Starting a Business During Covid: Women's Small Business Month

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October: National Women's Small Business Month

Did you know that women own 42% of businesses in the United States? And that these businesses generate $1.9 Trillion annually? In fact, women of color account for 50% of female business owners.

October is the month we celebrate the tremendous gains women have made in the business world. I am lucky enough to meet so many talented artisans in my line of work, many of them are women trying to follow their dreams and passions in the field that they love. I reached out to a few of them to ask them just how they started their business, about their failures and challenges and if they had any advice for those of us looking to do the same. 

“Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We are strongest when we cheer each other on”

                  --Serena Williams

Gifting Service Small Business

Photo: Amy Thompson Photography

How do you want to spend your work life?

Dream journals. 5 year plans. Vision walks. There was probably a time in your life, when you had it all figured out. You knew exactly where you wanted to be in life and you basically knew how you were going to get there. For me, it was a career in graphic design. Once I got there, I was successful, but I was unfulfilled in my jobs, never truly reaching my potential. I was pushing a mouse around to the beat of someone else's ideas and dreams. 

I think a lot of people are thinking those same thoughts as they sit at home furloughed, laid off, or monitoring their children on Youtube (a'hem, I mean Zoom), every second of the school day. What is all this for? Am I just a drone punching a clock? Or, have I been stuck here on this couch just a little too long?

Now is a great time to pursue those dreams. Sure, it takes a lot of effort and gumption, but it sure beats to dream a little while you're on that zoom call for the 9 millionth time! 

Visions to Reality: Inspiring Stories of Successful Women Owned Businesses!

Need a little nudge or encouragement? I've compiled 4 short interviews below to help you on your way with Women artisans: Leyna from Urb Apothecary, Sina from Buff Experts, and Sarah Perez from Electric Sun Creatives)! My own story is at the end too!

Just remember, no matter if we started and failed or started and triumphed, the biggest accomplishment is that we tried at all

A Beauty Brand that Radiates Self-Care: Urb Apothecary

bath and beauty urb apothecary

You can find Urb Apothecary goodies in the following gift boxes: Just PerfectWelcome BabyWelcome Baby LuxeSupport Local Northern CaliforniaBody and SpiritBody Mind and SpiritCalm the SoulTo Be LovedBaby Shower LoveBaby Shower Love DeluxeRelax and Restore

Urb Apothecary began with a vision for skin care products that reflect the needs and desires to connect with simple chemical-free ingredients. Leyna, the founder, only uses the highest quality organic ingredients in every Urb Apothecary product. Each one reflects her good intentions and a deep-rooted fascination with the healing power of herbs and plants. Urb Apothecary has been with us for many years. We adore her products and her as a person. Let's dive into her story.

Starting a business is not easy, sometimes we have to take it slow and see how people react to what we are putting out there. At what point did you decide you were ready to launch your business? 
It took encouragement from friends and family that these creations were special. It was more of a soft safe launch via the "free" platform of Etsy. I still worked a full-time job and made products at night and on the weekend. It was a launch of faith and hope. I took the very slow growth route, no investors, no funding. I just grew as the business grew.
What events led up to it and how did you do it?
I took the very slow growth route, no investors, no funding. I printed the labels myself, purchased small amounts of packaging at a time, and was VERY DIY, which I look back on with fondness and a bit of embarrassment. I just grew as the business grew.  
What is your greatest victory or proudest moment since launching?
The greatest victory was realizing that it made finally grown to a place where it could be my sole means of supporting myself. Wracked nerves and excitement were my main emotions when I submitted my two-weeks notice.
What was a surprising thing that you learned that really shaped your business? (or another way to ask: What was your biggest failure/opportunity to learn? How did you overcome it?) 
I was surprised to learn that I LOVED running a small business, wearing all the myriad of hats, tackling growth and scaling challenges. I learned the most when I received super large orders and had to figure out the nuts and bolts of how to actually do it. I said yes to those challenges because I knew it was important to grow and stretch.


Buff Experts: Sina Zere

Sina Zere Buff Experts Body Care

You can find Buff Experts in our new wellness gift box supporting Black-Artisans and the NAACP here:  Support Black Artisan Owned Business

Ideas are born out of needs and passions and they are successful because of that as well. Sina is the founder and owner of wellness brand Buff ExpertsShe's a Habesha woman who loves beauty, books, and cake and discovered she's really good at creating the former and even better at inhaling the latter two. Because she suffered terribly from gynecological issues as a very young woman she started educating herself on natural products. She was finally able to reclaim her intimate health and help many more people do the same with a product line. We recently incorporated one of her amazing lotions into our gift boxes and are so happy to welcome her into our family of artisans.

Sina, it must feel good when your hard work pays off. What is your greatest victory or proudest moment since launching?
Our proudest moments have come when we create products that exactly how we wanted it to be. It is extremely satisfying when you know the formulation is awesome and you first try it on and it feels exactly how you envisioned it to. Our greatest victory was when our body lotion formulation won a Self Health Beauty Award. This was a great feeling as it was a North American wide competition in a national magazine.

Failing is to learn, even though it seems tough to find out what you are supposed to learn at the time. The reward for discovering the answer is worth it. What was your biggest failure/opportunity to learn? How did you overcome it?
When you create a business you are going to have failures and probably a lot of them. But using these as opportunities to grow and improve is what will make you successful. There is a lot of trial and error when creating skin care products, especially when you have a specific vision in mind and finding the right packaging and branding to go along with that vision takes patience.

