Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everybody. I tried to offer jewelry to everyone, and my head was spinning. I was going to bridal expos, baby expos and then trying to get Tiny Tags into a college campus store. If I started off with a very specific target audience, it would have saved me a lot of time and money.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Clayton
Melissa Clayton is CEO and Founder of Tiny Tags, an online jewelry brand designing and creating fine personalized jewelry for mothers. As a former CPA who knew she had to break out on her own, Melissa is obsessed with entrepreneurship and sharing the lessons she has learned along the way. Melissa holds a BA in Philosophy from University of Massachusetts and a MS in Accounting and MBA from Northeastern. Melissa is a wife and mother to three boys and resides in Acton, MA. @tinytags
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a small town outside of Boston, Massachusetts with my father who was a passionate entrepreneur. I spent weekends trying to avoid ‘stopping by the office’ because I knew I would be stuffing envelopes for hours. I was very close with my Dad and even as a teenager loved spending time with him. My Dad has been my inspiration and has been my rock my whole life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life’s a marathon not a sprint.” I tend to get ahead of myself and want everything done yesterday, so this quote is a reminder to myself to slow down and be thoughtful.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1) The top three qualities that have helped me in my life are a positive attitude, perseverance, and resourcefulness. Growing up, I listened to Zig Ziglar with my father so it was ingrained in me to always view life through a lens of gratitude and that a positive attitude could alter your reality. When I started Tiny Tags, I never spent time thinking of what could go wrong. I only focused on all the great things that could happen. The fear of failure never stopped me.
2) Perseverance has definitely served me well in growing Tiny Tags. Back when I was figuring out how to scale the business and I needed a manufacturing partner, the internet was not what it is today. I remember calling the Economic Development Council of Rhode Island and asking them to send me a copy of their latest report because it listed out all the jewelry manufacturers in the state. It was that report I used to cold call jewelry manufacturers and is ultimately how I found our current partner. I wouldn’t stop until I found the right partner.
3) In the early years of starting Tiny Tags, we didn’t have the budget to hire a PR firm or have a budget for advertising, so I had to be resourceful on how to get our name out there. I remember wanting to take an ad out in an entertainment magazine but we couldn’t afford it so I reached out to another company and asked them if they would want to share the ad. Being resourceful is still critical to get things done!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
My first chapter was spent in corporate America. I graduated from business school with a MS and MBA in Accounting, passed my CPA exam, and worked in public accounting. I learned a great deal in public accounting because you were able to see all the numbers behind various businesses. I learned so much from doing audit and tax work for small family-owned restaurants to multi-million-dollar investment funds.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
When I was working as a CPA there was no flexibility, and I knew I needed more life/work balance as a new mom. I never expected to leave corporate America but after my husband and I weighed our options for childcare we decided I would stay at home. As a proud new mom, I started looking for the perfect ‘mommy’ necklace. When I couldn’t find one that I loved, I decided to try to make my own as I’m someone who is always up for a challenge. At this time finding things online was not what it is today. I ordered a bunch of tools to play around with, but I didn’t have much luck. Not too long after, on a plane ride, I started talking to the woman next to me. She was in jewelry design school and gave me her info. We connected within a week and she helped me find all the materials and tools I needed to get started.
