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How Insta DMs and Wine Inspired Two Artists to Launch a Creative Retreat for Moms
As a newish mom, I’ve got plenty of mom crushes. Some of them are those Insta-moms who seem to have all their shit together, they manage to take a perfectly joyful “candid” but high-resolution rose-quartz-hued photo every single day, and also happen to live at the beach or inside of a monstera-filled greenhouse. Most of my faves, however, are the gals who keep it real. At 7:05pm after a full day of momming, they’re rocking a topknot with a tall glass of wine, they’re back online, burning the midnight oil and workin’ away at their side hustle. (PS: Hi! Anjelika Temple here, mom to babygirl Anokhi, and Founding Partner/CCO of Brit + Co).
For today’s installment of Creative Crushin’, I’m pumped to share the story of Liz Franco and Danielle Kelley — two inspiring women who are work-at-home moms, full-time freelancers, AND the founders of a brand new creative retreat/summit/kumbaya weekend for moms, MTHR Collective. Full disclosure, I’m speaking at this beautiful outdoorsy artsy retreat, and am beyond honored to be able to share my take on motherhood and creativity with the community Liz and Danielle have fostered.
Now, let’s hear from these two on how drinking wine “together” (AKA at the same time while DMing on Instagram) resulted in a creative retreat for entrepreneurial mamas!
Brit + Co: Let’s kick it off with the basics. Tell us a little about each of your backgrounds.
Liz Franco: I grew up in a little cowtown just outside Sacramento called Elk Grove. The oldest of five girls and raised by my strong, independent Mexican mother, I learned early on what it meant and looked like to hustle as a woman and never stop working towards my goals... which is probably why presently I’ve convinced myself I can run two businesses, work part-time, and be a full-time mother. Let’s face it though, if there isn’t at least a tiny bit of chaos am I even myself?! I currently live in downtown Sacramento with my partner Joel and our eight-month-old little meatball Walker Hudson, building our dream life surrounded by the best family and friends.
Danielle Kelley: I grew up in Roseville, a suburb out of Sacramento (thanks, Lady Bird!), and in a family full of creatives. After finishing high school and two years of community college, I got it in my head that I wanted to be a surfer chick, a la Blue Crush, so I moved to San Diego to finish my BA in Communications in 2005 (I think I surfed 0.5 times in the four years that I lived there). In the year that I graduated college, I was desperate for adventure and much-needed perspective, and I spontaneously bought my first SLR camera and booked a flight to Cambodia (first international trip, EVER) to join other aspiring photographers from across the world. While I had zero camera-operating skills initially (caught myself pushing multiple buttons at once, like it was a Nintendo controller), it was this trip where I learned how to storytell through images, and where I developed my thirst for photography and compulsion to document life. Close but not too close to home is how I landed in San Francisco in 2010, and I landed a media buying job for a small, San Francisco marketing agency. It was the best SAFE job I've ever had, but my photography "hobby" was quickly becoming a passion, and that passion was turning into paid gigs, and the gigs were turning into shooting peoples weddings on the weekends, and I quickly learned that documenting someone's most important day brought me an immeasurable amount of joy that I couldn't experience at my desk job. I went full time with my wedding photography business in 2013, and it has been an exhilarating experience, ever since (with one million challenges along the way!). My posse consists of my husband, David, of four years; our one-year-old baby girl, Eisley; and Maddox, our massive Pitbull who thinks he's a lapdog and hogs only my side of the bed.
B+C: How did you two meet?
DK: Does Myspace count? We were really supportive Myspace friends for the longest time (hearted EVERY picture of all of Liz's new haircuts), but it wasn't until the last five years that we worked together professionally, and Liz took the creative reins by designing my website and developing my logo, and really kind of inadvertently taught me how my website and branding should be a creative depiction and extension of my identity, and how important it is to love the visual that represents us and our business.
LF: The funny thing is, Danielle and I had various mutual IRL friends and were actually online pals for YEARS. However, she and I had never actually met in person until we created MTHR. When we finally met up for our first official MTHR planning session, it was like having an easy conversation with a life-long friend, and I truly feel like there’s no one else I’d rather be pulling off this passion project with.
