Never Underestimate the Power of Small Steps
In a recent conversation with Entrepreneur Eileen Curtis, CSO (Chief Soap Officer – don’t you just love her title?!) of Sunflower Hill Soap, I was reminded that impatience, the raw urge to act, can be a wonderful virtue — and, often a critical ingredient to getting started with an entrepreneurial undertaking. As you will read in her guest blog below, Eileen was too impatient to do extensive business planning, competitive research, and forecasting. In her words, “I just wanted to make and sell soap. So I did!”
As she shared her story with me, I couldn’t help but hear Len Schlesinger’s CreAction words ringing in my ears. In his 2010 book, Action Trumps Everything, he and his co-authors assert that entrepreneurs “do think differently, but more importantly their natural inclination is to put that thinking into action to see if they are right.” In other words, they act quickly with what is at hand, learn from their experiences, adjust and act again. It’s a mindset that reverberates throughout Eileen’s entrepreneurial story. Read about the birth of Sunflower Hill Soap in Eileen’s guest blog post below – the transformation of her career from IT Sales and project management; the role her passions (gardening, recipes, hobbies) and values (natural products, environmentally friendly packaging, local hiring practices of untapped work forces) play in running her business; and how her impatience helped her to take the first small steps. CreAction!
People ask me how I got from IT sales and project management to CSO (Chief Soap Officer) of a soap manufacturing company called Sunflower Hill.
It was quite a journey! We had moved to a house with more than 8 acres and after a long career in IT, I was pretty much burned out. I started looking for a way to make a living doing something that I loved. My passion at the time was gardening so I looked into year round (certainly a challenge in Maine) gardening using movable greenhouses and other devices. I also started growing hundreds of sunflowers (thus our farm name Sunflower Hill) for beauty and seed heads for the birds. It occurred to me that year round gardening would not be a romantic, back to the earth lifestyle but rather a long, cold struggle…so that’s when I started to investigate other options.
At a garden center, I found a book about melt and pour soap making. It sounded like fun so I bought the book and the materials and off I went. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for Sunflower Soap and I made it.
Of course, being a sales rep all my life got me to thinking. I wondered if I could sell soap. So armed with a couple of samples of 1 oz bars of soap, I stopped into 5 gift shops. At the end of the day, I had sold 3 gift shops a total of 425 bars of soap. I was on my way.
Looking back, I have learned several things.
Love What You Do!
I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur but rather someone who wanted to have fun and do something I really liked to do
Act! (Or . . . CreAct!)
I started investigating “how” to start a business and soon learned that the standard process was to do a business plan which meant researching competition, putting together a 5 year plan which included financial forecasts (not my cup of tea) as well as product development forecasts and lots more. I was too impatient to go through all that. I just wanted to make and sell soap. So I did!
I made sure to get the important things, a reseller id (tax number) from the state, a liability insurance policy, computer, an accounting package to create invoices and post payments and a rudimentary web page.
Know Yourself and Play to Your Strengths
I looked at my skills and life experiences and used them to my advantage in my business. I had sold in the graphics industry so had an understanding of design but I was not a designer. My project management skills were in guiding businesses to bring up accounting systems but I was not an accountant. I took the skills and experiences I had and used them to build a business. Everything was done on a shoe string so at first I had to learn to do some things, like accounting and label design in a very elementary way. When I could, I started hiring to my weaknesses –a label designer, a savvier web designer, someone with accounting skills.
Don’t Go It Alone
I networked and made contacts with people by going to and participating in wholesale trade shows, women’s business groups and friends and relatives in different businesses. I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot from people.
Learn from Mistakes
Every error, every misstep became a learning experience. Around here, we call it the “cost of education”. Some were minor and some were major but we kept moving forward.
Let Your Values Guide You
I remembered what it was like to be a young, stay at home mom and wishing I could figure out a way to earn a little money. When I started to need help, I enlisted stay at home moms. The first were women who could wrap soap while the kids napped or were at school and we paid them in a piece work method, so much per bar wrapped…10 years late we are still doing that. Next came the need for help in the shop so we hired stay at home moms who had kids in school and we work around their schedules. We use a temp agency to handle payroll, workers comp etc. since there are seasonal fluctuations and don’t need year round employees with regular schedules. We have also tapped into the retired women market. Many of these women just want to work a few hours or days a week and are willing to come in as needed. Giving these women a means to earn money and still lead the life they want is very rewarding for us and for them. We have found very talented, dependable women.
Most Important Lesson
Don’t be afraid to step out, take a chance and ask questions and BELIEVE in what you are doing.
Please feel free to email me with any questions… Eileen Curtis, CSO, Sunflower Hill firstname.lastname@example.org