Maker with no time to make

It’s been a really good week for Harvestcare stockist orders, but I’m struggling as a maker with no time to make. In fact, I’m constantly surprised with the reorders because I spend so little time on marketing and sales activities right now. I even had a new unsolicited stockist this week. Still, I’m out of stock for many of the products I make myself.

I blame it on cashflow. I’m doing a lot of not-for-profit consulting work in the IT strategy space to pay the bills. In fact, so much work that I pulled another all-nighter on Sunday to hit a deadline. I know this isn’t sustainable, but it’s necessary right now.

Fortunately, I really do love the mental challenges of consulting again. A good friend is trying to convince me to make this work public as there’s a real need to help this industry. So far, I’ve been living completely off of referrals which has been good. It has allowed me to justify keeping it a secret as I worry about confusing people when The Refoundry is my mission company. Still, my friend reminded me that everyone is wearing multiple hats these days.

She’s right. I will add this to my Linkedin profile when the time feels right. For now, I plan to begin work at 7am tomorrow to ensure that I’m still making even though I am a maker with no time to make really.

Truly Local Manufacturer

From the very beginning of the product development of Harvestcare, I wanted to be a truly local manufacturer. It was more than just making the products in Canberra. It was also about sourcing as many of my ingredients locally too.

So right now we are using:

Box of local beeswax
Another delivery of fresh Canberra beeswax – rescued this time from the Jerrabomberra Wetlands

I’ve also recently moved our label making from a Melbourne company to Prinstant in Fyshwick. This has saved me so many communication hassles I dealt with before.

We’re also using Australian ingredients like:

  • Sweet Orange essential oil
  • Lemon Myrtle essential oil

Unfortunately, not everything is available locally like our aluminium tins. Though I do have ambitions once we have sufficient volume to justify the cost of developing with moulds. So, for these items, I’ll have to continue to source them from overseas.

Nevertheless, I think we’ve already made good progress on being a truly local manufacturer of natural hair and bodycare products.

Going slower to maintain control

Product-based businesses are notorious for the time it takes to scale to real profitability. Despite this, I’m consciously slowing sales activities for Harvestcare to reduce my need to bring in investors at this time. Essentially, I’m going slower to maintain control.

This means that I didn’t actively chase my pending 2nd hotel pilot contract even though I knew Chinese New Year would delay the receipt of our packaging. I’ve also slowed my cold-calling to retailers so that I can spend more effort on product development to shift the line to spas.

Both of these activities take a lot of cash, but I can afford to invest further in these activities without debt or giving away equity to investors once I finish the consulting projects I’m doing right now. This time delay due to cash flow seems like so little time in the grand scheme of things. After all, I do expect to invest 10 more years into this business as a minimum.

Now the risk is that the hotel pilot will never move forward because I didn’t push it harder. However, the reality is nothing is certain in a Covid world anyway. So, I think that going slower to maintain control is the right decision for the business at this time.

No profit in recycling packaging

If anyone thinks our effort to recycle our Harvestcare aluminium packaging is money driven, they’re wrong. In fact, I can honestly say there is no profit in recycling packaging – at least for our company. We do it because it’s better for Mother Nature.

Today I took 7 kilograms of aluminium to the scraper (and unfortunately forgot to take a photo). This was mostly the packaging from the first hotel pilot order that we had to redo because of Covid. I spent about 8 hours cleaning out the old product. Now, the business is $4.55 richer!

Receipt from metal scrapper

Another Shift in Target Retailers

It’s been such a strange journey for Harvestcare as I’ve learned more about my customers. I originally envisioned the line to be focussed on the tourist industry. However, during the lock-down I realised that there was a local demand too. Now, I feel the need to do another shift in our target retailers.

Original Retailers

When I originally started targeting local retailers, I thought first of natural food stores since they already carried similar lines. Wrong! I was only able to get into two. One placed a small order and then refused to pay me. The other has never done a reorder.

Having no luck with the natural food stores, I started targeting normal ones and found that a really easy sell. Yet, only two have done reorders. Personally, it’s always felt a little weird selling my tinned products in these stores anyway as it’s so hard to display them properly.

I also tried the higher end food/deli type places. Yet recently, one of my best customers had decided only to carry my “gift type” range moving forward. The others haven’t placed any reorders.

I’ve had a little more luck with the “gift shop” type places, but the Canberra Visitor Centre (which I thought would be one of my best customers) still hasn’t sold it’s original stock which I find really odd.

Another Shift in Target Retailers

Then out of the blue, I had a large unsolicited order from a hair styling place. They did gift baskets and had some specific requests for new products. While, they weren’t interested in any of our hair or soap line, they loved the tin products that I made personally. And suddenly it occurred to me that I should be targeting the hair and body care / spa places instead.

To do this, I need to make more products they can use in their businesses which will take more time and money. However, it makes so much more sense to me than trying to sell in IGAs across town.

So, I have started testing some new ideas around a body butter scrub and some other things. I’m waiting for more customer feedback, but I think we’re getting closer.

