed! Jessica’s Instagram feed is full of smiling customer photos of both children and adults enjoying the surprise of a fun yard card. While the concept of helping people celebrate was not the first thing that drew Jessica to the business, her main thoughts originally were on the perks it brought her and her family. “Low overhead costs, self employment, flexibility,” these were the first things she thought of when looking for what work she would be able to do while still having time to raise her children. She was in for a surprise herself, however, and says “the absolute joy it brings me has honestly been very surprising! I did not realize how much it would impact me and my daily life to be part of people’s happy moments on a regular basis. Not only that, but I derive SO MUCH purpose and motivation and contentment from owning my own business. It validates me in a way that was missing before.”
Speaking of before, prior to starting her business, Jessica spent most of her career managing apartments. “When I became pregnant with our 3rd child, my husband and I agreed that I would stay home with our children. I was a domestic engineer for four years prior to launching Yard Cards by Jess.” Like many of us, being a stay at home mom was not all Jess wanted to do. “While I’m so grateful that I was able to stay home with our two youngest, being a stay at home mom didn’t fill me with the sense of purpose that I know so many moms derive from that role,” she says. “I knew I did not want to go back to work full-time when they were all in school as I wanted to be available to participate in all of their school activities, devote time to volunteering at their schools, and not have to worry about calling in to work if one of them is sick. Self-employment meets that requirement, as well as my desire to have more control of my work. I have a strong personality and this lets me do things my way, for better or for worse!”
Unlike those of us who wing it, Jessica did a lot of research and planning before launching her business. “I’d first been exposed to the business of yard cards several years before taking the plunge but I wanted my launch and business to be perfect from the start,” however, she says “that is so unrealistic! I had to overcome a lot of fear and perfectionism and finally just go for it or I’d have been waiting FOREVER for things to be perfect. I struggled with wanting to sink a lot of money into this venture from the beginning so that I could have a great website and wow people with my inventory and give the appearance of someone that knows what they’re doing. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we weren’t in the position to throw money at this business without first seeing how it took off and begin to make money back before reinvesting. If I had to do it over again I would have realized that entrepreneurs start somewhere and I didn’t have to begin at the top.”
Jessica recently celebrated her company’s one year anniversary and she is still trying to figure out a balance between work and family. “Next year,” she says, “all of my kids will be in school full-time and I’m trying not to rush this last little bit of time with one kid still home with me. I’m anxious to devote more time to growing my business but also have to remind myself to cherish this season of life. I struggle with getting into a work groove and being totally in the zone and then needing to pick someone up from school or get a snack for my youngest. I try to reign in the frustration and remind myself that they’re still my top priority. The reason I’m doing this business is to benefit our whole family!”
Even in the span of a year her business, and herself, has changed and evolved. While she says that she is “still fine tuning procedures and communication and basically all aspects of the business...I’ve learned some hard lessons too and hope to use them to grow and learn.” She has also “changed due to the confidence and purpose this has given me. Many people have commented on the change in me the last year and I love that other can see what this means to me.” When she first started she only had 6 hours during the week to dedicate to work, this year she has 15. She says that while “it is getting easier to make time for my business” there are also other responsibilities popping up as her kids advance a year in school. Their time is filled with “sports and activities and homework help.” While things like that do take up more time for a mother driving to and from activities and attending events, “every year they also get better at entertaining themselves and needing less from me on a minute-by-minute basis.”
Her kids also get a kick out of accompanying and assisting their mom. Jessica says that “they think it’s the best! I’ve loved to hear that they brag at school about my business or they tell me how proud of me they are. I’m so glad they’re getting to see me work hard and enjoy what I do! They LOVE helping me do cards when I let them. My oldest is in middle school so I’ve definitely put him to work to earn his allowance! The little likes to help me pick up the cards and usually tackles the small balloons and stars. It’s a great opportunity for them to work for me in the future and to give them some ownership of what I consider to be a family business.”
Jessica’s advice for other Mother Runners:
We’re all doing the best we’re capable of. If you’re rocking entrepreneurship, you’re already winning for taking the leap!
Our motherhood journey is full of seasons. That doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy them all but I’m working on it! If this one is rough, grit your teeth and try to enjoy the ride and know there is an end in sight. My mom always tell me the days are long and the years are short. So true!
Find a tribe if you can! Online is great too. This is such a challenging role and support from those who understand can be invaluable!
Connect with Jessica
On Facebook at facebook.com/yardcardsbyjess
On Instagram instagram.comyardcardsbyjess