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4 Swell Years + 4 Things I've Learned

Small Business, EntrepreneurLesley Pocklington1 Comment
swell-made-co-birthday-cake.jpg

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!


These are swell too:

Confessions of an Entrepreneur | How to Support Small Business

Confessions, Entrepreneur, Small BusinessLesley Pocklington2 Comments
  Confessions of an Entrepreneur | How to Support Small Business + Why It’s SO Important

Confessions of an Entrepreneur | How to Support Small Business + Why It’s SO Important

With the busy retail season fast approaching, it’s a good time to stress and confess why it’s SO important to support small business while sharing easy ways we can all become advocates. I confess, I am a small business advocate (and owner) and proud of it.

Small business helps local communities and families thrive. Money spent within our own neighbourhoods and cities impacts local economies, giving more people the opportunity to succeed over a few at the top. I don’t want to sound naive, big business has its place in our communities as well. I’ve worked for some in my past life and my husband works for one too. They too, provide local jobs and impact communities in positive ways by giving back. When it comes to buying from big companies; we as consumers need to seek (if not, demand) those that offer sustainable practices and equitable working conditions. In 2018, it’s expected.

Back to small business. Small businesses allow people to follow their dreams while creating choice and diversity for their customers. Small businesses thrive on offering niche products in small batches, and taking risks that big companies just can’t. You could say, growth and innovation is their jam. Small businesses provide their communities with unique local identities and character, and often establish these communities as destinations. This social impact is invaluable as businesses operate as partners and collaborators to support success and positive change. Small businesses are often the first to step up and give back or provide mentorship in their communities.

Most importantly, you know who you’re buying from when you support a small business. That personal touch probably keeps you coming back, right? It’s a better customer experience overall. Small businesses truly value every single customer. You can provide instant feedback and they can adapt to your needs. Plus, it feels good to know a small business owner is able to continue their dream, provide for their families and give back to their communities. Thanks to your support. Here are some ways you can support small business too. The fact that you’re here reading this, already says a lot about you.


1. When Shopping, Think Small First

When you’re in need of something (pretty much anything), think small first. Of course, we all need to shop at big stores too; but before you head out the door (or online) to check items off your list, think about where you can find those items from a small business. For instance, if I need new shoes, I head to my local (and awesome) shoe shop first. I know the shop owner has badass style, is a local change-maker and has a young family at home. It’s a no brainer. I get a fabulous pair of shoes, she gets a sale and a loyal customer. Win, win.

The same goes for gifts, flowers, stationery, baked goods, wellness goods, jewelry, books, home decor, furniture, clothing. Really, I could go on and on. You get the picture. All of these types of business (whether brick and mortar or online) proudly offer you one of a kind products and work hard to to operate sustainable practices.

Are in you in the market for a service? Same thing goes. Service based small businesses thrive on local support too. Experts in their fields, they’re going to give you the one on one service you deserve.

2. Head to Your Local Cafes

I’m feeling pretty great about those new shoes (as mentioned above). I am going to celebrate with a coffee. A simple pleasure. I’ll skip a trip to the large coffee chain and walk around the corner to my local coffee shop. Coffee shops, cafes and restaurants are wonderful places to support local, meet your neighbours (including the owners) and enjoy goods that are lovingly made by hand. Plus, you can soak up the ambiance and unique personality that each coffee shop offers. These are our community gathering places. Support them and meet a friend face to face. It feels good.

3. Support Your Local Markets

One of the most grassroots ways to support small business, is by visiting your local markets. Fresh products are abundant and diverse, it’s a nice way to spend your day, and it’s easy to work into your regular routine. You always need fresh food and goodies, and local always tastes better (and it’s better for you). That goes for wine too.

4. Spread the Word

If you love a small business or brand, spread the word. A lot of small businesses and services rely on word of mouth. So, tell everyone you know or write a glowing review. As a small business owner myself, hearing your feedback still makes my heart skip a beat.

If you get social online, snap a photo on Instagram or Facebook and tag your favourite businesses. Spreading the love is one of the best ways to support your local businesses. Even if you can’t buy from a local business, supporting them through your comments, likes and shares is encouraging. For small businesses, it’s the little things that have a big impact.

