Run Toward Something Great

I recently attended a gathering of some of the top brand mavens in Washington state. With Seattle incubating some of the coolest, most hip brands in business, there were some heavy hitters at the table. I squeaked in because I knew the organizer. It was a heady dinner. The format was loose and easy; we shared a bit about ourselves, talked about what we wanted to do in the next year with our businesses and then answered a random question (think Table Topics, only geared 1100% towards vulnerability and business).

The whole chat started out like the Table Topics game… except much more intense! Photo from TableTopics.com.

Maybe it was the great weather, maybe it was the glasses of champagne, or maybe there was something in the air but before the first person was done, there were tears flowing. The undercurrent of the room was powerful. Because of the first speaker’s vulnerability, it allowed everyone to shed their invisible coats of, “I have this all together. Really. I do.” People started to talk and really speak from the heart. There were quite a few large established brands, in all types of business (service, retail, wholesale) and universally, each person spoke eloquently of the struggles they most faced in their business.

They varied in how they were presented but basically, they were categorized into three things:

1. I’m tired. My business is hard. I want to try something else.

2. Balance is a myth. How can I keep juggling kids, my spouse, my business and somehow fit time in for myself?

3. How much growth should I be pushing for? When is enough enough?

The conversations after the formal discussion was over were enlightening.

On the “business is hard” front, some takeaways I heard were: it’s okay to admit you’re having an off week or an off month. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Are you doing what you really want to do? If so, push forward. If you think you’ve made a mistake and you’re not happy about where you are in your business or what you’re doing, can you restructure? Can you change your role? If you can’t see a way to make it work and give yourself some light at the end of the tunnel, figure out how to change something drastically.

Life is too short to not love what you do. But, don’t kid yourself. Business is never going to be easy. You are not going to love every single day. And that’s okay. It turns out that some of the most successful brands in business also have hard days and don’t always love their jobs either.

On the “balance is a myth” subject, some discussion I heard centered around trying to find the true north, the true zen in life and getting clear about what really matters (a la Steven Covey, Jack Canfield and Oprah). Figure out what’s important and do more of it. Say ‘No’ more. If it doesn’t lift your spirits, try to do it less. The emails will be there in the morning. The work will be there. But you know what won’t? Your kid’s smile after he finally caught a football for the first time, or your daughter’s toothy grin as she takes her first step. Experience is what we should be focusing on. Run toward something great. Don’t run away from something bad.

These kinds of moments won’t happen forever!

On the growth question, there was a lot of discussion around that because growth is hard. Change is uncomfortable. And growth things take serious work and effort. It’s a lot easier to coast and just be comfortable. And, when you’re coasting, there’s more time for balance and business is less hard if you’re not challenging yourself constantly. There was debate around this and ultimately, this one really seemed to come down to a ‘stage’ question. Where are you in your life? Is it time to slow down? Or is now the time to really press ahead to build a better future for yourself and your family. Ultimately, the only person that can answer that is you and that answer will be different for everyone.

My personal contributions to the discussion went something like this:

Yup. Business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s not for everyone. It’s okay to say you don’t love it and work a job that fulfills you and causes you less stress. But if you are suited for business, it is the absolute most enthralling thing you could ever do.

Balance is a crock. It’s not possible. Some weeks are easy. Some are hard. Some weeks you feel like you’re losing your mind. Other weeks, everything falls neatly into place. It’s a teeter totter. Don’t ever expect to feel like life is perfect for longer than about 2 minutes because it’s all about riding the waves and being okay with the ebb and flow.

Growth for growth’s sake isn’t sustainable. If you know why you’re growing and what you’re building makes sense, then it will feel good to grow. It won’t be effortless but it will feel like a noble cause. If you’re just growing for the money or to beat someone, that isn’t sustainable enough motivation to do the hard work it takes to sustain growth.

I know that you’re all in various stages of hobby, to thinking about selling, to selling at craft shows to wholesaling to lots of stores. I would so love to get your thoughts any of these questions and business dilemmas.

I’m especially interested to hear where you’re struggling on the ‘business is hard front’ and what you think about growing your business. Comment below. Let’s get a dialogue going!

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30 Comments

  1. Sheri M. says

    I have managed by soap and shampoo business by setting up an initial plan and being very methodical about it’s execution.

    It is tempting to say “yes” by spreading yourself and available product too thin. This causes that anxious, overwhelming feeling that makes your mind race. It causes crazy dreams, early mid-morning awakenings and the inability to resume sleep (which further compounds the problem.)

