Personal Finance

Raleigh’s Jennifer Durbin builds her Clueless Chick brand

Jennifer Durbin has an early evening snack with her son Tyler, 2, along with her husband Matt and other son, Carter (both not in the photo) Wednesday, July 24, 2013.  Durbin has started her own lifestyle business called Clueless Chick.
Jennifer Durbin has an early evening snack with her son Tyler, 2, along with her husband Matt and other son, Carter (both not in the photo) Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Durbin has started her own lifestyle business called Clueless Chick.

For a Clueless Chick, Jennifer Durbin does a lot of things right.

She is building a lifestyle brand around her three “ Tips for The Clueless Chick” books – guides for handling pregnancy, traveling with kids and party planning. Durbin calls them quick-start books for the modern woman, short takes on tomes such as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

“I came up with the concept of The Clueless Chick to say we all feel clueless sometimes, but that’s totally OK,” Durbin said. “We put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything just perfect. And of course that’s just silly.”

Durbin’s day job is information security officer at RTI International, a nonprofit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide. She has worked there since 2003.

But after work, once she and her husband, Matt, have put their 2- and 4-year-olds (Tyler and Carter) to bed, she works on her Clueless brand.

“I absolutely have the best of both worlds,” she said.

Her books are sold at Barnes & Noble, and she’s working on the next one. She writes for her blog, Carolina Parent, accessories maker Holly Aiken, Breyer’s ice cream and others. She is a frequent guest on money saver and lifestyle segments on Triangle and Charlotte TV news.

This summer, a 42-part video series Durbin taped in New York in collaboration with was released on YouTube. One part about getting through airport security with your baby got 1,600 hits in its first three days.

“I never want anyone to walk away from an interaction with me and think: ‘She has it all figured out,’ ” Durbin said. “It may seem like that, but that’s because I work my butt off to make it look that way.”

Keith Langbo, who owns Raleigh staffing company Kelaca, met Durbin through her work as an IT expert and said he was floored to learn all she does with Clueless Chick.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for everything Jennifer does,” Langbo said, “and I’m in awe of the accomplishments in all facets of her incredibly busy and successful life.”

Durbin, 32, a Meredith College grad and Kenan-Flagler MBA, is following best business practices she learned in school to build her company.

Recognize opportunity: Durbin calls herself a “quintessential Type-A, OCD overachiever,” so she channels that energy into Clueless Chick. During what she calls her “9-to-2” shift, after her full-time job ends, she devotes hours to Clueless Chick. She returns email during lunch hour or before work. She says she doesn’t need much sleep. “I’m very much a ‘wanna-get-things-perfect, I-want-to-be-in-control-of-everything’ type,” Durbin says. “Using what I have, I’ve been able to deal with the fact that I always feel like everything has to be perfect, I have to be healthy and fit and the kids have to be just right. Part of my goal is to manage that effectively.

“Does that mean I don’t get enough rest? Yes.”

Find a need and meet it: Durbin remembers being shocked that one day care she was considering for her first son was full. “I said: ‘How are you supposed to know these things’?”

A pregnant Durbin spent months researching all topics baby, and then she started sharing tips with friends, starting a blog. When strangers started quoting her pregnancy tips, not realizing she had written them, Durbin knew she was on to something. She decided to write a book targeted to expectant moms. That led to the book on traveling with baby, then party planning. That spurred a $10 kit she sells online to assemble a “diaper cake” for baby showers. Then there are her pregnancy note cards that can be corralled into a pregnancy journal. Sourced Media Books is national distribution of her books, and Durbin retains ownership of her content. She handles getting books to smaller bookstores and boutiques.

Durbin declined to discuss financial details of her company, but she said she has made money this year. She made a significant investment in book inventory, a publicist, trade shows, marketing and other costs to get Clueless Chick started, she said.

Manage risk: Most experts tell you to write a business plan, a 25-plus-page document that spells out the details of a well-researched business: the financials, structure, strategy and future. Though many entrepreneurs skip the tedious job of research, Durbin took the time to write a business plan. That helped her figure out her audience, how she would earn money, how to structure her business, and more.

To avoid any conflicts with her employer, she OK’d her book deal with her bosses at RTI before she accepted. “I work 50- to 60-hour weeks at RTI, so my job isn’t suffering. Believe me, I put in the time,” she said. “I’m very fortunate that (Clueless Chick) doesn’t impact my job.”

Protect yourself: Durbin spent hours researching quietly at night, then filed with the U.S. Trademark and Copyright offices to own the Clueless Chick name. Many people hire lawyers, but Durbin did it herself. “It took eight months, but it was a waiting game with lots of paperwork,” she said. “Through that process I literally told no one because I wanted to make sure I had the trademark in place.”

Involve family: None of this would be possible without Matt, Durbin says, because her husband, a software salesman with an MBA, urged her to get her business degree. “He was very much a force in me going back to get my MBA,” she said. They trade off with child care because Matt often travels for work. Durbin includes her boys in the business, letting them help pack for TV appearances or sample ice cream for blog posts she writes as a brand ambassador for Breyer’s. She remembers the boys being so excited when they first saw her books in Barnes & Noble. “They said, ‘Mama, that’s you!’ They were running around showing them to everyone.”

Plot a strategy: Durbin’s books are deliberately short (less than 100 pages) and priced below $10 to appeal to impulse buyers. “My sweet spot is definitely a woman who has a passion or a career she is devoting a significant amount of time to, but she also wants to do everything else the best she can.” She discovered she loves being in front of the camera and hopes to do more. “Would I love to have a regular spot on the ‘Today Show’? Yes. If I had that, would I feel I had made it? Yes, definitely.”

Durbin said her goal from the start was to build a successful company that can be a legacy for her sons. Her dream, she said, is that one day her son’s girlfriend will say, “ ‘Your mom’s the Clueless Chick? That’s so cool.’ That would mean I’ve made something they can be proud of.”

Sheon Wilson is a writer, personal stylist and creator of The N&O’s monthly makeover feature, Refresh Your Style.