5. Be a Small Business Advocate

Did you learn something by reading this post today? Or, maybe you have some ideas to share too. Please do! Share everything you know about supporting small business with your friends, family and community. Encourage people to become small business advocates, just like you. We are better together when it comes to creating change in our communities.

Thanks for reading and for supporting small businesses, like Swell Made Co. Your support of businesses like my own, is truly life-changing and for that I am forever grateful. As Swell Made Co. approaches its 4th year in business, I am so happy to continue living this dream come true (with hard work, of course). This comes direct from my entrepreneurial heart, but also from our suppliers, shop owners (stockists) and collaborators as well. We take so much pride in working with and being inspired by this community of small business.

The future is local. Thank YOU for being a part of it!


THESE ARE SWELL TOO:

Confessions of an Entrepreneur | Taxes

Small Business, Confessions, TipsLesley Pocklington2 Comments
  Confessions of an Entrepreneur by Swell Made Co. | Taxes

Confessions of an Entrepreneur by Swell Made Co. | Taxes

It's that time of year. Dreaded, dreaded tax time. I'll confess, as a small business owner this is one of my biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to running a business day-to-day. Bookkeeping, accounting, finances -- they all just make me want to curl up on the couch and take a nap. To be even more honest, for the first year of business; I had NO IDEA what I was doing when it came to filing taxes because it turns out running retail business versus (and in addition to) a freelance, low overhead, service-based business is a lot more complicated. So, any flow I had when it came to tax time needed an overhaul and a reality check. 

It turns out, it's not all so bad. Once you have some systems in place, it's not only easier; but crucial for keeping track of the financial health of your business. Staying on top of bookkeeping every month (I personally can't get more frequent than that) will not only help you see trends and help you create goals for your business; but it will make tax time a breeze (sort of) because you're already organized. That's key.

Here are some incredibly useful tips from my friend, Julie Middleton. Julie provides small business support with bookkeeping that helps you set informed goals and focus on your customers (what you do best). From working with Target (remember Target Canada? Sniffle.) to TD Bank, Julie knows a thing or two to keep your small business on track.  

  Tips for getting you and your small business through tax time. By Swell Made Co. and Julie Middleton, Bookkeeper.

Tips for getting you and your small business through tax time. By Swell Made Co. and Julie Middleton, Bookkeeper.

Julie is going to take it from here. I suggest you pay attention, kids. If you still have questions and are operating a small business in Canada, you can get in touch with Julie

How to Make Tax Time Less Painful

As a small business owner, you can file your own taxes; but it often saves money to use a professional accountant. An accountant has the expertise to maximize your deductions and minimize your taxes. Here are some bookkeeping tips to reduce the cost for an accountant to file your taxes and make tax season less painful:

  1. Find out what your accountant needs – Talk to your accountant to get a clear understanding of what they need from you. Do they want the physical receipts, or a summary? Do they have forms for you to complete in advance? What is their turnaround time? Setting up expectations early on will save time for both of you. 
     
  2. Be as organized as possible – Group expenses together and label them with categories (home office, inventory purchases, travel, etc.). The less time the accountant spends figuring this out, the better. It's wise to figure out a system and find tools that work for you early on so it becomes habit. That way, you can track expenses/sales on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis -- giving you a snapshot of your business throughout the year. Not just at tax time, but it will certainly make tax time less painful. You can go the DIY route and use tools like QuickBooks, FreshBooks and Wave Accounting or even a good old fashioned spreadsheet. If you have the option of outsourcing your bookkeeping, even better. 
     
  3. Take advantage of tax deductions – As a small business owner, you can write off a huge variety of expenses to claim tax deductions. Track business expenses such as inventory purchases, insurance, travel, media/advertising costs, meals, capital property, etc. Don't forget about home office expenses (if your home is your principal place of business or if you meet with clients in your home) such as internet, heat, power, water, and mortgage interest. You can also expense vehicle usage including gas, parking, and maintenance. Here is a great infographic with the top tax deductions for small business owners in Canada. 
     