    To keep moving forward, I do the following:
    1. I am careful to stick to my business and marketing plan.
    2. New opportunities for sales are cautiously analyzed while…
    3. Strategic business partners are courted.
    4. New partners are educated in sales and marketing.
    5. Follow up and feedback are the key to future sales.

    Thank you Anne Marie for your candid and open discussion regarding business challenges!

  2. says

    I have been in business making soap for 17 years now. I have what I call “controlled growth”. That means, going for a new contract if I can do it. I have two kids, and a wonderful husband (and various other duties like chickens and garden and volunteering at the local library and running our local farmers market). A challenge right now, is the competition with folk who say they have “no chemicals” in their product. You can talk until you are blue, and customers don’t “get it”.

    • says

      Hi Diana,

      That is such a wise philosophy. Fast growth is very difficult to manage and leads to stress, chaos and feeling unsuccessful (speaking from experience here) =)

      I totally and completely want chickens (we already have a really amazing garden) but my husband is not there with me. I’ll convince him one of these days =)

      I agree; education for customers and really working with them to understand claims is difficult and a challenge every business faces. Ultimately, anyone who is misrepresenting the truth to their customers will pay for it in the end when their customers don’t trust them any longer. Right? I mean, if you catch someone in a lie one time, it’s a lot harder to believe them the next time. So, stick to your values of integrity and honesty and in the long run, they do prevail.

      Thanks for popping in with your thoughts.

  3. says

    Like Vicki and Angie mentioned I simply don’t have the time to make enough soap in large batches. I struggle with where to start selling first to accumulate some funds to put into my soap making hobby. Do I need to make more soap. How much do I need to have in stock at all times.? SOme days I feel lost and beat myself up,I work full time 40 hour office job and come home to my 2 kids and husband who want to see me and I run off to make soap..Oh dear! it’s become an addictive hobby it’s taken over my life and not quite sure how to balance it all out so when I am at work I can BE at work, then BE with the family..I keep asking myself, why after 2 years have I not yet made any money. Should I attend markets maybe? It was good to read other soap makers comments. It’s all learning I guess..where would be a good place to start selling more of my soap. I am selling only through word of mouth and Ebay & I currently wholesale to our local post office and about to take on a yoga centre contract making them chakra candle and soap..I am trying to work this hobby up to become a retirement income in the next 10 years..Hopefully one day I will find a formula that works..thanks so much Anne-Marie for starting this chat..I love your products, my fave is the Isalnd Coconut Soap.. I just wish postage to Australia was not so expensive.

    • says

      Hi Katherine,

      I just met with a local software entrepreneur this morning for a 30 minute mentorship meeting. He asked me what my stress levels were like and how I managed stress. I think that my answer to him applies to you as well: I manage stress by making goals and working the plan, every single day.

      So for you, you’re asking why you haven’t made money yet, if you should do a market, how much stock do you need. And my question for you would be: what’s your 3 year goal? And, what steps do you need to make in 2014, 2015, 2016 to make that 3 year goal happen?

      From there, you can chunk those goals down to manageable quarterly and monthly goals and then take baby steps every day.

      My big mistake (always) when I do goals is to make hugely lofty goals that I then don’t manage to hit b/c they weren’t realistic for where I am in my life. So for you, a 3 year plan might be to identify 4 markets you would like to do, apply to 1 holiday show in 2014, apply to 2 weekend craft shows in 2015 and in 2016, do 4 weekend craft shows.

      Or, to add 2 wholesale accounts per year. That probably means doing 2 cold colds per month and doing follow-up on those 2 calls monthly until you get a yes, no or wait a while.

      Baby steps lead to great results over time =) Keep up the good work. It’ll be worth it when you look back ten years from now and have a solid retirement income to lean on.

  4. says

    Very insightful!
    I’m just into my first full season in a local farmer’s market, and truly enjoying myself. My fear is a double edged sword – wanting to broaden my horizon but afraid of getting in over my head. As many of us often say, I wish I could rule my soaping kingdom full time. Leaving my full time “real life” job is not an option, so I strive to fit it all in during the remaining 14 hours each day, plus some sleep here and there! We are empty nesters but have a large family and now grandbabies, too. I am so thankful for a supportive husband and family, and in my heart of hearts dream of training my little granddaughter up to be my apprentice and someday partner (she’s two! lol). Right now, I’m as busy as I truly want to be and feel successful right where I am. I plan on inspiring the next family generation to appreciate and become interested in soapmaking.

