Christine Koh

Hello!

I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Featured Mama Liz White

lizwhite1.jpgWelcome to the 8th installment of Boston Mamas Rock! - where we're giving a voice to fabulous local mamas, whether they be entrepreneurs, avid volunteers, stay at home moms, moms who have closet talents, authors, media professionals, politicians, professors, etc. Read on for today's interview with Liz White, mother of two and mortgage broker turned gifting aficionado. Then go ahead and nominate yourself or a friend!

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Liz White, President, Mason & Madison

Christine: Tell us a little bit about your background Liz. My understanding is that you worked as a mortgage broker for over 10 years before becoming an official gifting aficionado. What was the path that led you to the mortgage business? Were you passionate about that line of work?

Liz: Prior to working as a mortgage broker, I worked as a retail manager for small, specialty clothing boutiques for over 9 years. That is where I learned a lot about sales, merchandising, marketing, and management. I loved working in the retail industry! However, after I got married, the long grueling hours of working nights, weekends, and holidays took its toll and a friend introduced me to the mortgage industry. I excelled early because my retail background prepared me in offering outstanding customer service as a mortgage broker in a highly competitive industry.

Christine: So your gift giving and mortgage brokering skills intersected in that you put together amazing closing gifts for your firm's clients. I must ask...is that the norm, or a growing trend? I don't recall ever hearing from my friends and family about brokers providing fabulous house warming gifts to clients!

Liz: I worked in an affluent area were real estate prices were very high. Typically, real estate agents were the ones to give closing gifts. As an all-women mortgage broker office, we needed to set ourselves apart and we were already known for outstanding customer service. We relied heavily on word of mouth referrals. I approached my boss and told her that giving a personal, unique gift at the closing would make our clients remember us. It was important to me that the gift have longevity and real meaning. For example, if the client had children or pets, I included items for them. Since we got to know our clients very well during the 30 days prior to closing, I made sure the gift spoke to their hobbies or lifestyle.

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Christine: So this brings me to your gifting business Mason & Madison, which you launched in 2003. Should I assume the name comes from your two kids? Where did motherhood intersect with your professional journey?

Liz: Yes, Mason & Madison are my children. Actually, my daughter is named Brooke but her middle name is Madison. Since my experience was in a professional field made up of both men and women who might need my services, I wanted a name would appeal to both and sounded professional.

I needed to work as part of a two-income household but I struggled to find that perfect balance between being a mom and a businesswoman. When I became pregnant with my second child, I realized I needed to find a career that would allow me to work from home while doing something I loved. The gift-giving aspect of my job gave me the idea!

Christine: How have you juggled motherhood with your business? What do you think has been the most challenging thing about being a mamapreneur?

Liz: Juggling motherhood with my business has been a challenge! It was tougher when my children were babies since they needed my undivided attention. Now that they are older (ages 7 and 8), it has been easier to dedicate myself to the business while they are in school.

The challenge is to be readily available for them (i.e., if they are home sick or play sports, etc.). Since I set my own hours...working for myself gives me that flexibility.

Christine: I feel as if every day I learn of more and more moms who are trying to achieve work/life balance by calling their own shots as entrepreneurs. Do you have advice for moms thinking about making a leap and going pro with a skill or passion previously relegated as a hobby?

Liz: I was very conservative in my approach to launching Mason & Madison. I kept my day job while I learned everything I needed to know about launching my business. I bought inventory in small quantities, I went to industry trade shows, and I took night classes to learn about web design. I soaked up every piece of information about owning my own business that I could find. My advice is to take baby steps before making the leap to owning your own business and don't quit your day job until your ready to work harder than you've ever worked!

lizwhite3.JPGChristine: You just launched a physical store in Topsfield this spring. Congratulations! What led to the jump from exclusively online to brick and mortar? Were you tired of your home being overrun by product?

Liz: I realized that in order for my business to truly grow, I needed to physically get my products out to my customers. I felt that people needed to touch and feel my products to fully appreciate the quality and style of my gift baskets. An online presence was not going to achieve that. My home is still overrun by product!

Christine: I used to be an academic so I have a lingering obsession with data collection (formal or informal). I'm curious about your clientele. What population do you find you cater to most? Business folks? Busy moms? Is there a stereotypical gender split (i.e., do you help more men shop)?

Liz: The website caters to busy professionals (mostly men) that want to thank clients, acknowledge employee milestones, and build referrals.

But I find that the store caters to busy stay-at-home-moms and working moms that want a one-stop shop where they can find one-of-a-kind gifts, and offers free gift wrapping and/or the option to create an elegant gift basket for pick-up, delivery, or while they wait.

Christine: You spend so much time searching for the perfect gift and putting together beautiful packages. Do you ever wish you could be there for the delivery, or is the joy in assembly enough? And now that you are a gifting pro, do you find that the bar is impossibly raised for yourself when it's time to give a gift to family or friends?

Liz: I'm typically not there for the delivery but the reaction of the person that ordered the gift basket, when they come to pick it up, is priceless! They are blown away by the presentation of the gift and the attention to detail. That's when I know I am fulfilling my dream of making other people become gift-giving stars to their family and friends.

I love every opportunity to give a gift... I have so many ideas swirling in my head that any occasion to unleash my creativity is welcome!

Christine: Was your mortgage firm crestfallen when you left? Do they have a new in-house gift procurer, or do they hire you to help with their closing gifts?

Liz: I would hope to think they were crestfallen! I left because the commute and hours were very long and as a mother of two small children, I needed to be closer to home. I continued to create and give closing gifts for a new firm up until the point that I was ready to open my own store.

Christine: And finally, what's your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?

Liz: I needed to find the balance between home and work that every mama is trying to achieve. Working for myself, I believe I have found the perfect balance and I encourage all Boston mamas to go after their dreams of being a mamapreneur! It is possible!

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