When we ready the book, “The Richest Kids in America” by Mark Victor Hansen this summer, my daughter was so amazed by Olivia and I just knew I had to interview her for Raising CEO Kids. Olivia was diagnosed with cancer as a young girl and used her love of art to overcome the pain and the challenge of all the treatments. Not only is she an extremely successful artist but she also has a huge heart raising money for charities that support cancer prevention as well as those affected by it. As I talked with Olivia, I fell in love with her enthusiasm for life. Her happiness comes through in her voices as well as in her beautiful pieces of artwork!
Sarah: I’m here live with Olivia Bennett and I’m so excited to be talking to you today Olivia because whole Cook family read about you in your book that you were included in called, “Richest Kids in America” by Mark Victor Hanson. We were so impressed. I thought, I’ve got to talk to her, I’ve got to see what she’s doing and hear about your success and how you started and how you overcame the trials that you overcame. So tell us a little bit about you, how you got started in business?
Olivia: Well thank you so much. It’s great to be here. I was really honored to be included in that book. It was a just a really great group of individuals and really inspiring. I’m on Twitter and the Facebook and then my website, OliviaBennett.com. And that’s the best way to get a hold of me definitely.
Sarah: So what do you do Olivia? Tell us, you’re a young artist but you’re not super, super young in that you just started your own gallery. So tell us about that and how you got started in this process.
Olivia: I just turned 20. I’m a watercolor and oil painter and I started painting just with Crayolas when I was 5. I always loved being creative and just expressing myself but never really looked at it or entered it as a business but it just kind of fell into place. And I went wow, I’m doing what I love and I’m getting paid for it. But there were definitely steps along the way that I took to get me here and I’ve just been really fortunate to be able to do what I love and live it out. But just, just opened my second gallery actually. I only have one location right now but just reopened my gallery here in South Lake Texas a couple of months ago and it’s been amazing. Getting ready to start teaching and working with kids again and just really loving this whole experience.
Sarah: That is so awesome. So were the things that influenced you? Besides your love of art, what else influenced you to start your own business?
Olivia: You know, it was just a lot of really positive feedback. For me, I mean I went into it just loving creating and I had paintings all over my mom’s house. And I had a woman come over for a scrapbooking party that my mom was teaching. I think I was about eight and she looked around at the paintings and said, “Gosh I love these. Who did this art?” And so I met her, and she said, “Can I buy a piece from you?” So I showed her everything that I had and she came back at me and said, “I love this painting that you did of some Tulips.” And it was a small watercolor. And she goes “How much, can I buy that? How much would you charge me for that?” So my mom and I, we went in the kitchen and we were conversing back and forth. And we said, “Okay, how about $50.00?” So I told her okay, I said, “I think $50.00 is fair.”
And she goes, “You’re going to have to be ready because people are going to start asking you.” And I kind of laughed and thought whatever. I didn’t really think of it going gosh I could make tons of money with this. But it was just little things like that. Teachers and friends and just people around my neighborhood that wanted to support me and finding about my work. And from there other people would buy. And then when I moved to Texas, when I was ten, I did my first art show and the first weekend I sold 24 paintings and made almost $2,000.00. And I went, “Wow, I can actually do this.” At the time I didn’t think there were many artists that were successful. I just didn’t, not to say that they’re all starving artist but I just wasn’t exposed to that so I didn’t really recognize it as a profession or as a choice. So I kind of fell into it. But I just slowly just through different mentors and different people that I met along the way kind of evolved into what it is today.
Sarah: That’s great. So tell us some of the obstacles that you had to overcome to get your business started?
Olivia: I think one of the greatest things and one of biggest challenges is definitely just my age. Being young people didn’t really take me seriously. And they look at this little blond girl running her business and they kind of go, “Oh, that’s sweet.” But they didn’t think anything of it. So and even at the first couple art shows I did, people didn’t believe it was my work. They just thought, oh her mom’s doing it or she’s helping her mom out. They didn’t recognize that okay, this is her stuff. So I’d send my mom behind the booth and I’d say, “Hey, I’ll call you when I need help with the credit card machine.” And I’d sit there and paint in front of people. And when someone’s ready to check out she’d come back and help me with the business side of it.