    I’ts refreshing to know that most of us are all in the same boat at some time or another. On the days I feel like a big hot mess, it’s good to keep in mind that things won’t be the same tomorrow or even next week. Riding the wave is the perfect way to think of adapting to whatever goes on in a day. Thanks for the pep talk Anne Marie!

    • says

      Hi Angie,

      You have a granddaughter? Oooooooh, so lucky! My parents are ridiculously over the top, in-love with their little Lily and I’m sure that my Mom secretly wants to train Lily to be her cooking and gardening apprentice.

      Yes, a supportive family is key. I would absolutely not be able to do it without my husband and my parents help – and I don’t take that for granted ever.

      I totally agree; it’s nice to have company in our overwhelmed boats, isn’t it? =)

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m so glad you chimed in.

  5. says

    Great article!

    In my experience my business is an extension of myself. When I am in touch with who I am then business flows more easily and feels balanced. When I’m not listening to my inner voice it all goes crazy wrong. In terms of being a working mum I feel that the interpretation of balanced needs re-visiting as many of us still have that ‘do it all while feeling and looking great’ mentality. Balance isn’t about being able to see everything your kids do, cook every meal from scratch and turn over millions. It is about being an inspiration and a shining light for yourself and your family, for being a great and inventive problem solver, for having a can-do attitude. My kids are a bit older now so I’m striving forwards in terms of my financial and time commitment goals as I’ve done my biding time with little ones. Timing is everything as is the realisation that our businesses are our individual journeys and there is little point judging one against another.

    Thanks again x

    • says

      HI Amanda,

      I totally know what you mean about feeling like we need to do it all with a smile … all the time! When is there time to sleep?! =)

      I love your philosophy about balance; it sounds so … balanced. (ha ha; punny).

      You have a great attitude about your goals and where you are at this time in your life. I know that I’ll be in that place when my little ones are a wee bit older too.

      Thanks for your thoughts. They have me thinking!

  6. says

    Hi, I’ve started making soap years ago and it led me to pursue an alternative medicine degree with American College of Healthcare Sciences in Portland. I will have my degree next May. I dream is to have my own office where I can offer holistic advice and a small gift shop with my natural soaps and products. My problem is I live to much in the future and not enough in the present. I’m in such a hurry to get things done I can’t appreciate what I have now. My business has not taken off, but at the time I have no cash flow to help it grow. I’m a mother of 5 kids, one that will be leaving for college in a month. I’m attending school full time and trying to keep selling my soaps. It is very hard at times!

  7. says

    Hi, I’ve started making soap years ago and it led me to pursue an alternative medicine degree with American College of Healthcare Sciences in Portland. I will have my degree next May. I dream is to have my own office where I can offer holistic advice and a small gift shop with my natural soaps and products. My problem is I live to much in the future and not enough in the present. I’m in such a hurry to get things done I can’t appreciate what I have now. My business has not taken off, but at the time I have no cash flow to help it grow. I’m a mother of 5 kids, one that will be leaving for college in a month. I’m attending school full time and trying to keep selling my soaps. It is very hard at times!

    • says

      Hi Amanda –

      That is awesome; congratulations on getting your degree and knowing exactly what you want to do with it.

      You have SO much on your plate. Give yourself a break. You sound like you have extremely high standards for yourself – and that’s awesome – unless you’re being a totally unreasonable beast to yourself =) And, with five kids, a degree you’re pursuing and a small business, you have a lot going on. It’s okay if things aren’t moving as fast as you want.

      Take small baby steps – even if it’s just making 1 wholesale call per week or reaching out to 1 blogger per month – anything that you can hold yourself accountable to that moves your business forward in some small, measurable, incremental way. You will be amazed at where you get in a year, in five years and in a decade.

      You sound so driven that I know you will succeed at your goals, even if it takes you a little longer to get there than you’d like =)

  8. says

    Oh I am soooo in the “overwhelmed” camp at present. I have just opened a small shop and it is going very well. I get really exhilarated when I have an exceptional day of selling – which of course then shifts the bar and I then panic when maybe the next day isn’t so good. I’m also needing to spend money on advertising which can also send me into the dark depths of worry BUT…. I love what I do, believe in my products, and couldn’t think of anything I’d prefer to be doing. I think I need to throw myself at the mercy of a business coach/mentor….. either that or a shrink!!!

