Monday, June 29, 2015

Learn to Use Your DSLR


Happy to announce the first YCIYWT class: Learn to Use Your DSLR!

A long-time lover of photography, I finally coughed up the dough to take a DSLR course myself a few years ago. It made an enormous difference to my own work. To this day I wish I'd done it sooner. I'd been wandering around with an expensive camera I had no idea how to use, with no idea that learning would be much easier than learning to ride a bike or drive a car.

I would like to share the same relief and excitement with you that I felt after my first photography course. With anyone, really, who has a big fancy camera and a fear of the complicated settings. They're not complicated! Take two hours and come learn with me. You will be so happy you did.

Here is all the info on the class. There are three dates for the same class, so if one doesn't fit your schedule, there will be another to follow. If you have any questions at all, contact me or check out my FAQ section.

I hope to see you there!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On Politics and Business

This week marked a change that probably will go down in American history as a victory equivalent to a woman’s right to vote or the abolition of slavery. By that I mean, in another half a century, the event will be yet one more member of vague common knowledge, and what rights today have been granted to one sect of American citizens in a controversial, heated battle will be something generations of students to come will learn in school was always the Right Thing—people were just to conservative and "old-fashioned" to see it.

In this moment, however, views are split decisively down the middle. If that is not evidenced by the 5-to-4 vote in Supreme Court on Friday, then certainly it is evidenced in the reactions that have ensued both in face-to-face discourse and on just about every social platform available.

I mention this as a person who, being a small business blogger, follows a number of businesses on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. After hearing the announcement from a woman at work who has reason to be invested in the movement, I fully expected to see statuses on my Facebook feed from my friends of different political persuasions and, naturally, sexual orientations. What I did not expect was how many businesses “came out” with celebratory reactions:

These are just a sample of the untold thousands of businesses that found their own ways to participate in the cause. What an unusual phenomenon. Historically, this might in itself be a milestone. I do not think I’ve worked for anyone who owned more than one business or location who did not in my contract forbid me from speaking on social platforms about my place of work, lest my place of work become tainted by whatever politics I upheld. Further, my natural grasp of diplomacy has won me fast privileges at every job I’ve had (save one), and at one company even awarded me the coveted spot of public relations representative. Businesses like to keep their noses out of controversy, because controversy means the potential to alienate a portion of their target customers.

So why for this occasion are businesses more than happy to proclaim a stance on such a deeply rooted, sensitive subject? And is it good that they want to, or bad?

If we’re measuring by the dollars that will be gained or lost over each company’s statement, then my guess is it’s a wash. There will be a large band of customers at each of these businesses who become more loyal because of the support they feel they have, and there will be people who cease to be customers because they feel that in some way by supporting these businesses they give money to the enemy. The latter group will be smaller, but more vocal.

If we’re measuring by the division that births from such bold statements, I think the issue becomes a bigger problem. Difficult enough is it to interact one-on-one with friends or family members of different world views than oneself—add businesses to the mix and the tension increases exponentially. Imagine walking into a business and assuming that every person who works there is of the same or opposite political views as you. You might feel welcomed falsely or outnumbered prematurely. This is not only a customer service issue, it’s a corporate issue. What businesses forbid their employees to do—taint their workplace reputation with politics—businesses have now done to their employees. 

If what I’m saying sounds strange, take a look at some of these tidbits from others in the social stratosphere. I took the time to read some of the responses to the posts I shared above. One former TOMS associate said: “When I worked at TOMS and wanted to post a rainbow of shoes for every state that legalized gay marriage, I was told the issue was too controversial and they had to stay out of it. I guess it’s okay now.

An Instagram follower of A Beautiful Mess said this: “As a follower and consumer of AMB I would prefer not to know your political views on any topic or Supreme Court decision. Thank you.

In the first case, the commenter was presumably of the same political viewpoint as the proclamation—she just didn’t understand why it was suddenly okay for a business entity to participate in political conversation. In the latter case, the commenter was presumably of the opposite political persuasion of the proclamation—and she didn’t want to have her customer experience changed because of political differences from the business. In both instances the reactions demonstrate division. In neither case did the business care to respond via comment; although by all appearances TOMS had the backhand comment removed from their feed.

Here are some more:

I like pinterest. I hope I will like all the gay comments, sayings, jokes, posters, etc.

