What a year, friends. What a year. I intended to write this blog post yesterday but instead spent the day with my kiddo and then waited 2.5 hours for Chinese Food we ordered at the last minute #rookiemove. But, here we are and 2019 has officially come to a close. It was an incredible year for Wooly Doodle and for me both personally and professionally. But, rather than list off all the great things that happened (I kind of already did that in Instagram Stories), I wanted to reflect back on some of the biggest things I learned as I can say without hesitation this has been one of the most transformational years for me.
The bigger the business the bigger the problems
I wanted to title this section ‘mo money mo problems’ but I felt like that would give you the wrong idea since I am and have always been the lowest paid Wooly Doodle team member lol. This past year, however, the business continued to grow like crazy – in revenue, in staff, in physical space. And while this is what all of us business owners hope for, it presented a whole new host of challenges and barriers I couldn’t have even imagined. I think I had this idea that as time passed and I gained more experiences, the problems would decrease or at least seem to be more under control. I can think back to the things that used to keep me up at night and fill me with anxiety and they are completely laughable now.
This year I truly realized that the challenges will always be there. We’re now at a place where the stakes are higher, the risks are higher and the likelihood that something is going to get f*cked up along the way – higher. And here’s the thing - I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon and so I can say with certainty that next year there will be unimaginable barriers to overcome and next year, I’ll also look back and laugh. The challenges, failures and barriers are often beyond our control but what we can control is how we handle them. The difference for me now versus when I started is that I feel confident in tackling whatever shitstorm comes my way.
Find your voice and don’t give up
If I had to think of one word to summarize 2019, resiliency would definitely be up there. For as long as I can remember I’ve always had imposter syndrome. It was a big issue for me in the corporate world and then when Wooly Doodle was just a small hobby, it kind of went away. Because, after all, it was just an itty bitty thing I was doing on the side and didn’t really matter, right? But, as things grew those feelings returned. I found myself in the centre of a quickly growing business feeling like I had no business being there. I wasn’t a real seamstress, I didn’t have a background in fashion, or design or anything that relates to making clothing. I found myself quieting my inner voice out of fear that people would call me out on the truth – that I had no idea what I was doing.
Something in me changed – right around when we launched our spring collection. It was a season that will forever haunt me because it was so far from what I wanted it to be and the reason for that was because I didn’t speak up. People still loved it, people still bought it but to this day Cherise can confirm that I still talk about lighting that collection up in flames regularly. From that moment forward I found myself getting stronger, asking more questions, not settling when I wasn’t happy with something. I found my voice and I became more resilient and it was a game changer. Over the next few months we hauled ass and worked so incredibly hard to take all the learnings from spring and make them count for something. We changed a LOT. We updated most of our patterns, we added sizing and we took an incredibly ballsy risk by moving all our fabric production to a new manufacturer in Ontario.
Preparing for fall was the most stress I’ve felt since running the business. It was also exhilarating and it paid off. Our fall/winter collection not only set records for us, but it is the first collection I feel completely proud of and that truly reflects the direction I want this company to continue to go in.
Bring in expertise before you REALLY need it
Overhead is a bitch. For the longest time, I tried to keep things as simple as possible – hire as few people as possible and rent the cheapest office you can find and do everything else yourself. And, for a while it worked. Until it didn’t and I was in deep. I think a lot of business owners feel this need to keep everything close to their chest – partly because of costs and partly because our businesses are our babies and nobody else can love them like we do. I think sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re the best person for the job. Every job. I’m here to tell you you’re not... and even if you ARE, you can’t do it all. Find the one area that makes your heart sing (for me that’s branding and marketing and even still I have someone working for me to handle parts of marketing that are beyond my skillset and level of interest) and find help for the rest.
I stayed in the trap way too long to the point where I found myself (poorly) managing the financials of a pretty sizeable business on an excel spreadsheet. It’s embarrassing and a direct result of flying by the seat of my pants the last three years. Towards the end of this year, I realized the value of outsourcing many of the things that were important but failing to get proper attention. I added a number of people to the team including a very skilled bookkeeper who is quickly (and gracefully) showing me the errors of my ways. The way I see it there are two options – identify the help you think you’ll need early, get those people or processes in place and build your business on best practices OR wait and hire them after you’ve sufficiently created a gong show for yourself and then spend months getting things in order wondering why you waited so long. Do as I say, not as I do.