Harvestcare body butter scrub
Work in progress on a new body butter scrub

Now it’s just a matter of time to see if I have finally found the right match for target retailers.

2020 on the beach

2020 Lessons Learned

It’s already the middle of January, and I just realised that I haven’t documented my 2020 Lessons Learned. In this crazy year, I’ve definitely had just as many personal learnings as professional ones. So, here they are:

  • Good friends are very, very important! This is especially true for someone like me who doesn’t have any family in Australia.
  • If you keep trying, it will always work out – just not the way you had planned. A year ago, I only had a faint idea that I would be starting a hair and bodycare brand to try to reduce plastic amenities in hotels. Covid got in the way, but we’re getting closer. In the meantime, Harvestcare was born for consumers.
  • I never again want to work by directly trading my hours for money. Even when I do consulting work, it will forever be by the fixed price in the future.
  • Products-based businesses are a bit boring at the beginning (at least for me) with the repeated make-sell-make-sell model. I can’t wait until my business has scaled enough to make it more interesting.
  • If you’re willing to build a business slower, it may not be necessary to bring on investors. The benefit is the ability to maintain full control over the brand – something that I think many entrepreneurs undervalue.
  • Start-ups can be expensive! In 19/20 I invested over $50k of my savings into the business. While I’ve made progress, the company is still a long way off from paying me a salary.
  • Energy is the fuel for achieving everything – not time or money. Managing my energy needs must be a priority if I want to reach my big goals.
  • Creating a podcast is a great way to learn quickly and meet important people, but they’re a lot of work. It’s also tough to grow niche topics especially when channels draw geographic boundaries that make it harder for new listeners in other countries to find you.
  • I’m still not great with my hands i.e. making recycled plastic products for example. Yet, it’s amazing what I have been able to achieve despite this.
  • The marketplace will always decide if your product is a winner or loser. No amount of effort or even lack of effort will change this. If the customer wants it, they’ll tell you.
  • It’s better to be moving in some direction than not at all.
  • “What would a guy do?” This is a question I learned to ask myself whenever I’m feeling self-doubt about a decision. This is definitely something that more women should ask.
  • I actually like doing IT strategy work. When I left the industry years ago, I never thought I would go back. Yet doing consulting work, especially for not for profits, feels meaningful and is mentally stimulating. Plus it’s giving me a nice little niche to help pay the bills while building the business.
  • My sanity is dependent on the ability to exercise outdoors. The 2020 bushfires taught me this more than the lockdown.
  • It takes about 2 years of consistent effort to change a personal brand. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it will happen any faster if you already had a known brand.

I’m sure there’s a few more to add to this list, but certainly this was a pivotal year for me. My 2020 Lessons Learned were the result of my personal journey as an entrepreneur, but also the environmental impacts of the bushfires, hailstorm and pandemic.

I’m not sure that many others can say this, but I actually think overall I am personally better off because of what has happened in 2020. And I feel so grateful!

The challenge with perishable products

In March this year, I packaged about half the hotel pilot order for our all natural shampoo and conditioner products. The conditioner was a brand new product that met the pilot’s needs, but we didn’t have time to work out a preservation system in it before I had to order the printed tins with the ingredients list. Given that all of the products were scheduled to be used within the next month, that didn’t seem like a big issue at the time. Yet, there’s the challenge with perishable products.

When the pandemic hit, the pilot was put on hold. Fast forward to today, and I’ve been living with the stink of something crossed between lemon toilet bowl cleaner and a dirty cat litter box. Sitting in the corner of my office were those boxes of old conditioner.

Knowing the shelf life risk, I realised by month five that I would have to redo the entire pilot order if it ever got the green light again (which it did). Still, I couldn’t bear to throw these unused tins away which is why they were still there stinking up my office.

So this week, I’ve taken hours of my time to open and wash each of the 1000+ tins so that I can take the aluminium packaging to be recycled. Unfortunately, I can’t get the smell out of them, and therefore can’t reuse them – loss of money and lots of time.

Empty used tins to be taken to the recycler
Empty used tins to be taken to the recycler

Such is the challenge with perishable products. At least our current version of the conditioner now has a preservative in the recipe to last a bit longer.

Expanding the Harvestcare line

There’s a natural sunscreen brand that I know about in Australia. Despite being around for a few years now, they still only have one product. I find this unusual as I’m always asked by customers about expanding the Harvestcare line, and I find it hard to say no. That is until I made up some clear rules to help decide.

As an example, a friend asked me this weekend about adding an all natural cologne/perfume line especially since the industry mark-ups were known to be high. Most people do not realise that Body Shop actually started this way in the UK with their first store. However, I said no.

Today I made some candles from essential oil and beeswax as a Christmas gift for a friend. Someone asked if I plan to sell these on Harvestcare too. I said no.

Making candles
Making some all natural candles as a gift for a friend

Other friends have asked me to make household cleaning products like furniture polish and floor cleaner. While I admit that I still sell the alcohol spray that I made in response to Covid before I developed the criteria, my answer is no for future cleaning products. And I’ll only sell the alcohol spray until I run out of the very expensive ingredients I bought months ago.

