Strategic risks

One of the greatest challenges with trying to do a start-up on a tiny budget is that I can’t afford to take as many risks. In fact, as as my savings get smaller each month, my strategic risks taking has almost comes to a halt because of cashflow.

As an example, when I need to make a decision between buying 5k of shea butter or 10k of the same product, it would make sense from a unit cost perspective to buy the larger amount. However, not only do I not want to tie up cash in inventory, I don’t have the physical storage space to house much more than I have already.

And so, my margins are smaller because I’m making tactical decisions (instead of strategic ones) which is not good for the business when I have a much bigger vision.

A bit of courage

This past week or so though, things have started to change for me mentally. An opportunity for part-time government contract work has come up, and that potential for personal income has allowed me to think bigger again. So big in fact, that I’m finally advancing work on my recycled plastic ideas at larger scales.

Yes, I can make tiny things like jewelry, but I have greater ambitions than that. For how else will I really fulfil the mission for reducing plastic waste where it actually makes a difference?

Pin made from a recycled milk bottle lid
Example of what we can do at a smaller scale with recycled plastic.

Making recycled plastic furniture

Specifically, I’m looking at making furniture from recycled plastic.

Right now, there are some concerns that outdoor recycled plastic products from less qualified manufacturers are creating other environmental problems.

Some products are not lasting as long as promised, and/or resulting in degrading microplastics. Some of those issues are related to the beating these products take outdoors in the elements. Of course, the better manufacturers have overcome these challenges even so.

However, if the recycled plastics infrastructure in Canberra is getting a $25m upgrade, there should be cleaner plastics available locally for recycling – as well as a potential bottleneck with no demand.

I think that I should be able to take some of their less valuable plastics like PP (#5) and PS (#6) and turn it into something nice like furniture that will not have to stand-up to external environmental factors the same way.

Salvaged furniture bases
Salvaged furniture bases that I’m practicing with right now.

And I think there could be a demand for Australian made, recycled plastics indoor furniture too. Right now, most furniture of any kind appears to be imported and cannot be recycled. The supply chain bottlenecks from Covid are making these foreign dependencies obvious, and when local jobs are in need, more people want to support local businesses too.

So, with grant money readily available right now for business ideas like mine, I think it’s time to push forward and to take more strategic risks.

Am I overextended?

How do I know if I’m overextended? For me, it’s when I make too many dumb mistakes.

Yesterday for instance, I managed to drop off the wrong order to a customer. Then today I switched some items on an invoice and had to stop by a second time to give them the corrected version.

Last week, I managed to produce a whole batch of lip gloss with the wrong colour forcing me to throw it all away.

Discarded lip gloss
That’s not the watermelon lip gloss colour!

All of these mistakes cost me valuable time and sometimes money – both of which I am very short of lately. My challenge is that every time I look up to be more strategic, I tend to make more of these mistakes as the maker, account manager and admin person combined.

Forced refocus

I’m about to get a tiny break though – well, sort of. I have a supply bottleneck right now with the pumps for my aluminium bottles. Thanks to Covid, they won’t be restocked until late August/early September. This means that I have to actually slow down my new sales activities to ensure that I don’t run out of stock for existing Harvestcare clients.

So, for the month of August, I’ve decided to refocus on my recycled plastic work where there is no shortage of free, local materials. These products cost me so little to make (except for time) in comparison to the Harvestcare line. And therefore, if I can perfect the technique so that I can do things faster and more consistently, it can help from a cashflow point of view too.

Stretched across two product lines

With my making and sales activities ramping up for the recycled plastics products under The Refoundry logo now, I’m completely overextended at the moment as neither are at a business as usual state yet.

I’ve also just started doing interviews again for my podcast which has taken a break for the last month due to difficulties in scheduling guests during the end of the financial year. While that particular work does run fairly well now, it still takes about 8 hours of my time per episode (down from about 20 hours).

I’m afraid that something like the podcast might have to give soon. While my work capacity is far above most people, even I am struggling right now. And honestly, I just don’t have the time or money to make all of these dumb mistakes because I am overextended.

Am I reducing plastic waste?

I was able to get into two new retailers this past week with the Harvestcare line. However, my brain keeps asking the question, “Am I really making a difference in reducing plastic waste with this brand?”