When people place an order there are so many factors that need to be right for them to result in being a happy and returning customer. How they came across your product, their experience and the information provided on the website, the delivery and of course the experience of trying the product.  If you hear of an issue during any of those stages you want to do your best to address it so you don't receive the same feedback in the future.

Electric Sun Creatives: Sarah Perez

Sarah Perez ARtist Interview Brass Hanging

Shop the Gift: The Every Girl

Sacramento-based metal artist, Sarah Perez (of Electric Sun Creatives) creates mobiles and wall hangings made of brass sheet and tubing. With training in sculpture and small metals, Perez has taken what she learned and made it her own. I am fascinated with the shapes and geometry that she envisions and her attention to balance & composition that she puts into each piece she makes. I was so excited when she agreed to make a small wall/window hanging for one of our gift boxes, The Every Girl. What a cool piece of art to receive as a present.

So, you've been doing this for a while now, so I'm sure it's hard to pick out specific achievements, but what would you say is your greatest victory or proudest moment since launching?
One of the greatest victories in my business was the first time I experienced an influx of sales, after months of slow growth. I had been seriously working on my business for about 6 months and this felt like it had paid off, finally - something stuck and gained some traction. Someone had posted about my work and getting so many eyes on my work resulted in about 40 sales in an hour's time. The sales stayed consistent thereafter and created the sustainable business that I run to this day. It reminds me of the power and humility of this cocktail recipe: hard work, leading with your own unique creative perspective and big-time trusting the bit of magic (that's out of your control) to propel you forward. 
What was a surprising thing that you learned that really shaped your business? 
Some of my biggest learning experiences have stemmed from my mistakes. One of the biggest ones I can think of was a mishap with a ruined package that was delivered to a customer. I look back on that experience and now know the importance of going above & beyond in making things right. I now know what standards I want to have for my little business. The opportunity to learn from my mistake and course-correct is a gift. 

My Story: Bestowe Gifting

As I mentioned, I started my career in graphic design: packaging, branding and marketing. I remember a project at an agency that I was working on, I was designing a launching deck for a very high profile client in Powerpoint. It took months. Yes, powerpoint. It was absolutely as boring and as tedious as it sounds. As a designer at heart, it felt like a part of my artistry was dying with the limitations of the projects. I always loved the people that I worked with, loved the creativity and collaboration, but I was slowly loosing my passion.

I always had ideas for a business of my own, but just never took the leap. I was scared I would fail. I didn't have a partner to help guide me. I didn't have the money. I didn't have time. I was the breadwinner and just frankly couldn't risk quitting my job to do something else. These were all the excuses that plagued my failures. I would start something or was waiting for someone else to work alongside me, not believing that I alone could manage and run a business. Then, about 10 years ago I started a non-profit business with a friend, called Local Social. Our mission was to merge elements of design, art, and installation for inspiration. We organized local events and supported the arts by developing relationships and communities of like-minded people. The blog was hard: our hearts were in it, but we couldn't figure out how to make money at it. Blogs were all over the internet, but we didn't really care enough to understand how to make it worthwhile. We loved the event work though. At the local level, we excelled. Meeting artisans and diving into the wealth of creativity in the Bay Area was our cup of tea (me a graphic designer, and my friend an interior designer). Not for lack of trying, but after 2 years it fizzled. I never think of this as a failure though. I think of it as a stepping stone. I wasn't sure where it was going to lead me, but the experiences and the challenges were etched in my brain.

Flash forward many years later: I was attending an event in Oakland, hosted by Bright Side Collective. Over 100 inspiring women attended. It was as I mingled around the room that I started to realize, every one of these women had full-time jobs and side hustles. We were all desiring the same thing, to have something that spoke to our passions and desires, not just for our souls but for our livelihood. And that realization fueled my passion.

Side Hustle to Reality

Bestowe was a dream that I quickly learned I would need support making happen. I was a creative and not a business owner. I hired a business consultant and pitched my dad to get some money to start the business. He was ruthless in grilling me. He was good like that and it was good for my business. I needed someone who would make me think through everything. And like all those women at the Bright Side Collective event, I reached out to women friends, people just starting out or establishment to help support me mentally and emotionally. I couldn't have done this without all of their encouragement.

Since launching, I have had constant hurdles and challenges. I thought once Bestowe's ecommerce site was online things would be a walk in the park. I had to quickly learn about advertising online, where my audience invested their time, SEO, conversions, on-page marketing, the importance of a good strategy and long-term goals, and analytics - all things that have challenged me to the near brink of insanity. However, through it all, I am living that vision that has always been stirring inside me. 

Bestowe's Advice:

Follow your heart

Create a Network of people who believe in you and can support you

Be humble in knowing when and where you need help and what you can't do on your own.

Learn to Adapt (Maybe go through a pandemic or something to really shake things up :))

Build Your Self-Discipline


Fly little bird!

You aren't the only one feeling like something is holding you back.

After reading these successes (and successful failures), I hope you will feel inspired to make your vision a reality. I'll leave you with this thought: Remember, you are not forging this path alone. Many great people have been down the dark and damp path before you. Hopefully they've cleared the cobwebs and branches that may scare you. They've made it to the dim light peering from the other side. Maybe you can reach out and grab their hand to help you.

You got this!

Oh, and if you need extra help here's a resource below. And if you have any resource, please share in the comments below as well. 

The US Chamber of Commerce is a great resource for starting a business. They have some good advice too for starting a business during Covid:

"Ensure your business is COVID-proof, meaning it's something that someone would be able to enjoy in the COVID world we're currently in."

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