Criteria for Expanding the Harvestcare line

So, what’s my criteria for expanding? It goes back to the mission of reducing plastic waste. The reality is that most cleaning products come in recyclable containers. Furthermore, candles are not found in plastic since the packaging could melt. And as for scents, most of the times they come in glass bottles.

No, I think that if I were to expand the line in any direction I need to move towards cosmetics. This hard-to-change industry has only recently started to really offer “no animal testing” offerings. The mark-ups are also known the be high with branding built even more on the packaging as what’s inside. Right now, I’m not aware of any brand that has recyclable packaging.

So here lies both an opportunity and a challenge. If I do make such products, where will I sell them as my current stockists will be unlikely carriers? This is probably where I need to have the retail space and body bar on the factory before I can really make this work. Still, by have our mission up front, at least I know where to expand the line next despite all the other requests.

De-stress through options

Most people will agree that 2020 has been a stressful year. For us locally in Canberra, not only have we dealt with the pandemic, but with bushfires and a damaging hail storm that still has roofs under repair. Still, if there are any lessons I’ve learned, it’s the ability to de-stress through options. What do I mean?

Focus is overrated

Almost every business guru will tell you to become focussed and good at one thing if you want to be successful. For me as an entrepreneur, I found that practice to be very stressful. For about 18 months, I put all my effort into The Refoundry to not only build a business, but to also create an income for myself. While I learned a lot, my savings account took a serious toll.

Option of three things to eat
We all love options!

Then, I started doing consulting work again – this time independently. And I can honestly say that it was the best thing I ever did. No longer was I putting all my hopes into the next recycled plastics idea or hotel deal for Harvestcare. Suddenly, I could breathe again because the personal financial stress was no longer there even if I was working way more hours.

Consulting also gave me my confidence back. I remembered that I’m actually good at a lot of things. It’s just the size of my current business has me in my weak spots. This is something that I will get through as time evolves, and I can bring on more people to help.

Options reduce risks

Finally, dividing my attention reduces my risks. I don’t have to beg for investor money right now. If I can bootstrap my business, I will. When it gets to the appropriate size where I can no longer grow it without outside capital, I’ll consider investors then. For I didn’t start a business to instantly have a boss.

Keeping this financial independence will also allow me to build the company more slowly, but with less risk. A products-based business like The Refoundry was never going to be an Australian Silicon Valley media story. That’s just the way products business are because they are cash flow heavy until you can create sufficient scale. So, now with income coming from consulting work, I am very relieved that I won’t have to depend on a pay check from the business.

My lesson learned therefore is a singular focus for me on anything is too stressful. Whether it’s a singular client, a singular investor or a singular source of income – why put all my eggs in one basket? I personally de-stress through options, and I don’t see the need to focus if options reduce both my risks and stress despite a bigger workload.

The Art of Rest

It occurred to me the other day that I had not gone more than 30 minutes outside my home city of Canberra, Australia since I went to New Zealand last Christmas in 2019. As someone who usually travels overseas 2-3 times a year minimum with countless domestic trips, this is truly been a weird year. But now as we get to the end of 2020, I realise I need to learn the Art of Rest.

Why Art and not the Science of Rest? Because it were just science, it would be easier. I would get my 7-8 hours of sleep each night. I would work less than 45 hours a week. I would get in 30 minutes of exercise every day. If I left it up to science, my life should be somewhat predictable. However, as an entrepreneur, it just doesn’t work that way.

Rest as an Entrepreneur?

Instead, I have to work when the opportunity presents itself. I don’t know if or when it will land. I don’t know if I’ll have two consulting projects accepted at the same time when I get a large order for Harvestcare. I don’t know if my hotel client will give us a contract that starts a chain of massive operational activities.

Over the weekend, I reviewed more than 700 pages of enterprise architecture standards and supplemental information so that I could submit two IT consulting gig proposals on Monday. Was it the way I wanted to spend the weekend? Of course not! Who would? Still, I know that effort would put me in a better position to hit the ground running if they accept my proposals (and of course a lot of much needed cash).

stack of papers
Some of the hundreds of pages of enterprise frameworks and standards I reviewed over the weekend.

Of course, this hasn’t been my only working weekend this year. I’d say 80% have been. I also did three all-nighters this year to meet schedule deadlines – something I haven’t done since my old consulting days, but predicable since I’m once again doing consulting work as a side hustle.

Art of Rest

Since I turned in those proposals two days ago, I realise now that I probably won’t have anymore consulting work until the new year. And it feels…strange. Suddenly, my days are not filled with back to back to-dos and meetings. Instead, I can actually work on the business full-time at my own pace.

With this influx of free time, I’m finding that I’m actually less productive in all areas of my work and life. Instead of working on important business tasks, I’m wasting time sleeping and browsing the internet. It makes me feel incredibly guilty. But then, I had a thought…

Maybe, I need to give myself a break. Maybe I actually need all this sleep and mindless activities to recharge for the next surge of work. Just maybe, I need to learn the Art of Rest.