HAPPY 2015 EVERYBODY!
I hope all of you reading this are doing great and feeling good about the new year ahead of us! I usually don't make a big deal about New Years because I like to live my life with balance and not have these massive moments of change. For me change happens best slowly over time - however this year, I feel ready to make some big changes and I am ready to say goodbye to 2014.
2014 wasn't a horrible year for me, although it did offer some challenges... As my fourth year in business, I was faced with some tough decisions to keep my company going in a direction that was best for us. I found myself going against the grain a bit, disconnecting from my local community to open up some doorways and connect with people in a more global way. A little over a year ago, Kent and I moved into a warehouse and opened a small retail space at the front of the building. After being at the market for so many years, and spending so many weekends at events, I thought that it would be an easy transition for us. A place to connect with our amazing local customers while running our online business at the same time.
At first it was so great. We had so much support from our local community (well not so much form the local health food stores, but I guess that is expected...), and Kent and I really enjoyed managing and running the store. As the weeks and months started to pass, the burden of retail started to take its toll.
I remember as a child watching my father run a retail store, I always somehow wanted to follow in his footsteps. I remember going to the store to spend time with him and enjoying the weekends we had together like precious moments. As I got older, I started to see the affects of years of retail store management had on him. Stress is such an overused word these days, but years of it did start to take its toll on my father. He also started to have symptoms of being on his feet for long periods of time, causing damage to the veins in his lower legs. Don't get me wrong, he loved his business and what he created which also provided for his family very nicely, however I guess you can say 40+ years in retail has a way to burn out a person.
I remember my father giving me his humble advice about not going into retail - about finding another way. And I thought, I can do it! Well, I tried for a year, and here I go, I admit it, it was a failure. Even with Kent on board, running our online store and then adding a retail space on top of it, was just too much to bear. I love people, I love interacting with them, but I had a very hard time being in that store all day talking to people. I came home feeling depleted, exhausted. I no longer had time to prepare my meals, I was having a hard time sleeping at night, I started to see my health decline and I was slowly falling back into old bad habits. Towards the end, I was feeling so burnt out there were days that I couldn't even go to the store, putting pressure on Kent to bear the burden of the retail space while also doing the warehousing work.
I truly believe that if I had more funding, an investor, or even family members living close to help us out, I know we could have created a very special environment that I truly believe is missing in this area. A place for people to congregate and share information, lean about healing disease, inspire others to change diets, and connect with people in a healthy environment. But the truth is that it is just Kent and myself, and there are only so many things we can do with the 12 hours a day we have to work no matter how badly we want it.
Word spread fast and before I knew it I had emails and phone calls from people saying how sorry they were that we went out of business... man, I have a hard time living in such a small town sometimes. (wink). The truth is, the business wasn't doing bad at all, Kent and I just started to feel the burden of what we created and decided that our health was more important. We just couldn't keep it all up and decided to focus on one thing that we both love and do very well, that is our online store.
It is challenging being a small business!
I recently read Arlene Dickenson's book titled All In, and I have to say I feel like it was written for me. She wrote about the challenges small business entrepreneurs face and the ups and downs we all have to go through to keep going. For us, the challenges other than my recent "mini burnout" have always been financial. Other than getting into the Small Business Entrepreneurial Program with Niagara College that helped to guide me through my first year of business (which is an amazing program by the way), we never got one loan to start our business, never approached one investor, and never got any grants of any kind. I started the business with what savings I had, and my credit card. Sometimes I think how much easier it would have been to have cash flow, or investors who believed in me to help this company get off the ground. I look at other companies who have that with envy sometimes, but then other times I feel so proud that Truly Organic Foods grew from 100% passion, hard work, blood, sweat oh and a tear or two from time to time. It is never a good idea to compare yourself to anybody, especially other businesses in your field. Everybody has their own thing going on, their own support system and stresses.
We Aren't Going Anywhere!
The fact that our retail store closed was not indicative in any way of our business closing down. If anything, our business is now stronger that we are not spread so thin. We have more time to devote to our online store, we have more energy to give to our customers all across Canada and beyond, and we have more time to research new amazing products and continue to grow our brand and products offered on our website.
Adversity Really Does Makes us Stronger.
2014 was full of adversity it seems for small businesses, not just ours. Another business that we worked closely with for years had a major uprising, bringing to our attention just how fragile and vulnerable we can be as entrepreneurs. One day you can have it all and the next it is all gone. It also made Kent and I feel so grateful for what we have worked so hard for and proud of all of our accomplishments. We may not have a million dollar budget to spend on marketing and promoting our business, but we work hard every day and our "slow and steady wins the race" mentality is starting to pay off.
My Advice for People Starting a Business.
