By Dave Kostiuk
Do I really want to go back and work for another corporate company? Or do I want to follow my passion?
That was the question Buckhead resident Lynn Lilly asked herself four years ago. A few months away from getting married, she had just suffered the shock of being laid off from her corporate job. Fortunately, she had been given a decent severance package and still had some savings, allowing her a moment of soul searching.
Lilly reflected on her lifelong passion for DIY crafting, and before too long, she realized she should transform that passion into a full-time job. “I told my husband,” she laughed. “He was like ‘Oh Lord. What is about to happen?’”
Taking the leap
Around that time, Lilly’s cousin was listening to NPR and heard about a new City of Atlanta program called the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI). The program awarded 15 female-led startups with access to WEI’s Board of Directors and 15 months of free office space in downtown Atlanta’s historic Flatiron Building.
Lilly applied, and the acceptance process took about eight months. In the meantime, it was time to prepare. With the help of a couple close friends, she started a Facebook page and got feedback about people liked and what kind of projects they wanted. She even studied the personal and professional brands of Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray. Eventually, she decided to call the new venture Craft Box Girls, with a simple tagline: “Crafting a lifestyle outside the box.”
— Lynn Lilly (@lynnmlilly) May 12, 2017
Now, her former hobby has become a thriving business helmed by a talented team that works with large PR firms and the companies they represent. Craft Box Girls uses products their clients want to feature—a particular type of spray paint, for example—and creates original content by utilizing the product in lively how-to videos, blogs and TV appearances.
Lilly’s go-to project is home décor, especially the “upcycling” trend of taking an old, used object like a patio table and jazzing it up into something fun, fresh and new. Craft Box Girls has also published a book called Screen-Free Crafts Kids Will Love: Fun Activities that Inspire Creativity, Problem-Solving and Lifelong Learning (Ulysses Press).
Securing screen time
A huge part of Craft Box Girls’ success is Lilly’s small screen acumen, with more than 200 television appearances across the U.S., including Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Nashville, Birmingham and Atlanta. “When I was very young, I would pretend that I had a show called Live with Lynn Lilly that was like a morning show,” she laughed. “I was an only child.”
Soon after she had started her company, Lilly began pitching TV stations, letting them know that she had great projects to show their viewers. She managed to get on NBC’s Atlanta & Company, which turned into a year and a half of weekly segments. She graduated to appearances in other cities, and now brands even hire her as a spokesperson. “It’s a passion, something that I’m working on growing,” she explained.
Lately, she’s been talking to a few other national shows, but her ultimate goal is to establish a “multi-platform brand.” Last year, she launched CBG TV, a platform of how-to videos on Apple TV, and Craft Box Girls is also in talks to do its own show.
Lilly films the majority of this content in her basement, where she has installed a slick, professional studio. On our way to take a tour, we walked past a sign that reads, “Man Cave,” which Lilly explained with a laugh: “My husband originally thought he was going to get the whole basement.”
We entered her “crafty little world,” a storage room stuffed with props, products and samples, along with a pristine, attractive TV studio that doubles as a craft space. “About a year ago we put this in,” she said, referring to herself, her dad and her husband. “I convinced them to help me do it for my birthday.”
Speaking of her father, Lilly’s inspiration to be a craftswoman largely comes from her folks. “I have to say my parents are two of my biggest heroes,” she said. “My mom owns a dessert catering company, so she is very creative. My dad is a contractor, so on the building and design front, he’s super artistic. I grew up coming to school with the absolute best projects.”
One of her earliest memories is from grade school, when her class was assigned the task of creating little mailboxes for classmates to put Valentine’s Day cards in. “I was like, ‘We have to have the best one!’” Lilly recalls. She and her father broke out the tools and built a proper mailbox, complete with a pole and flag to open it.
Words of encouragement
Regarding tips for anyone looking to start her own business, Lilly has plenty. “When you have an idea,” she said, “it’s really important to figure out if it’s viable. Your small circle of friends may be like, ‘Yeah, that’s awesome,’ but I really think it’s important to go out and test that first. Do a lot of market research. Survey people. Do focus groups. Before you start investing a lot of money, you really want to know if it’s something people are actually going to use and want.”
She also urges hopefuls to surround themselves with people who can give great advice, especially in areas where one might not be as strong or may not have as much knowledge. “Figure out what you’re good at and not good at, and find people who can be advisors and can help you. That will save you a lot of money, heartache and trouble.”
Finally, Lilly reminded local entrepreneurs to learn about their surroundings and take advantage of them. “Atlanta’s growing as a tech hub,” she said. “There’s Tech Village. There’s Tech Square. They have a lot of free resources that you can get help from. I didn’t know about those things when I started Craft Box Girls, and a lot of those things didn’t exist three years ago. There are great resources here in Atlanta.”
Lead image by Chan Vu. Photos courtesy of Lynn Lilly.