DILO Entrepreneur – 21-5-20

I feel like my DILO or Day in the Life of an entrepreneur is such a learning process, something that I really am enjoying at the moment. Of course, I’d enjoy it more if I didn’t have to think about the financial implications of not learning fast enough.

This week I started testing some new products.

Testing new Harvestcare products
Skin and lip balm tests made with “rescued” beeswax from Canberra

I’m not naturally interested or gifted as a “maker.” And it’s another reason why I have an expert soap maker for a number of products in the Harvestcare line.

Double boiling skin care product ingredients
Melting raw ingredients for new product ideas

However, I realise that I can’t outsource all the making at this point for three main reasons:

  • First, it’s obviously more expensive to do this even though my soap maker has been very generous with prices knowing that we are still trying to secure hotel contracts down the road.
  • Two, because my soap maker is so busy with other customers, it takes a while to get new products made.
  • Finally, I’m finding it hard to get into local markets unless I can say that I’m making or designing the products myself. Therefore, it’s imperative that I do so for the ones that I can do.

What I really would love to do is spend more time coming up with concepts and collaborations, and to have someone else do all the making. In fact, I have ambitions to even grow some of our own ingredients that we can use in our products. How amazing would that be to go from farm to skin?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Harvestcare brand lately, and I really want it to be a relatable product line for the customer. So much so that I’ll probably share how we make some of the products online so that people can see how natural all the ingredients really are.

While it could decrease the potential number of paying customers, I reckon that most people really don’t want to take the time to do it. In fact, I think it would be nice to know that our products are so simple, they can make it themselves.

The most interesting thing coming from customer feedback right now is that a lot of people are looking for something that will work with sensitive skin – including on children. And so far, people have said that the products are working fine for them. So, it’s a new market segment that I hadn’t really thought about until now.

So much more work to do and things to learn before my test group, the “Harvesters” try out some of these new products on Sunday. Just another DILO of an entrepreneur trying to figure out market fit!

New Harvestcare displays

The realities of starting a business

Every business begins small. I started this blog over a year ago because I wanted to show the realities of starting a business. It’s rarely a direct path, and the chances of failing are extremely high.

Few entrepreneurs have publicly shown their journeys while they are going through it – probably because there are always a lot of failures and unpleasant things that you have to experience. The realities aren’t sexy, and most the world would rather only see the successes. But once you get there, what do you really remember?

This video below is focussed on my new consumer brand, Harvestcare which is a pivot from our hotel-line that’s currently in hibernation. Both are designed to reduce plastic packaging waste.

This is still my attempt to document the good, bad and ugly of being an entrepreneur. I truly miss having a team especially when I have to do things like this that I’m not naturally good at. Yet, these are the types of things you have to do when you are starting something new.

So, I finally just set up a public Facebook page after some urging so that I can more easily share the day to day. It definitely takes me more time to capture everything in video rather than just using photos and words, but hopefully the preservation of this journey (however it ends) will be worth it to help someone else one day.

The realities of starting a business? You might decide not to start one after watching these videos and reading my blog.

learning

Always be learning

One of the things that I absolutely love since I started this business is the fact that I’m constantly experimenting and trying new things. Having said that, I do get sick of all the little things I have to fix and solve that I would normally be able to delegate to someone else more qualified in my previous roles.

While I still think I’m a better manager than expert doer in anything, as an one-person operation (plus contractors) right now, it has forced me to always be learning and fixing.

Little things that I learned/fixed this week?

  • How to link my website to Paypal (even though I still can’t transfer the funds into my account yet).
  • How to connect a Square point of purchase terminal with my website and phone for a face to face sale.
  • How to put together display stands (though I broke one doing it!)
  • How to better plan my social media posts.
  • How to make a number of products from beeswax.
  • How to use a picture overlay in a video.
  • How to film a video so that it doesn’t look like I am reading a script.
  • How to ship my liquid products without them leaking.
  • How to fix my website by disabling a plug-in.
  • How to manage Christmas orders when we only have a 6 month shelf-life for our natural products.
  • Any probably another dozen other things.
Broken display pieces
Parts of the display piece I managed to break.

Yes, these are the tiny little details that a solopreneaur has to learn how to do and manage. It’s not the best use of my skills, but it’s what I need to do right now to get by.

While I do long for the day when I can have employees again working for me, I have to admit that I’m enjoying the learning process right now for many of these things. At least I’ll be able to better manage a small team if I know how to do these tasks myself.