    • says

      Hi Rachel –

      Ah, yes, feeling overwhelmed is normal for an entrepreneur. You’re in good company! It happens to everyone – it’s an ebb and flow. It will be so great for you when you have a year under your belt and can budget and know when to expect the rushes. I remember those early years at Otion. They were so unpredictable; now we know not to panic when July is slow. Everyone is just out enjoying the great weather. Best of luck with your shop. I can’t wait ot hear how it goes =))

  9. Vicki says

    Thanks for this discussion. I am still a hobbyist and probably will remain so until I semi-retire. I simply don’t have the time to make enough soap, at least the type of soaps that I enjoy making. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the demands of just family and friends. I would someday like to have my own business and am slowly accumulating knowledge and honing my skills right now. This includes learning to make soap in larger sized batches and learning about what I need to do to start a small business in my area. It is a little daunting but at the same time exciting and a challenge I look forward to.

    • says

      Hi Vicki,

      Thanks for your note.

      I love that you have a grasp on what you can handle and what you can comfortably do.

      Making small goals that move you ahead in tiny ways, year by year, will reap big rewards over time – and when you do have the time to do your own business, you’ll be amazed at what foundation and base you’ve built up! =)

  10. says

    I am going into my 6th year, I am battling with a lot of those same issues and its good to know that you deal with these as well.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Riding the wave is perfect- ride it as long as it takes you. “If it were easy, everyone would do it” …Love!

    • says

      Hi Michelle,

      Being in Mastermind entrepreneurs groups is SO helpful to feeling not alone – I hear the same concerns from all the other business owners in those groups – and yes, it’s nice not to feel alone. =)

      Another thing I often say is “You have to do what others won’t to get what other’s can’t.”

      It can come off a little arrogant to say but I use it as a pep talk when I’m tired and when I don’t feel like I can do one more email, design one more recipe, write one more sentence etc… The tough love works for me! =)

      Everything worth having takes a lot of work – and it’s totally worthwhile when you’re on top of that wave =)

    • says

      It is so easy to feel overwhelmed. That to-do list is SO long right?! =)

      I love doing the yearly planning process that helps me break down quarterly goals, and then monthly, and then weekly and then daily. That is HUGE for me not feeling like I’m overwhelmed.

      I also personally find that if I fill my day with more than 4 hours of tasks that I feel unsuccessful at the end of the day because then I don’t have any time to deal with the daily things that happen (people walking in to talk to me, running out of an ingredient, having to deal with the insurance company for 2 hours, etc…). Maybe it’s just me! But that helps me feel less overwhelmed =)

  11. says

    I find the whole thing pretty exhilarating. Being a one-woman band means that I need (NEED!) to hire outside talent for some things now that my business is growing. I need someone to help me with branding. I need to get boxes and labels pre-printed. I need a web designer. The days of DIY are numbered. All of this means investing in the business, knowing that this year, I won’t break even because of it… but it will help me forge ahead and get new wholesale accounts in the near future. I have two new wholesale accounts already this year, and one more large one in the works, so I know it’s worth it.

    I joke with my husband that I’m either going to earn our daughter’s college fund… or spend it! Because she’s 6, I told myself that I wouldn’t push to grow so fast that it took time from her–but I would grow, every year, always expanding a bit more. How large? I don’t know yet. As opportunities present themselves, I’m challenging my initial goal of being a local brand. I’ve done that! People know me locally and like my products. I’m in two local grocery stores, and nine other shops. Stores are calling me asking to sell my products. So now I need to become a regional brand.

    One challenge is finding businesses that cater to the next-size-up soap and balm maker: larger molds, larger mixing containers, water-jacketed heaters, curing racks… There aren’t nearly enough places to get those!

    I’m also looking for more business knowledge, especially on how to grow production, wholesale accounts, measuring cost of goods sold, making line sheets…

    So… um… yeah. I have a few things to say about growing!

    • says

      Hi Lesli,

      Have I met you before? I feel like you may have been at a meet-up in DC I was at back in 2009 at a pizza joint? I could be totally crazy but your logo reminded me of one I saw at that meet-up.

      Anyways, you are in a really exciting place! That is awesome!

      Someone asked me the other day why I was pushing myself so hard and I looked at them and said: “Ya’ gotta get while the gettin’s good. I have no idea when this spate of blessings will end and I am not about to turn down opportunity.”

      Richard Branson has this amazing quote that I totally believe in: “I someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

      Of course, you and I need to be responsible with our kids’ college funds but it’s good to dream and think expansively – and then build a solid plan to make it all work.

      I know what you mean about the next size up for everything. It’s definitely a hot topic at the Soap Guild conferences every year and the equipment that is out there is expensive.