  4. Summarize your expenses – Add up each expense and double check your results. Keep a spreadsheet with the totals and include this in the file you are sending to the accountant. If you use accounting software like Wave Accounting, FreshBooks or QuickBooks, print a profit and loss statement for the year.
     
  5. Don't forget your personal tax receipts - You need all your personal stuff too! Gather all of your personal receipts for childcare, RRSP contributions, medical/dental, T4s, etc. 
     
  6. Know your business and the deadlines  - Sole proprietors and incorporated businesses will need to provide the accountant with different information (and may have different tax filing deadlines). Know what kind of business you have, and when your deadlines are. Not only does this include the annual income tax deadline, but keep track of dates for HST remittance, instalments (if you utilize them) and RRSP contributions. 

If you are filing your own income tax return, TurboTax is a great tool that will walk you through the process for free (up until you file the claim). So, if you're comfortable with DIY, the tips above still apply to keep you organized and in the know when it comes to your small business. Finally, grab some wine and snacks to get you through the process. It helps!


These are swell too:

BE BOLD - 3 Must Haves for Strong Brands

Tips, Small Business, BrandLesley PocklingtonComment
  BE BOLD - 3 Must Haves for Strong Brands by Swell Made Co.

BE BOLD - 3 Must Haves for Strong Brands by Swell Made Co.

Creating a strong brand is more than having a great logo and well defined products or services. A brand is about how your customers feel and what they say when they interact with your brand. Be bold, be you, be different and develop your own style and voice. A distinct visual style, a unique voice, and consistency are key to creating a strong and memorable brand. The process can be uncomfortable, but it's necessary. Look inside before you project your brand out to the world and it will guide you in creating a brand that you can stay true to.

As a designer that works with small businesses to develop brands, I've seen the benefits countless times for my clients. There's nothing better than seeing a small business start strong with passion and vision, great products or services and a solid brand. These are the 3 must haves for all strong brands:

Visual Style

While your visual style isn’t just a logo, it’s a solid place to start. Invest in a great logo and use it everywhere (almost). Integrating your brand means extending your visual style (and voice) to every aspect of your business. From packaging, photography style, postcards to your email campaigns and everything in between. Truly. Think of everything as something that can be branded. It can be subtle.

Tip - Use style guidelines and well designed templates for your marketing materials. Having the same colour palette, logo, type, and general look and feel throughout will set you apart and save you time. You don’t need to be fancy, just consistent. Don't be afraid to "police" your visual style and when in doubt, keep it simple. 

Voice

Create a unique voice that reflects your brand. This is just as important as your visual style. They actually go hand in hand. Your voice isn’t just copy, but how it sounds in your consumer's mind and how it makes them feel. This voice should be applied to all written pieces from social media posts, email campaigns, product descriptions to bios. Your voice inspires visual imagery as well. Don’t be boring. Be bold.

Example - An example that I love about voice by Ann Handley, goes a little something like this. You have a hotdog and you're about to use the condiments. You can say "Give me the mustard" (authoritative), or "Can you please pass me the mustard?" (standard, but polite), OR "Pardon me. Do you have any Grey Poupon?". Great, right?  

Consistency 

You can have a distinct visual style and unique voice, and mess it up here. Consistency of your brand is paramount. Once you define your visual style and unique voice, stick to them. Seriously. Of course, they will evolve over time; but being consistent is the most important part of developing a strong and memorable brand. It may be tempting to add another font, a new trendy colour, or a new message; but it only adds confusion for your customer. Go back to your style guide and ask yourself if it’s a good fit.

Tip - Hire a trusted pro to guide you through the process and bring you brand to life. A good designer will help you launch your brand confidently. Better yet, they’ll empower you with tips on how to drive it forward consistently.  

Now it's time to flex your branding muscles and do a little exercise. Again, branding yourself is a big process, but this will help you get a good start. Think of it as a warm up.


Exercise

  1. Describe your visual style. Write down simple words. Edit down to a few.
  2. Describe your business and how it makes your customers feel. Again, write down simple words. Edit down to a few. 
  3. Define your brand messaging. Using the edited words you collected above as a guide, what are the key messages you want to share about your brand? Be thoughtful, concise and develop your voice. Your brand messaging should consider the following: Who are you? Why do you do what you do? What is it like to deal with you?
  4. Define your customer. Don’t rely on what you think they think. Know what they think by doing research. Your branding should speak to actual customers, not “dream customers”. Knowing them will help you define your brand and messaging.