If Pinterest had come out with a rainbow with a big X on it, then what would you think? Many people would be totally offended. Individual people have every right to support whatever side they want, but companies, businesses, etc. should not.

(As with the other platforms, Pinterest received the whole range of responses for posting an image of their team in rainbow gear and “Proud” shirts. This was a particularly bold decision for a company that only sells other companies’ merchandise and ideas. The scads of people dumping Pinterest to make a statement are consumers of the businesses that buy “paid pins” on the Pinterest feed. Will those businesses see a decline in Pinterest-driven sales? Will they make the business decision to stop buying ad space? We shall see the consequences of Pinterest’s decision perhaps more than the others in the long haul…)

As for the “why” question… Social strategy is likely the conspirator behind this unlikely approach to business strategy. Not only has the internet opened a global market for businesses—it also has encouraged transparency, competition, and scandal. As a consequence, we as Americans especially have migrated to a more liberal way of thinking. “Neutrality is a byproduct of an old way of thinking,” we corporately seem to believe. “We must pick a side to count.” I think it all came to a head in this debate. How cunning of these businesses to cast their bets on the winning side… after the fact. 

Not to mention that the social managers of most companies are techies in their twenties and thirties—the ones who used MySpace fifteen years ago to post personal feelings with no ingrained sense of censorship. Whether or not some of these companies gave the OK to represent on this issue, social reps these days know that they can fall back on the discrimination laws posted in all employee bathrooms: “[Company Name] shall not discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, physical disability, age…” By not allowing the advocacy of this political issue, companies risk being in violation of very basic discrimination laws.

Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I think it’s better to keep business just business, and save politics and religion for family reunions. If a particular company offers the best version of a product, any consumer ought to be able to opt for that product without feeling pressured or ostracized. Picking a side in business pits “us” against “them,” and sometimes “them” is the good-hearted customer who is just trying to live out what he or she believes the best she can, same as the people running the show. Why would making a paying customer feel left out or dis-included be a good business decision?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Where I Went Today: Bagelsaurus and Union Square Donuts

After a crazy week at work preparing for the annual block party, I planned for myself a crazy weekend filled with travel and activities. First on the list was a trip to Cambridge to visit the highly-recommended Bagelsaurus.

My former roommate Holly joined me for breakfast at the only shop on Massachusetts Avenue with a line out the door in the pouring rain. I had intended to bypass this obstacle by partaking of Bagelsaurus’s “grab bag” offer, but it turned out to be a cash-only shortcut, so I wound up back where I began—which was fine, because even though it killed my hair for the day, I got to catch up with Holly while we waited.

As it was Fathers’ Day weekend, I went ahead and bought the bakers’ dozen, knowing I would be sharing with the family later on. I don’t know why I expected the “grab bag” to come in a box. It came in an old-school brown paper bag tucked inside a larger handle bag where I found the spreads I’d picked out: mustard butter (for the pretzel bagel), honey rosemary cream cheese (my mother loves rosemary), and cream cheese with scallions (a classic).

Holly and I stuck around to get the vibe of the place while we enjoyed our breakfasts. She went for the cheddar-garlic bagel toasted with veggie cream cheese while I went for an untoasted pretzel bagel dusted with the lightest salt I’ve ever tasted. Having viewed Bagelsaurus’s segment on the Phantom Gourmet, I looked for all the tell-tale signs the my bagel was expertly crafted—a thin, bubbly, crust, and “irregular holes” on the inside. It made the process more educational and enjoyable. I tried to identify the malt syrup that owner Mary Ting Hyatt describes as the ingredient responsible for “that bagely flavor,” but I wasn’t sure that I could.

From Bagelsaurus I headed on over to Union Square Donuts, another business recommended by my friend Andrew McCook (you met him here). Both businesses were located on pleasant, shoppable strips in the Harvard district, but I thought that Union Square Donuts’s spot in Somerville was a bit cozier. 

This was another shop with a long line, which curved around the interior. The atmosphere was more intentional in this location—pink and gray were the theme colors, trendy fonts and graphics decorated the merchandise available, and two accent walls, one of customer feedback on Post-Its and one of wood with hanging art, gave customers something to look at while they waited out the line—but the energy overall was very similar. Customers were excited about a specific product, and many of them were looking forward to sharing with families for Fathers’ Day.