Sarah: That’s brilliant. I love that.
Olivia: I just thought I’m going to show people this is me, this is my work. Just little things like that. But the age as challenging as it was getting started in some aspects. Opening my first store, I opened my first store when I was 14; my first physical location. It was about 2000 square feet and I couldn’t sign a lease legally, I wasn’t even allowed to sign a lease until I was 18. And even being 18, they’d probably go gosh that’s young. But they saw something in me and they decided to give me that chance which was great. So, but on the other side, I think people really want to support kids, even just young people. I think they get excited and go, you know it’s great to see young people making a difference and doing something neat.
Sarah: That’s great. So what were some of the expenses? Tell us a little bit about that because I know that there are a lot of biz kids I’ve talked to that do have art ideas or design work or craft type ideas. What are some of the expenses beside the paint, besides the canvases, besides those kinds of things? What does it take to get your gallery started?
Olivia: Well, starting out I started small. I just started with my watercolors, selling my watercolor paintings. And then I got into oils and I started, I got note cards that I had made out of a company in California; the stationary. And then we started doing prints and that kind of thing. And the merchandise itself was much more expensive than the paintings. Paint doesn’t cost all that much to put together. I mean, it’s a fairly expensive hobby but it’s not too bad.
But as far as the merchandise, that’s where it really gets crazy. And just accounting, I had to hire a CPA when I was young to take care of all that. So just little things like that you don’t think of. And then owning a store now, I mean I have rent and utilities and cost of business cards, cost of all these day to day things that you don’t normally think about. Advertising, direct mailing, keeping your website up and going; all that stuff. Just it’s all, it all costs money. But you have to spend money to make money. And I’ve been careful about spending; as the business is growing I can spend more. So we’re just kind of taking small bites versus all that at once.
Sarah: Awesome! So tell us a little bit about the fact that today is your 13th year of being cancer free. Cancer was the key to helping you get started in art, is that true?
Olivia: was diagnosed when I was five. I was going in for my kindergarten check up and they found leukemia and they said, “We need to start you on chemotherapy and treatments right away.” So I went through treatments for about two years. But it was just on the point I was home, I had little energy and painting was kind of my outlet and my release. And that is the thing I loved to do before that. But I just needed it so much more at the time. That was just kind of my way of getting lost and not paying attention to all the outside things that were going on around me.
So at the time it wasn’t my business, it was just this love and this passion that grew into that. But I think cancer just made me really appreciate life more than anything else. And go, you know what, I don’t care how old you are, you just have to make the most of every situation, every opportunity and I think that’s kind of what it gave me. So there were a lot of blessings that came out of it.
Sarah: And there always are, aren’t there?
Olivia: You know what, absolutely. I think every trial there’s a blessing to follow. I absolutely believe that in everything.
Sarah: So what are some of the other good surprises? What are some of things that you have found along the way that you thought, I never knew that this was even out there?
Olivia: Oh I still pinch myself. I can’t believe I’m doing this. So much of it’s been the people. I mean, I love the painting and the creating. But just the people that I’ve been able to meet and the traveling and just that part of the experience has been probably the most rewarding just knowing, working with kids. And I used to teach; I had about 40 students and I’m going to start back in January. And that’s been amazing. Just think I’m getting inspired and excited and I’ve had kids – I had a little girl that’s 14 and she sold a couple of her pieces to friends and she’s selling them for like $100.00 each. And I though, how cool is that? So it’s really just the relationships that have come out of it and just the places that I’ve been able to travel and the speaking and just knowing that I get to do what I love. That’s been such a blessing.
Sarah: No kidding, right? Not everybody does. A lot of people either don’t have a job or they check in and checkout everyday and hate their life. And it’s so huge that you get to do what you want.