Until that day, I’ll “always be learning” for both the big and little things.

Paolo Coelho quote

But what if it works?

I was so frustrated last week after seeing revenue projections that I decided to take the week off. I know these actions go against normal wisdom. Nevertheless, I felt like I needed to take a break to 1) recharge after a very stressful and non-stop work period; and 2) rest my brain so that I might get a better view of the possibilities.

So, I didn’t publish any podcasts. I didn’t do any admin work. I only fulfilled orders and a my daily social media posts. The rest of the time I read and slept and exercised.

Did I come out of this with new found wisdom?

Actually, no – although I did do a little market research around a new idea which I ended up killing fairly quickly. Then, I decided that maybe I was thinking about it too much.

For the next few months, I only have one plausible source of revenue through the Harvestcare brand. It still won’t add up to enough, but what I can do is build a solid base for this consumer line during this time.

Maybe I will have to go back to work for someone else in a few months time because the travel industry takes too long to recover. But maybe, just maybe something good can happen too.

I just need to keep taking steps forward and see where it takes me. The alternative is to be a bum and do nothing while I wait for the environment to change. By doing something, at least I have a chance of progress even if in tiny steps. And who knows – what if it works?

When the numbers don’t add up

Now that it’s been a few weeks since I did the pivot, I’ve been working through my strategic growth plan for the Harvestcare hair and body line. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t add up to enough.

Adding up numbers

While I had run cost accounting numbers before, this time I was looking at potential revenue now that I have a sense of both consumer and retail customer orders. The challenge is that there just isn’t enough retail customers available right now, and direct to consumer orders is slow work with a new brand that I need to build even though larger margins.

On the retailer side, I have largely been targeting gourmet food places and natural grocery stores. All have shown interest in the line, but so far it’s the gourmet grocery stores that seem more willing to take a chance. However, they are largely only interested in hand soap and sanitiser which makes sense for their own customers.

The natural grocery stores are more interested in the full line, but some are worried about their own sales during these Covid-19 days and are not willing to take on new products right now.

When I map out a list of potential retail customers, I really need the domestic travel industry to come back to life which brings me back to the hotel line issue that I was trying to pivot away from. Ugh!

So here I am again trying to figure out how to make this business work financially. I mentioned my frustration to a friend today, and she said that I’ll probably figure out something else. That has turned my brain on again.

Now, I’m trying to give my mind some space to consider other ideas with small investments. Surely, there’s something else I can add to my product lines quickly that reduces plastic waste and where the numbers add up by itself or when combined with Harvestcare.

Uncertain times for recycled plastic

As I continue to put more energy into our Harvestcare aluminium packaging line, my podcast interviews are continuing to confirm how uncertain times are for recycled plastic.

Yesterday, I had a teleconference with one of the government agencies I have to go through to get our annual Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day approved. I explained how that event was needed more than ever as more people are congregating outside and yet less likely to pick up rubbish because of the Covid-19 crisis.

In the grocery stores and cafes, reuse is being restricted to mitigate the risk of this virus spreading. But sometimes this doesn’t necessarily make any sense. For example, some places are banning reusable shopping bags when it’s much more controllable to wash your bag than to assume that single use bags sitting at the check-out all day are safer.

At the same time, there are some micro forces that can also impact the industry. This includes the price of oil falling into negative territory. As plastic is a derivative of oil, virgin plastic will become considerably cheaper than recycled plastic. This will make it even harder to find uses for recycled plastic when most businesses are just trying to survive right now.

It’s unfortunate that in a few short months, so much work and momentum to reduce plastic waste is suddenly being reversed by market pressures. At the same time, nothing has changed about the fundamental problems with plastic. It will still take centuries to degrade, and now there’s even more out there as personal protection equipment is being found in bulk in waterways in some countries.

As an entrepreneur in this industry, I can only try to adapt the best that I can to these uncertain times while maintaining the mission. Quite frankly, that’s all anyone can do.

Whirlwind of a week

It’s been an absolute whirlwind of a week as I moved as fast as I could to pivot to a B2C model for my hair and body care line which I affectionately call “potions” in my internal dialogue.

The good news is that the website is up, and I managed to do everything but fix a DNS domain issue by myself within 2 days. I’m pretty proud of how professional it looks despite my hasty build.

harvestcare.com.au front page

I’ve also sold quite a bit of stock this week, especially the hand sanitiser as anticipated where I’m completely sold out. Even better, amongst that order I’ve also landed in a 2nd retailer and potentially a small hair salon. Plus at that salon, they are going to trial my recycled polyester cape.

