Welcome to Money Talks, a series where we interview people about their relationships with money, their relationships with each other, and how those relationships inform each other.
Nia Brown is a 30-year-old founder PrincessMe, a small black-owned business that caters to parties and offers services such as spa packages for children. Her husband, Brandy, is a 34-year-old freelance accountant who uses his skills to run the family business.
In addition to running and growing a 6-figure business, Nia and Brandi homeschool their six children, ages 2 to 14. How do these business owners do it all – and what do they want to do next?
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Nia: I decided to become a small business owner in 2016. Before PrincessMe I was an event planner. I have always had a passion for planning children’s birthday parties and baby showers. After several very successful parties and showers, word began to spread from a small, intimate circle to people I had never met. This experience is what initially sparked my idea to start a business.
Another reason was my daughter. She was only one year old then, but she loved to play. Every time I did her makeup, I could see her self-esteem rise. I wanted to give this influence to other girls in the community, so I decided to stop personal events to focus solely on the launch and development of the PrincessMe brand.
To reduce the cost of starting a business, because we know that small businesses can be expensive, we created a mobile bus. This was my husband’s idea.
Cognac: Back then, everything was going mobile. They had barbershops, they had food trucks, a bunch of different mobile things. We looked at a shop but it was too expensive. We could get a used school bus for $4,000, so we did.
We bought our bus from a woman who owned a gym. He had wrecked a school bus and was using it to store his extra gym equipment. We were very lucky, we found it on Craigslist, it was two exits from our house and it was completely gone. All we had to do was put the chairs in and paint and stuff like that.
Nia: It grew very, very quickly. Within a year we were able to start working in our own brick [storefront]. At that time we had five children, I was pregnant with number six – what can I say? It was very difficult at first. When we opened our brick-and-mortar, we had a hard time licensing the areas because they didn’t have a brand for a store like mine. We are not a spa and cannot be considered an event venue or venue, so we have had a difficult path to zoning. We had to take on a new category created for our brick and mortar location. Additionally, we were the only small business in our mall. We were next to Target, Old Navy, David’s Bride, so we had a lot of pressure on us.
Things were pretty rough in the first couple of months as we were still investing in marketing and getting the word out. Then Covid hit.
Cognac: During Covid they classified us as a salon when we wanted to be classified as an event space. This meant that we had to close for the first four months. Then they let us open with less people, but it wasn’t good. Our parties are designed for 10 children and a minimum of five adults. Therefore, we still could not act as we wanted. It was tough.
Nia: It was really hard, but we got it. We made the best of it. We set up appointments for moms to come in one-on-one with their daughters, and the parents loved it. We were able to give the kids personal spa dates and one-on-one attention. It helped us grow.
After Covid, people were saying, “I want to make up for my daughter’s birthday. We missed two birthdays.” That’s when the storefront just came out. We had to learn how to run a store and keep our house healthy. It was a great adventure.
Cognac: I was and still am a freelancer – however, I only do it seasonally so I can focus primarily on PrincessMe. When I first quit my full-time job as a freelance accountant, we took a pay cut. But we decided from the beginning that two heads are better than one, and with our focus and heart on PrincessMe, we were able to offset this pay cut. It also allows us to put our family first.
Nia: Our eldest child is 14 years old and our youngest is 2 years old. We balance everything with a plan in advance. Since all six children are homeschooled, we have to keep a tight schedule. When I wake up in the morning, I focus on my children’s school from 7 to 11. Then I put the kids down for a nap or some rest and we focus on work from 11am to 2pm. We try to close our business at 2 pm to take our children to sports, dance and gymnastics in the afternoon. It takes teamwork!
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we can usually stick to the schedule. By Thursday, I try to run errands while making dinner. We have to go with the flow and realize that we will go off schedule. It doesn’t have to be exact.
Cognac: We plan our money the same way we plan our schedule. I’m going to save for the future. If we want to open two PrincessMe locations this year, we need to save twice as much for our business as we did last year.
Nia: We keep a strict budget. Before this record inflation, we were only budgeting about $600 a month for groceries. Right now, we’re budgeting $900 a month for groceries, which is 50 percent more than what we were spending before. But eating fresh, organic food really helps. We don’t eat junk food or go out to eat a lot to keep costs down and keep our family healthy.
Cognac: We also cut some costs. I am a driver, I have a CDL, so I drive a bus. I drive a limousine. In this way we can save labor.
Nia: My mother also plays a big role. She helps us with the children, especially on Saturdays. These are our biggest spa days. I’m usually at the resort and he drives the limo. We are fortunate to have a great support system that helps us with both the kids and the business.
Cognac: Our oldest daughter goes shopping with Nia; she registers, takes inventory, even helps with spa services. She can paint perfect nails! I don’t know how.
Nia: Our girls give us many good ideas. We are about to start a home decor line and they helped us choose a color scheme. My 11-year-old daughter keeps us up to date on trends—one-pieces, ice cream—because she knows what kids like. This is our cheat code for success!
Cognac: Our boys help clean up and they love riding the bus with me. We have generators on the bus and they love helping with the generators. Anything electrical.
Nia: We give them allowances because we want them to manage money. We also want them to know what it’s like to earn money and save for the future. They see us working hard, we save, they start saving themselves. When they grow up, I think they can balance money very well.
Cognac: We say, “Come spend the day on the bus with me and we’ll pay you $20.” It doesn’t work exactly, but it has elements of work. You get up early. You wear clothes. It feels like work.
Nia: They get the best of both worlds. At home school, they learn English, science and math – but we also want them to learn how to manage money. How to manage time. The entrepreneurship they experience will help them grow in the future.
Cognac: The only thing that I think can stand in the way of our success is ourselves. We pray and try to keep positive thoughts. With six kids, things can get complicated – but we’re hands on and we know how to go about it.
Nia: We often say something like, “Today, from 9 to 1 p.m., we’re going to do this,” and then things don’t go as planned. That’s why we always build in emergency if we go through it. Planning ahead is the best way to maintain balance.
I use an old school planner. I write everything. Because I do so much on my phone and laptop, I can forget what’s there – but then I look at my planner. It works really well for me.
Cognac: I use Square and Quickbooks. I’m different from Nia in that I don’t like to write everything down. I want to come in and see it!
Nia: We still have so much room to grow. Our company only operates on weekends, so we only spend Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the store. Otherwise, we do things at home. We work three days a week and we can make six figures and we are very proud. We did everything ourselves, without hiring specialists.
This year we are hiring an external marketing team, graphic designers. We are about to open our first franchise location. We hope that our company will rise to the sky.
Cognac: Best case scenario, by next year we will be buying a house in the Bahamas.
Nia: What we really want is to buy a forever home for us and our children. Something we can pass on to the family. By this time next year I want to own a house and open 20 stores in the south. I want to help girls build their self-esteem and strengthen their community. I dream big – but I can see it happening.
Nicole Dicker is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Bankrate, Lifehacker, Morning Brew, and Dwell. He is also the author Secrets of Larkin’s Daya comedy-comfortable mystery series set in eastern Iowa, and WHAT IS IT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT ITquarterly newspaper about the perception of reality.