While waiting, I looked over not only the menu, but the donuts themselves, which were out for everyone to see on rows of bakers’ racks. Since I run a cafe known for its crullers, I was interested in the competing market. Although larger, these donuts had the same color and (by appearance) general texture of a brand of mass-produced donuts that I have come to view as average or below, but because donuts had generated a long line, came recommended by a friend, and cost three bucks or more a pop, I took my chances.

I lugged my haul back up to Maine without dipping into the stash. I had an appointment I wound up canceling in part because I was excited to get to my dad’s house to unveil my treasure, and in part because I was just running late. I arrived in New Hampshire just in time for lunch, which meant donuts could be dessert.

We cut into the selection and sampled bites of each: a brown-butter hazelnut crunch, a strawberry glazed (with real strawberries), a maple bacon (as a vegetarian, I let someone else have my piece), a blueberry jam-filled, a creamsicle, and a sea salt caramel bourbon. The blueberry jam-filled, infused with cinnamon, knocked our socks off (most of us; I do have a brother who avoids berries like the plague), and we all agreed the sea salt caramel bourbon was not our favorite. The creamsicle genuinely tasted like a creamsicle, which was a unique experience. The hazelnut donut was topped with real hazelnuts and was quite decadent.

In the end, I was more excited about the bagels. I may not have a culinary degree, but I do know what I like, and I love good bread. Bagelsaurus’s bagels are hearty and large, and even though I do agree with Mary Ting Hyatt that the bagels could stand fine on their own, I did enjoy my pretzel bagel with mustard butter enough that I might make an excuse to visit Cambridge against very soon just to load up on both. 

If I decide to reach out to one of the business owners between these two locations, it will be Mary Ting Hyatt of Bagelsaurus. I am hugely impressed with her product. The bits and pieces I know of her story are fascinating, too. I think I would enjoy a weekday spent taking photos around her shop, talking about the means behind the end, and of course, sampling bagels and spreads.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Read Like Crazy: Craft of Coffee

Blue Bottle: The Craft of Coffee by James Freeman is not a business book. It’s a coffee book. It’s Freeman’s story of how he left one life for another, and all the adventure and hard work that went into pursuing his dream. He integrates personal stories, recipes, history, science, and coffee theory all into one magnificent book that can be read piecemeal or fluidly from start to finish. It’s my favorite coffee table book.

Although Craft of Coffee does not cover business concepts in the traditional sense, it does provide inspiration for the young entrepreneur. Freeman started roasting coffee in his home oven, moved his project into a shed when it got too big for his kitchen, opened a coffee cart, and step by step over many natural processes wound up paying his bills selling the coffee that over the next decade grew to be perhaps the most reputable coffee roasted anywhere in the world.

I love this book partially because I love coffee, but also because the book is nothing like any other inspirational and educational work available for anyone hoping to open a business or, for that matter, study coffee. Unlike books that jump right into definitions, science, and theory, Freeman’s book covers these topics only as they crop up along the telling of his tale. I don’t feel like I’m studying for an exam when I read this book. I am fully engrossed in what Freeman has to say. His passion is absorbing.

What I like about this book: Superficially, this book is sturdy and easy to hold. A little taller than square, entire pages of the book are full-color photographs, rich with the hues that are specific to good coffee—and the images are almost exclusively aesthetic supplements to the reading material, rather than how-to illustrations. The reader is meant to feel the experience of coffee through the photography, rather than examine it and repeat the concepts portrayed.

More deeply, Craft of Coffee is a fully-engaging experience. Written by someone who has dedicated years of concentration and study to a particular field, the book has much potential to come off as elitist, snobbish, technical, or condescending. Instead, the voice truly conveys belief that anyone with an interest in coffee and a few hours to spend can learn to make better coffee.

What I don’t like about this book: I wish there was a sequel? No, actually, I do think that there’s a hidden potential in this book that missed the mark. The end of the book is a collection of recipes written by Freeman’s wife, Caitlin, who was part of Blue Bottle from the time Freeman had a coffee cart in San Francisco. Although the recipes are all traditional items to pair with coffee (or at least have for breakfast), no recommendations for what kind of coffee to have with each is offered. That is left to the imagination (or trial and error) of the reader. 

But I have a specific reason for caring about this. I doubt anyone else would notice.

Would I buy this book? Yes. I actually didn’t buy my copy; a fellow coffee-lover who owned a copy himself lent me his edition, and then later bought me a copy when he found it on sale. But it had been on my list to get a copy when he surprised me with it, and now I read it regularly.