I’m probably only averaging about $2/hour right now for my efforts, but in such a strange way, it feels way more fulfilling than when I used to pull in 50+ times more at a job. In fact, I’m actually having fun in this time of chaos!

I don’t know yet how to scale it. I certainly can’t make-package-sell-deliver everything myself over the long term. However, given the Covid-19 lock down, I have some time to figure this out, and so am just focussing on one day at a time right now.

Here’s to more “fun” and another whirlwind week ahead!

Pivoting again

With my office full of hand and body care inventory, I’ve decided to pivot again. This time, I’m pivoting from a Business to Business model (B2B) to a Business to Consumer model (B2C).

The reality is that I really don’t have a choice as the travel industry has come to a screaming halt without an end date and hair salons are also struggling to stay open. I’m not even sure if my few retail customers will honour their original orders at this stage.

Introducing Harvestcare

So, I’m pivoting and I finally have everything I need to do so except for my website which I’m still working on and will be located here when ready. Doing a B2C model will require a lot more work for selling and shipping, but right now my time isn’t worth anything. Therefore, I might as well give it a go.

After all, that back-up plan I had about finding a job if I couldn’t make it work as an entrepreneur isn’t looking very good right now either. So, I pretty much have no choice now. It’s either pivot and try to do something regardless of this crazy world or risk losing everything.

Pity party

Owning a start-up is unpredictable in the best of times. Now the Covid 9 pandemic has really thrown every one into pure craziness. A few businesses are thriving as people are panic buying and others are filling the luxury of time for people. As for my business, we’re a bit stuck at the moment, and I admit that I’m having a pity party today.

I was notified last Wednesday that the Tile Back team won the Trade Waste Hackathon. Congratulations to them on a great idea to take the left over new tiles from construction projects and turn them into gravel. The ACT Government may still be interested in my idea, but I’m not holding my breath as they’re trying to get us all through this crisis.

The trial on my cape made from recycled polyester went really well with my first hair salon. There were even additional benefits I didn’t even think about before like the fact that it kept the customer dry, and therefore the stylist didn’t have to wash so many capes.

I’ll be trialing it at a different salon later this week. The real challenge is whether or not I should invest in producing the product as most businesses have to tighten their belts to stay alive.

Now this morning, I found out that my hotel pilot will be delayed. There were no surprises really given the impact to the travel industry in the last month or so, but it’s still hard to hear. This is especially true when I just spent most the weekend preparing the order, and I have no idea when this opportunity will be available again. People are losing their jobs everywhere as businesses shut down.

Preparing first hair and body care orders.
Preparing first orders

I know that I’m so blessed to have accumulated a solid savings account that has allowed me to go for this long without a paycheck. However, now I have a room full of inventory that is stuck, and no income for the foreseeable future.

Truthfully, I’m tired and having a bit of a pity party now. I just can’t seem to get a real break no matter how hard I work to get this business off the ground.

Yes, I’ll admit that I just shed some tears, but to be fair to myself, I should feel sad and frustrated right now. Tomorrow, I will pick myself up and look again for more opportunities. Today, I’ll be sad a little bit longer as I mourn what could have been.

Experiment #6: Recycled Art Piece

It’s taken me forever, but I finally completed Experiment #6 – a recycled plastic art piece for my mates over at the Local Press Cafe.

Recycled Plastic Art Piece made from Milk Bottle Caps
Recycled Plastic Art Piece made from Milk Bottle Caps

For about a month now, I’ve been experimenting with milk bottle caps from their cafe. I’ve always liked how the Canberra Milk logo was on the top of the black and purple caps, and so I worked hard to preserve them in this little art piece.

I’m not too confident with how long it will stay together, but at least it was not as embarrassing as some of my previous attempts. Hopefully, they’ll like my gift.

As for what I will do next with these Plastic Experiments, I’m not sure. I want to make one more for another friend with a business. I feel like there’s something special about preserving the logos as part of the education process. Yet, it’s really time consuming to make anything this way.

So, for the moment, it’s more of a late night hobby that allows me to continue to test ideas and continue to learn more about plastic properties. Whether or not I can eventually commercialise something with milk bottle caps or really anything by melting plastic this way, I’m really not sure at this point.