What an Entrepreneurial Family Looks Like

It started off with me owning my own business.  It’s not a unique business or completely new; people have been using soap for thousands of years.  I do, however, have my own special niche that is unique in the industry.  My daughters and husband are willing and (sometimes) enthusiastic helpers, because they know the advantages of my business being successful.

Then last summer, my older daughter began to run her own small mowing business.  The goal at the time was to earn money to go on mission trips, but then she discovered that she really likes having money of her own.  Her business grew a little this year with the incarceration of her primary competition.  Hey, gotta seize the opportunities as they come.

Then it happened.  After six months of “any day now” and corporate postponements, my husband got laid off as part of a corporate takeover and decided to launch his own business, a dream he’s harbored for at least twenty years.  His former boss told him that he’ll be working harder the first six months than he has ever before, and his chemical supplier said that after the first one hundred customers, it gets easier.  (He seems to be getting closer to that mark every day.)

Peter is doing what I call the “entrepreneur hustle.”  The day after receiving his last paycheck – this happened to be a Saturday – he was busting butt building up his customer base.  He’ll work for several hours taking care of his customers’ lawns, then come home and make phone calls and do computer work.  My daughter went out with estimate sheets as she was working on her customer base.  I go into shops and make contacts with people via email with whom I want to have a working relationship.  Being an entrepreneur is all about doing the hustle.  (Not to be confused with hustling customers, which is a bad practice.)

I’ve gotta insert a quote by Dave Ramsey here:

“If you work like no one else now, then later you can work like no one else.”

What does that mean?  Most people are happy getting by working a 9-5, Monday-Friday job.  They make enough to pay their bills, tend to their families, save a little for vacation, hopefully put away for retirement.  They are content biding their time, ticking off the minutes until retirement, complacently working as a cog in a larger wheel.  Then there are the entrepreneurs.  These are the ones who have a dream and a passion; they happily put in at least 60 hours a week to pursue their passion, and they reap the benefits from it.  That means that they can set aside even more for their retirement nest egg and retire early, enjoying life while others are down in the coal mines of corporate America.

One day not long ago, my daughter was heading over to a neighbor’s lawn to mow.  Peter was working in the office, and I was thinking a quick nap would be nice; after all, my work wasn’t going anywhere.  I discovered that it doesn’t work that way anymore.  Having this many entrepreneurs in the household has a peer pressure-type of motivation on each of us.  With all this hustle going on, we each know that we’re not the only person working.

We also help each other.  Peter has done a lot of legwork for my business.  He’s made initial contacts with potential customers, he’s picked up oils for me, and he’s helped with manufacturing.  Both of my daughters have helped wrap soaps and have helped make them.  They often accompany me on deliveries and customer visits.  My younger daughter and husband help the older daughter with her lawns when she needs a break.  And we’re all helping Peter with his new business venture.

I spent part of Sunday night hand-addressing envelopes. The curse of having the best penmanship in the family.
I spent part of Sunday night hand-addressing envelopes. The curse of having the best penmanship in the family.

This was how I spent Sunday night.  I had a stack of envelopes that I’d told Peter I’d address for him.  I sat in the living room at my parents’ house (we’d gone up for a funeral) while they watched a Chuck Norris series from the early 90s, and Dad and I ruthlessly critiqued the commercials, all aimed at the elderly and gullible.  I’d discovered that the handwritten note goes a long way towards making customers feel special.  Peter had over 60 letters in this stack alone, and no way were we handwriting that many letters!  This is time-sensitive, though we did personalize the mail merge, and one of my former soccer families got a personal greeting at the bottom of their letter.  Each was hand-signed, as well.

Whether or not they’re all working on the same business, the entrepreneurial family shares some characteristics.

  1. Entrepreneurial families help each other out.  People go into business to make money, and usually that money is to help the family in some way, which creates a common goal.  Helping each other is a way to ensure that everyone meets his/her goals.
  2. Entrepreneurial families encourage each other.  “Ohhh…  That soap is gorgeous!”  “Her lawn looks good!”  “You’ve got this!”  And one I texted today:  “Yea!  But this is getting so commonplace now :D,” upon learning that Peter had sold another account.  Frequent encouragement keeps each other energized and confident about the next step.
  3. Entrepreneurial families motivate each other.  “What do you mean you’re going to sleep for two hours this afternoon?  Get your butt up and get working!”  “Hey…  I need to use the desktop this afternoon.  Why don’t you go ahead and get your computer work done while I’m in the workshop?”  When you’ve been working all week on a new business and the weekend rolls around, the last thing you want to do is work more, no matter what the work load looks like.  Motivating each other helps keep the work flow going and ensures they meet each next small or large goal.

I never dreamed we’d have so many entrepreneurs in one family!  It’s an adjustment for sure, but we’re all feeling calmer, more confident, and way more excited about what lies ahead.


Getting Back to Basics

Once upon a time, I was a suited-up professional working in a healthcare environment, punching a (mostly) 8-5 clock.  Some days I worked until 7 or 8, and I was on call every single weekend.  I was rocking the soap biz on the side, working markets one weekend a month.  We lived in a townhouse in a nice urban area and could walk to the grocery store if we wanted.  Unfortunately, it was uphill coming back.  In fact, making soap was the closest I came to doing the neo-hippie-slash-homesteading thing.

A couple of years after leaving that position, it became very clear to us that we were going to be trading urban life for coastal rural life.  I was pregnant at the time, so finding a new job wasn’t high on my list of priorities, but making a home was.  I had visions of biking places, eating fresh-caught fish on a regular basis, and having our own little garden spot where we could grow our own fruits and vegetables, enough for our family.  One out of three ain’t bad.

