Musings, Thoughts & News

Where We’re going next…

Some of you know my history, some are new here, so here is a little bit about how I ended up on the journey I’m on.

Back in 2009 I was working as a massage therapist, a teacher and a doula. A friend and I reconnected and decided to start a company, we wanted an excuse to hang out and liked making things, plus a little more money would help our lives pretty significantly. We started making soap in my garage and expanded the DIY projects that I’d been teaching workshops on (bath bombs, salt soak, sugar scrubs, room sprays, etc) into an entire product line. This company rapidly took over every inch of my life, spreading out into every state in the union and being shipped into 5 other countries. Pretty quickly, we moved from my garage to a storefront in Silverlake, outgrowing that in a few months and moved again to a 5,000+ square foot warehouse space in downtown at The Brewery a few buildings away from where I still live.

Our original concept was that we would make some products, sell retail online (etsy and the like), at some events and farmers markets, boot strap the business and keep our profits high. What actually happened is our products were attractive enough that we immediately landed wholesale customers, including a major spa chain, in a matter of months. That and my business partner was determined that chasing bigger/better/more accounts would eventually make us rich no matter what the up-front costs. He would constantly say “We need to spend money to make money.” Faced with orders for 30 & 40,000 units of product we got caught up in the illusion of sudden success.

The business grew rapidly, eating up more and more of my life. That first holiday season I slept on the floor at our shop every night, living on frozen bean burritos, from early November through the week after Christmas because even with nearly a dozen volunteers helping me (I called in every moving favor I’d ever done and made all my friends and even strangers come help) I couldn’t spare more than an hour or two if I wanted to meet the deadline for the orders. My business partner had developed pneumonia (this became a yearly thing, jokingly referred to as his “Holiday Hospital Visit”) so he wasn’t helping me make anything. This first holiday season set the tone for how holidays would be shaped from then on. I spent October to the last week of December living at the shop working an average of 22 hours a day. The holiday season would see us with as many as 32 temporary workers, trying to keep up with the demand.

I was completely enrolled in the dream of growing the business large enough to sell it for enough money to be able to take a break and coast for a few years. Modeling our dreams on businesses like Burt’s Bees, the vision of a multi-million-dollar payday kept me going when I was so exhausted I was stumbling to work, it kept me cold calling stores and sending out samples and dealing with escalating job duties and expanding client lists and issues that were out of control ridiculous. It kept me working in the face of discount demands and display requirements, by our largest retailers, that we couldn’t afford and had to borrow or sell off our company bits at a time to fulfill on. Demands that guaranteed no profit from those vendors because we would need weekly orders to recoup the investment in placement on their shelves, and those orders never came so we found ourselves facing escalating debt because we were reaching so hard to meet their demands.

When my wife was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014, the company had 7 full time employees and required a minimum of $40,000 a month to open the doors, have supplies, pay for shipping and get the staff to show up each day. That didn’t get either owner a paycheck, pay off debts or show a profit. I was faced with a decision when I realized that my wife needed a full-time caregiver and that It would cost more than I could earn a day to care for her. I abandoned my shares for a portion of my owed back pay and walked away. This was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I had invested nearly 5 years of literal sweat and tears into building this company only to walk away with a few thousand of back pay and the hope that our debts wouldn’t be following me. What surprised me about that decision was that even sitting in the neural ICU or radiology department, I was less stressed than when I was at work. Suddenly my priorities were completely clear and I had no conflict about what I was doing like I’d been living with for the previous several years.

My wife is my highest priority, her health comes first. It took more than a year, letting go of everything, and a lot of time with my attorney, to officially dis-entangle myself from the corporation I’d helped build. A few years later I’m still faced with debt from the company because of poor decisions and some loans we took out, some days I feel like it will never be done, that I will never manage to dig my way out from under its weight. It is a tangible reminder that more than 50% of small businesses fail and we never managed to get to the point of profit, hell, most months I worked for free. So, I spent years not seeing my wife, missing all the holidays, family events, and parties we used to throw to walk away with nothing tangible above the knowledge gained in doing it. To be fair, the knowledge gained is worth a lot, especially all the “I’d never do that, that way again” knowledge.

When Cyndi stabilized and we started re-joining the non-cancer world, our priorities had shifted dramatically. We have been extraordinarily lucky and blessed by the people in our life, without them we would be in a completely different place. Fundraising to pay for brain surgery and then to avoid homelessness during treatment really shifted my perspective on what I want out of life. I’m an entrepreneur to the bone. But the risk of traditional business now outweighs the possible payoff for me. I no longer have the spare resources to support a venture that may or may not pay off (or a wife who can work to support our life while I chase the dream of a big payout at the end of the soap bubbles). I am also not willing to leverage someone else’s money against my time and sweat equity, those resources are now far too valuable to me to leverage or risk. Maybe that will change at some point when our resources are in a different place. Faced with massive debt and having cleared out our retirement to survive over the past few years I’ve been taking any and all jobs offered, working several at a time (which is normal for me) to earn the money needed to sustain our lives and dig us out of the hole we are in.

