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 the 30-year-old founder of Princess Me, a small Black-woman-owned business that offers parties and services such as spa packages for children. His wife, Brandy, is a 34-year-old freelance accountant who puts her skills to work co-running the family business.
In addition to managing and growing a six-figure spa business, Nia and Brandy also homeschool their six children, who range 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.
Nia: I decided to become a small business owner in 2016. Before PrincessMe, I was an event planner. Planning children’s birthday parties and baby showers has always been my passion. After several very successful parties and showers, word began to spread from a small inner circle to people I had never met. This experience first sparked my idea to start a business.
Another reason is my daughter. He was only one year old then, but he loved playing spa. Every time I put on makeup, I see her self-esteem blossom. I wanted to give that impact to other girls in the community, so I decided to stop doing personal events to focus solely on starting and growing the PrincessMe brand.
To reduce the costs of starting a business, because we know that small businesses can be expensive, we set up a mobile bus. That was my husband’s idea.
Brandy: Everything was going mobile at that time. They have barber shops, they have food trucks, there are a bunch of different mobile things. We looked at a storefront, but it was too expensive. We could get a used school bus for $4,000, so we got it.
We bought our bus from a woman who owns a gym. He has wrecked the school bus and is using it to store his extra gym equipment. We were so lucky, we found it on Craigslist, two exits away from our house, and it was completely wiped out. All we had to do was put in the seats and paint and stuff like that.
Nia: It grew very quickly. Within a year, we were able to set up our brick-and-mortar [storefront]. We had five children at the time, I was pregnant with number six — what can I say? It was very confusing at first. When we opened our brick-and-mortar, we had trouble with zoning licensing, because they didn’t have a label for a store like mine. We’re not a spa and can’t be considered an event or venue space, so we had a difficult road to getting zoned. We had to create a new category for our brick-and-mortar location. Plus, we are the only small business in our shopping center. Target, Old Navy, David’s Bridal are right next to us, so there’s a lot of pressure on us.
Things were a little rough in the first couple of months, as we were still investing in marketing and getting the word out. Then Covid hit.
Brandy: During Covid, they classified us as a salon, when we wanted to be an event venue. That means we have to close for the first four months. Then they let us open to the lowest crowd, but that wasn’t good. Our parties are designed for 10 children and a minimum of five adults. So we still can’t operate the way we want. It’s tough.
Nia: It was really hard, but we figured it out. We made the best of it. We set up appointments for moms to come with their daughters one-on-one, and the parents love that. We were able to give the kids personal spa dates and one-on-one attention. That helped us grow.
After Covid, people say “I want to make up for my daughter’s birthdays. We missed two birthdays.” That’s when the storefront just left. We had to learn how to run the store and keep our home healthy. It was a great adventure.
Brandy: I was a freelance accountant, and still am — however, I only do it from time to time, so that I can focus primarily on PrincessMe. When I first quit doing consistent freelance accountant work, we took a pay cut. But we decided early on that two heads are better than one and with both of our attention and hearts devoted to PrincessMe, we made up for that pay cut. It also allows us to put our family first.
Nia: Our oldest child is 14, and our youngest is 2. We balance everything by planning ahead. 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 am to 11 am. Then I put the kids down for a nap or a few hours of rest, and we focus on work from 11 am to 2 pm. We try to give our business a hard stop at 2 pm, so that we can spend the afternoons taking our children to sports, dance, gymnastics. It takes a lot of teamwork!
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we usually manage to stay on schedule. By Thursday, I try to catch up on business work while I prepare dinner. We have to go with the flow, and understand that we will break the schedule. 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 need to save twice as much for our business as we did last year.
Nia: We maintain a strict budget. Before this record-high inflation, we only budgeted about $600 a month for groceries. Currently, we budget $900 per month for groceries, which is a 50 percent increase over what we used to spend. 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.
Brandy: We also cut some costs. I am a driver, I have a CDL, so I drive the mobile bus. I drive a limo. That way we save on payroll.
Nia: My mother also played a big role. He helps us with the kids, especially on Saturdays. It was our biggest spa day. I was usually at the spa, and he would 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 went with Nia to the store; she registers, she does inventory, she even helps with spa services. She can paint perfect nails! I do not know how.
Nia: Our daughters give us many good ideas. We were launching a home decor line, and they helped us pick a color scheme. My 11-year-old daughter keeps us up to date on trends — unicorns, ice cream — because she knows what kids want. That’s our cheat code to success!
Brandy: Our kids help clean up, and they want to ride the bus with me. We have generators on the bus, and they want to help with the generators. Anything electrical.
Nia: We pay them an allowance, because we want them to know how to manage money. We also want them to learn how 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. By the time they grow up, I think they will be good at balancing money.
Brandy: We say “Come, join me on the bus all day, and we’ll give you $20.” It doesn’t exactly work, but it has elements of the job. Get up early. Get dressed. It’s like work.
Nia: They get the best of both worlds. At homeschool, 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 develop them for the future.
Brandy: The only thing that I think can hinder our success is ourselves. We pray, and we try to have a positive mind. With six kids, things can get hectic — but we’re down, and we know how to go.
Nia: We often say something like “Today, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., we’re doing this,” and then things don’t go according to plan. So we always build in time of emergency, just in case we get through. Planning ahead is the best way to keep things balanced.
I use an old-school planner. I wrote everything. Because I’m doing so many things on my phone and my laptop, I forget what’s on there — but then I look at my planner. It’s really great for me.
Brandy: I use Square and Quickbooks. I’m different from Nia, that I don’t like to write everything. I want to log in and see it!
Nia: We still have a lot of potential to grow. Our company only operates on weekends, so we only spend Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in the store. Otherwise, we do backwork at home. We operate three days a week, and we make six figures, and we are proud. We did everything ourselves, without hiring experts.
This year, we’re bringing in the outside marketing team, the graphic designers. We are about to open our first franchise location. We hope that our company is up.
Brandy: Best case scenario, by this time next year we’ll be buying a house in the Bahamas.
Nia: What we really want to do is buy a forever home for us and our children. Something we can pass down to the family. By this time next year, I want to own my own house 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 happening.
Nicole Dieker is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Bankrate, Lifehacker, Morning Brew, and Dwell. He is also the author of Larkin Day Mysteriesa comedy-cozy mystery series set in eastern Iowa, and WHAT IS IT and WHAT TO DO NEXTa quarterly zine about understanding reality.