Nothing thrills me more than seeing a fellow SisterLadyGirl winning in business. In this case, she just so happens to be one of my oldest and dearest friends, which makes it even sweeter.
Meet Betsy Hughes (I call her Lou, which is her middle name), an award-winning, barrier-breaking, risk-taking creative genius. She is the epitome of the term #ladyboss. Oh … and did I mention that she’s one of my best friends?
She’s the founder of two successful businesses (BLH Consulting and Punch of Creativity), wife of #guyboss George (he designs home theater and automation for mid-high-level homes), and mom to 8-year-old creative prodigy Sophia (the apple of both their eyes). “Together, we are doing what we love and we live and happen to work,” she says.
In this revealing profile, Betsy opens up about how she turned her passion into a career, how she stays motivated and which Williams sister she prefers: Venus or Serena.
Pretend we haven’t known each other for the past 25 years and tell me about yourself, your life and what’s important to you.
I was born in the late 60s, during the end of segregation, however, I was created by a white woman and a black man. Given up for adoption at 6 months, I landed in foster care for a couple of years until my “forever” parents were paired with me by my social worker. Those “forever” parents happened to be white, and had a son, my brother. They became my family at 2-1/2 and now I’m 47. Life hasn’t always been easy in regards to being accepted, but the two biggest decisions in our lives helped make it easier. The first was when we moved to West Germany in 1983 when I was 15. I was finally not liked because I was American versus because of my skin color. It was refreshing to be in the same boat as my parents for a change. Exposure to other cultures, languages, customs, and influences impacted me deeply to be an even more open and accepting person. The second big decision was when I chose to go to Florida A&M University for my college education. Not only did I meet lifelong friends like you, and professors that are like family, I learned even more about myself and got even more comfortable in my own skin and left feeling I could conquer the world. I launched my career and climbed to levels I didn’t know were possible by (the age of ) 30.
Tell me the story of Punch of Creativity. What sparked your interest in this business?
I have always enjoyed expressing my creative side personally and
professionally. I started my career at Hallmark Cards, surrounded by creative geniuses. I caught the entertainment bug from my mom and my aunt who always made pretty big deals out of holidays; stressing the details from a themed napkin to a matching floral arrangement and place cards. So,during the economic downturn, when clients pulled back on marketing and PR, I thought to myself …”What else am I good at and would do for free?” I would always receive compliments for decorating and hosting parties and adding the special, personal touches to memorable gift-giving and events. I would often be asked for advice on “how to”, and I would give it away freely…and still do on occasion. But, to avoid heading back into Corporate America, I thought for a few days about what else could I do to bring in income, and Punch of Creativity was born. I realized that one of my strengths is helping to take things to the next level…to add a little punch of creativity to an event, an occasion a gift or a room. So, in addition to my 15 year-old PR firm, BLH Consulting, Inc. in Atlanta, I deliver my ultra creative side through Punch of Creativity!
I also created and trademarked the Pregnancy Brain Challenge gift/game. Individually customized, it features onesies with important and meaningful dates to the mother- and father-to-be. It’s a shower game like no other because it allows the mom to share a little bit about herself and her journey. The focus is on her, and she gets the onesies in the keepsake tin for the baby to wear near the dates noted on the front.
Who is your ideal customer?
Customers who seek my help typically are those who know they want
to do something a little more special but just don’t know how or don’t have the time themselves to make it happen. They are the people who prefer the unique gift giving experience versus the Toys R Us gift card. They want to stand out by having an event that people are talking about for days and weeks afterwards.
What do you think you’d miss most if you were not an entrepreneur?
I would miss working in whatever clothes I want to wear and being available to help my daughter’s school during work hours. As an entrepreneur, I pretty much work 24 hours a day (but) I can choose when I’m going to work those 24 hours. I can also decide how much money I want to make by how much time I want to spend working. I’m in control now of not only my time, but also my income potential.
Starting a company and running it for as long as you have is an amazing accomplishment. What keeps you motivated?
Freedom. Plain and simple. Having the freedom to call my own shots, work on what I’m passionate about, have lunch with my husband, visit my daughter’s school, generate new business the way I feel most comfortable – through true relationships, and not have to ask another grown person if I can take a day off!
What advice would you give to women trying to start their own business but don’t know where to begin?
First thing is first. Know what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Figure out how to turn what you love to do into a business that people are willing to pay for. Ask potential customers questions to see how you can adapt or change your offering. It may not be obvious at first, but think it through. Be careful about investing in equipment and products that require a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. Services can reap great rewards without the heartache of inventory and production. But most important, don’t overthink things to the point of paralysis. That’s where most people get stuck! I started my first business in five days and my second business in three days. I didn’t spend six months on a business plan. I knew what the minimum amount of income I needed to stay afloat was and that’s what drove me to make sure I could take care of myself. With passion, money comes, but even now, it’s not about the money. It’s about the freedom and the time it can afford me to spend with my family and friends. Also, become legitimate to be taken seriously. Become an LLC or incorporate. Get a business accountant to help you leverage your business write-offs. Have professional collateral and a website. My husband and I created the Punch of Creativity website on Vistaprint. It works! We’ve had customers from Florida to California to Canada and beyond. It’s been amazing!
Following are lightning round questions and purely for fun, so tell me the first thing that comes to mind for each:
What can’t you live without?
What woman (living or deceased) would you love to have lunch with and what would you order?
Michelle Obama. Although she would be looking at me with a side-eye because of her emphasis on eating healthy, I would order Alaskan king crab legs, twice-baked potato, a glass of wine or a margarita (which you introduced me to in college!) and key lime pie for desert.
Finally, your preference: Venus or Serena?
Both. They are a team and have helped each other be better over the years.
I think that kind of sounds like us. Thanks for making me better, sissy!