Welcome to Money Talks, a series in which we interview people about their relationship with money, their relationship with each other, and how those relationships inform each other.
Nia Brown is the 30-year-old founder of princessme, a small business owned by a black woman that offers parties and services like spa packages for kids. Her husband, Brandy, is a 34-year-old independent accountant who is putting his skills to joint management of the family business.
In addition to running and expanding a six-figure spa business, Nia and Brandy also homeschool their six children, ranging in age from 2 to 14. How do these business owners do it all and what do they hope to do next?
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Nía: I decided to become a small business owner in 2016. Before PrincessMe, I was an event planner. I had always been passionate about planning children’s birthday parties and baby showers. After some very successful parties and showers, the word began to spread from a small inner circle to people I had never met. This experience is what initially sparked my idea to start a business.
The other reason was my daughter. She was only one year old at the time, but she loved to play spa. Every time she did her makeup, she saw her self-esteem blossom. I wanted to give that effect to other girls in the community, so I decided to stop doing personal events to just focus on starting and growing the PrincessMe brand.
To reduce the costs of starting a business, as we know that small businesses can be expensive, we installed a mobile bus. That was my husband’s idea.
Brandy: Everything was mobile at that time. They had the hair salons, they had the food trucks, there were a lot of different mobile things. We looked at a window display, but it was too expensive. We could buy a used school bus for $4,000, so we got it.
We bought our bus from a lady who owned a gym. She had destroyed the school bus and was using it to store her extra gym equipment. We were very lucky, we found it on Craigslist, it was two exits from our house and it was completely destroyed. All we had to do was put up seats and paint and stuff like that.
Nía: He grew up very, very fast. In a year we were able to install ourselves in our physical store [storefront]. We had five children at the time, she was pregnant with number six, what can I say? It was very complicated at the beginning. When we opened our physical store, we had a hard time with the zoning licenses, since they didn’t have a label for a store like mine. We are not a spa and cannot consider ourselves an event space or venue, so we had a hard time getting zoning done. We ended up having to create a new category for our physical location. Also, we were the only small business in our mall. We were next door to Target, Old Navy, David’s Bridal, so we had a lot of pressure on us.
Things were a bit difficult for the first few months, because we were still investing in marketing and spreading the word. Then Covid hit.
Brandy: During Covid we were classified as a lounge, when we wanted to be classified as an event space. That meant we had to shut down for the first four months. Then they allowed us to open with a minimum of people, but that didn’t help. Our parties are designed for 10 children and at least five adults. So we still couldn’t operate the way we wanted to. It was hard.
Nía: It was very hard, but we worked it out. We did the best we could. We arranged appointments for moms to come with their daughters individually, and the dads loved it. We were able to give the kids personal spa appointments and personalized attention. That helped us grow.
Post-Covid people were saying “I want to make up for my daughter’s birthdays. We missed two birthdays.” That’s when the showcase just took off. We had to learn how to run the store and still keep our home healthy. It has been a great adventure.
Brandy: I was a freelance accountant, and still am; however, I only do it seasonally, so that I can focus primarily on PrincessMe. When I stopped doing steady freelance bookkeeping work, we took a pay cut. But we decided early on that two heads are better than one and with our attention and hearts devoted to PrincessMe we were able to offset that pay cut. This also allows us to prioritize our family.
Nía: Our oldest son is 14 and our youngest is 2. We balance everything by planning ahead. Since all six children are homeschooled, we have to have a tight schedule. When I wake up in the morning, I focus on my children’s school from 7 am to 11 am. Then I put the kids down for naps or rest, and we focus on work from 11 am to 2 pm. We try to shut down our business at 2 in the afternoon, so that we can spend the afternoons taking our children to play sports, dance, and do gymnastics. It takes a lot of teamwork!
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we can usually meet the schedule. By Thursday, I’m trying to catch up on some business work while I cook dinner. We have to go with the flow and understand that we will get out of the program. It doesn’t have to be exact.
Brandy: We plan our finances like we plan our schedule. I’m big on saving for the future. If we want to open two PrincessMe locations this year, we have to save twice as much for our business as we did last year.
Nía: We keep a tight budget. Before this record inflation, we were only budgeting about $600 a month for groceries. We currently budget $900 per month for groceries, which is a 50 percent increase from what we previously spent. But eating fresh, organic foods really helps. We don’t eat junk food or eat out much, which minimizes costs and keeps our family healthy.
Brandy: We have also reduced some costs. I am a driver, I have my CDL, so I drive the mobile bus. I drive the limo. That way we can save on payroll.
Nía: My mom also plays a very important role. She helps us with the children, especially on Saturdays. Those are our best spa days. I’m usually at the spa and he’ll drive the limo. We are fortunate to have a great support system that helps us with both the kids and the business.
Brandy: Our oldest daughter goes with Nia to the store; she does the registration, she does the inventory, she even helps with the spa services. She can paint perfect nails! I do not know how
Nía: Our daughters give us many good ideas. We are about to launch a home decor line and you helped us choose the color scheme. My 11-year-old daughter keeps us on top of what’s trending (unicorns, ice cream) because she knows what kids love. That’s our cheat code for success!
Brandy: Our children help clean up and love to ride the bus with me. We have generators on the bus and they love to help with the generators. Anything electrical.
Nía: We pay them an allowance, because we want them to know how to manage money. We also want them to know what it’s like to work hard for money and save for the future. They see us working hard, they see us saving, they start saving on their own. When they grow up, I think they will be able to balance money very well.
Brandy: We say “Come spend the day with me on the bus and we’ll give you $20”. It’s not working exactly, but it has the working elements. You get up early. You dress. It feels like a job.
Nía: They get the best of both worlds. In homeschooling, they learn English, science, and math, but we also want them to learn how to manage money. How to manage time. The entrepreneurial spirit they are experiencing will help them develop for the future.
Brandy: The only thing I think could get in the way of our success is ourselves. We pray and try to have positive minds. With six kids, things can get hectic, but we buckle up and we know how to do it.
Nía: We often say something like “Today, from 9 am to 1 pm, we will do this,” and then things don’t go as planned. So we always build in time of emergency, in case we go too far. Planning ahead is the best way to keep things balanced.
I use an old school planner. I write everything. Because I do so much on my phone and laptop, I can forget what’s on there, but then I look at my schedule. It works very well for me.
Brandy: I use Square and Quickbooks. I’m different from Nia, in that I don’t like to write everything. I like to log in and see it!
Nía: We still have a lot of potential to grow. Our company only operates on weekends, so we only spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the store. Otherwise, we are doing background work at home. We trade three days a week and can earn six figures, and we are very proud of it. We did it all on our own, without hiring the experts.
This year we will bring in the external marketing team, the graphic designers. We are about to open our first franchise location. We hope our company will skyrocket.
Brandy: Best case scenario, by this time next year we will buy a house in the Bahamas.
Nía: What we really want to do is buy a forever home for ourselves and our children. Something we can pass on to the family. By this time next year, I want to own a home and have 20 stores open in the South. I want to help girls build their self-esteem and strengthen our community. I dream big, but I can see it happen.
Nicole Dieker is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Bankrate, Lifehacker, Morning Brew, and Dwell. She is also the author of the Larkin’s Day Mysteriesa mystery-comedy series set in eastern Iowa, and WHAT IT IS AND WHAT TO DO NEXTa quarterly magazine on the understanding of reality.