I was honoured to be asked to speak by StartUp Sault at their Women's Success Luncheon to celebrate International Women's Day. I prepared a talk of some of my business tips, so hopefully others would be able to learn from some of my successes and failures, and maybe even find some inspiration for their next project. I have summarized the main points here!
Have you ever been watching something on television, or seen something on social media, or grabbed something at a store and thought – I can’t believe people make money doing this because I could totally do this! And maybe even do it in a better or different way? If your answer is yes, you may have a great business idea. Business ideas are born from seeing something that’s clearly resonating and knowing that you could execute it in a different or better way.
That was what happened to me in 2018 after I had my daughter Blair. I spent countless hours reading books to her and thought, "I could totally write a children's book." I put it off for a couple of years – mostly I was just making excuses – but in 2020 after having my son Beau, it truly felt like the right time to go for it. I was parenting through a pandemic and doing basically nothing else. So we went for it. I wrote the book, hired an illustrator, and prepared a marketing and launch plan.
On June 24th, 2021, “C is for CAMP” went for sale along with a small collection of handmade items to compliment it. I sold out my first 1000 copies in six weeks. To date, we are nearly at 2000 copies sold, and the book is carried by over 30 Canadian retailers. And my shop has grown to become a little market of sustainable and ethical learning resources and kids' item that are unique and pair well with "C is for CAMP" as a gift.
I certainly don't claim to be an expert in either small business ownership or motherhood, I am still figuring a lot of stuff out. But when I was asked to speak at this event, I tried to compile some of the things I have learned from my first ten months in business.
The most important thing I have learned during this process is to focus on my business and not to worry what others are doing or compare myself to them. Work on being the best version of yourself, to be better than you were. For my next book, the only book I want to be better than is my last book. It’s all about personal growth.
One of my favourite quotes is, “comparison is the thief of joy” and it’s true. For my business to be fun, I need to not let myself get wrapped up in other people, or if they’re more successful than I am, or making more money than I am, or doing things better than I am. The only person in the whole world with your creativity, your unique perspective, and your ideas is YOU. Be true to yourself, stay in your own lane, and you’ll be headed on the path toward personal fulfillment and success.
One way I have been able to achieve some type of harmony with adding this business to my already busy life is by letting my family be a part of it. My company Bow + Bear Co. is named after my kids, Beau and Blair. And the main characters are bears because we love the Chicago Bears. And I added little nods to my family throughout the book.
Like in this illustration from the book - the four constellations in the sky are our family's zodiac signs. These things would mean nothing to the average reader, but will mean a lot to my family. I am glad my kids can look at this when they're older and know that they were the inspiration behind it all.
I promise it’s ok. At the start of the business, I was truly panicked when I would bring something new in and it wouldn’t sell right away. It would seriously keep me up at night. I have since learned, as long as you’re having some wins along the way, that you’re doing something right. And not everything has to be a big win. Every mistake I have made or little flop I have had has only taught me what my customers want to see. It’s taught me as much as the successes I’ve had. Don’t stress, let it be fun, as long as you keep listening and learning.
Small business ownership is a marathon not a sprint. I made a big initial investment into my book and shop to get it started. I was so excited when I broke even at the end of 2021, finally out of the red and seeing some profits. And then I started a second book, and the expenses started piling up again. I have to constantly remind myself that I am just getting started and that I will be able to sell these books for the rest of my life. Don’t get discouraged in the first couple of years when you keep seeing red. Those investments will pay off in the long term.
If you’re a planner like I am, you like to see the plan all laid out in front of you and follow every step. My plan after "C is for CAMP" was to release the winter version about enjoying life outdoors in the snow. It had a title I liked and everything. But it wasn’t working. Every time I sat down to write it; only straight trash came out. So, I stopped forcing it, and tried something new. And that one really worked. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts and go with what works, even if it’s not in the plan.
Even though I am a Marketing Professional in my career, I still don't have all the answers to social media. I have tried nearly every tactic for advertising my business on social media. And I have had some successes, some flops, and many frustrating experiences.
It's a love/hate relationship, because I do credit most of my sales to it, so I can’t exactly discount it as a strategy for growing my business. Here are some of my social media tips:
- Have a schedule but be responsive to current events. Scheduling content ahead of time will save you a lot of headaches, but don’t forget to engage in real time with the world and with your followers.
- Post what you like and when you like. Every article for best practices will tell you to post when your followers are online – I have used data and analytics to attempt to do this, and the results have been all over the map. Now I just post what I want, when I want. So much with social media is out of our control and this takes the pressure off.