Well, I am not sure if my advice is something the world is asking for right now, but I truly do feel that I have learned many things, not just from running my own business, but from watching others including my father who I hold is such high regard. Here are a few words of advice I have for anybody out there thinking of starting their own business:
1. Make sure you are selling a product that you are passionate about...
And one that you stand behind 100%. You are going to spend the next 10+ years of your life promoting this product, make sure all the ingredients are up to your standards and the product is made properly so that you can stand behind it no matter what. Nothing worse than finding out a year into your new business adventure that the product you are selling has a toxic chemical in it disguised as another ingredient. You have to be accountable for the product that you are selling, make sure it is a good one first and that you really love it because you will be talking about it OFTEN.
Just ask my friend Theo Rallis from Rallis Ice Pressed Olive Oil, after years of selling his olive oil, he still talks about it with so much joy and love over and over again to every person he sees like it is the first time he has spoken about it. I have shared space with him at events and listened to his "pitch" so much that I know it by heart! Imagine how tough it would be to talk about a product so often with so much enthusiasm if you don't love it and feel super passionate about it. His Olive Oil is amazing by the way, check it out! (back in stock Feb 2015)
2. If you start a business with a partner - well, yeah, just don't...
haha. Do it yourself. In my case, I brought my husband in but only because we are that couple who met at work 11 years ago and love working together. But I would imagine that there is a pretty small percentage of partners that are successful in business. Even if you get everything down on paper, at the end if it breaks up, the person with more money will win because they have access to lawyers and accountants and the person with less money will lose. I have seen this happen three times in 2014 to other companies close to me. Do not put yourself in a position to be running a business that somebody else is funding. Do whatever you can to raise the money yourself, wait until you have enough saved, or re-mortgage your house! But be very careful going into business with somebody else fronting the cash.
3. Don't compromise your health to run your business.
I know how important it is to work long hours, and make sacrifices, but it is all for nothing if at the end of the day you are not well. Taking time to eat properly, exercise and have fun with your family and friends is so important. I particularly learned this in 2014... working so hard to do everything, running the online store, the retail store, the warehouse, going to events and festivals all summer... it was too much. If it takes you a year or two more to reach your goal, maybe that isn't such a bad thing. Remember how important it is to enjoy the journey in life and not just live for the results.
4. If you fail, keep trying.
Not all businesses will work, so if you start one and it fails, pick yourself up and try again. Use all the knowledge you learned from your previous experience and start over. Just like in real life relationships, if you have a relationship that doesn't work out, you keep trying to meet another person right? Well do the same in business.
5. Try your best to start a business that is kind and good for the earth.
With so much violence and anger in the world, what can you do to make it a better place? I know it may sound a bit silly to be saying that, but just think about it. What can you do to make the world better, make money to live off, and spread more love into the world? One of the first big decisions we made about our business was to make it a vegan business. We got and still get so much slack about it, but it is the thing that I am the most proud of. Not because all meat eaters are bad and I am trying to force my views on them... but because I feel good about running a business that doesn't exploit animals in any way. This is something that is important to me and is my way of giving back love to the earth.
6. Don't be pretentious and be kind to others.
If you have enough money to start your business, don't jump into the game with an attitude that you are better than others. I realize that image is important, but so is how you treat your customers and the other people in your industry. When I first got into the superfood world and started attending festivals and events, on one side I was totally snubbed by a company who has been doing it for longer than me (literally got evil looks, their staff coming by my table checking out my products and prices, and negative talk coming back to me from them about us having an inferior product - when we both knew we get them from the same supplier), YET on the other side another company welcomed us into the industry with kindness and good wishes and new relationships were made with other vendors that will most likely last a lifetime. It made all the difference moving forward and now when I see a new company coming into the platform, I always introduce myself and welcome them. You never know which companies will be there for a short period or for years, so may as well create a positive relationship.
7. Lastly, Fill you days with...
Well this is pretty straight forward I guess, but it so important! The minute you stop appreciating what you have and what you created is the minute it looses meaning. Every morning I wake up I feel thankful to be working for myself selling these amazing foods to the best customers ever. I appreciate every one of you who is reading this and made it down this far! We love all of you and thanks for being part of our business in whatever way that you are!
2015, here we come!
I realize that I still have so much left to learn as we continue to grow our business. 2015 will have some big changes with respect to products we offer. Some of which I can't say right now but we are very excited about! We are also working very hard on our own brand and the possibility of re-entering the world of wholesale.
Our biggest wish for 2015 goes to all of you out there reading this. We hope that your 2015 will be filled with lots of love, fun times, health, and less stress. We hope that you will all continue to spend time preparing healthy meals for your family, learning about new products, and staying away from all that processed food garbage that is causing so much sickness in our world.
I look forward to getting my own personal health back to where it was with hard work at the gym and getting rid of some of the bad habits that found their way back into my life in 2014... I guess I am human after all!
Much love to you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Lee Harlan xo