When you scroll through Danielle Milner’s Instagram, you cannot help but fall in love with all of the beautiful and colorful pieces that she produces on a daily basis. She is a one-woman show who just celebrated her 1 year anniversary for her business, Elle Woods Co.
Her spunky attitude and hard work ethic shine through her work and her Instagram stories are always full of her hard at work, sanding, painting, dancing, and sometimes dodging the rain. With her co-pilot, Penelope the Pit, there is no stopping Danielle on her way to the top. Read all about Elle Woods Co, the biggest unexpected challenge she faces, and how she got her start.
Tell me a little bit about how you started with Elle Woods Co, sort of an overview….
Elle Woods Co started as a happy accident. I “saved” my first pallet from a dumpster in 2015, and at the time only had a jigsaw and a sander. After a couple of months, I decided to start adding to my power tool collection, teaching myself new techniques, and fell in love with making geometric pieces. At the time, I was six or seven years into owning my own business and had starting this side gig as a form of therapy. It quickly became an overwhelming passion of mine. With much consideration, I decided to sell my previous business and turned Elle Woods Co full time in the summer of 2018.
Could you give me some examples to illustrate the challenges you faced in starting Elle Woods Co?
The biggest challenge I have faced is probably one no one thinks or even knows about. Most HOA’s (and even within some town/city limits) restrict you from running a business out of your home. Just three weeks after I turned EWC full time, I had a neighbor come to me and complain about my “annoyances” and threatened to shut me down. After a few quick google searches to see if this was true, I realized this was a sink or swim moment. Due to me working outside in my garage I knew I couldn’t hide it any longer and I had to move.
When problems arise, how do you resolve them?
Face them head on! When owning a business, especially one when you are the one and only behind it, you have to take all matters into your own hands. Sometimes for me, taking a few hours or days to think on how to process it is always helpful, but either way ignoring the issue is never the answer.
How have the experiences that you have had during your entire career influenced the way you now run your own company?
After owning and operating a brick and mortar company for nine years, what I do now is a piece of cake. I took over my high school job (a paint your own pottery studio) at the age of 20. I had very little experience and no training, but I’ve always had the “I do it” attitude (apparently that was my go-to saying as a toddler). For the most part, a lot of hard work and dedication, trial and error, and fake it until ya make it will get you where you need to be.
I know that you do everything independently. But do you ever bring someone on to help you with a big project or a big market? How do you select who that person is?
My parents have been extremely helpful whenever I need an extra hand. My mom loves to come over and help with painting and staining, joining in on my market events, and occasionally wrapping orders. My dad is always there to remind me to pay my taxes, and offer any woodworking advice he can give.
How do you select the businesses that carry your pieces, like The Big Easy?
Honestly, they reach out to me. I’m too busy keeping my head down on what I’m working on to do all the emails and marketing that is necessary for a small business. When companies do reach out to me, I weigh the pros and cons, and honestly just follow my gut.
How do you select the markets that you go to?
The market scene in this area is huge! So many events, so many makers, and so many opportunities. Last year, I did any and every market I could get accepted into. As for this year, I’ve taken a huge step back mainly due to being a little burnt out on it. So far I’ve only made time for the events that were a big success from the years before, and I’ve been focusing more on online sales.
How are things going in your company in general? Are you hiring, downsizing, or staying where you are? Are you expanding?
I’d prefer to stay a one woman business. I’d like to continue to grow, but staying within my own personal limits. After doing the whole hiring, firing, training and whatnot at my previous company, I realized I’m better off solo. Most small businesses offer “dead end” jobs. No one sticks around longer than a few years, and I could never afford to hire someone full time. I also realized how much overhead and responsibilities are required for a bigger scaled business, and my introverted self is so much happier with my slower paced life.
How do you keep up with the best practices in your industry?
It’s hard! The saying is true, as a business owner we wear all the hats. I not only make my products, but I have to market myself, I photograph and list everything, I package and ship everything from my office, I am my own secretary, I am my own sales person, and the list can go on and on. How do I keep up? I don’t know if I do. My only advice to others in regards to this question is to take things day by day, set goals, make your to-do lists, and just do it!
Could you describe a typical day?
Oh geez! haha, well I’m not much of a morning person, so I typically wake up around 9 am, and I do the whole social media thing (editing and scheduling posts, engaging with other makers and potential customers, replying to messages, etc) before I even get out of bed. Depending on the day and what’s on my to-do list, I could have a trip to the post office or Home Depot planned, but for the most part work freely from home. Working from home does offer a lot more flexibility, but EWC has become more of a lifestyle than a job. I work before my feet hit the floor in the morning until I decide to crawl back into bed at night.
How did you first enter your line of work?
This all started out as another hobby of mine. I’ve been a creative type my entire life. I learned to sew when I was 5, I’ve tried my hand at candle making, crocheting, painting, did the pottery thing for almost a decade, and so many other odd projects in-between all of that. So when I picked up a jigsaw for the first time, I never imagined it would eventually be “work”.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a business similar to yours?
Do your research, love what you do, and just do it! So many people are so unhappy at their 9-5 jobs. If you have the opportunity to channel your passion into a career, by all means – DO IT! But trust me when I say, it is absolutely important that you love what you do because you’ll need to invest in yourself, treat it like a full time (plus) job, and give it your all.
What kind of formal education and additional specialized training would you recommend that a person should acquire to enter into a profession like yours?
To be completely honest, I’m a college drop out. I coasted my way through high school and barely made it to my 3rd semester of community college. Not saying education isn’t important, but it’s also not for everyone.
Since college, I have taken a few small classes through Skill-pop and Vend Raleigh. They offer single classes from social media for business, how to launch your own Etsy shop, marketing and branding your small business, and more. I also find podcasts super helpful! They are not only a great way for me to drown out all my power tool noise, but they inspire me to keep going and keep growing.