Interview: Jennifer Covello, Founder, Frittabello

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Watch and learn as Jennifer shares her experience creating and distributing the award winning Frittabello baby gifts and My Life Journal.  From writing it to creating workshops, she shares the in’s and out’s of selling a product and overcoming customer objections.  Through the course, she discovers her true passion as a teacher and writer and creates www.parentingforpurpose.com.  Don’t miss this inspiring interview!

Don’t miss her upcoming tele-summit – Mom to Mompreneur Now!  Sign up now at www.momtomompreneurnow.com for a free sneak peek this Tues, Oct 2, 2012 at 1pm EST.

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Rachel: Hi. I’m Rachel Olsen, founder of Best Mom Products where mompreneurs share their adventures in business. Today I’m talking with Jennifer Covello, award-winning author of Frittabello Baby Journals. We’ll learn how she took negative customer feedback and turned it into another revenue stream. Welcome Jennifer. Let’s get started.
I would love to hear and I’m sure the audience would love to hear what year you started your business and how you came up with the name Frittabello and tell us a little bit about why you started your business.

Jennifer: Okay. Well, I started my business back in 2008 but I actually started writing the content for my baby journal in 2007 when I had a full-time job, so like any full-time working mom you work on your business at night and on the weekends and whenever you have time. I finished the journal in 2008 and then I published it, and after I got laid off in early ’09 I started to work full- time on the business and promote it, and that’s when things started to pick up as far as people knowing who I was and what the business name was.
You had asked about “What does Frittabello mean?” I get that question a lot, and mostly I get it from trademark attorneys who want to know if it’s a word in another language, and it’s actually not. It’s named after my son whose name is Christopher Covello and when he was a little boy learning how to pronounce his name that’s kind of a mouthful so he called himself Fritta Bello, and I named the business after him, which is apropos, not only because of the cute name, but both of my children have inspired some part of my business in some way. It really is a testament to them.

Rachel: That’s great. Tell me a little bit about how did you decide on doing a baby journal, and how did that come to be?

Jennifer: Like lots of moms, when I came home from giving birth to my son I wanted to write down every detail I could about those last few days up before delivery and also when I got home. I just started writing everything down that I possibly could and I never stopped. My son will be 15 in November. My daughter will be 11, or is 11 right now, and I still keep journals for them.
Several years after my son was born I decided that I really wanted to make something more of this. I thought it was really important for parents to record in some way, shape, or form, their children’s lives, and I’m a writer, so I love to write. I thought a baby journal that was a little bit more than the typical baby book on the market would be perfect. When I created it I wanted to make sure that I also put in my own experienced along with the typical milestone type of information so that it really ends up looking like a story for the child.

Rachel: When we talked before you had said something about it was kind of a dual purpose. It’s like “Who am I,” and you wished you had had something like that growing up.

Jennifer: When I had this idea I also was in my early- to mid-40s and trying to figure out “who am I going to be when I grow up?” I still haven’t grown up, but I’m getting closer to who I want to be. But I thought, whenever you go to any kind of career coaching or life coaching they always say, “Well, what did you like doing as a child? What were you like as a child?” I really didn’t have a good answer for that other than-the only thing I knew for sure is that throughout my life I have always written something, whether I was copying down my favorite song lyrics or writing in a diary, that’s the only thing that I knew.
I said, I really wish that I had some type of journal or book-there was clearly no videos back when I was a child that would give me a little bit more information, a little bit more in-depth information about who I was as child so that I could then take that in my life now and say, “You know what? That’s what I loved to do then and that was the truest honest part of your life when you’re really loving everything that you’re doing and it would have been great to have had that insight now.” That was my other thinking with the baby journal is that when I give these to my kids at some point they’ll get a really good insight into what their life was like as well as who they were.

Rachel: I did get the baby journals, and the first year I was pretty diligent about all those milestones. I know I want to hear a little bit from you. As you were doing this, we’ll get back to more of the business of how you created the book, but kind of the feedback that you got from people, and I think you had said people would say, “I don’t have time to write.” What were some of the negative feedback that you got and then how did you overcome that?

Jennifer: Well, it was interesting, the very first show I ever did, I had a woman come up to my table and say “No full-time working mother has any time to write in a baby journal.” It was my first show, my first everything, and I was like, “Ouch.” Then I collected myself, and I said, “Well, I’m a full-time working mother and I find time.” You always find time for things that you really want to do. That’s how I look at it.”
However, I’m also realistic and I understand how busy working moms are and what I did is I created a workshop for them where I debunked those myths and I proved to them that they did have time. The other thing that I heard a lot was that they don’t know what to write, and they’re not good writers, so I proved to them that they don’t need to be a good writer, and they do have time. Through some really fun exercises they walked away with a sense of accomplishment and even though they either, a, started and stopped, or never started, they could go back to it and start over.
Because my point is that while I would love for you to use my journal, what I really want to get across is that you do something, whether it’s a composition notebook or a video or however, whatever works for you, but do something. Don’t feel guilty if there are stretches of time that are blank because I have blank entries in my kids’ journals too.