B+C: What inspired you to start MTHR Collective?
DK + LF: What began as a wine-fueled DM conversation on Instagram about wishing we could hang out and actually be able to clink glasses and swap our first-time-mom experiences in person quickly turned into a fearless “a-ha” moment of, WE should just make this happen for us and other creative moms who crave fresh air and inspiration. Since we both come from creative backgrounds, we wasted NO time talking about how much of a need there is for something like this, and instead, dove right in, IMMEDIATELY. We knew we wanted to create something exclusively for mothers — something that would be an intersection of both community and creativity — as well as provide a visionary space to share our stories and ease our identity fears. That single conversation is what planted the seed that grew and inspired the foundation of MTHR.
B+C: I realize the term "day job" is a little outdated, but what’s yours? :)
DK: When I'm not having a staring contest with my baby girl during most moments of the day, my wedding photography business keeps me busy. Half of my weddings are destination weddings, so traveling is a huge part of the job, along with editing my face off in between naps :)
LF: When MTHR isn’t keeping me busy, I’m pushing pixels for my clients as a freelance graphic designer and ugly-crying with pride whenever my eight-month-old does something amazing like successfully manage getting a puff into his mouth using the pincer grasp. I also work part-time as a stylist for Stitch Fix and dabble in social media marketing as a content creator. Like I said before... organized chaos is kind of my jam.
B+C: How has being a mother changed how you approach your work? How has it changed how you make art?
LF: The most important lesson I’ve learned as a self-employed mother is that my time and talents are invaluable. My son is priority one of course, but with everything else, if it’s not helping me get my family or business to the next level, chances are it’s not making it on my to-do list. I actually recently upped my services pricing to reflect this which I was suuuuper nervous about, but it’s been so refreshing to be supported by my clients who understand and in turn, truly value me, my work, and most importantly, my time. It’s affected which projects I take on and what I say “yes” to. Quality over quantity. My office hours have also changed quite a bit since becoming a mom — I get the bulk of my work done after 7pm after Walker goes to sleep. Danielle and I refer to this time as our “night owl office hours.” Complete with wine, of course.
DK: I kind of look at everything through this new lens of, "Will this serve both me and my family?", and that helps me decide what creative projects I should sign on to, and which ones I need to pass on. I think it has also shaped my art in the sense that I'm SO much better at documenting the everyday with my daughter, and care less about the perfect composition of an image — "the moment" means more to me than ever before, and I've been applying this approach to my wedding photography as of late.
B+C: Did you always know what you wanted to work for yourself?
DK: I knew I wanted to be my own boss the second I shot my first wedding, while still working full-time for a marketing agency. My marketing job felt very secure but brought me little joy, while the other one brought me ALL the joy, and actually a decent wage that I created... it felt obvious at the time that I need to pour myself into this new photography business, but it took time and a nice financial "cushion" to help create that strategy.
LF: Not always, but it became remarkably clear after I worked in a cubicle for six years and felt like the life was getting sucked out of me. There was a company-wide layoff of everyone with my position and honestly it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced me to start taking the steps towards “Operation: Flee The Cubicle” and really hone in on what I wanted to be doing. I was already blogging from my desk during my lunch hour and sneaking onto sites like Dribbble and Pinterest when my boss wasn’t looking, so it was obvious my heart and my passion were in the creative field and I just needed that extra push. For the next two years, I worked as the Marketing + Social Media Director for a cluster of bar/restaurants, which gave me a taste of the creative freedom I’d been after. Once my partner and I decided to start a family and we had Walker, we decided I’d finally take the plunge and stay home and work for myself while raising our son. It was the best decision ever, albeit challenging at times.
B+C: What other boss mamas do you look up to?
LF: I’ve got a super mom crush on Jessica from @jessicarowland_. She’s also a mompreneur running her own business and navigating motherhood. She’s also a girl after my own heart who always has a glass of wine nearby. Even though she’s not a mom yet, another huge source of inspiration for me is my sister-in-law @jaclynrjohnson, who is the founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate and is basically #goals when it comes to women entrepreneurs.
