Any parent that has ever purchased a personalized book for the their child knows exactly how the process goes. The extent of the personalization is usually limited to the child’s name, a friend’s name, and maybe their favorite food. However, Shara Lawrence-Weiss, the owner of Personal Child Stories, has created a business that goes above and beyond in this industry.
Now imagine creating a personalized book that could help your child learn his or her ABC’s, accept his or her own disabilities, or even cope with an impending divorce between parents. Personal Child Stories can create a story for nearly any situation your child may encounter. If you need it, they can probably do it for you.
We recently spoke with Shara about her unique business, what separates her from the other personalization companies, and her own inspiration.
Tell us a little about Personal Child Stories.
Personal Child Stories came about after the birth of my first son. He was born with numerous medical complications and his right eye was removed. Soon after that, he received a prosthetic eye (ten days following his first birthday). He pulled the eye out, chewed on it, hid the eye in cereal boxes, etc. When he received his first pair of glasses he snapped them right in two. He needed the glasses to protect his one Seeing eye. I searched for books, on the market, to help him better understand his special eye and glasses. Nothing existed (that I could locate). My mother suggested that I write stories using personal photographs, to better engage my son on a personal level. I created one book to help him gain respect for his prosthetic eye and one book about the importance of keeping his glasses on. After about 3 weeks his behavior modified in a positive way (he stopped chewing/hiding the eye and he stopped breaking his glasses). At that point I knew I was onto something. I wasn’t ready to start my business, though. Eight years later, while attending college for my elementary ed degree, I decided, “Now is the time!”
How many book themes do you offer?
The options are endless. As of now, I have created books for counting, ABC’s, name recognition, loss of a pet, getting through a divorce, moving, potty training, welcoming a new sibling, helping siblings to appreciate each other on a deeper level, medical books (for children who have heart conditions or have endured strokes, etc), self esteem focused stories, baby books, memory books, keepsakes, Preschool books (with a holder for their class CD and a page on which to practice their name), special needs books and more.
How long does it take to go from start to finish when creating one of your books?
This totally depends on the book theme. Counting books are simple but writing a story that explains a heart condition is far more time consuming. If research must be done, it takes more time. Simple books can be created in a few days. My longest book order took 1.5 months to complete from start to finish.
Besides photos, what kind of information do you need from the buyer to make a personalized book?
Good question! If the customer wants a book but doesn’t know what theme they need, we can talk through that. I can ask questions about their child/grandchild/student to get a feel for what theme would be most helpful. If they do know what theme they want, we can eliminate that step. From there, I ask some questions about the child and I analyze the photos. I can generally get a good sense of the child/family just by viewing the images. Is the child silly? Goofy? Funny? Shy? Fearful of trying new things? The photos typically tell the story and from there, I begin to write the text in my mind.
If I need more information as I go along, I ask the parent/grandparent/teacher to fill in some gaps.
Any plans to expand on the number of themes available?
At this point, any theme is possible. I don’t have a set list because I believe that every child is different. Each kiddo needs to be taken into consideration along with their culture, needs, likes, family values, etc. I offer books in any language and any theme (family friendly, of course).
What separates you from other personalized children book companies?
Thanks for asking! Other companies typically have standardized stories and they plug names into the text and print. The books are either hard bound or soft cover. Many times, those books are not age appropriate. For instance, I bought one for my son 11 years ago. He was only a year old but the book was a chapter story. I’ve never met a one year old who willingly sat through a chapter book, eh?
My background is in early childhood, education and published freelance. I was also a nanny for over 16 years, working with children birth-13. I write each book based on the child’s age and stage. There are no “pre set” stories. I then print, cut, laminate every page (heavy duty), cut again, bind and round the corners. Every book is custom written, individualized and can be colored on and wiped clean. Most children do color on their books and/or try to tear out the pages. By laminating, they receive a book that’s darn near indestructible. Most books also contain a coloring page in back (based on what they enjoy coloring: animals, flowers, etc). This also stands to help the child’s fine motor skill development.
Children learn quickly when the text is age appropriate and when the images (photos) are effective – rather than “overwhelming.” I steer clear from making my books look like scrapbooks. My books are about function rather than scrapbooking.
What are some lessons your business has taught you?
- Don’t expect your family and friends to immediately support you. This rarely happens. If you have a few good people supporting you, focus on them rather than on who’s missing!
- Listen to constructive criticism. No one grows (personally or in business) by ignoring the people who offer feedback. Even if it hurts.
- Sometimes our greatest breakthroughs come after we’ve allowed the hurt to change us.
- Learn from mistakes, pick up, and carry on. Don’t let small setbacks destroy your dreams/business.
- Find a great group of people to network with. Share ideas, gain feedback from them, share your own ideas, etc.
- Don’t worry day and night that someone will steal your ideas. People do steal and copy, all the time. If you know that you have originals ideas, you’ll always remain one step ahead of the copycats. Trust that!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Running a business is no easy process. Between the pre-planning, setting up a professional website, having a game plan in mind, promoting and marketing, gaining word of mouth and loyal support… it’s time consuming. Many businesses close down in their first year because people charge up, expecting to pay off quickly. The likelihood of that happening is slim. Both of my businesses began earning a profit only after about 2.5 years.
Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs that are just getting started?
Pay cash for your start up materials, if possible. Go slowly and don’t quit your day job until you have your at-home business somewhat (at the very least) established. Starting a business doesn’t come free but if you can avoid charging $100,000 on a credit card, you’ll be glad you did!