For the young entrepreneur who is not looking to start a coffee business, it might just be one to grab from the library. It’s pretty inspirational. A great read.

A quote for the fridge:

“At the end of 2003… I heard there was finally an opening for a coffee cart at the market. I had to come in and give a blind tasting. I didn’t know that another roaster had been invited to give a tasting at the same time. He had a very polished presentation, with immaculate totes stacked on a hand cart. A hand cart! Why didn’t I think of that? … A week later I found out that I got in.… 

I remember a couple of drizzly Saturdays in December when things were really quiet. Then one Saturday in January the weather got nicer. It was right before the winter Fancy Food Show, which is always held in San Francisco, so there were a lot of chefs and food people in town. I looked up, and suddenly there were fifteen people in line. 

It’s basically been like that ever since.”

Monday, June 15, 2015

Building a Business: Product, Marketing, and Money

Not wanting to bite off more than I could chew, I opted to roll out You Could if You Wanted to focusing only on actual small businesses. Features like Working for Myself, Where I Went Today, Beautiful Storefronts, and Small Business, Big Impact all zero in on some aspect of business ownership while hailing the success stories of those who went before me.

From conception, however, YCIYWT was to be a place where those who want to start their own businesses—or take their startups to a new level—could congregate for tips, trade secrets, advice, and inspiration. It’s time for me to add to the range of content supplied here at YCIYWT. It’s time to start talking business.

The Three Parts of Business

The first business class I ever took broke business into three parts: product, marketing, and money. The instructor claimed that every business is tempted to overlook at least one of these parts, and yet all were equally important, so if we students ever hoped to own our own businesses we’d better get used to the fact that we’d be dealing with all three.

Since that class, I’ve discovered she was right. I have been able to see how every aspect of running a successful business falls into at least one of the categories of product, marketing, or money, and I’ve also learned to see how all the parts are interrelated. 

Take something like coffee. (It’s an easy go-to for me.) Coffee is a product that appeals to a mass market. Everyone has to eat and drink—coffee is a great option because it’s readily available everywhere and can have beneficial side effects. 

That said, coffee comes in many forms. The version I might offer could appeal only to a specific sector of that mass market (and probably should). I might offer gourmet, made-to-order coffee, at a steep price. That price would represent the cost of labor and materials in addition to the final product, and the labor and materials might be expensive—but to the right market, it’s worth it, because that market has the money to spend and no LaMarzocco at home.

Looking at all that information more closely, we see: 

… a product (gourmet coffee) 
… that speaks to a specific market (people who want a gourmet experience in addition to the pleasant side effects of consuming coffee) 
… that can provide a return to me on that product (because the people can afford it). 

If any of these parts was not realized, the other components would not succeed. E.g., if I tried to market my gourmet product at a gas station or in a low-income neighborhood, those passing through might not expect or desire a gourmet experience. If I cut my prices to appeal to those in that area, I might not be able to cover my own costs. (Not to mention that I’d devalue my product.) Creating a product necessarily requires consideration as to who will buy, and this means who they are (the market) and how much they’ll be willing and able to spend (money).

It’s amazing what a foundational understanding of the component parts of business can add to the study of the more intricate details of business operations. When you can sift information based on whether it has to do with product, marketing, or money, you can also see how much energy you’re expending on each facet of business, and adjust as needed. You can determine more easily when you receive advice whether it is good or perhaps not right for your venture; if it doesn’t stack up next to the strategies you’re committed to in the other areas of business, then you can shake it off.

How This Applies to YCIYWT

I am eager to start talking here on YCIYWT about the nit and grit of business planning and operations, but that’s a wide playing field. An efficient way to streamline the process is to categorize every business education post as pertaining to product, marketing, or money.

When you read the upcoming feature “Building a Business,” look for the hashtag for which aspect of business the post pertains to. (Since the parts are interrelated, sometimes there may be two hashtags.) While you’re building your own business plan, keep track of what you’re learning and how much time you’re dedicating to each part of the business—product, marketing, and money—so that no aspect of the business goes neglected and weighs down the system.

Because marketing is my favorite of the three parts of business, that’s where I plan to start. My lead-off topic will be brand development. We will consult the experts, examine a handful of businesses that have done creative things to make a statement for themselves, explore the fundamental rules of visual marketing, and expound of the wisest areas to invest thought, time, and expenses for brand development.

