10 THINGS I LEARNED IN 2017
I don’t believe in making New Years Resolutions. Mostly, because any I’ve made have lasted no more than two weeks and partly because I have come to learn self improvement and goal setting should be a year-round, daily exercise. So, while I will definitely be setting some goals for myself and this business for 2018, I wanted to share the top 10 things I’ve learned about being a Boss Mom to Wooly Doodle in 2017.
It has been a year that has knocked my socks off in the best possible way but also a year filled with huge eff ups, poor decisions, and enough stress and anxiety to give the strongest stomach ulcers. If you are a small shop starting out or someone who is thinking of starting a little side hustle – please do as I say and not as I do and read on. If you don't feel like reading this entire essay (because, I'll warn you, it's long!), use the links below to peruse each learning at your leisure.
- Write a damn business plan
- It’s good to be busy, it’s bad to be drowning
- Learn to let go
- Nobody will care more than you
- Customers are everything
- Authenticity is a beautiful thing
- Build an army of allies
- Save at LEAST 50% of your brain and time for marketing and strategy
- Stay focused but agile
- Babies make terrible business partners
1. Write a damn business plan
Sounds like a no brainer, right? One of my biggest regrets since starting Wooly Doodle is not creating a proper business plan on day one. I should know better. I have an MBA and have spent countless hours at my other job writing project plans and strategy documents and yet I figured I was just subsidizing a hobby so was all that work really needed? YES. Yes it was.
My BIGGEST advice to anyone starting out is to sit down and write a business plan. Even if you can’t even imagine your business ever growing to the point of being a profitable entity, do it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, do it. Imagine the business you want to have and put tangible steps, process and guiding principles in place to get you there (kind of like that whole ‘dress for the job you want’ expression). It is far easier to do this before you get started than when you’re a year in and have to completely overhaul the way you’re doing business. I have spent the better part of a year trying to turn a willy-nilly hobby business into what I hope to one day be an empire (girl’s gotta dream) and it has taken years off my life.
2. It’s good to be busy, it’s bad to be drowning
I have come to be part of an amazing group of Boss Moms, Makers and Entrepreneurs and I think all of us have had moments where we are just so overwhelmed we threaten to shut our shops down because we just can’t do it all. If you’ve reached this point, take a second to pat yourself on the back. Being busy is good. Being busy to the point where you want to puke in your lap most of the time means your business is thriving. What happens next is what will make or break you and your business. Know when you need help. Know when your level of anxiety is too high for too long and starts to erode your family life, your passion or both.
Know when you are so overwhelmed that you start to make mistakes that will have negative impacts on your business. Know all these things and make changes fast. Trust that it is also ok to press the brakes for a little bit if it means making the right changes to your business. All of the above began to happen to me a few months back and in retrospect I’m not sure I could have avoided it. I hate that I have an empty (online) storefront during one of the business shopping periods of the year but also know that to continue as-is would eventually destroy my spirit and my business.
3. Learn to let go
This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous one and has been an extremely difficult lesson for me. With growth comes delegation and most of us who have started our own businesses are used to doing EVERYTHING ourselves. This past year has been a lesson in finding the right people and letting go of the right tasks.
Identify your strengths and the things that bring you the most joy and also uncover where you most need help and how that help can help with your growth strategy. For me, this has meant transitioning most production off of me and into the capable hands of other seamstresses. It’s something that still gives me anxiety when I think about it but will also enable me to focus on aspects of the business that most need my energy – strategy, design, customer service and branding/marketing.
4. Nobody will care more than you
I know, I know. I just told you to let go and delegate important stuff to other people and I still mean it. However, one big thing both myself and Jessica learned this year as we expanded our businesses was that you will always care the most. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find good help or even exceptional help, but you will always be the one who is invested the most in your company and that’s okay.
Think about your support team carefully and identify your deal-breaker tasks that, if not done perfectly would cause you the most amount of grief. For me, the biggest one is customer service and I will hold on to that baby until the day I can clone myself (or afford to pay someone enough to care as much as me lol). For Jessica, it’s quality control even though it means taking time away from her production tasks.
5. Customers are everything
Customer service is king, especially through times of growth because times of growth often become times of errors. When I got back into focusing on the business in May, I was flying solo and I felt anxiety when I ordered more than 5 meters of fabric at a time. We closed off November with a 1132% increase in orders (for reals), a head seamstress, her team of four who were trying their best to catch-up and a desperate need to grow the Wooly Doodle team exponentially. What happened between those two points of time have been absolutely amazing but it was also extremely challenging. To put it bluntly – a lot of stuff got f*cked up.
I made a lot of mistakes from being spread way too thin and with each one tried to stay focused on two things – customer service and authenticity. These mistakes cost me a lot, they made me cry on more than one occasion and in some cases they caused me to lose customers for good, I’m sure. But I am the biggest believer in providing the best possible customer experience.
I feel extremely fortunate to have THE BEST CUSTOMERS EVER. Since starting this business, Wooly Doodle customers have become everything – they’ve become friends, mentors, the biggest cheerleaders and supporters of the business and at the risk of stating the obvious, they really are the only reason WD exists today.