Olivia: And there’s so many people that live that way. And I just, and the wonderful thing about art and being an entrepreneur is that it doesn’t have to be your full time. You know, start out small and let it slowly evolve. And when it gets big enough, you can make that choice to go, okay; do I want to quit my nine to five? But that was the main thing for me was I didn’t enter it, that’s the great thing about starting out young is that I didn’t have a mortgage, I didn’t have all these things where I had to support a family; I could just do it because I loved it and it evolved. But even starting out, I mean, you know, you can 30 or 40 and start a company, it doesn’t matter how old you are.
Sarah: Right. So you talked about having all these people that helped you. You have an accountant and your mom helps do some of the things with you and what other people are on, who else is on your team and where did you find them?
Olivia: My mom is huge. I wouldn’t be running this business without her; she’s been so instrumental in that. And you know, my whole family they help me set up and take down at every art show whether they want to or not. I recruit my dad and my brother, they do the heavy lifting. My family’s been so supportive and just friends and just people around me that have been supportive in different ways. But I think life’s just such a connection. I think if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, I believe, I mean, God just put every person that I needed right in my path whether it be my accountant or when I had my last gallery I had a couple of women working there that were just wonderful; just the saleswomen. Just lawyers to look over contracts; all these things. I’ve been really lucky in finding great people to help me. That’s a huge part of it. Just having a good team. And a lot of it I just pick peoples brains. I’m, I mean, I’ll ask anyone, “Hey who does your website for you? Do you like them?” So I just ask a lot of questions.
Sarah: That is really, really key I think. And I think it’s been key in helping my own kids get started in business.
Olivia: I think people, especially when you’re young, people want to support you and they want to help you and they go, “That’s so exciting that that kids trying to make a difference is that they’re creating something or they’re out there doing what they love.” And I just noticed how incredibly supportive people are. There’s very little risk. I mean, especially if you start small. That was my main thing is that I didn’t start into this going, okay, in ten years here’s my business plan, I’m going to have these stores and this merchandise. It just evolved and as people, more people supported it and more media and more this and that things fell into place, it grew. And that’s the main thing is that don’t bite off too much at once. Start with a passion, find your passion first and then just slowly let it go from there. I mean, mine hasn’t been slow by any means, it’s kind of took off I mean almost overnight. It’s been amazing. But as far as our steps we’ve really just kind of let it all fall into place. That was the main thing.
Sarah: That’s good. So what are some of your approaches to marketing? What’s been the best way to get your voice out? What did you do first? So that person bought that first painting and then what happened?
Olivia: Word of mouth has been so huge. Just people, like I said that’s the one great thing about being a child entrepreneur is people really want to support you and they tell their friends and they get excited. And the media does too. Which I had, that was a great, a lot of great opportunities. When I was young, my first art festivals, I was the youngest one ever at some of these shows so they sent out camera crews and people would come out and get excited. But I do, I mean, I do advertising, I do special networking, I do my website. And just from shows and people go, “Oh, I saw you five, six years ago.” I have people that still discover like having a storefront, that’s been a really great. So different ways; but word of mouth is the biggest thing. And I think life’s just about connections. It’s all about whom you know and just kind of just being available to it.
Sarah: Absolutely. So how do you balance it all? Because you have life and friends and family and I don’t know if you’re going to school or if you did go to college or not or if you plan on it. But how are you balancing all of things?
Olivia: The main thing is just doing what I love to do. It’s not a job by any means but I do live it and breathe it every day. It’s my life. But I think just a lot of it’s just been having fun doing it. And so many of my friends and that kind of thing have been people that I’ve met along the way through my career.
I actually I decided not to do the college route just because I’ve been traveling and so busy with and I wouldn’t be able to give 100% to it. But most of the people that I’m good friends with today and that I work with, I’ve all met through my career. So in a way that’s brought me, my career’s brought me a big portion of my life. Just the experiences and the travels and like some of the kids in Mark’s book, we’re all great friends and we talk on a weekly basis; which has been amazing. So I think, and then just having a really great family. And staying involved with my church and just loving it and not taking any of it for granted.
Sarah: That’s so great. So are there any other tips that you’d want to share?
