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Rising Stars: Meet Melissa Benkert

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Benkert.

Hi Melissa, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
About seven years ago, I stood in the grocery store I managed and thought, “Why am I still ordering these vegetables?” I had somehow effortlessly climbed the ranks of a job I didn’t want through college, thinking I would soon steady out in a corporate job, as that seemed to be the dream everyone had. But that wasn’t my dream! I wanted more out of life and out of “working”. I wanted to see the world and try new things, but most of all I wanted to make things. Since I already had a design degree, I knew I had to put it to good use. So I quit the store, popped open my computer, and well, here we are.

My work has changed a bit throughout the years and I’m very excited about where it’s going to take me next. I started out shooting weddings to get out of the grocery store work and that led to me shooting weddings every weekend while I learned the ropes of small business by doing virtual work for other small businesses during the week. I LOVED helping other businesses grow and thrive as well as be part of couple’s big days and creating beautiful photos for them.

Slowly but surely my design degree started knocking around at my heart, however, and I began to build a few product lines and shops while learning the e-commerce and retail world from a different perspective. It was less about fast fashion and quick buys, but moreso creating products people LOVED and that would be useful. I started to scale back from virtual assisting other businesses and building my brand shops, but also continuing to shoot weddings.

I felt overworked and stretched thin, but this was the dream, right? I felt I had to be tired to show that I was working hard and deserving of the incoming money. Then March 2020 hit. Weddings came to a halt and all of my virtual clients scaled down their businesses, which meant they had zero space in the budget for me. It seemed all I had left was my little shops. Although everything felt “wrong” at the time – this weirdly felt right. I decided to entirely close the book on virtual assisting for good and focus solely on my shops and weddings (when they came back). Building the shops at this time came easy as I was solely focused on them and then grew very well thanks to the demand for online shopping, but also because my whole heart was in it. Every sale equated to a happy dance and more joy than I’ve experienced. I made this happen. I made someone fall in love with something or need something that they wanted to buy it from ME.

I had a lot of time to sit and think while filling orders on my own and I learned that, yes, you should work to the best of your ability, but the tiredness and burnout I was feeling previously does not equate to a job well done. 2020 was a humbling experience, but I sure did learn from it! And as expected, I did go back to shooting weddings, however at a much slower frequency than before. I even pulled a few publishing while I was at it. I’ve never been happier to tell me people that I make literal magic at home in the studio and out at weddings. I love what I do, and I hope others can find this happiness in their work as well.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
There has not been a day that I haven’t experienced obstacles. From shipping delays, malfunctioning equipment, software failures, canceled events, complete warehouse shutdowns, and more I’ve experienced it all. However, this has made me exceptionally resourceful. I’ve had to teach myself how to do so much yes, but I like to look at it from the other direction – I had the privilege to learn so much.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I make so much. I have a few themed product lines, a vinyl signage shop, a digital goods shop, a self-created course on how to sell online successfully, and more. It’s a rinse and repeat method for me. I find a need or want for a product/service – I answer that need/want through products and services and perfect the products from what I learned previously in my other shops. I don’t have a specific item or product I’m most proud of, but my proudest moment was walking through a mall in Florida and seeing a random person wearing a shirt I designed. I was however to nervous to say anything to them!

What’s next?
For right now, I don’t have any “big plans” but creating a joint shop with my husband. It would be a bit of a labor of love, but something that I think we would really enjoy doing together. We LOVE traveling (something that working for yourself leaves time for) and this will focus on some of our great adventures. We recently were at Yosemite and got some great inspiration for some products (I’ll include a photo).

My shops currently have me in a season of reflection where I’m perfecting products that need some tweaking and optimizing them to be something I’m very proud of. We also have plans to add a few new nonprofits into our donation mix. Each month we donate some of our profits to various nonprofits, and if it’s a slow period for sales, I donate my time and photography services. I’d love to add more local places into this mix.

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