I started hand stamping necklaces and sending them to all my friends back east. It did not take long until I was getting 10–15 orders a week. The orders and personalization requests were through email and they were sending checks to me. The reaction I was getting from my jewelry made me feel so good and I knew there was something there. By this time, we had our second son, I was making jewelry five nights a week and on weekends. My entrepreneurial spirit had definitely kicked in and my mind was turning on how I could grow this “hobby’ into a ‘real’ business.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
Tiny Tags was a hobby for several years while my boys were young and that was a conscious decision. My goal was to build a foundation so that when the boys started school, I had something to build upon. The year my youngest started kindergarten is when I really rolled up my sleeves and felt like Tiny Tags started to be a business. That year was amazing, but I was still juggling being a mom and running the business. My husband was gone from 6am to 8pm and with no childcare support, I could only work during school hours. This is when I had the idea that my husband and I should switch roles. I pitched my plan to my husband which was that he should quit his job and be the primary caretaker for the kids so I could focus 100% on Tiny Tags. Within three months my husband left his job. That was over 5 years ago and I’m happy to say my husband joined Tiny Tags as our CFO a year after he left his job. 2016 was the year that when Tiny Tags went from a hobby to a real business.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skill set inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
When I think back, I realize that my first chapter was the wrong career for me and that I belonged in a more creative industry where I could bond emotionally with other people, especially women. I knew my gift was connecting with people so when I started Tiny Tags, it felt like I had found where I belonged. I overcame barriers by constantly trying to learn. I would read every business book I could find and asked everyone I knew questions.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Tiny Tags growth has been pretty amazing over the last 5 years since I have been 100% focused on the business. The top strategy that has worked for us is our singular focus on mothers. Everything we do and say is about moms and motherhood. I am proud to say that most of our growth has come from word of mouth from the moms in our community. Connecting with our moms is the best part of my job and what I love to do. We started a monthly series called Stories behind the Tags where our moms share the story behind the engravings on their Tiny Tags.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for my Dad. He has always believed in me and encouraged me to take risks. About 2 years into Tiny Tags, I started to market our jewelry to brides, graduates, and even Dads. I felt that I had to be everything to everybody. My Dad gave me the confidence to do only what was in my heart, connecting to moms.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
My favorite story is how Meryl Streep ended up wearing Tiny Tags. Meryl Streep was the keynote speaker at the MA Conference for Women where we had a table. Prior to the event, I reached out to the organizers and pitched them the idea of gifting her a 14k gold Tiny Tags necklace with her four kids’ names engraved on the tag and they loved the idea. I hand delivered it on the morning of her speech and I kept my fingers crossed. Less than 48 hour later, I received a message on Instagram from a customer saying they saw Meryl Streep wearing Tiny Tags. Sure enough, there she was in an interview with her Tiny Tags on front and center. I was running around the kitchen in complete shock. Even more shocking was that she wore her Tiny Tags necklace on two major photo shoots. I think the most moving part of it was that at the end of the day she is a mom of four kids who was thrilled to have a piece of jewelry with their names on it.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
All the time! Even today I doubt myself. My Dad used to say, “If it doesn’t scare you then it is not worth doing.” When I had the opportunity to speak at a Mom 2.0 summit roundtable, I questioned what I would say and if anyone would care. I gave myself a pep talk and just spoke from the heart. After I spoke, I had women coming up to me and thanking me for being vulnerable.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I wish I had created a support system in my early years, that’s great advice. When I started Tiny Tags, there were not as many resources readily available as there are now. Today, I have a much better network thanks to forums like HeyMama and Rebecca Minkoff’s The Female Founder Collective. Now the resources are limitless and now it is work to determine which ones are the best fit.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I went from being a CPA to a jewelry designer so that was completely outside my comfort zone. I got comfortable by learning. I joined the Jewelers Trade Association, and I took classes at the local jewelry supply store. Once I started immersing myself in the jewelry world, I felt everyone was always willing to share information.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everybody. I tried to offer jewelry to everyone, and my head was spinning. I was going to bridal expos, baby expos and then trying to get Tiny Tags into a college campus store. If I started off with a very specific target audience, it would have saved me a lot of time and money.
- Dream Big. My initial goal when I started Tiny Tags was to make 100 dollars a day. I spent quite a few years just living in the day to day and not thinking where I wanted to be in 10 years. If I dreamed bigger earlier, I would have made more connections earlier in the business.
- Know Your Why. Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” was an amazing resource and it helped me understand how important your ‘why’ is. Sharing my why has been a slow evolution because it is so personal. Knowing my why gives everything purpose and it gives me clarity but sharing it requires vulnerability.
- Trust Your Gut. If you don’t feel like you can trust someone then walk away. I started working with an influencer who promised me the world. She was going to have all her celebrity friends wearing Tiny Tags and share on social media. She demanded payment up front and once I paid her, she went dark. It turned out she was a scam artist, and I lost a few thousand dollars, but the lesson was priceless.
- Start Before You’re Ready. If you want everything to be perfect, you’ll never get anything done. We have had to go live on a new website knowing that it was not perfect but when you’re a small business with limited resources you can’t always wait for something to be perfect.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to start a movement that children are not allowed to have social media until they turn 18 years old. It breaks my heart seeing the damage being done to our kids, especially young girls, with social media. I think we as parents need to stop bowing to pressure to allow our kids devices and apps that are harming them.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂 TBD
I would have lunch with Ariel Kaye, Founder of Parachute, Sara Blakely, Founder/CEO of Spanx and Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder of Bumble. These three women have built incredible brands and I would love to learn from them.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!