Know Your Madisonian: Helping prospective adoptive parents complete their families

August 31, 2018

Like many successful small businesses, the one founded by Joanna Ivey began with an insight drawn from her life experience.

Ivey is an adult adoptee and adoptive mother who previously worked at a local adoption agency.

After working at the agency, Ivey said she began to realize the importance of adoption profiles — documents through which prospective adoptive parents seek to connect with potential birth parents.

“I was really amazed at how something as simple as a well-created profile book changed the adoptive process,” Ivey said.

Ivey used that insight to found Our Chosen Child, a firm that specializes in helping prospective adoptive parents create adoption profiles. The business also helps parents seeking to adopt build websites and create other outreach materials. In the last 12 years, Our Chosen Child has become a leader in its small niche industry, serving hundreds of clients a year.

How did your business emerge?

I decided I wanted to start this business (in 2006). I started working out of my laundry room. When the phone rang I had to reach behind me and turn off the washer. Slowly but surely, word got around. Now I have eight employees and a built-on office space to my house.

We have agencies in Canada, Malta, all over the world that refer clients to us. In a really small niche, we’re a really big player. ... We’ve come a long way from the laundry room.

We work with a lot of (clients) that people would know. And we work with a lot of really regular people who are trying to make their dream of a family come true.

How did your life experiences influence your business startup?

I was working part-time at (local adoption agency) Adoptions of Wisconsin just before we launched the business in ’06, and I thought other people might be struggling as much as we had. I thought, there’s a business there.

It was pretty natural for me to think, yeah, I’m gonna run with this.

Creating a profile — it was torture. You’re distilling your entire life into 12 pages. Every word is so important, every photo is so important. You over-think absolutely everything that you do.

It took us six months to create it (for our son’s adoption). It was such a draining process. All your hopes and dreams rest on this one thing.

I have a team of designers now that do that, and they’re great at it. I focus on coaching and counseling adoptive parents.

What’s your pitch to prospective clients?

What clients most appreciate is that we’re not just taking their photos and text and dropping it in a template. We’re really coaching them on how to tell their story. Then we create a custom profile that honestly represents them.

Adoptive parents and birth parents are often different demographics. I’m teaching our clients how to express themselves in ways that expectant parents will appreciate.

Tell me more about your business niche and where you fit within it.

I think there’s probably eight to 10 businesses, and all of them, to my knowledge, are sole proprietors. We are the only business of our kind that has full-time graphic designers doing the work, and we do a lot. There’s no one even close to what we do.

We create adoption profiles. We create adoption websites for adopting families. We create outreach materials like outreach cards, social media graphics for clients to use.

It seems like it would be a really fulfilling job.

We’re not making widgets here! As a friend once said, “You’re selling hope. That’s what you do.” She was right.

When our clients bring their baby home — they always send me an email to let me know. We send clients a onesie with “Our Chosen Child” on it, and they often share it on social media, which is great.

What my mom called me when I was adopted –- she said I was “our chosen child.” That’s why I named the business that.

It’s a weird little niche in what we do. When I interview graphic designers, they’re like: “That’s a job? People do that?” But we do.

— Interview by Mark Sommerhauser

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