DK: I love author and blogger, Jordan Reid from Ramshackle Glam, and her unapologetic approach to all things motherhood. She's not your average, seemingly perfect mom you may find on Instagram, and instead keeps it SO REAL with her honest writing approach. She is our keynote speaker for MTHR this year, and I will race all of our attendees to the front row of our panel to hear her speak. Actress/filmmaker Eileen Vander Leun is also a forever-inspiration of mine, and is currently making a film that addresses the societal shift towards women choosing to have children later in life. LIFE Bonus that she is also my sister-in-law.
B+C: How do you balance motherhood and work?
DK: BOUNDARIES. Practicing saying no to projects that don't serve me, and learning how to ask for help. It took me nine months to realize that I desperately needed some semblance of help in order to rectify the imbalance I was experiencing as a new mom, and hiring a babysitter for one day a week was EVERYTHING.
LF: Honestly, I’m still figuring that out. It’s hard. Some days I’m on TOP of it — I get all my work done and still have time to take Walker to the park and tidy up the house. And some days, I’m lucky if either of us put on actual pants. I’ve learned to give myself grace and not feel super guilty if I don’t meet a deadline or make DIY play-doh that day. I’m actually currently looking into getting some extra help in the form of childcare twice a week, which will make my schedule a lot more manageable.
B+C: What does your support system look like?
DK: A kickass, active husband that encourages me to make weekly (+ childless) dinner plans with my friends, a wonderful babysitter that encourages date nights, semi-local family members that beg for Eisley time, and COFFEE for truly being there for me when I look and feel like the crypt keeper.
LF: First and foremost, I’m beyond lucky to have the best partner and father to our son. He works two jobs so that I can stay home with our little bambino and also continue to cultivate my creative endeavors. He is always supporting me in pursuing my hustle and is definitely the calm to my storm. I also never underestimate the power of the Instagram mom community. I’ve encountered SO many awesome women from there who are in the trenches of motherhood right alongside with me, who never judge me when I send a DM asking “Am I a jerk for counting down the minutes to baby’s bedtime?” Last but definitely not least, Danielle is a daily source of support and pep-talks who I am SO grateful for. She definitely keeps me grounded when I feel like I’m going off the rails — could not ask for a better work-wife!
B+C: When you’re in a rut or experiencing burnout, how do you reset?
DK: I like to find something totally new and random to try out: A new workout class, a nearby hiking trail, a recipe, etc. I love finding other avenues that bring me joy, and learning through the process that we can have many passions.
LF: I take a few days off from social media and my phone in general and just spend time with my family. We live in an age where there is SO MUCH information and it's constantly getting shoved down our throats at every turn. We tend to forget we are in control of hitting that power button on our phones, TVs, laptops and other gadgets. I go on a walk every day just to get us outside and in the fresh air, which really helps.
B+C: How do you set boundaries for yourself as a working stay-at-home mom?
DK: Implementing office hours in my email signature has been my newest victory in my quest to set better work-from-home boundaries, and helps to alleviate the pressure of feeling the need to respond to all emails, immediately. My one day a week babysitter arrangement also allows me to sit behind my computer screen at a local coffee shop, guilt-free, so that by the time I get home, I am fully present and my peek-a-boo game is STRONG.
LF: I just try to be as intentional as possible. Like I mentioned before, social media can be a real distraction for me to where I will just sit there and waste time scrolling, so I will literally leave my phone in another room so that I can focus on the task at hand. Since becoming a mom, I also have no problem straight up saying no to something if it interferes with our schedule — whether it be Walker’s sleep or my work!
B+C: What advice would you give to other mothers looking to start their own business or side hustle?
DK: I'd say it's a combination of "Leap and the net will appear" PLUS hustle to build your financial cushion, prior to taking that leap. Find your support group and take your mentors to coffee — gather as many different perspectives from other creatives, and write out your resources. Also: NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK.