Olivia: I would just say support from your family is the biggest thing; that’s been huge for me. And then just making sure that you’re passionate about it to begin with. I think if you go into it saying, okay, I mean, it’s great to go into saying, okay I’m going to start this as a business. But if you’re doing it just to make money, you’re not going to be, you might be successful but you won’t be happy. I think start with something that you love to do whether it’s cooking or pet sitting or whatever it may be. I mean, those are, there’s so many different things you can do.
But just starting small but making sure that you love it to begin with; that’s going to be the root of it. Because there’s times where I’m exhausted and I go, “Thank God I love painting and these people.” Because you do put a lot of yourself into it and there’s a lot to be said for doing a nine to five where it’s, you have that comfort. Being an entrepreneur, you’re out creating your own life and it takes guts and you have to really believe in yourself. So I think having a good support team around you and just having that courage to go out there and do it is the main thing.
Sarah: I love what you said about make sure you love it because if you love something, you’ll never really have to work a day in your life. Yes, it’s work but it’s not like that drudgery of oh my goodness, have to get up, have to go lets, and then you get home and you’re like I hate it, let’s do it all over again tomorrow.
Olivia: When you hit that point, you’re not doing the right thing. I think everyone’s, we’ve all got our passions and there all so different and we’ve all, I mean, there’s just so many opportunities and there’s so many different things you can do. That’s why it’s like, that’s why entrepreneurism is so wonderful because you can really create the life that you want to live versus going out and working for someone else which I have nothing against; it’s great. But going out and working for someone else and kind of doing what they tell you to do versus going out and saying, I love to travel. How can I incorporate this with my other passions? For me, that’s the mundane thing is that I love traveling. I’m addicted to traveling. So I’m going how can I integrate this in with my art and the rest of my career?
Sarah: So how do you do that? Because that’s another little piece that we’re going to be talking about in a month or so is involving your whole life into your family business or into the kid’s business. And so because each of my kids are striving to have their own business, when we want them to travel we want them to use part of that as their own business, they can have like a little mini business trip. Does that make sense? Like so how can you do that? Can you write off some of those things, do you write off some of those things?
Olivia: That would be a great question for my accountant! Thank God for great accountants. I mean, everyone’s got their passions and that’s not one of mine but someone else loves to do it. I think for me, just the art shows and speaking and different things like that. But I’m looking at it going, okay. I mean for me, it’s like how can I create this not how can I find these opportunities. So working with different galleries, working with different people in speaking, working with some different schools and that kind of thing to where I can go and maybe speak to those kids; different opportunities like that. There are opportunities everywhere. It’s honestly figuring out what you want to do, that’s the hardest thing. And then believing that you can really have it and going okay, if I could have anything I wanted, what would it be? For me, that’s always been my first question. All right, if I could do what I wanted to do, what would it be?
Sarah: What do you do on a daily basis to make sure that that’s just keeps in front of you that you know what, I can have this, I can have this, I can have this. Just that whole belief, how do you keep that into your head and into your heart?
Olivia: It’s hard sometimes. There’s sometimes where I get, I mean, I don’t want to say discouraged but you kind of get off track and you have to sit down and really allow yourself to want it and go, okay, what do I really want? Because I really think there’s so many endless opportunities out there. And for me, almost every goal I’ve set for myself I’ve hit and I’m always creating new goals. But I think it’s just allowing yourself to go, okay, I can have this. And that’s one of things that so wonderful about being young and doing it is kind of having that childhood, I don’t want to say naivety but just having that kind of just feeling like the world is yours to conquer and having that mindset that, you know what, I can have this. And I think having good parents to support you and go, you can be anything you want to be, you can do whatever you want to do, that’s huge.
Sarah: Thank you so much for taking time with us. I just appreciate it and you are so talented. We love looking at your website with all the different, beautiful pictures. So it’s just so, such a blessing. You’re doing a great job. And thank you for being such an inspiration to kids, I appreciate it.
Olivia: Thank you so much. I love it, it’s been a dream come true.