When I started working on a body care line, it was to replace the single-use plastic in hotels. Of course, most hotels are still in hibernation. And so the Harvestcare brand is a consumer pivot during Covid. While I know that it’s good for the consumer and the environment, I don’t really feel like I’m making that big of a difference on the plastic side.

In the meantime, while I was doing sales calls this week, I actually found a retailer that preferred my recycled plastic jewellery products over the body care line. It was just my words in passing as I could see that her interest was not there. So, I showed her some pictures of some things I did with recycled plastic. She said that she wanted the products right away in prep for Father’s Day.

So, on top of selling and fulfilling Harvestcare orders, I’ve been melting plastic again. I quit doing this a few months ago because I was so frustrated with the results, but now I realise that I need to push through the learning curve to really demonstrate recycled plastic’s value – that it can be used for far more than just outside furniture and bollards.

Plus, if I can pull this off, I can sell products that cost me little more than time to make – unlike my Harvestcare like where I have a lot of cash in inventory.

So far, I’ve made a lot of mistakes – again! But things are looking better as I experiment with a retailer customer and deadline in mind. I hope to have access to a friend’s shed while they are away on school holidays so that I can try out some of my bigger project ideas. I just need a place where I can make a mess first.

Cufflinks from recycled bottle lids
Newest recycled plastics experiments

So, back to melting plastic. If I only use these to show people that used plastic is a great resource, then maybe I can make a small difference in reducing plastic waste now that leads to bigger things later.

New Products to Launch

It took a total of 29 different trials for me to be happy with the formulas, but I finally have new products for the Harvestcare line that I actually made myself. And now, I’ll be launching them next week.

Evidence of product trials
Product trials – tins to be reused in future trials

Just a few weeks ago, I was telling a friend that I didn’t want to be a skincare maker. Instead, I wanted to run a business and have experts make the product. While I still prefer to do this, I have to admit that it’s incredibly satisfying to go through this process – from research to trials to production of some products that I’m very proud of to put on the shelf.

Even more so satisfying is the feedback I’ve had from friends who have tested my products. The real test will be when strangers give me unbiased feedback.

I just ordered the labels that I designed myself too.

New Harvestcare products launching next week
New Harvestcare products launching next week

My timing for finalising these products was quite important too as yesterday the Old Bus Depot Markets finally responded to my application. They had more questions about my products and how they are made. Fortunately, I could finally say that I made some of them myself which has been a stumbling block for other markets.

I have much bigger plans than weekly markets, but I need to start somewhere to get customer feedback and to frankly, just to pay the bills. So hopefully they will say yes.

I applied to be a part of their markets a few years ago with my tea company, but they told me then that they already had enough tea companies. So, hopefully they won’t say that my new skin and body care products are too much like other stallholders they already have.

In the meantime, with these new products and more reasonable margins, I feel that I have something valuable to offer retailers especially with more of them opening back up in Canberra.

Now, I’ll be spending this long weekend getting ready for the launch of these new products!

New Product Samples

Body lotion and beeswax products

This week has been all about finishing products I started last week for my sample testing event on Sunday. I set up a test group I call the “Harvesters” about a month ago – mostly with friends, but I opened it up to anyone living in the ACT.

My hope was not only that this group would give me important feedback prior to going to market with my ideas, but they would also act as future ambassadors for the new products as they had input into them coming alive.

The first six samples I’ll give them to try are our new body lotion with 6 different potential scents and 3 different consistency. Ideally, I would have tweaked the products at least once myself before getting feedback from third-parties, but I just received them on Friday from my soap maker, and so we didn’t have time to make any adjustments.



Of the six, there are three scents that I definitely like, but think the consistency of all of them needed some work.

I’ve also created some samples of a hand butter salve and lip balm for them to try that I made myself using Canberra beeswax. It sounds easy enough, but I made 14 different samples, and still am not completely happy with the texture. It feels like I’m baking a cake and just tweaking the recipe constantly to find that perfect fit.

Hand salve and lip balm test samples
Hand salve and lip balm test samples

It will be interesting to see what my test group says about these samples. I won’t tell them which ones I like as I don’t want to skew the results. Still, I am quietly cheering on my favourites.

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.