By Grace Keeling
I’m a new business owner and a self-taught Digital Artist and Machine Embroiderer. I run a small online business called Grace Keeling Art. My aim is to spread heartfelt and humorous belongings through custom work. This is my passion.
I’m also a mama of two little ones and we are new RCMP family members. I have recently self-published my first children’s book duo, “Daddy Goes to Police Training” and “Mommy Goes to Police Training”.
How It All Started
Although I am very proud of my husband for starting his brand new career, I was not a happy camper about being a temporary single parent for 6 months. I channeled my stress into building a useful tool to communicate upcoming changes with my little ones.
I digitally drew and wrote a book for my son and then had it printed through a photobook company. I wanted to teach my 3-year-old son how to accept all of the emotions that come up when big changes happen. It worked. The book provided the language and pictures to help my son understand our situation.
As for my 6-month-old daughter, I made her a doll replica of her daddy in a red serge uniform. I had machine embroidered the details and hand sewed most of the doll together but I had little to no sewing skills.
My husband shared my little project with the RCMP gift shop manager and he asked if he could make some orders. This snowballed into a new line of products for my small business. I decided to launch a Kickstarter for an entire book series and custom belongings.
The series would follow my family’s journey with the focus being on my son. The Kickstarter was launched November 5, 2021 and it ends December 5, 2021 with a goal of $2,600 to help fund for printing, equipment, and marketing.
The Kickstarter would also light a fire under my butt to stay on task with a timeline and pledgers watching my progress so that I would actually turn my idea into a reality. As I write this essay, my Kickstarter has 50 pledgers at $2,271.
My Internal Struggles
Life gets busy with a small business, a toddler, and an infant with daddy being away. This was all made possible with the help of my father-in-law as well. When I was busy with deadlines and working away, my father-in-law would watch my kiddos.
I have leaned on him hard during the time my husband has left for training. I learned to accept help because that’s what family does. Family is a community. It’s love and connection. I opened my arms out to friends in the community too. Accepting help was one of the hardest barriers to overcome.
Sometimes I would fill myself up with shame in not being more independent. I would ask myself, “Why can’t I take care of my kids and afford to grow my business all by myself?” or “Am I the only one who asks for help in parenting and crowdfunding?”
I often felt like I did not measure up to social standards. That doing it all on your own makes you stronger and reliable.
Even though I had a slew of negative thoughts that poured into my head, there was also a voice inside myself that said that life isn’t a perfect set of situations. Things are different for everyone and that’s okay. Sort of the moral of the story in my children’s book.
My business and crowdfunding campaign filled a need in more than one area. Where I felt disconnected with my husband, I have gained connections in my community. I dreaded the times when my toddler would cry about his daddy being away, but I would look to this book not only for him but for myself. That it’s okay to cry and we have each other. That he’ll be back and we’ll be okay.
When I felt exhausted and wanted to give up, I had friends who cheered me away on the progress of the pledges. When my team completed their end of the project, I would get a burst of pure joy in the collaboration.
It’s ever so fulfilling to see creativity and ideas come into fruition! Through this project, I’ve learned that it’s a domino effect when you give or receive. Not just in terms of financial support but moral support.
As for accepting help from my father-in-law with the kids, I could see that he probably feels a great sense of dutifulness in being a grandfather. The bond he has with each of my kids is like no other. I am deeply grateful that he has been so encouraging and willing to help.
The Entrepreneur Game
I have learned that entrepreneurship is a game of trial and error. I have shifted my business so many times in the last 4 months. I’ve learned to be flexible, get up, and try again when products don’t work with the market.
I heard a quote once, it went something along the lines of, “Life is a series of paths. You just take one path and then another and another.” I think it’s crucial to let go of attachments to certain expectations. I do get discouraged when something I think will explode with popularity doesn’t pan out the way that I want but it’s also a challenge to find out what makes people tick.
Recent failures have included promotional items such as patches in exchange for a pledge amount for my kickstarter in any amount. I messaged about 20 past customers and none were interested. As for my campaign, I tried reaching out to social media influencers to try and do a trade of items or to ask people to do a shout out. I messaged probably over 200 people in three days and very few people responded.