These questions are inspired by a process Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, suggests when it comes to voice and branding, and from Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore Street Press on visual style and branding.

Thanks for reading! If you'd like to chat about branding for your small business, get in touch. I'd love to help! You can see some of my recent work here

Confessions of an Entrepreneur - Loneliness

Confessions, Entrepreneur, Small BusinessLesley PocklingtonComment
swell-made-co-confessions-entrepreneur.jpg

When you're an entrepreneur, working on your own can get lonely. It’s true. Especially if you work from home. It doesn't have to be! Here are some tips to combating the entrepreneurial blues and places where you can cowork with real-live people in Toronto (and beyond).


Cultivate an Entrepreneurial Community

Whether you join an existing group, or surround yourself with a select group of fellow entrepreneurs; they're the ones who will understand the feeling of loneliness. They'll also appreciate and respect the challenges and dedication it takes to run a business on your own. Connecting with fellow entrepreneurs is a positive way to feel like you're in it together, and you'll be able to support and learn from each other as well.

That said, it's important to prioritize those relationships. You can't be friends with everyone, so don't try. Invest in good relationships and friendships. You only have so much time. Make it count. How does the quote go? “Leave the table if love (or respect) isn’t being served”. Doesn’t that go for a lot of things in life? Edit.

Take a Break

While your hustle is not in vain, don't forget to take a break every once in a while. Entrepreneurs are busy people, but remember to do other things you love too. Yoga, getting outside, traveling, reading, hanging out with friends. Whatever it is you need to decompress, is important for your mental and physical health. Recharge and come back feeling less lonely after connecting with your world again.

Work with Others

Finally, a lot of entrepreneurs that work solo, also work from home. Get out of your physical comfort zone and work in a coworking space. You'll connect with other entrepreneurs (socially and professionally) as mentioned above. Below are some of the best places to set up a workspace for a day, or on a regular basis in Toronto. They all offer flexible types of memberships, plus events to help you get out there and crush those goals.

Make Lemonade

326 Adelaide Street West - 6th Floor

New to Toronto is Make Lemonade. A workspace dedicated to women. The design-forward coworking environment is tropical and bright. It's a space meant to inspire and support, with strong coffee at the ready and spaces that include board rooms, phone booths and even an outdoor patio. They encourage a community of women to make some magic and get sh*t done! Make Lemonade also offers events for female entrepreneurs from goal smashing to self-care for startups. Photos from Make Lemonade.

Breather

Multiple Locations / Multiple Cities

Need a space to breathe between meetings? Or, maybe you need a space to host a meeting (small or large group). Breather has various locations around Toronto and in other cities like New York, Boston, Ottawa and Montreal where you can set up shop for a few hours, or a whole day. The spaces are beautiful and welcoming. Just think of it as an Airbnb for office spaces. Photos by Breather.

Love Child Social House

69 Bathurst Street

Love Child is a coworking and social space for entrepreneurs, creatives, events, workshops, and nightlife. They believe collaboration is the real mother of invention, so they created a workspace designed for connection. With memberships that include social events, you'll never feel alone in this fun space. Photos by Love Child Social House.

We Work

Richmond Street and Bloor Street

The global coworking chain has cropped up in Toronto with locations on Richmond and Bloor. Featuring a cafe, group and individual work areas, this dynamic space is well-known around the world for being a comfortable place to set up shop. With a focus on humanizing work and helping you grow, they've thought of everything. By grabbing a membership you'll be able to set up in a familiar space no matter where you are (almost, there are 59 cities). Photos by Toronto Life.

The East Room

50 Carrol Avenue

Located in Toronto's East End, the East Room offers a stunning coworking space with services catering to freelance creatives and small businesses. Packed with curated antiques, this space is perfect for photo shoots (or just feeling inspired), individual and group spaces, mail services, etc. Membership applications vary offering a more casual workspace to something more permanent. Photos by The East Room.