When it comes to pushing through the difficult to go after your dreams, Katelyn Sentner is a boss babe to the fullest. Katelyn using her talents in wood burning to create beautiful custom pieces at Southern Yankees Works. She manages to run a successful business while working full time and fighting cancer. Her perseverance is an example that all of us should look up to.
Tell us about yourself.
I am the owner of Southern Yankees Works which is based in South Carolina. I am 30 years old with a Master’s in Business Administration and I work for a large insurance company as an Accountant. In my free time I work on my business but I also volunteer as a Firefighter for the town I live in.
I am very close to my family and friends and I love animals. I am a dog mom to three wonderful dogs all of which were rescued from the nearest animal shelter. They all have their own personality and I love each one in their own special way.
I love the outdoors which makes my house perfect since it sits on 16 acres of non-cleared peaceful land. I like to stay busy and can rarely sit still for too long. If I am not at home working on my business or doing things around the house, I am out exploring. My boyfriend and I like to take road trips to go hiking or check out new places and restaurants.
My favorite color is turquoise and it has been turquoise ever since I can remember which is made apparent as soon as you see me or walk into my house. I have turquoise everything including phone case, plates, decor and even my Keurig. However, just because I own a Keurig does not mean my favorite drink of choice is coffee; tea is my favorite, but I don’t mind an ice coffee every now and again. Every now and again you will see a hint of pink around my home or on me.
How did you get into your business?
Let’s rewind to a few years ago when I moved from Massachusetts to South Carolina to be with my boyfriend. It was a new state, new friends, new job and I was alone every couple of nights due to his work schedule. I am not one to sit around for long, so I was walking through Michaels one day and spotted their wood burning tools. I grabbed one and took it home with me, that night I took a piece of wood outside and started drawing some things out. The next week or so I did some research because my drawing skills… well I have none. I was able to come up with a way to do some designing on the computer and later transfer it to the wood.
It was November, so I started coming up with some Christmas ideas for family and in the meantime posted the finished products online to sell. I made my first sale just after Christmas 2016 to a wonderful lady who loved my work so much she became a repeat customer. This pushed my creative side and I started coming up with more ideas, which meant more sales.
This also explains how I came up with the name Southern Yankees Works, a Massachusetts girl living in a Southern world.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Back in 2013, I was diagnosed with breast cancer (Yes, this is before my business started and if you did the math I was only 24 years old). It was a long road and a huge challenge which finally finished in 2014.
Fast-forward to the end of 2017, when I again found another lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time now at the age of 29. Since I had already been through this once, I knew what I was about to face and wasn’t sure how my business would suffer. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to be able to keep up with orders or be able to keep my business alive with new items.
Luckily, between treatments, surgery and my full time job I found enough energy to keep up with orders as well as make some new items to keep my customers interested. I am still going through treatments and will be finished at the end of December and continue to count down the days till I go to my last treatment.
What do you wish you’d known when you started?
Organization is key! I started by working at the kitchen table and receipts thrown in a box. Well as time went on and the business started getting steady orders, having to move things off the kitchen table on a regular basis and receipts piling up and spilling out of the box was not cutting it anymore.
I shut down my shop for a week and built an office with multiple desks and specialized areas for my tools and paperwork. I am spending less time find things and more time creating and making. You don’t realize how quickly it can take off and how messy things can get in the process, so start organizing items right away to help make the process run so much smoother.
If you could narrow your success down to one thing, what would it be?
I can’t, because not one single component made my business a success. It was the combination of multiple events and people as a whole that made my business what it is today.
My friend Elizabeth helped me a lot with getting my items posted on Etsy and different tips and tricks of the trade. My customers who believed in my work and helped me grow my business with every sale and every word of mouth review they gave me.
Last but not least… my family, friends, and boyfriend who were very supportive of my work and gave me much needed opinions when I needed them, they also listened to me vent quite often when things didn’t quite go my way while working on new projects.
Where do you see yourself in a year?
I hope my business is still doing well, I hope to be at 700+ sales, and I hope to still be making my customers happy with items I have created for them.
I would like to start getting into more detail when it comes to my designs. I have come a long way in a year, but I hope to go even further.
What are your top three tips for women starting a business?
– Don’t give up: It takes some tears, sweating, swearing, and time to get steady orders and to get into a position where you are happy with your work. You learn things along the way, sometimes the hard way, but it’s what makes your business unique and makes it stand out. There will be people who say you can’t do it, but don’t listen to them. You can do whatever you want to do, if you put your mind to it.
– Create balance: I have a full time job on top of my business. Making time for yourself as well as others in your life is crucial. Make it a point to spend time with family and friends, but don’t give up on your goals for your business either. There is only so much time in a day, but learn to use that time in an efficient way that allows you to still enjoy time off for yourself and with others.
– Go slow: I started with some money out of my own pocket making Christmas gifts. As I sold an item or two, I bought more materials to work with out of the profit I made. As my business continued to grow, I continued to buy more tools that would streamline my process. I didn’t need to start with a lot of money or a lot of tools, especially because I really didn’t have a lot to start with. You don’t need a warehouse full of tools and supplies, you grow to a warehouse full of tools and supplies.
What is a typical day for you like?
Just when you thought my life was interesting!
I typically wake up between 6:30 and 7:30am (no alarm clock needed, 3 dogs are all the alarm clocks I need). I have some breakfast with the dogs and my boyfriend, nothing fancy, probably just some toast with a tea. I travel approximately 45 minutes to my full time job with some country music or 90’s R&B louder then I probably should have it. Work… accounting, numbers, spreadsheets, budgets, you get the point. Then I have my second 45 minute lip sync concert drive back to the house.
When I get home a number of things could happen, I work more, I play with the dogs, I spend some time with my boyfriend, I sit on the couch and catch up on my shows, or all of the above. Of course, dinner is thrown in there somewhere and then I go to bed. Not too late, I can get pretty cranky if I don’t get enough sleep!
What’s your business motto or quote you live by?
Everything happens for a reason. I truly believe in this, I’m not always sure why but there is always a reason or lesson to be learned with everything.
If you were starting your business over again, what would you do differently?
Don’t be cheap. I know you may be just starting out and you want to maximize profit to the fullest, but that shouldn’t mean skimping on items just to save every last penny. This normally doesn’t work to your benefit and I can almost guarantee you’ll end up spending more money than if you were to have just done it right in the first place.
For example, some of my items are small enough to fit in a normal envelope with a stamp. Never do this! Not only did most of my items break, but if a package never arrived, I had no way to track it to see if it ever would arrive to its rightful owner or if it was lost in the post office space of the unknown (don’t get me wrong, the post office is great and I usually have no issues, but things happen).
Also, put that extra screw in there if you think it would hold better or get the slightly more expensive glue. The motto “you get what you paid for” is not always true, but for the most part it is. When customers receive your products and the quality of the product shows, you bet they will come back and maybe even tell others how great it is!