Connecticut mom Tia Miller didn’t set out to be a business owner. Like some entrepreneurs, the opportunity came from personal need and eventually developed into a business concept.
For Tia, the idea started in 2008, a year after she had her first son. “With a little one at home, I realized I needed a break. I remember thinking: Where do I go if I just need some respite?”
But when she looked for ideas, Tia quickly found there was really nowhere to go for a mom who didn’t need full-time daycare.
“I did a lot of research and discovered that hourly daycare centers didn’t exist in Connecticut,” says Tia. “So, I decided to open one.”
She continued to research and found that most drop-in centers in the country were in North Carolina, Texas, and California. Tia traveled to North Carolina for more on-site research. “North Carolina has tons of drop-in centers,” she notes. “I went and visited a couple and met with several different owners.”
HOW DO I START A BUSINESS?
Tia received great feedback—but she still needed help. “My main question was: How do I start a business?”
“I love to research,” she admits, joking that her next profession could be detective work. Through online research, Tia found the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center and signed up for a six-month program. “It was great. They taught me how to do it all—writing a business plan, financing, how to be an LLC. All of it.”
Tia opened her first company in 2009. She received funding through the Patriot Express Loan, a loan for military families who want to start a business. (Her ex-husband is in the military.)
CT Kidz by the Hour LLC was a drop-in center that provided hourly, daily, weekly, and evening childcare.
“It was the first drop-in center in Connecticut,” Tia notes. The company was located in a 3,0002 ft facility on New Britain Avenue in Rocky Hill. “We did everything from the start—put in walls and installed the tiny sinks and toilets. It was amazing!”
At the same time, Tia continued her teaching career. She ran the business from 2009 until 2013 when, sadly, her second child passed away.
“It was hard for me to get up and go to work every day. And then a lot of the parents weren’t seeing me at the daycare and began wondering: Where is Tia?” she recalls. “I was working both jobs part-time—teaching and running the daycare. I just couldn’t do it, so I closed the daycare.”
In 2016, Tia was looking for summer work and an opportunity aligned with Little People’s Summer Playhouse at the Elmwood Community Center in West Hartford. The preschool-type camp runs Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays during the summers. The opportunity expanded, and Tia now offers a Little People’s Summer Playhouse at the Apple Barn in Simsbury.
“It just evolved,” says Tia. “I started doing birthday parties at Elmwood Community Center and then I began running Saturday playdates, which are especially popular around the holidays. If you want to go shopping without your children, you can drop them off for three hours on Saturday,” she explains.
At this point, Tia was running playgroups, camps, classes, and birthday parties. “I love event planning and working with children,” she emphasizes. “I began to realize: This is actually forming into a business and I knew I needed to start another business.”
Tia’s friends and family had always commended her about he exceptional attention to detail and her creativity. She came up with the name “Creativista” as a play on the word “fashionista.”
She launched Creativista Charm LLC in 2016.
MARKETING AND PROMOTION
One of the best things about her current business is how much is built-in. Tia explains:
“With CT Kidz by the Hour, my drop-in center business, I had to do it all. I had to pay the light bill and the rent and pay someone to clean. I had to do the paperwork for all the children who entered. I had to control the staff. It was a lot. And, there were some things I didn’t like about being the only business owner—mostly managing a large staff and the paperwork.”
She continues, “The great thing about contracting with community centers is they do all the promoting and advertising. They also do the paperwork and often provide a staff member. I remember thinking: I can run a business without having to do all the things I didn’t care for in my previous business.”
Tia feels it was all meant to be. “I had to close my first business, but a lot of people don’t realize, when you’re a business owner, if one business fails you’ve just got to keep going. My first business didn’t work out, but I didn’t give up. This one just kind of fell into my lap,” she points out. “I’m still working with children, which I love, and I don’t have to manage all the paperwork or staff.”
Not one to turn down opportunity, last year Tia expanded her business based on her students’ interest.
“At the beginning of the school year, my students and I share something about ourselves. Last year, I started off by telling them: I have a son and I have a business,” she recalls. “They were surprised I had a business. When I told them about it and they learned about the kids’ birthday parties, they wanted me to do birthday parties for them.”
Tia originally thought dealing with middle schoolers and high schoolers would be challenging, but eventually she realized the need and started Hartford Teen Nights.
In November 2017, Creativista Charm hosted the first Teen Night event at the Metzner Recreation Center in Hartford. Safety is a priority at the events, where there are security and parent volunteers. The kids sign in when they arrive and receive a wristband depending on who is picking up.
Since the first event, Tia has connected with the City of Hartford, which has a new initiative to try and get kids off the streets and stop the violence. This city has been trying to reach youth between the ages of 13 and 24.
This summer, Tia met with the Mayor Luke Bronin and Kim Oliver, the Director of Families, Children Youth and Recreation for the City of Hartford. “They told me: We love what you’re doing. You have this niche. You have a credibility with these kids,” she recalls.
Hartford Teen Nights have become monthly events. And their popularity is taking off, largely due to social media. The hartford_teen_nights Instagram page has more than 1,400 followers. “Teenagers message me asking: When is the next event?” Tia notes.
Social media also connected Tia to Innovation Destination Hartford. She reached out after seeing an Instagram post encouraging local entrepreneurs and small business owners to share their experience.
Surprisingly, the biggest startup challenge for Tia has not been balancing her time or finding funding.
“With this business I don’t have a location, so that keeps costs down since I can prepare everything I do at home, on my time. I go to local inexpensive stores to buy all my supplies,” she explains. “With my daycare business, I had to have a business plan and I took out a large business loan. Creativista Charm wasn’t really a startup—I just did it. So, there wasn’t a large startup cost.”
Currently, Tia’s biggest challenge is finding sponsors for the Hartford Teen Nights. “With the playdates and the Little People’s Playhouse events the business can be profitable,” she notes. “With the Hartford Teen Nights, I either don’t make a profit or I break even.”
Tia reached out to the West Indian Foundation and was able to connect and get a sponsor for one Hartford Teen Nights event. The City of Hartford sponsored another event at the Hartford Yard Goats stadium.
“It’s helpful for Hartford Teen Nights to have a sponsor for these events that can cover the costs,” she says. “I think if I were a nonprofit I would be able to get more sponsors.”
Tia’s long-term goal for Hartford Teen Nights is to partner with the City of Hartford and have a teen center and potential summer 2019 events, including camps.
Another goal is for her to do Creativista Charm full-time.
“I love being an entrepreneur!” she says. “I can wake up when I want to wake up. I can stay up late and then I can be there for my son, he’ll be 11 this year.”
Right now, she’s happy her business is growing. “It’s not like I’m working for it to grow—it just grows,” she admits. “I’m just doing what I love to do daily.”
Learn more about Creativista Charm