By Todd Travis
Five years ago, Sarah Nilsson began making different craft items in the spare bedroom of her basement. She would make dresses for her daughter and different gifts for teachers and friends. At the time, she was working full-time as a registered nurse. As people began to see the unique items Nilsson was creating, they encouraged her to offer some of her work for purchase. She took that advice and began posting her items on Facebook, which quickly started gaining traction with her friends and followers. Before she knew it, she had gone from using the small room in her basement to using her entire basement for her at-home operation, Bella Rose Design.
The only training Nilsson had came from a sewing class that she took at JoAnn fabrics. Everything else was learned on the go.
“My first craft that I really got into was scrapbooking,” Nisson said. “I think as you utilize that part of your brain it just grows and gets bigger. That creativity comes a lot easier now than it did five years ago.”
When she first began, Nilsson used a machine called a Cricut, which allowed her to make customized items like t-shirts and cups for her customers. She has since upgraded to a laser engraver and can customize everything from wood, leather, acrylic, rubber stamps and more.
“I love making the items personally for each customer and the thought that goes into it.” Nilsson said. “What really keeps me going is seeing people’s smiles when they see their items. Their excitement makes me excited.”
Taking a leap
There came a point where Nilsson had to make a big decision with her growing home business. She was still working as a nurse, although she had cut back her hours as the business built momentum. It was becoming difficult to manage both schedules and she really wanted to prioritize her home life with her husband and three kids.
“My two boys have a lot of extra needs that take a lot of time,” she said. “So as I cut back my hours at the hospital I was able to focus on my kids and get them to the appointments they needed to go to. It finally go to a point where we had to decide if we are going to take the leap and make this business work or am I going to just be spread thin working two jobs?”
She concluded, “So we decided to take the risk, and here we are!”
With her full attention being on Bella Rose Design, Nilsson sought after as much business advice as she could find.
“The whole business aspect was completely new,” Nisson said. “As a woman-owned small business, I didn’t have any other mentors to lean on to tell me your fears are totally normal- one day you wake up and feel like you’re rocking it and the next day you feel like you’re failing.”
As a way to build a support system for herself and other woman-owned businesses, she started up the idea of women supporting women network. In addition to providing encouragement to other women, they are also able to network and help one another as they build their businesses.
“When you’re the one determining the marketing and your branding colors and fonts and your website, it’s a lot!” Nilsson said.
Dealing with the unexpected
In addition to the normal difficulties that come with starting a new business, Nilsson had to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. So instead of going to vendor events and networking in person, she turned to online networking.
“I pivoted my focus and started a women supporting women subscription box,” she said. “I wanted to support myself but also help my other friends businesses stay open as well. I was also doing online t-shirt parties where I would post my designs and people could choose their shirt style and color and size.”
As the economy began to open back up, Nilsson brought her ideas to a brick and mortar location: 1001 N. State Road 135, Suite B3, Greenwood.
“In the shop we have a t-shirt making bar which has T-shirts, tanks, hoodies, sweatshirts, long-sleeves from size newborn through 5X,” Nisson said. “People can choose their item and their size and either use my design or bring their own design. I like to think of it as a local Etsy shop.”
Opening doors to the community
As Nilsson was opening up the Greenwood location, she paused the subscription boxes. Now that the store is up and running, she will be re-launching those boxes on a quarterly basis starting this month. She is also opening up her store to local makers who are coming in and doing classes, teaching people how to make their products. A few weeks ago, they had a keychain and charcuterie class featuring two local small business owners. Upcoming classes will include wreath making, acrylic, goats milk bath bombs and more.
For more information visit bellarosedesign.com.