Be relentless in hiring the best
I am so fortunate to have an incredible team that continues to grow but I’ll admit that adding people to the WD family has always been nerve-wracking. When I hired Cherise. I had no idea what she was going to be doing – I just knew I needed help. I cringe when I think back to how those early days were in terms of (lack of) structure and processes. Cherise would offer to make me coffee and brought her own chair to work. Now I’m happy to say that we each make each other tea and coffee and she got a serious chair upgrade lol. But, Cherise set the bar high as far as what it means to be part of the team and made me realize that as I grew the business, it was important to find people with that same level of interest, passion and commitment to the brand.
When we hired our retail team members last year, we went through a pretty official process. Some may have even called it overkill (I blame spending a few years working in Recruitment and Staffing at TELUS). We had so many great applicants and it was a ridiculously hard decision-making process but I am so pleased with our new extended team. They say nobody will ever care as much about your business as you but when I look at our team as we move into 2020, I think I got it pretty damn close.
The only thing you can control is you and your brand values
I’ve always found this industry to be challenging. Between algorithms, collaborations, comparison and competition it can sometimes feel impossible to know what the right decisions are you should be making for your business. I’ve learned there is always going to be noise surrounding you. Some of your competitors may leave the game and new ones will appear. There will always be people who support you and bring you up and at the same time there will be people shamelessly copying your products or trashing you behind your back. Earlier last year I found myself pretty consumed by all of this – it was giving me anxiety, filling me with self-doubt and making me feel like I wasn’t in control. I found myself becoming too focused on what other people were doing and not focused enough on what my own brand stands for.
I can’t remember exactly when it happened but when it did it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I realized exactly what I wanted the Wooly Doodle brand to be about and came up with a simple definition that, in turn, simplified my life a great deal.
We are relatable, not aspirational.
While it’s just a simple statement, it has become the foundation of how we have moved forward and guides the decisions we make as a business. It means that I don’t want anyone to feel that they need our products to make them fit in or feel more than. I want people to buy our products because they love the quality, the fit and how the clothing makes them feel. It means I’m not sending our products to countless celebrities but rather relying on authentic and organic word of mouth as our main source of growth (most of the time – I still believe in solid collaborations when it’s a good fit that aligns with our values.. hello Love Crews). Ultimately, I’ve learned that the best way to navigate this crazy landscape is based on two things:
- Knowing your own values and brand values inside and out and making sure all your decisions align with them
- Finding ways to offer the most value to your customers while treating them as well as you possibly can
Focus on these two things or you'll often feel like you're losing an endless game of whack-a-mole.
You have to take risks
The entire 2019 felt like it was full of endless risk taking but the biggest risk of all for me was leaving my full-time job officially in September. I've talked about this in other places but when I returned to work in April 2017, I naively thought I could work my full-time job, run Wooly Doodle on the side and when the side hustle became lucrative enough I could peace out from the corporate world. That didn't happen, of course. It took three months for me to become completely burnt out and know I had to make a big decision. I had to choose between a 15 year career job with excellent pay, benefits and pension and a passion project turned business that was paying me nothing at the time. As the time for me to make that decision final came around, I had moments of flip-flopping. Part of me felt irresponsible for giving up a cushy salary that could help my family out so much. In the end, however, it was a no-brainer.
I officially quit and became a full-time entrepreneur. In 2019 I learned that nothing amazing gets handed to you without work (unless you win the lottery). It takes risk, sacrifice and digging deep to understand what's important to you. I learned that happiness, passion and being able to show up as the best possible version of yourself is more important than a pay cheque. I learned that building something incredibly special sometime takes a leap of faith. So hear I am mid-leap and loving it.
What's in store for 2020
The past few years have been full of so many surprises and things we couldn't have even imaged and I expect the same for this year. I can promise you a few things - new colours, new fabrics, new styles and new sizes. I can promise you we will continue to listen to the important feedback you guys give us and commit to continuously improving our products. I can promise you we will continue to have all our products AND fabrics ethically made in Canada. And I can promise you we will continue to try to do our part to make decisions that have a positive impact on our environment. Beyond that, you'll have to wait and see. But, I can assure you we have a few surprises in the works ;).
With gratitude and wishing you all the very best in 2020,