What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?
I was in my second year of university studying urban planning when I was encouraged to put my spare time to good use.
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this? How did you turn your dream into a business plan?
I was unable to get a summer job that would help me for my third year, so I decided to put my crafty skills to work. I was inspired to start a business from my weekly trip to the historical farmers' market in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Having chosen to go to school in a different province from my family and coming from a small agricultural town, I considered the market a reminder of home and the hard work that goes into organic foods and handmade goods.
Turning my dream into a full business plan was not an overnight lightbulb moment. I tested and tried several different projects, including picture frames, jewelry, and ornaments -- you name it, I've tried it! My very first product was a hand-folded rose that came in 24 different colors (and never died!). From there, I tried and tested other products that didn't really have much steam. I now realize that I should have started with what I already knew -- sewing and knitting and everything that my mom passed on to me. With the help of my mom, I put together a small collection of knits and sold them at a craft show. Within the first few hours I was sold out of the majority of the knits. From that point, SimpleSmiles took a new direction and began to take shape.
What was your start-up cost? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
My start-up costs were minimal. Much like a lemonade stand, I bought the supplies for my hand-folded roses and paid for the cost of the market table every week. I used money that I had saved from my previous part-time work as my initial investment and then used the money I made each week to buy better equipment for displays and marketing. It wasn't until I started knitting that I needed to put in a larger investment.
What was the biggest obstacle?
My biggest obstacles have been financing and time management. Once I began to expand my business, I found that I needed a desperate makeover in branding, which meant investing money into equipment. I didn't want to begin by starting in debt with a line of credit or a loan, so I had to work part-time jobs while attending markets and craft fairs to build my business one step at a time.
Once I was able to make SimpleSmiles my full-time job, I found that my day was consumed with little tasks that I didn't want to do because it took up time I could have used to make and design new products. I quickly realized that I needed to balance my day by dividing out the tasks and sticking with a plan. Even today, I get carried away with making new products or refreshing my Etsy shop to watch a newly listed item.
Did your friends and family support your dream?
ABSOLUTELY! They are my biggest fans and the best support a girl can get!
How did you maintain your confidence when doors were closed in your face, when people didn't get it or said no?
I would be lying if I said that no doors were shut in my face especially in the beginning. Many shops didn't even want to look at what I had to offer; I even had one shop owner laugh at me. It's definitely hard to hear, but it was a real motivator to work harder to find the people who appreciated my work. My family, friends, and the amazing artists that I have met have also given me the support I needed to keep me going.
How long did it take you to get everything off the ground?
Over the years I worked at SimpleSmiles as a part-time hobby. However, once I transitioned to full-time I was able to get wholesale and retail sales going in about six months.
How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
Since taking the plunge from part-time to full-time, SimpleSmiles has become profitable.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I love being challenged every day. Being my own boss allows me to choose what I want to work on and how I want to grow my own success. A major drawback for me is the social outlet. I love to talk and socialize, and I found that my face-to-face human interaction was drastically decreased as I had to be at home working on the hundreds of tasks that needed to be completed.
Where do you work from?
I work from home (a cozy apartment in the city of Toronto) and occasionally in my parents' basement (that's where all the sewing machines are).
Do you have employees?
No formal employees, but my family has been huge help with manufacturing and sales.
How has your involvement with Martha Stewart's Dreamers into Doers helped you and your business?
Being a part of the Dreamers into Doers community has definitely helped me connect with other amazing artists who are going through the same problems as I am. It has also become a place where I can have a social outlet. Everyone that I have met on Dreamers into Doers have been amazing support and have shared and helped me grow as a business owner.
How have you been using social media to grow your business?
I recently started using a bit of social media and it has been a great way to connect with other people and share the personal side of who I am. It is important to establish a connection with customers so that people can feel that there is an actual person behind the product.
Do you have entrepreneurial role models? What's so inspiring about them?
I often find myself reading other artisan success stories throughout the day, and I follow many of them. It is hard to pick one or even a few role models. I find inspiration through all artists --crafting , acting, singing, whatever the medium. From famous to undiscovered, anyone who has followed their dream is a true inspiration.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
Mistakes! I think that many artists will agree that the more mistakes you make the better you will be. All of the skills that I need to develop and grow my business I found by trying, failing, and improving for the next time.
What's the best piece of business advice you ever received? If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
The best advice I have received is to follow my heart. If I had to do anything over again, it would be to dive in sooner! I was so hesitant to start my own business since it's not a stable career path and I didn't want to disappoint my parents. Only now I can say that I don't regret anything that I have tried. However if I didn't try, I would have regretted it.
What is your favorite product/service that you offer?
My fingerless mitts. I always get customers asking me if my fingers get cold or how can I wear them, don't my hands freeze? I always get the best response once they have tried them. The amount of times that you need your fingers in the winter is more than you think and it's great to not have to pull off your mitts and freeze even more! Everyone including the driver, the dog walker, and the texter can tell you how useful they are.
What is your best-selling item/service?
My best-selling item would be a tie between the chunky toque and the fingerless mitts.
Is your "Dreamer" business your full-time job?
Yes! At the moment I have left my part-time job in real estate and am fully committed to SimpleSmiles.
What advice would you give to Dreamers who haven't become Doers yet?
Defiantly never stop dreaming, and when you are ready start doing! It will be the best thing you have ever done.
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