In the six years since we moved, my business has taken off in unexpected ways, and I have changed in unexpected ways.  I never dreamed I’d be home educating my daughters.  Our “little” garden spot has had really bad years and really great years, but those great years haven’t yielded just enough for us to enjoy, but enough to share.  This year, it’s giving us some to can, too.  That’s another thing I never expected to be doing – putting up my own canned goods.  We tend to gravitate towards condiments (cranberry mustard, jellies, jams, and butters) and dessert stuff (pie fillings and chocolate sauce), although we have made and put up pickles, Brunswick stew, and chicken soup.  These, too, we are able to share.

jars of chocolate sauce
Jars of homemade chocolate sauce that Mary made. Taste better than Hershey’s!

When we lived “in the city,” I didn’t own a working sewing machine; I’m on my second one since we moved, one that my fellow business owner said is “a good one for children” (thanks, Sarah), but which is most definitely a step up from my Singer.  I used to sew; when I was a teenager, I made pillows for myself and for gifts, and I’ve done some of that since being married.  My long-time customers have seen the bags I’ve made for gifts or to hold bars of soap, too.  I’ve made a messenger bag and three purses.  Most recently, I’ve sewn curtains, a rather large project, as they’re covering a sliding glass door.

Soapmaking.  Canning.  Sewing.  Knitting.  (My oldest daughter is over my shoulder, or I’d show you what I’m working on for her.)  I look around at all these things my hands have made, at all the ways I’ve stretched myself to create a warm home and the ways we’ve worked together as a family to achieve it, and I am pleased.

(Next week, look for pictures of homemade pesto and more pickles.  I wish I could share our bounty with you.)

Rewards of Limitations

It’s one thing to tell myself that I won’t do an event.  I can list the reasons why it’s a good idea to skip it.  I can identify all the affirmations of the decision.  The real test comes, however, in the moment:  How will I feel knowing the event is happening and I’m not doing it?

Friday, the feeling that I was doing the right thing in not vending Saturday’s event continued.  I felt so relieved!  I commented to Mom later that that must have been what she felt the first day after she retired.  She commented, “It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of you.”  Yes!!!  That’s it exactly!  Friday, the girls and I ran some errands around town, and I know I had the biggest, dopiest smile on my face.  We went to the bank to withdraw some money.  The teller took my check and started pulling out bills.  Then she looked at the check again.  She looked at me with some confusion.  Then she looked at the check yet again.  She said, “You usually get more money than this.  Are you doing the festival?”  I replied, “No, which is why I’ve got this huge smile on my face.”  It was getting almost comical.

Friday night, I was sitting on the sofa knitting and watching TV with the Swirl God.  I said, “You see this?  You see what I’m doing?  Or, more specifically, what I’m not doing?”  He didn’t quite get it.  I said, “I’m sitting.  And knitting.  And watching reruns of TV shows I missed the first time.  I’m not sitting at the table labeling a bunch of stuff.  And later I’ll be heading to bed at a decent time, and maybe I’ll even sleep in in the morning.”  My best friend who usually waits up with me while I’m doing my last-minute show prep was also looped into the giddiness.

The day of the festival arrived, and I did, in fact, sleep in.  I pretty much slept until the start of the festival.  Then it was on!  I made cinnamon roll waffles for breakfast, then I started potatoes for potato salad.  Long story short, I made potato salad and a batch of oat bran zucchini chocolate chunk muffins before lunch, and made a batch of pickles afterwards.  The girls and their dad went to the festival, but they were back in about an hour; it was just too hot.  By all accounts, attendance was down and people weren’t parting with their money easily.  It also seems like it was another one like last year when it died 4 hours before the end.

Yummy sandwich slices!

It felt a little bad not being at the festival, not seeing one of my private label customers (another vendor), and potentially not serving my repeat customers.  But only a little.  I got over it.  It just felt so good all weekend!  There was the happy, relieved feeling of all week.  There was the family time before the girls scattered for the week.  There was having the energy to hang in until late with my best friend after his mom got hurt.  There was the simple sweetness of celebrating Father’s Day on Saturday with a movie and a special dinner.  And then there was Father’s Day itself, the first in a few years where I actually got to see my dad on Father’s Day.

Telling myself no to this event was risky; I stood to lose a good deal of potential revenue.  I gained so much more, though, far more than that money is worth.

I Quit!

CHOC Walk 2009
CHOC Walk 2009 (Photo credit: Denise Cross Photography) – Thought this was appropriate, as one of our movies was “Aladdin.”

Last week, I quit.  I quit work for the most part.  I quit the business for a week.  In fact, I quit everything but motherhood.  My older daughter was at camp, leaving me home alone with my younger daughter for a whole week.  What a treat, as we haven’t gotten to do this in about a year!

We did all sorts of fun things!  We went to the library and got books.  We went to the beach with my mom.  We got haircuts.  We watched movies – lots of movies.  We read books.  And we cuddled.  That was the best part, that cuddling.

I checked my business email once a day, and the Wee Princess and I went through boxes and boxes of soaps to parcel out which ones we’d be donating.  Then she helped me organize those in my storage space.  I made phone calls, did housework, and made products while she napped,  A couple of days, I napped, too.  So, I didn’t quit completely; it wasn’t a planned break, so I didn’t think it would be fair to my customers just to close up shop completely for the week.

The break was restorative and a great lead-in to beginning school this week.  It taught me something valuable, too; it taught me that I can, in fact, give myself a break from running my business full-tilt, and the world won’t come to an end.  It reminded me that my goal isn’t to build a lasting legacy through my business.  My primary goal is to raise two kind, compassionate, giving, loving, brilliant daughters.  Teaching them those character traits is the legacy that’s most important to me.