Lifting Up Women-Owned Businesses: An Interview with Mompreneur Allison Stewart Bishins

By Martelle Esposito

This week, we talk with Allison Stewart Bishins, a jewelry designer, a full-time stay-at-home mom and head of the Facebook group Nurture, which supports other women in business.

Can you tell us a little about your jewelry business?

I make minimalist, quirky jewelry.  I started almost ten years ago as a hobby but didn’t really conceive of it as a business until 2014.  I like making items that are well-made and unique. But it’s also important to me that we not live in a consumer culture that values having everything ‘new’ and ‘now’ and valuing fashion over the environment.  This is why recycling is a major part of my business model.

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Can you tell us a little about Nurture?

Nurture is a Facebook group that I run that acts as a connection point for local women in business.  That could mean a boss or CEO but also a manager, side hustler, entrepreneur, or work-at-home mom. We have two main rules: be supportive and don’t vent about your kids. There are a lot of places for that, and this is a place specifically to build up our businesses, careers and community.

What inspired you to start Nurture?

I live in Tacoma, WA, a small city south of Seattle.  When I moved here from Washington, DC, I saw a lot of women-owned businesses, which is phenomenal.  But, I struggled to find out about networking events, workshops, and markets. I didn’t have anyone to ping if I had questions about local tax rates or Department of Revenue rules.  It felt very isolating.  I organized a workshop that was specifically geared to women in business, covering topics like social media, branding, work/life balance, and finding your ‘why.’  The Facebook group came out of wanting the connections made at that workshop to continue.  The group has almost 400 members now. I think it’s important for everyone to know that the woman next door has her own business or personal issues, too.  And most importantly, that we can all play a part in supporting and building up other women.

Can you describe an experience you have had in your entrepreneurial journey so far that has been particularly meaningful?

Someone I barely know recently told me that my reputation precedes me, and my name means something.  I was having a rough time, and it was amazing to hear that.  I also feel validated when people show up for my workshops.  I don’t do “Social Media 101” or “Bookkeeping Basics” type workshops, although those are super helpful.  I think about what questions and issues I’m dealing with, that I’m not seeing handled in other spaces, and create content around that.  It’s not the most efficient and certainly not the most financially beneficial, but it’s where my heart and head is at.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family?

I’m married to Spencer, an attorney, and have two kids, Maya (6) and Sasha (3).  We also have two cranky but beautiful Shiba Inus.  We’ve lived in Washington State for four years and love that we can be at a beach, zoo, library, hiking trail, rose garden, school, shops, coffee and more, in less than a 10-minute drive.  I wish it were more walkable here, but that’s a whole other interview!

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting your motherhood journey?

That I should trust my instincts.  My oldest was diagnosed as ‘failure to thrive’ at 15 months because she wasn’t gaining weight.  But, she was a fat baby who nursed a ton and at 15 months had just night-weaned.  Plus, she started walking at 10 months and was running around like a 3-year-old.  My instinct was that she was fine and just thinning out a bit.    But the doctors made a big deal out of it and we spent a year feeding her junk food just to get her to gain a tiny bit of weight.  I should have trusted that a healthy diet was better than the junk we were encouraged to give her – she could have avoided a lot of blood draws as well as family frustration!

What’s it like to be a mother, an entrepreneur, and a leader of a group that supports mom entrepreneurs, given that both can be very challenging and rewarding?

Being an entrepreneur without having a background in the nitty gritty of business is a constant learning exercise.  It’s also usually an exercise in humility.  There’s so much I don’t know or could do so much more efficiently!  As a full time stay-at-home mom and part-time entrepreneur, I only have so much time – do I devote it to the projects that make me the most money?  Or the ones that make me the happiest?  Or the ones that do the most good?  It’s a constant push-pull.  Running Nurture is selfishly really awesome for me because I can help other businesses but also get advice or float ideas or ask for referrals for projects that are over my head.  Also, I get to just dive into new projects, like our ‘Non Profit Challenge Day’ on the first of every month, where we encourage each other to donate $10 to a local charity we select. 

How has being a mother impacted your work?

It impacts every aspect, truly.  I work mostly at night, usually 1-2x per week from 7-10pm.  I work about one weekend day per month, usually at market or running a workshop.  I also work on my computer or in my studio in 5 or 10-minute chunks throughout the day. I’ve worked really hard in the last year to be more quick to say ‘no’ to things that don’t resonate with me.  I actually have a lot more ‘balance’ now than I did before I had kids.  I used to stay at my nonprofit job writing until 3am! 

What in your life has prepared you the best for these two journeys?

I’ve been working since I was 13.  Everyone should wait tables and work at a nonprofit at some point. They teach you valuable skills!  I stopped working full time in 2010 when I got laid off from my nonprofit job at precisely the same time I found out I was pregnant.  I was out of the job market for several years. Having several years ‘out’ of the market made me more primed for entrepreneurship because I was no longer in the rat race. I had to find something different that satisfied me and made money but allowed me to stay home most of the time.  I don’t think I would have the kind of business I have now if I hadn’t been a stay-at-home mom first.

What keeps you motivated through the ups and downs of both motherhood and entrepreneurship?

Often times when I’m feeling behind on work or overwhelmed, I’ll get a note in the mail or Facebook message thanking me for the work I do in the community, or someone telling me they think I’m a good mom.  Those notes are so needed.  Write someone a thank you or ‘love’ note today!  I’ve struggled with ‘just’ having a small business and ‘just’ being a stay-at-home mom and ‘not using my degree’.  I’m really leaning hard into overcoming that. 

Do you have any words of inspiration that you live by to share?

First, do not undervalue yourself and your time.  I used to spend a lot of time mentoring small businesses for free.  But, I realized that I was the only one providing this service for free.  So, I decided that my time is really valuable and people should be paying for my advice.  By the same logic, I also decided not to ask other women to do things for free – if I ask them to speak at a workshop, they get paid. I do still give advice for free in Nurture, but it’s on my terms and takes up a lot less time. Second, lift others up!  You can do it in many ways – purchasing from other women and moms, supporting them on social media, offering help, watching their kid for 20 minutes so they can get a cup of coffee, etc.  Also, this cannot be underscored enough, in my opinion: if you are a white woman, you have a responsibility to be doing more to support minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.  I’m working through what that means for my business and personal life.  I don’t buy a lot of stuff in general, so my support often comes as shout outs on my Instagram account, referrals in Facebook groups, conscious collaborations and representative workshop speakers.  I’m constantly learning about privilege: what it means, how incredibly privileged I am to be able to stay at home with my kids, and how I am a part of institutions of racism whether or not I am aware of it.

What advice do you have for other parents beginning their parenting or entrepreneurial journeys?

Try to set up realistic and helpful expectations when you start.  How much do you want to make hourly?  Don’t charge $15 for something that took an hour to do – you have overhead, materials, etc.  How many hours would you like to work per week?  What’s your end goal – hobby, side hustle or future full-time job?  Is money your main focus, or a community benefit, or can they coexist? I didn’t have any of these figured out when I started.  I see women who took the time to prioritize these values, and they have more clarity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to opportunities as they arise.  It’s taken me four years of fumbling, business-wise, to get to the point of saying ‘no’ if something’s not right for me.  And it’s taken that long for me to create a vision of what this could all look like when I go “back” to work in 2019.