      I’ve had great luck putting a generic “I need a woodworker that can mcgiver me anything I want. Are you creative, always coming up with great ideas and love to solve problems? I want to hear from you!” on Craiglist and that’s how I’ve found all of our equipment makers.

      I can’t say enough about Lucky Break and her classes: http://www.luckybreakconsulting.com/ They’re perpetually sold out but get on the waiting list if it looks like something that would fit for you.

      I can’t wait to see where you’re at in the next year. It really sounds like you’ve got a product people want – and a supportive family – two keys for being successful. =)

      Thanks for commenting and joining the conversation.

      • says

        We haven’t met, and I was so sorry you didn’t make it to HSCG in May. It was a blast, and the resort was gorgeous.

        Lela Barker of Lucky Break gave fabulous talks. I learned so much just from her presentations. I will certainly be taking advantage of her wisdom in the near future.

        Please think about equipment for the next rung on the ladder. I do hire craftsmen, or cobble things together (my drying racks are pretty interesting…), but for some things–like molds–I want standardization rather than having to hunt down a woodworker every time I want to expand. Off the rack has its advantages!

        By next year, I will have taken over the Northeast. OK, not really. But maybe Upstate, huh?

        Thanks again for all the great info and support.

        Lesli

  12. says

    I absolutely love being able to do soap full-time, but my struggle right now is packaging and expanding into lotion. I have being doing soap for 6 years, and now am making lotion. I need to find a graphic designer and supplier for my packaging of my lotion. I believe I need to find more wholesale customers for my soap and then will be able to afford a graphic designer.

    • says

      Oh wow – well, the good news is that you’ve accurately identified where your struggles are AND you have a concrete task list of where you and what you can do and go with it.

      Just to give you an idea of how many wholesale customers you’re going to need, I’ve listed some resources below that might give you somewhere to start for your goal setting:

      For graphic designers, we’ve had great luck with Elance and 99Designs for very comprehensive, lovely branding packages (in fact, we’ll be showing one new one this Friday or this weekend). They still are $299-$499 but for a branding package, it’s definitely less expensive than going to a full service house.

      We always pick our color combination for branding from design-seeds.com or there’s some fun options on our Pinterest Color Inspiration board: http://www.pinterest.com/brambleberry/color-inspiration/

      The more information you can give your potential designer, the better. So, we go in with fonts and logos that we like. Searching for fonts and logos on pinterest is the easiest way to find great stuff -and then you can start a Brand Inspiration board that you can share with your designer when you’re ready.

      The more information you can give them up front, the better for them that they’ll be able to give you a design you love for a price that is feasible.

      I can’t wait to hear how your goals come along after you’ve worked on them for six months. I know you can do it =)

      Thanks for joining the discussion.

  13. says

    Great insights Anne-Marie! I especially like your two cents about growth. “growth” can mean many different things. Years ago my business was much bigger (more employees, more space, etc) but I grew to be smaller and now I take home more money and lead a much more balanced life. So my “growth” was to get smaller!

    • says

      Hi Cordelia,

      Thanks for chiming in =)

      Isn’t it so ironic that now you run a smaller operation but take home more money? I remember experiencing that hump a few years ago and being completely gobsmacked: how could I be working harder, have much more stress and 10X the balls in the air, yet be making less? Thankfully, that was a wake-up call for me to fine tune the mechanics of my business (and though I really really really don’t like the way the book comes off – The Four Hour Work Week had some gems, at the time, for me on how to work on that). It was hard to break through so I totally feel where you’re coming from =)

      I am so impressed that you found the strength to downsize. So many people just grow for growth’s sake and don’t recognize that there really is an alternative. =)

  14. says

    On the “business is hard front” I find it difficult to find outside sources that have the same amount of time as I do. My priorities are different and it is extremely difficult to keep others on schedule who have their own lives and struggles. As a small business owner, I don’t have the cash flow to hire a lot of outside help. I work around others schedules and do trades to help keep costs down. The “business is hard front” comes when I must spend money to make money.

    • says

      Hi Sharon,

      I totally know what you mean! There are just a couple friends I have that I can call to try and fit stuff in with when it works with my schedule. Other busy mommies are well, busy. =) So, I find that social time lags behind other areas in my life just from a sheer logistical standpoint.

      I try and tell myself that regarding having outside help that it’s okay if it’s a net even-even financially because it helps me not go backwards professional or in my career. I want to be the most present Mom I can but also recognize that the kids will be in school before I know it and I want to make sure that there’s something I want to go back to that I love and that challenges me.

      It is a balance and I suspect no one has the true answer =)

      Thanks for chiming in.

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