Rachel: Once you wrote that book and you had it, how did you decide you were going to sell it, and how did you find, you found a printer locally? Tell us a little bit about that process.

Jennifer: Okay. You know, many small business owners doing something brand new, you don’t know anything, and I didn’t know anything about how to take that Word document sitting on my computer and turn it into a book. I was lucky enough to have a very good friend of mine who is a designer, and so I knew at minimum, I had to design the book and come up with a theme for it. I worked with her and she developed that, so now I have this beautiful- looking huge Word document and now I have to find a printer.
As I said, I was still working full-time, so I had all of my contacts and access to vendors and agencies. I reached out to a few of them to see if they would even do a project this small because they’re large agencies, and they were serving a very large global company.
One of them actually was nice enough to lead me to a smaller production business up in Rochester, New York, and I reached out to them and I explained what I wanted to do and they said, “Sure, we do that all the time,” and I just was like, “Wow.” There was lots of phone calls and lots of samples but basically I shipped them this PDF that was formatted properly for printing. and they made it happen.
There’s something very magical about seeing something that you create come to life and you’re holding it in your hand when a couple of years ago it was just in your head.

Rachel: Right. That’s amazing. I think that’s something that resonates probably with everybody listening. Anybody who has an idea for something, to take it from an idea to take it to fruition is a lot of time, a lot of hard work, and then that moment when it actually is alive and here. It’s going to affect other people and that’s wonderful, so congratulations.

Jennifer: Thank you. Thank you.

Rachel: Let’s talk about now you have this book, how do you sell it? What happens with the book?

Jennifer: Coming from a marketing communications background, at minimum I knew I needed a press release. I started with that, and I got some coverage in local papers and local printing magazines. I started to research different events in my area that I could purchase a table or a little booth and just start selling it one by one, and that’s really how I started off because I was working full-time.

Rachel: Okay.

Jennifer: All of this outreach had to happen at night and on the weekends and that’s not exactly when reporters are getting emails. There was a lot of wiggling of my time and a lot of juggling of schedules, but heading out to the press was probably the best first step because, in essence, as you and I were chatting about, it’s my name along with this product. In order for people to know about the product, they need to know about me.
That’s really how I started with the press and events, and then I just started doing a lot of grassroots marketing, joining networking organizations, handing out a ton of business cards, little marketing postcards about the journal and it’s little bit by little bit. That took quite a bit of time, especially when you’re working full-time, but then when I got laid off I had lots of time.

Rachel: Did you look at that kind of as a blessing in disguise, or did you know that you were going to go full-time with your new business?

Jennifer: Well, I didn’t know I was going to go full-time, but all I kept thinking of when I was working full-time is, “If I was working full-time on my business I could really do this,” or “I could really do that,” and so someone heard me and answered that request. There was something inside me that knew something was coming. Whether it was my business that was going to be the next step or something else, I just felt that there was something going on.
I was surprised by being laid off, but I wasn’t surprised, and I really thought that I was ready to take a new step and a next step to move on to something else. I’m incredibly grateful for my corporate career and all the contacts that I made. If anyone still has a corporate job, don’t burn any bridges because you’ll need those people at some point in your business.

Rachel: Well, that’s good advice. You run these workshops for journaling and you did that, and now you kind of have geared off into a new arena. Maybe we can switch gears a little bit, talk about Parenting for Purpose . . .

Jennifer: Sure.

Rachel: . . . is the name of your blog, and what you’re doing there, and how you’ve learned what resonates?

Jennifer: I sent out a monthly newsletter for my business, and what I was finding is that while I would make a sale here or there from my newsletter, I was getting a lot more comments and testimonials, if you will, from what I was writing as part of the newsletter. Something just clicked in me one day and said, “People are responding to what you’re writing, and maybe you need to take that a step further and translate that into a blog.” That’s really where it came from, is my monthly newsletter where I was really writing about my experiences and selling a little bit.

Rachel: Right.

Jennifer: I said, “You know what? People are responding to this. I’m going to do the blog.”

Rachel: Right. If they’re responding to the blog, then I’m going to ask you how do you get an income from being a blogger, or do you?

Jennifer: Well, I think that’s probably the million-dollar question. I think you have to make a decision when you start a blog that either you’re doing this just for the joy of doing it and whoever falls upon it falls upon it, and if Random House just happens to be one of those people and offers you a book deal, then yippee. If you’re looking to make money off of it then I think you really have to do a lot of research around advertising and affiliate marketing and plan that into your blog.
I’m still relatively new at this, and I’m enjoying the writing part of it and the comments that I get, and the sharing of it. The next evolution of that will be to move it towards some productizing it a little bit and even though you can still buy my Frittabello products on the blog, there are other things that I can be doing as well.

Rachel: How did you build your social media following? It sounds like people really connect to you through social media. How did you do that?