Unfortunately, we are clear that a regular job working for someone else will never dig us out. I can’t imagine facing the massive debts of student loans, our debts, while overwhelming and potentially ruinous, don’t rival what most students are starting their lives with. After weeks of discussion and examining our options we landed on network marketing.

We’ve been customers of a network marketing business for years. We dabbled off and on with the idea of building the business, doing DIY workshops and meetings every now and then, but never seriously focused on it. Then we met our mentor at a workshop and she asked us how serious we were about making a go of the business.

I’m a geek and need to see things laid out plainly to really decide anything really important (I had a 12 page spreadsheet to compare massage schools when I was deciding where to go) here’s our pro/con list:                                                                                      

Con: Pro:
We have to learn new skills This is one of the only industry where if you keep doing the work, showing up every day, and working to improve you will succeed. Personal development is the core of this industry and is integral to achieve success, so more than business success, who you are as a person has to improve and grow if you want the business to grow.
It will take a lot of work to build a business I could spend the time working hard on my dreams or working for someone else to build their dreams. I have to earn money either way.

 

It will take time to reach our goals The time would go by no matter what. I would rather spend the time working hard to reach my own goals.

 

We would have to invest financially in the business The investment is minimal and unlike the $40,000+/month required to keep my soap company doors open, the investment ($100-300/month) is me purchasing things like toothpaste, deodorant, laundry soap and such that I would be spending money on at the grocery store anyway, so it’s not an extra/new expenditure. This minimal investment every month means, I now, essentially, own a franchise of the company that comes with all the support of a franchise and way more investment in my success than a franchise generally gets.

 

I don’t like the cutthroat/us against them/battling the world vibe of being a small business.

I don’t want to miss out on my life and partner again.

Because the business model is intended to cultivate a team environment (no one succeeds unless the people on their team succeed) the energy is different. My natural inclination to cheer everyone on and to support others is actually a benefit in this business, not a distraction or drain of focus. I have been a business mentor for several new, small business owners over the years and I get a lot of joy from seeing people succeed. This entire business is set up to encourage those kinds of supportive interactions, it’s about teamwork.

 

The structure provided by a regular work schedule and a work environment makes it easier to excel and stay focused on performance at work. It can be challenging to work at home, it requires discipline and structure to cultivate the ability to perform well and on many levels for your partner to be on board so they can support you.

 

But the amazing thing about this business is that, once established, if you take a month off for a vacation or family things or are sick for a while, the business still grows and you still get a paycheck. Facing a complete loss of income because my wife needed 24-hour care was an impossible choice, we are so blessed and lucky and our loved ones stepped in to support us and keep a roof over our heads, but I understand how so many people end up bankrupt or homeless due to a life-threatening illness. I was suddenly very clear on how impossibly unstable our life and income was.

 

In a traditional business model, I had to choose between my business thriving or participating in my life. I don’t want to ever be in that situation again. The residual income model that is the foundation of network marketing is a natural insulation against this situation. There is a period of front loaded work, like with any business, to grow it most effectively, you want to do it rapidly; but once established it is more about steady maintenance rather than the constant overwhelming, life swallowing investment that my previous business had become.

 

  As a bonus, the staffing, shipping, product development, packaging, insurances, liability, etc. are all held by the company and product training, incentive programs, and company conventions are all available to any member. It’s a low risk investment that offers a high rate of return.

 

This is why we chose to jump in to network marketing. Our mentor has been an incredible resource and our business is growing steadily. I’m still working several jobs, but more and more of our monthly income is coming from our monthly commissions. Our team is growing, it’s a completely different experience from hiring new staff, to instead be welcoming a new team member, who is looking to achieve the financial freedom goals we are also working toward. My job is now about building relationships and helping people to achieve their goals and dreams rather than making sure my staff is doing all the things, cleaning up, not wasting time/ingredients, making product correctly or damaging equipment. It’s still a lot of work, but I’m enjoying the change. I am 1 year into a 4 year plan to retire, at 47. I’m on track to hit that goal and am grateful to have found a way to achieve it.

For the first time in ages we are facing down a future filled with possibility and freedom, not just hard work and hope. One not shaped by the anxiety, fear and huge, lifestyle threatening risk that starting a traditional business brings but that allows for the potential for a greater reward than most standard business offers. Our team is growing, with more people joining us regularly, some who want the same sort of freedom we do, who are looking for a business with a low overhead and steady return based on effort, built on products they can believe in. It’s a lot of work but it’s definitely worth it.

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