Take the time to build strong bonds with your customers, take time out of your day to connect with them and offer a personalized shopping experience, appreciate them day-in and day-out and when you drop the ball (sometimes repeatedly), own your sh*t and they will understand.
6. Authenticity is a beautiful thing
When I first started doing IG stories I would make sure my hair was washed, my make-up was on and that I was sitting in one of the few sections of our home that isn’t completely piled floor to ceiling in Wooly Doodle crap. If you follow me and watch my stories now, you’ll know that’s no longer the case.
I’ve always been a big believer in authenticity and transparency. They are some of the traits that have made all my best bosses and coworkers amazing to work with and are traits I try to weave into everything I do and so I finally realized that how I portray myself when I communicate to customers should not be an exception. I watch some Instagram stories in awe of how glamorous and put together people are but that just isn’t me. My make-up regime hasn’t changed since I was in grade 10, my personal hygiene is mediocre at best and I should own shares in dry shampoo but that’s me.
Be you. Share who you are with your following and be confident enough to know that there will always be people who take screenshots to mock you but the genuine connections you’ll begin to build will be worth it.
7. Build an army of allies
When I started Wooly Doodle I didn’t know a single other maker, nor did I have any idea what I was doing. Throughout the course of this journey, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with some seriously amazing people. As I’ve navigated these waters I’ve discovered two distinct groups of people – those who keep their ideas, plans and knowledge close to their chest and those who are all about supporting, sharing and helping other businesses grow. Find the second group. Be part of the second group.
I could talk for hours about how many shops, customers or brand reps have helped me along the way and I hope that I’ve at least partially repaid the favour. Whether it’s been sharing supplier info, commiserating over colossal eff ups, getting feedback on products or prints or just lending an ear when I’ve been breathing into a paper bag – this network of makers, customers, brand reps and instabuddies is one that I am forever grateful for.
If you are just starting out, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for advice. Build your army of allies and love them hard
8. Save at LEAST 50% of your brain and time for marketing and strategy
I would actually argue that it’s more like 80% but 50% is a good starting target. I say this and now I’m instantly struggling with what to write next because I can’t give you a recipe on how to market your business. What I can say is growing your business is probably much like trying to keep one of those indoor fig trees alive (at least from what I’ve seen in my IG stories). Marketing your business needs to be ongoing and the more you put in, the more you will get out of it. If you get lazy or comfortable and stop putting the effort in, your leaves wont turn brown and fall off en masse, but you will definitely experience some stagnation.
Having an amazing product without a focus on marketing is a challenging place to be if you want to experience continuous growth. If the biz side of things is not your jam and you’d rather focus on your craft then I strongly urge you to take my advice from #3 and find someone who can help you with this. Hire someone to help you with your social media, seek out a mentor who has experience in this area or find books, apps or online resources to help you develop these skills.
9. Stay focused but agile
There have been so many moments this year when I’ve questioned what I’m doing – either because of lack of confidence or external factors. This industry is damn tough. There are so many of us doing the same thing and it’s hard to focus on our own strategy without looking around at what others are doing and second guessing your own plans.
With such an overlap of product, patterns and marketing approaches, there are always going to be people who copy you, there will be those who accuse you of copying them and then there will be those legitimate coincidences that occur when like-minded creative embark on similar business ventures. TUNE IT ALL OUT AND STAY FOCUSED. Set your goals and burn them into your brain so that they are at the forefront of everything you do but remain flexible enough to know when you need to adapt your plans or move in a different direction. DO shift your plans if it’s for the right reasons (ex. my Lounge Line was never meant to be the primary focus for 2017 but based on the response, I’ve shifted more of my focus there for 2018). DON’T shift your plans if you’re worried about judgement or politics. If you’re staying true to your own strategy, then tune out the noise and execute the crap out it.
10. Babies make terrible business partners
It’s true. They’re like that person in the office who has been around forever and literally contributes nothing but they are kept around because they help boost moral. I love my kid more than anything and he is generally a very cooperative baby who sleeps well day and night and doesn’t mind being dragged on countless errands. But even so, I’ve come to realize that trying to run a business while also being responsible for the life of a tiny human is not so easy. Babies, no matter how good they may be, are unpredictable and merciless. They don’t give a crap if you just have a few more orders to pack up if they’ve woken up with a diaper full of poop. I love being able to be home with Asher while also running WD but there are definitely some days when I miss being able to sit at a desk or in an office and devote 100% of my attention to the task at hand.
My advice to any other ‘mompreneurs’ starting out or currently struggling to balance these competing demands – plan the sh*t out of your day but build in enough of a buffer for when it all goes to crap. I’ve learned to create a very detailed production schedule but have yet to execute one perfectly. If your babe misses a nap or is up all night and you need to actually ‘sleep when they sleep’ during the day – be kind to yourself and give yourself that break and then adjust your schedule accordingly. Be 100% okay with being at the beck and call of the most demanding boss ever, but make every minute you have count.