Jennifer: Though a lot of patience and a lot of really just trial and error. I think people have the misconception that they create a Facebook page and millions of people will find them. It really goes back to a marketing strategy and making sure that people know who you are and where to find you and that you’re always promoting your website, your Facebook page everywhere.
Even things like in my newsletter drawing attention to the Facebook page, joining other or liking other pages and asking them to come like you back. There’s lots of online events where they have a Facebook-I don’t even know what they call it, but it’s like a little Facebook camp-and you go follow everyone and they follow you back.
This is all wonderful, but at the end of the day if you have a gas station following you, and you have no connection to a gas station, it doesn’t matter that you have them following you. I think it’s really about quality, not quantity. I’m very selective with who I follow back and who I allow to follow me. If it’s not a match then it’s not a match. I’m not after a million followers that have nothing to do with what I’m doing.

Rachel: Right.

Jennifer: That’s not the goal.

Rachel: Right. I totally agree, and I see all of those things, “Follow me, I’ll follow you back,” and I think, “Well, it’s still building a business and its reputation and who you’re associated with.” You have to really make sure that you’re aligning yourself with people who not only have the same interests, but also are reputable.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Rachel: I think that’s a really good point to make. Okay. I want to thank you for being here, and I’d like to end with just a few questions that I ask everyone. One is I definitely would love to know how do you manage it all? You have two, it sounds like, almost teenagers, and how is that different? I’d like to ask you, how is that different from when they’re younger? A lot of people out there have younger kids, different age, how do you find managing business and family when they’re younger versus now when they’re more school age?

Jennifer: Well, it was interesting because when I started to write the journal my kids were much younger. This was five years ago. My daughter still took naps, and my son was probably around the age of my daughter right now, and it was tougher back then. At that time it was nights and weekends and that was it. There was nothing obviously going on during the day because I was also working full-time.
When I started to work on the business I told them what I was doing. After I got laid off they knew I was going to be home, and I told them what I was going to be doing. I had a little dedicated area for a work space. As they got older and saw what I was doing, they recognized that “Mommy’s working at home.” I do have the luxury of shutting off the computer in the middle of the day when they’re home and going and doing something with them.
Today I actually try and involve them as much as they can, for example, I just delegated my follow-backs for my Twitter account to my daughter and I told her what to look for, no gas stations, so she’s just starting to get acclimated to it. If she’s not sure, she’ll ask me, but now that’s something I don’t have to do any more. It gives her a sense of purpose, and she understands it.
When I’m getting ready for my workshops, my son will help me put my folders and my handouts together. I think if you can involve your kids and delegate some things to them then that takes the load off of you which helps you manage your time a little bit better.

Rachel: Right. And what a great thing for them to be learning about, from a business sense and responsibility.

Jennifer: Absolutely, yeah.

Rachel: Wow. I feel like I’m really looking forward to my kids getting older.

Jennifer: Well, bigger kids, bigger problems.

Rachel: Right, right. I know. Right. I’ve heard that. I have two girls. Everyone’s like, “Wait until they’re teenage years. It’s easy now”

Jennifer: [inaudible 18:00] hard.

Rachel: Yeah. Then also, what traits do you think that it takes to be an entrepreneur?

Jennifer: First and foremost, I think you need patience and you need perseverance because it takes longer than you think and it takes more work than you think. Even if you have the coolest, greatest product in the world, it really is going to take time, I think the perseverance-it’s tough to hang in there when you’re getting a lot of rejections or things aren’t turning out the way that you thought. The way that I approached that really was I tried not to look at it as rejection or failure but rather “What can I do? What can I fix to do this better or do it differently next time?”
Sometimes you have to be willing to walk away and say, “I’ve done everything I can. Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing, but I really have enjoyed this piece of it, I think I’m going to follow that.” What I tell even people that in my small business class is don’t be afraid to walk away because it’s not a failure, and you’ve learned a lot and that piece of it may be what will lead you to what you’re really supposed to be doing.
That’s how I feel about my own journey. I don’t think that while I love my journal and all my baby gifts, I’m not sure that I’m the best person to be a retail entrepreneur, but it’s led me to where I am right now, which is writing and doing workshops and speaking to moms which is what I love.

Rachel: I love that you’ve been so open about your journey and that you’ve shared that. Somebody else I interviewed said, “My business is an authentic version of”- I was telling you this- “authentic version of who I am and where I’m at.”
I think a lot of the times you start in a business and you feel married to it. You worked so hard for a year to five years on it, and you don’t want to let it go because you’ve worked so hard. It’s so refreshing to have that permission to say, “I have evolved, my business has evolved. It’s okay to make these changes. It’s part of my journey.” I feel like you’ve really shed light on that and communicated that really well, so thank you.
Interviews like this can be found at www.bestmomproducts.com. Please sign up for our newsletter when you’re there and Jennifer Covello’s Parenting for Purpose can be found at www.parentingforpurpose.com. Thank you and until next time.

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