Freelance stylist, creative consultant, and blogger LaTonya Yvette shares more of herself than most. She writes about her family’s life in Brooklyn, NY with husband Peter Staubs and their two children, River and Oak, and recently decided to make the time she spends on this passion project work for her by opening the lifestyle and parenting blog to sponsored submissions. LaTonya relishes being able to work in social media marketing and branding with clients, while staying at home often to take care of her small daughter and son. When the occasional on-set styling job presents itself, such as helping business owners select outfits for important events, or advising mothers on “their new bodies and wardrobes,” Peter’s career as a freelance videographer, film editor, and camera assistant allows for that flexibility.
This supportive, equal partnership also affords LaTonya the freedom to tell her readers about the good — and sometimes bad — happenings that impact her life. “I know how it can seem like everyone is living a perfect life from the other side of the screen,” she says. “Life for us is amazing, but it doesn’t come without its fair share of hardships.” Her honest words touch on subjects from setting the trajectory of co-parent freelance careers, maintaining pleasant professionalism and establishing worthy rates, to the misfortune of carving out well-deserved vacation time only to be presented with conflicting business opportunities. LaTonya shares her thoughts on all this and more, but ultimately insists it’s most important to “put the book down and throw yourself into real and tangible relationships.” —Annie
Portrait by Katherine Rose
Why did you decide to start your own business?
Peter and I both worked full-time jobs when we met. They weren’t careers, but they paid our rent. When we got pregnant with River, we were totally surprised, and knew that we had to figure something else out. Freelancing seemed like the best option. We both wanted out of our dead-end jobs and wanted to be successful in our passions, but also still provide for our child. I was assisting on set a lot at that point, and Peter was bouncing around to a few camera positions, learning back-end stuff, and trying to get on so many sets himself. We decided to push him more initially, and I would stay at home mostly, and figure work out on the side as it came along. It really helped balance our family out.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?
We find that we are constantly shaping what we want to deliver and be. I was discussing this with Peter just the other day. We often receive questions about “success” or how we “made it.” But I think it’s easy to not feel like you’ve “made it” when you’re constantly evolving and shifting the lane of your business. Right now, Peter just joined the union and will be on-set for commercials and movies, in addition to creating his own productions and freelancing on several other projects that are really inspiring and keeping him pretty busy.
After four years of blogging and about nine years of freelance styling, I decided to just go for it and create more, and it’s really taken off into its own thing. I am able to create and style, but also have this blog that is doing well and that I am really into right now, because it encompasses all of me.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
If you’re driven and a nice person with a good heart, the work will come, and it will keep coming. People will not only want to be around you because you’re good at what you do, but because you’re enjoyable to work with.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Finances, for sure. You know, you have to have investors. And I’m not talking about big honchos. Family that’s willing to lend a helping hand in the beginning until the checks roll in, friends who are willing to babysit for free while you take a 14-hour job. We are not freelancers because we want to be rich (that would be nice, though). We are freelancers because that’s where we excel, and that’s where our family is happiest. Finances take a huge hit for a long while, and knowing that this is the case, and that it will eventually turn around, is key.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Don’t spend money that isn’t yours, and don’t undercut yourself. Taxes man, they exist! And you have got to pay the IRS — they really don’t play with small business — I feel like we get it the worst. Also, your rate is your rate, your fee is your fee, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re worth less. It’s a small world, and through work, word travels fast and people get boxed in real fast and easy, too. Once you do something for X price, you equal X price. Be careful.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?
The moments of failure are the moments when we let the stress of it leak over into our marriage. It happens, and I think early on, it’s easy to feel like your partner is against you or whatever. Now, no matter how things go, we try to remember we have the same goal and values and we are on the same team. We need to constantly feel that support, and when we don’t, we are failing miserably. Not just ourselves but our business and our children.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Traveling. We really can’t, and I’m not sure when this will happen for us. We have hopes it will some day. But we had these big dreams of traveling for months and just relaxing, but thankfully, work keeps coming. And since we know the rollercoaster of work as a freelancing couple, we try to take every opportunity that works for our family.
With that said, we do have random weeks where we spend some local vacation time together, and our schedules allow us to be present with the kids quite often. But traveling far means potentially saying no to big opportunities, or getting enough work finished where we can, and that never happens. Once we start to plan something big, usually we get a call about something big that has nothing to do with travel.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?
This is hard! And this is going to sound like such a mom thing to say, but often, we find ourselves looking around our home and at our kids, and the things they’re able to experience through blogging or go to through Peter working on some amazing sets, or cool clothes they’re wearing, or simply food in the fridge, and we feel really successful. Being at the point where we are really comfortable and also, able to provide an amazing life for our two children, and even hire people to help us — that feels successful. I don’t even know how to define success, and it always feels like an awkward conversation, but success for us is the everyday. Really.
What business books or resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
There’s no book. Get out, meet people in your field. Ask questions and develop relationships. We have our business because we didn’t stop talking and meeting and hanging. We love making new friends in creative fields — you never know if someone will want to hire you, and vice versa. Put the book down and throw yourself into real and tangible relationships.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Can you do anything else and be this happy?
2. Are you passionate?
3. In terms of freelancing — are you okay with struggling financially, in the beginning?