I look forward to it! See you then.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Where I Went Today: Kittery Community Market

Two winters ago, I participated in community-supported agriculture for the first time. I loved it. I split a share with a woman at work and we both received more than enough food to last between drop-offs. For five months (that’s how long winter lasts in New England), we enjoyed potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, spinach, beans, cabbage, garlic, berries (frozen), herbs, sweet potatoes, and squash all grown at local farms. Occasionally we received bread, butter, cornmeal, and oats, as well.

That was a rewarding experience. I got fresh produce that was grown locally and I knew I was giving money directly to small farms. Since then, actually, it pains me to buy produce any place that doesn’t offer a little background information on the food. I look forward to opportunities to visit local food shops and farmers’ markets whenever I can.

When I found out that a local community market—for farmers and craftsmen alike—switched its schedule from Wednesdays to Sundays (my usual day off), I knew I would be there for the season’s launch.

That was today. I wore shorts out in public for the first time since last summer. It was a glorious day to make that decision—families were out with all kids in tow, dog-walkers abounded, and the vendors were all grateful to have brought tents to protect their plants and goods from the sun.

Not surprisingly, I ran into many familiar faces, but I saw some new ones, too. You never know what you’re going to see at an event like a community market. I met a friendly pair selling honey and beeswax products, maple syrup, and tea made from chaga mushrooms. I bought an ounce of these—according to Dana Masse, who was running the stand, in eastern cultures these mushrooms are used medicinally, and in at least one country Olympic athletes are required to take them to remain healthy. I was most interested in them because of their anti-cancer properties. As a person who’s had a series of (benign) tumors removed, I gravitate toward foods with immune-system-enhancing and detoxifying characteristics. I sampled the tea at their stand. It was delicious.

I also chatted briefly with a delightful gentleman named Phil Walsh, who was selling his distinctive handmade pottery. I was drawn to his display because of the unusual items in his collection—first, a sponge holder, which I thought was frankly genius; and then a berry colander, which was, again, genius (why pick berries into a bucket, rinse them in a colander, and then serve them in a bowl when you could have one dish that satisfies all three functions?), and also gorgeous. I made a mental note to check out his Etsy shop.

I arrived only an hour into the market, but when I stopped by the stand of my fellow entrepreneur, Andrew McCook, he had all but sold out of his McCookies products. Good for him. 

I made a few small purchases and bought myself lunch, but mostly I walked around and enjoyed the time outside. There was plenty to see and more than enough people to talk to, so it was a relaxing way to spend my Sunday morning. Several of the vendors who plan to be at the market throughout the season could not make opening day; I plan to visit again before the end of summer to see the other small businesspeople who are making a living doing what they love. Also, because we’ve only just started getting into warmer weather, most of the farm stands were selling seedlings rather than food—it will be fun to go back closer to fall when peppers and tomatoes are available.

If you’ve never visited a farmers’ market or contributed to community-supported agriculture, I highly recommend it. It’s a great place to begin putting your money back into your local economy. Run a search on farmers’ markets in your area, then take a day to wander, shop, and just talk to people. You’ll feel good about the food you purchase, and you might even make a friend or two along the way.

(I have no idea what this parrot was doing at the market, but he was quite the ham, and more than ready for his closeup. So here he is.)

A Bit of Backstory: My Business Plan

In my first-ever YCIYWT post I stated that in the next year or two I plan to open my own business. At the time I chose not to go into detail, because the specifics of my business plan weren’t strictly relevant, and frankly, I didn’t want to show all my cards at once.

Now, however, I think it’s time to share. 

Coffee has been a big part of my professional life. A weird, circuitous path took me to it, but at twenty-eight, I’ve spent more than a third of my life studying it. I’ve crafted a skill with it, and over time I’ve learned more and more to appreciate it. My favorite coffee table book (aptly named) is Blue Bottle: The Craft of Coffee by James Freeman—I read it over and over and never find myself skipping over the boring parts. And although I’ve had decently-paid positions in retail management and administration, I keep returning to the brutal atmosphere of food service so long as it puts me near coffee.

I’ve actually struggled with whether I ought to pursue a career in coffee because I wasn’t sure if it was an acceptable job. When you have relatives that are doctors and computer engineers and colonels and strength-record-setters, you wonder if maybe your creative abilities might be better spent elsewhere. However, with time, I’ve come to some conclusions that have helped me get over this hump.