LF: Know your audience and choose your business partner (if applicable) wisely. Chances are, the industry you’re breaking into has some form of competition or similar business models so you’ll want to do your research. It’s nice if the person hustling alongside you possess a skill set varied from yours so that together you can accomplish most tasks until you’re successful enough to hire a team. Also be prepared for wine to be a large part of your monthly budget.
Pump-up Tune: "Too$hort," "Blow The Whistle" (will be the first person on any dance floor when these songs come on, just ask my husband... he gets really embarrassed every time)
Favorite Quote: "Every person on this planet was born out of the body of a woman." - Anne Klein
Trivia About You: I was randomly brought on stage during a Color Me Badd concert and they serenaded my eight-year-old self, and my life still hasn't been the same.
Favorite Mom Gadget: Not much of a gadget, but Baby Paper kept my kid happy on an 18-hour road trip, so I'm going to go with that one.
Skincare Essential: Primally Pure's Cleansing Oil for dry skin has been saving my life/face lately.
Pump-Up Tunes: "This Girl" by Kungs Vs. Cookin’ On 3 Burners. Also obsessed with everything Drake does, much to Joel’s dismay.
Favorite Quote: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Trivia About You: I have a severe, irrational aversion to praying mantises. Like, I legit freak out if I even see a PHOTO of one; my friends think its funny to text me pics of them... I think they have a death wish?
Favorite Mom Gadget: I’m no longer breastfeeding but when I was, Willow, which is a wearable hands-free breast pump, was a total game changer for us.
Beauty Essential: I get so many questions/compliments about my lashes and it’s all thanks to GrandeLash eyelash serum. So good and beats the upkeep that comes with extensions.
B+C: Back to MTHR Co, what do you hope attendees get out of this weekend retreat?
DK: We want our attendees to absorb in the relaxed environment we've curated for the weekend, and to utilize this platform to connect, share our stories, and ease our (identity) fears, with the, "we're all just doing our best" mantra in mind. The end goal would be that everyone would leave feeling majorly supported, and like they have a go-to community of 35 incredible women that can lean on and learn from.
LF: I just want each of our moms to get the chance to feel like they are truly “getting away” for those few days and feel empowered to head back home and pull the trigger on that creative endeavor they may be putting off. I will feel 100000 percent accomplished if by the end of it if someone comes up to me and simply says, “Thank you. This weekend was exactly what I needed and I made a bunch of new friends. I can’t wait to come back next year!”
B+C: What other conferences or workshops have you been to and loved?
DK: Yeah Field Trip was wildly inspiring and satiated my quest to have a tight-knit photography community, while anything In Good Company puts on has continued to be beautifully inspiring, and I've met the loveliest moms at these events.
LF: We recently had a blast at the Create & Cultivate pop up in San Francisco and a pre-Mother’s Day celebration put on by In Good Company — both of which featured some really amazing women in small business and mothers chasing both their toddlers and dreams. It’s amazing when you can walk away feeling completely inspired and motivated to continue working on your business as opposed to feeling insecure or inadequate.
B+C: Got any other side hustles up your sleeve?
LF: I think three jobs is enough for now, hahaha. I do, however, have a half-cooked idea for making and selling my own bath bombs; it’s been on the back burner for a couple of years. Maybe someday!
DF: Anyone want to go in on a Kickstarter with me on how to make our babies stop growing up?? :)
Alright, do you officially feel like you have two new mom friends? I think it's safe to say if you need to DM someone late night about hardcore momming, these two have got you covered. You can stay up to date on all things MTHR Collective @mthrco. There are even a few v. coveted tickets still available, so hit up MTHR-CO.com and get 'em while you can. For even more real talk, be sure to follow @heyitslizfranco and @d_lillian and be prepared to swoon over these two creative powerhouses on the daily.
But wait, there's more! Check back on our Creative Crushin' series for stories of artists, designers, and entrepreneurs chasing their dreams. And if you have a creative crush you want to share, let us know @BritandCo.
Author: Anjelika Temple (Photos via MTHR Collective, Danielle Kelley and Liz Franco; Design by Liz Franco)
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