It’s been difficult not to take rejections personally. The story and journey has been very personal to me. I am sharing a true story with the public and it can be hard to separate the idea of something from myself.
When I’m not seeing the results that I am hoping for and others do not see value in the things I am sharing, I feel unheard and alone. There have been times of self-doubt and moments when I feel invisible to the world. The self-doubt really doubles up when friends and family that you thought would stand by you end up ghosting you.
Despite the shortcomings I have experienced, the biggest thing that I have taken so far is the degree of love and support from family and friends. Although I feel disconnected from my husband while he’s away for training, I am gaining connections through friends and other small businesses too. It’s like a wildfire spreading.
In the beginning, I was trying to think out of the box for reward ideas for my campaign and I reached out to three of my good friends who run small businesses. One is a Digital Artist, Custom Beader, and the other makes handmade leather goods. Each person was commissioned to create custom RCMP goodies for my campaign. In promoting my business, I was also trying to shine light on their businesses too.
About a few weeks into my campaign, my old high school friend who I knew when I was 13-years-old reached out to me to see if I needed a hand. She was a seasoned Graphic Designer who had experience working on illustrations for children’s books in the past.
We went from doodling comic strips for each other in high school to co-illustrating a children’s book. It was one of the best decisions I ever made because she could do work in a fraction of the time I could which kept us on deadlines.
How I Stay Grounded
Answer: Gravity. Humour helps but also when I felt most overwhelmed, it was helpful to use techniques for grounding that I had learned in counselling sessions. I often got stuck in fear of failure. I sometimes froze or was so frazzled that I doubled up the tasks.
One helpful technique was to write down where I envisioned myself either financially/emotionally in the future and I put that on the far right of a page. Then on the far left, I put where “I am now”. Then in the middle, I would draw how I would get from “point A” to “point B”.
The exercise really organized my thoughts and helped me realize how much I have accomplished already. I have also learned to adjust my expectations so that they were realistic. Most importantly, it helped me focus on a goal but be in touch with the present.
The Future and Beyond!
About a few weeks ago, our family dog passed away. This has inspired me to write a book called, “Saying Goodbye To Our Dog, Sweetie” which follows my son’s journey in grieving over his dog.
I have included a marketing promotion in my Kickstarter for custom drawings of pets in promotion of this book. The drawings will be printed on pillows and mugs. I have recently started a Shopify account and am looking into dropshipping to focus on digital artwork.
I am a firm believer in community and volunteerism. I also would like to dedicate some work to the children’s hospital and will have a marketing promotion to create custom dolls for sick kids. My challenge right now is to ensure that my products are in line with Canadian toy safety regulations.
About a year from now or a little bit later, one of my biggest goals is to print my artwork on fabrics then to sew family matching clothes. I am in the beginning stages of learning now to sew and am attending private sewing lessons. I am working with a local sewing instructor to construct dolls.
For now, the focus is to get through the campaign, start the second book, and move to a different city with my husband’s new career, which will be my third children’s book, “Why Do We Have to Move?”
Straight out of high school, I knew I wanted a safe and stable career choice. I took a diploma and degree business program in Winnipeg, Manitoba and majored in human resources.
I moved to Calgary, Alberta and met my husband in 2013. On our third date, he told me that his dream was to be a police officer and that might require moving around a lot. I accepted the conditions of the relationship and here we are 8 years later with two kids.
I worked a series of office jobs that I mostly dreaded before I changed careers. I took a diploma program in social services specializing in gerontology where I worked at a few retirement homes in recreation.
I sort of gave up on working for other people after my most recent role in recreation at a Nanaimo retirement home where I was fired for being pregnant (yes, this was a human rights violation which we settled out of court). I had a few good runs with some companies but the last stint left me jaded.
At this point in my small business, I am making the least amount of money I have ever made in my life but it has been the most rewarding career in combination with parenting my children. If I win the top prize for this contest, it will go towards innovating a series of books and products for people and kids.
I feel super proud of myself for turning the stress of my husband leaving us for training into productive work that exponentially spreads happiness. If I can turn a hobby into something that works for others and makes some money too, I think that’s a job well done. I look forward to funnelling more funds to make more relatable products for people.