4 Swell Years + 4 Things I've Learned
It’s been 4 years since Swell Made Co. was “born” and I am so happy to be celebrating with all of you. Thank you for your continued support of this little passion project turned small business. Thank you for buying small, following along and sharing with friends. Thank you for words of encouragement and inspiration. I am so proud of what Swell Made Co. has become in 4 years and I am eternally optimistic (and grateful) for what the future holds.
Today, I am celebrating with family and friends and YOU, of course. The best part, there’s CAKE. The cake shown above was created from scratch just for Swell Made Co.’s birthday by my talented friend, Natalie Raponi of HeckYes. So, as we celebrate, I am looking back on the past 4 years and want to share the top 4 things (there are SO many more than 4) that I have learned so far about running a small business. Take them for what you will, because in the end you are designing your very own life and businesses (or projects, careers, families, adventures, etc.).
I could also tell you what NOT to do, and perhaps that’s a future post. Such as, get on the ‘gram before you launch, don’t launch a business a few weeks before the holiday season, don’t receive shipments of merchandise at your home office to be left on your porch (and free for the taking). Oh, I could go on after learning the hard way, but that’s just part of the ride. I’m still holding on and enjoying every minute.
what i’ve learned after 4 years in business
1 - Work at your own pace
When building a business, go at your own pace. Whether that’s fast or slow, it’s up to you. There’s no shame in only taking on what you can handle, because this is not a race. It’s real life. I started Swell Made Co. as a side hustle, with 2 kids under 3 and all the regular stresses of life. To keep it real and sustainable, I had to start slow and constantly adjust and iterate as time went on. And that’s okay. I still operate from slow to full hustle, depending on what life throws my way.
This approach doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s been a guiding principal for my business since day one. Sure, you’ll see other businesses fly past you (sometimes out of the gate); but it doesn’t matter because you got into this for YOU. Not them. Don’t ever forget that.
2 - Get help and build a team
When you first start a business on your own or even with a partner, you’re going to be bootstrapping it in ways you never imagined. Over time, though, you’ll start build a team that will help see you through the swells of business life. While, I’m not specifically suggesting you hire a full staff (unless that’s what your business needs) — you should build a team, tribe or community that will guide you.
This includes bookkeepers, virtual assistants, writers, photographers, suppliers and manufacturers, accountants, collaborators, designers, and so many more. There is a community of like-minded entrepreneurs out there who are experts in their fields and ready to serve you, just like you serve your own clients and customers. Work together to build each other up, because when you’re ready; you won’t be able to go it alone anymore and that’s a good thing.
You’ve grown leaps and bounds, so choose (wisely and thoughtfully) the help you need to get to your next goal. If you can work directly with a mentor, even better. Mentors will help see your business in a whole new light.
At some point (whether you’re starting or expanding), you’re going to need financial help too. Help also comes in the form of grants and loans to help you scale your business. Seek them out in your own city, networks and country. Grants are designed to help entrepreneurs thrive, because when you succeed, so do those around you. This past year, I completed the Starter Company Plus grant program to expand my business. This program is funded by the Ontario Government and is available in various cities across the province. The experience alone was invaluable with guidance from business advisors, mentorship, a new community of businesses, new perspective and focus and of course, funding (the icing on the cake - yum).
There are programs for investing in employees, mentorship, accelerator style, operating a business with a positive environmental or social impact, industry specific (hospitality, medical, fashion, retail), etc. The list goes on and on. Don’t overlook these resources when starting or growing your business.
Here are a few more. Some are for women in business in particular:
Pitch for the Purse - Pitch your business for $25K to finance your business.
Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards - A global funding program for women entrepreneurs.
#Angels - A group of women that act as angel investors for women in tech.
Women Entrepreneurship Strategy - A program from the Federal Government.
Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant - Funding for women-owned businesses.
Futurepreneur - Canada-wide mentorship and business funding.
Community Futures - Canada-wide grants and loans for business operating in smaller communities.
Bon Temps - $1K in funding for demonstrating #timewellspent. What are you passionate about?
Our friends at Mamas & Co. recently wrote about this as well. Give it a read.
3 - Alright stop, collaborate and listen
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. It’s another way of building your communities and tribes together and developing some of the most rewarding (and fun!) projects you’ll work on. Working together fosters the recipe for success — community over competition.
When you’re solely focused on the day-to-day operations of your own business, it’s easy to become shortsighted. When you collaborate with others, you’ll be inspired, learn from each other and solve problems together in a whole new way. You’ll see your own business differently and that’s also a good thing.
Over the past 4 years, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on some fun projects and they have been some of my favourite moments of running a business. I look forward to more in the years ahead.
4 - Hustle, rest, repeat
Yes, running a business is hard. Probably a lot harder than you thought it would be, because you never truly turn off; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It’s crucial, actually. Hustle, rest, repeat.
Invest in your body and mind like you would for your business, because without caring for yourself, you’ll burnout. Or worse, get sick. And that’s bad for business. Trust me. This year, I have been dealt a few lemons when it comes to health and it’s motivated me to be healthier than ever (I thought I WAS healthy), so I can continue to be my best self when it comes to family (above all), personal growth and my business.
Just like you would with your business, fiercely carve out time for YOU. Find new ways to make your body and mind run optimally and don’t feel bad about it for a second. Just as you design your life and business, be sure that designing a way to stay healthy is top priority too. Whatever that looks like for you, advocate for yourself always. There will be unforeseen things you can’t control, but there are a lot of things you can (diet, exercise and sleep). Learn from experts around you and build a healthier future for yourself and your family.
That’s it! Here’s to another swell year with you by my side. Thank you for being here. If you have anything you’d like to share about running a business, I would LOVE to hear it. Please share!