I’m a proponent of three basic principles when it comes to work. If I don’t fit within at least two of them, I know I’m not in a job for the long haul. When it comes to coffee, I am fortunate to work comfortably within all three principles, and that is a telling feature. 

The first principle is, you work to live—you don’t live to work. If I have to work, then I might as well work at something I enjoy so thoroughly that it rarely feels like work, or else work at something I can leave at the time clock when I punch out for the day. When I work in coffee, it rarely feels like work.

The second principle is like the first. If you love it, it won’t matter if you never get rich. I’m like any other young person with some version of the American Dream in her sights. I could work a corporate job and “have it all,” and I know it. I also know that if I did choose that path, I’d never leave work at work, I’d often be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I’d always live in fear that the life I’d built for myself could disappear in an instant. 

By the same token, there is almost no money in coffee (which is why Starbucks charges an insulting amount for iced coffee that is essentially ice with some coffee thrown in for show), but I sincerely love it. In a job I once had that I hated (selling mattresses), I learned that as human beings, we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping. Extend that piece of insight and we realize that another third is spent working. If the work is fulfilling, then one-half of our waking hours is accounted for. Let the nerd in me show: I never feel unfulfilled crafting an excellent cup of coffee. If that was my job for the rest of my life, then one-third of my life would be full of contentment.

Which leads me to my third work principle. Pick one thing, and do it well. The small business owners I know whose products I love are the ones who chose to do one thing and then went after it with their all—the ones who created strong brands around their products and made their products the best they could possibly be.

I’ve had a lot of bad coffee. (Haven’t we all?) But therein lies an opportunity. An enormous part of the world’s population buys coffee on a regular basis, wanting it to be good, or investing in its perks (it’s warm, it wakes you up, it tends to smell comforting even if it tastes horrible). While coffee shops continue to pop up like weeds in many cities around the country, most of these tend to offer the same products and the same quality coffee. Very few offer true artisanal coffee, because it’s difficult to do, and a great deal of time, trial and error, and education go into making it possible.

I happen to have a skill set that can make delicious coffee possible. I know the rules, and I know when to break them. I know the trends, and I have discernment when it comes to which ones make sense and are valuable, and which ones are cheap fixes that compromise the goal (or elitist solutions that don’t actually end with a quality experience). I have developed recipes that break all the rules but taste incredible. And every day I continue to hone my skills and add to my knowledge.

Looking over my three principles—you work to live, you don’t live to work; if you love it, it won’t matter if you never get rich; and pick one thing and do it well—I can see that if there was ever one business I was destined to be in, it’s coffee. 

Of course, coffee isn’t my whole business plan. There is no purple cow in “coffee.” There would be no incentive in “coffee” for anyone to show up at the doorstep of my shop on opening day rather than a week or a year after—which is why I have developed another skill as well, a skill that makes the whole concept of “coffee” much more interesting and that I hope will make the final hours before I open my doors ones that are filled with anticipation and excitement.

Here, though, is where I need to play my cards a little closer to the vest (“… and wear a coat over the vest, or you’ll look like a jerk”—Alexei Volkoff). Although when the exact location is secured, because the funds have been raised and the brand has been discovered and the stars have aligned in the universe, I will absolutely share my second skill, for now, I have to keep it hush-hush. As of yet, no one has done what I intend to do. I’ve looked. It’s sort-of an exciting thing for me, to have thought of something first. I don’t want anyone to scoop up the idea and run off with it.

However. I do have a sane reason for sharing all (or half) of this with you. As I continue to take steps to launch my business and those steps appear on this blog, in between interviews with business owners and photographs of beautiful shops will be coffee stories, coffee reviews, coffee photos, and occasionally, coffee recipes. If this were a lifestyle blog, no one would be surprised; but as it’s a small business blog, you might wonder what coffee is doing popping up all over the place.

My business will be small, and my business will be coffee. With all the information I compile and log on YCIYWT, I will be thinking of how that insight lends strength to my business plan in coffee. It is only natural that this thought process will spill over onto the blog. If you love coffee, too, well, you’re in luck! If not, I hope you read it, anyway, because I’ll never focus on coffee alone, but on small business concepts that integrate fluidly with general theme.