- Shake off the haters – it reflects more about them than it does about you. Any time you put yourself out there and take a risk, people will have something to say. Let them talk and keep killing it.
We have done local collaborations with God’s Country Clothing with the Happy Camper Crews, Deanna’s Sewing with some fun scrunchies and beanies, Little Love Naturals with the CAMP Tac Toe game boards, and Wild Wonder Co. with some custom wood trays. I also have a number of collaborations with other Ontario shops outside of the Soo. The power of collaborating is real and I have seen true growth as a result.
Being a small business owner is a lot of work, and I do most of it by myself. Balance is important. One boundary I set for myself is that I don’t post on social media on the weekends. Not even pre-scheduled posts. Even if something is scheduled I will feel the need to engage with it and check how it’s performing – it’s just not worth it. I will maybe throw something on stories if it comes up organically, but no content is prepared or posted on the weekend. This boundary may not work for you – you may prefer to do no emails after 6:00 pm, or no phone after 10:00 pm, or maybe not letting your phone be the first thing you look at every morning – whatever works for you to help you manage your life and be able to shut off sometimes.
Here's a story for you.
Since I launched the book last summer, my brand has been all about camp. Camp, camp, camp. And let me tell you, it works. People love camp. But for me, it was starting to feel a bit one dimensional. So, when I started to work on my next book, I wanted it to be about something that really inspires me, so I wrote something about teaching kindness, diversity, and inclusion to kids in a way that is super simple and easy for them to understand. I am really excited about it.
To kick things off in this new brand direction, I did a collaboration in January with a small shop out of Southern Ontario called Kindness Club. It went really well. Great sales, gained about 45 new followers, solid post engagement – it was awesome.
So in celebration of International Women’s Day – I took it one step further and brought in this collection of powerful peg dolls and affirmation cards. They were made by Kitchener toy maker Shop Emmy Lou and represent environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Pakistani advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, and politician and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I thought who better to show diversity in action and represent the theme of "break the bias" better than these women? And what an interesting way to introduce modern day feminist heroes to our children. I thought they were very cool – and so did a lot of my followers. But some really didn’t. The first day I posted about them – I lost 14 followers. Not a ton by any means but my biggest single day drop and enough to not be just a coincidence. On the flip side of that, I did gain 67 followers, so we came out ahead.
We have seen companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia really stand behind their beliefs. And when you do that, you’re bound to lose a few who don’t agree. That’s the beauty of social media – we get to choose who we want to follow based on who we align with. What I have noticed as I have shifted my content toward this new brand direction is that I am picking up momentum and gaining followers that are engaged and excited. This is brand building and it creates loyal customers. They know that we share values, and they are then more likely to support my shop. That also means I may lose a few along the way, but that’s fine. The audience I am gaining is full of passion and the potential I see there is exciting.
To wrap up - this year's International Women's Day theme is Break the Bias - so, why is it important and how can you help?
Well, the world is in fact a better place when women make more money. It’s true, how we spend our money makes a big impact on the world. 93% of women give to charity or volunteer their time, compared to 80% of men. And a lot of those women donating give to causes that support women and girls. That means, the more we invest in women and girls - the better off we will all be. Women are also driving the economy, making 90% of the household purchasing decisions in North America. You can help by making thoughtful buying choices, supporting women-owned and women-ran businesses, choosing companies who value equality, calling out bias, smashing stereotypes, and rejecting discrimination.
If you take anything away from this blog/speech, let it be this: Celebrate the achievements of women. Take action for equality and raise awareness against bias. Call out bias when you see it and be an advocate. I had a former male coworker who was at the same level as I was and exclusively addressed me as “pretty lady”, never my name. I never said anything. And I wish I had. This kind of thing seems harmless in passing, but this unconscious bias is what keeps women from moving ahead. Action is needed to level the playing field. I should have stood up for myself. When we stand up for ourselves, we are standing up for all women and taking important steps toward a gender equal world. We aren’t there yet, but we’re getting closer.
You can also help by not using terms like “working mom”, “girl boss”, and “boss babe”. I’ll admit, I used to be into that, but now I just find it condescending and performative. The girl boss movement was more of a marketing campaign than anything, and did nothing to address actual issues affecting equality.
Words matter. SPEAK UP + use your voice for good!
If you have any questions, you can comment on this blog post or email me at email@example.com!