That’s all for now. Time to caf up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Small Business, Big Impact: Rooted Beauty

If you read my short piece about TOMS at YCIYWT last week, then you already know that a big part of the concept for this blog was to look into businesses that operate sustainably on a clear bottom line while also contributing to something much more meaningful. That value makes Rooted Beauty a prime candidate to kick off the new feature “Small Business, Big Impact.”

The company’s mission is three-fold: to positively impact customers with skincare products that contain “natural superpower ingredients”; to positively impact the environment by making smart, eco-conscious decisions when it comes to packaging those products; and to positively impact women around the world who have suffered extreme conditions of poverty or trafficking by using some of the profits from Rooted Beauty products to benefit specific women through the Woman2Woman Project.

I had the privilege to e-chat this week with Rooted Beauty founder Kim Garrett to learn a bit more about each part of that mission.

“I grew up loving skincare and beauty products and always wanted to have my own beauty company,” Garrett told me. “When I was in college, I began to learn about issues of women’s injustice, like trafficking, and got involved with several organizations to help be the change. 

“Shortly thereafter, I realized there were lots of great organizations, but there was a common thread that the organizations were limited in the impact they could have because of lack of funds or resources. I thought about how much money goes into the beauty industry” (see this article for some of the statistics) “and [how] if we could just share a portion of that revenue, then so many women's lives could be transformed!”

Garrett took this inspiration and teamed up with a college classmate to start investigating options to create beauty products that were healthful and “kind to the earth.” The end goal was always to contribute to the empowerment of women who had greatly suffered some of the world’s more potent ills, like sexual exploitation and unequal opportunity, but on the road, the friends also made an incredible product. 

I asked Garrett what challenges had faced her in working to create a quality product intended for a big impact at a reasonable price. She said:

“There have been so many challenges along the way. One of my biggest challenges has been finding the right suppliers and manufacturers to partner with. Additionally, I moved three times during the first two years of Rooted Beauty, was commuting two hours both ways at one point, and my founding business partner decided to pursue a different path shortly after we launched.”

I dug a bit deeper when I heard this. How did she find the will to keep going? “In all honesty, things are still very hard,” was her answer. “I’ve thought more about giving up recently than I did in the earlier stages, but that's what is so great about the Woman2Woman project. When I compare my challenges to what these women are facing or have faced, it's a constant reality check.”

The Woman2Woman Project, as mentioned in the third clause of the Rooted Beauty Mission, is exactly what it sounds like. Women buy a Rooted Beauty product—say, Razz Lime lip butter—and the money raised from all the women buying that product goes to the woman whose project is associated with that product. To date, eighteen projects have been completed in all. 

“We were so excited to complete the first project,” Garrett told me. “It was so heart-warming because not only were we able to provide Indra with a repaired home and the tools/training to have her own fish selling business, but through the income she made with her new business, she was able to buy herself some new clothes and begin a dating relationship because of her newfound confidence. Sustainable empowerment is so important to Rooted Beauty and it is wonderful to know that after two years, Indra is still able to provide for herself and is no longer bound by the chains of her poverty.” 

The most recent completed project was for Ariana, through purchases of Rasberry Citrus Facial Wipes. Now that Ariana's project is complete, purchases of these wipes go to a new project, Cindy.

As the mission says, on top of extending funds to help needing women with vocational training and counseling, Rooted Beauty works hard to find affordable, natural, and healthy ingredients for their beauty products. Some of these include goji berry, naturally calming and protecting the skin; thanaka root, refining pores and deeply hydrating the skin; and green coffee, detoxifying and invigorating the skin.

Moreover, the packaging itself reminds the user to be conscious about waste. My new favorite Rooted Beauty product, Berry Mint lip butter, reads right on the cap: "Compost me!" (Since talking to Rian Bedard of Mr. Fox Composting, I am particularly appreciative of companies that make a point to compost.)

Another pleasant surprise, though this comes more from me than from Kim Garrett, is that the products are tastefully scented. Unlike many fruity scents in the beauty aisle, Rooted Beauty scents are mild, soothing, and maybe a bit nostalgic, never overpowering or artificial. Between this and the inherent benefits, it's tempting not to use them more than needed.

It must be difficult, to run a business with three equally emphasized bottom lines, but Kim Garrett does so with grace. "I have been so blessed with resources and opportunities and the least I can do is use my resources to empower others towards those same resources and opportunities. I would want someone to do that for me if they were able and that's what keeps me going."