They say life should be about more than work, but work can also be a beautiful and satisfying part of your life. It doesn't have to be something you do just to pass the time until you get to go home. It should make you feel joy, excitement, satisfaction and pride. It isn’t always easy (just like anything in life), but the point is that it makes you feel something. Our brains are powerful, interesting and amazing spaces that thrive when they are challenged and driven.
If you want to feel more of this in life and perhaps have a dream or idea for a business of your own but you aren’t sure how to make it happen, you aren’t alone. Most business owners start with those same feelings, but you have to start somewhere!
Learning from someone who’s been there always helps so we’re sharing a little story from company president and founder of Botanical PaperWorks, Heidi Reimer-Epp.
DARING TO DREAM
- Heidi Reimer-Epp
Sometimes when I’m touring someone around our 6000 sq ft manufacturing facility, they’ll ask “Did you ever dream that you’d get to this level?”. And the answer is yes, I did dream. And hoped and prayed and worked very hard for a very long time. I didn’t count it as a given and I’ve been very grateful for the success that we’ve achieved. I dared to dream that one day we’d be an established, thriving business.
Many of you know the story of how we started Botanical PaperWorks, my mom and I, in the basement of her house. The company was in its infancy when we attended a seminar at the Women’s Enterprise Centre called “Starting A Business”. When it was time to go around the room and introduce ourselves and say where we saw ourselves in 10 years, I explained that we were a handmade paper company and in 10 years, we’d be issuing our first IPO.
Everyone laughed at that and I laughed along too because it seemed audacious to dream of growing from a start-up to being publicly traded. But I was dead serious. Maybe we weren’t going to be publicly traded, but in 10 years my dream was to have a self-sustaining, thriving business.
BECOMING A SLAVE TO THE DREAM
We spent the next 10 years working like dogs. Working so hard that at times I made myself sick. I wasn’t a slave to the dream as much as I was a slave to the investment that we’d made in Botanical PaperWorks. To start a manufacturing company from scratch, one in which we were often inventing the equipment, was a huge, all-consuming challenge. A solid support system became vital. My parents, my husband and my team were all committed to the task.
A LITTLE DASH OF LUCK, GOOD TIMING, & JUST DOING IT
We stumbled on the seed paper concept well before the world was interested in eco-friendly, sustainable products. Our paper was new and interesting, but also part of a much bigger movement that was, and still is, influencing buyer behavior. More people were starting to care about the impact everyday choices could have on the environment and our product could help them make a choice that aligned with their green values. By the time companies like Chili’s Restaurant were looking for ways to communicate their commitment to the environment, we were well-established producers of seed paper with processes that could handle large-volume sales.
To make any brand a success you must always be moving forward and staying on top of the latest trends so we’ve always operated with Nike’s maxim “Just Do It”. When we spotted a trend or an idea, we jumped on it. Sometimes the idea failed, like the fundraising program we tested out in 2010 or the wheat grass seed paper shapes that we sold for a while and then discontinued because we just couldn’t scale-up production. Other times the idea was a huge success, like when we spotted the idea of wedding favors and went after that market in 2000 by designing an extensive product line.
THE KEY TO GROWTH
A key to growing from small-time papermaking to large-scale production was and continues to be a commitment to evolving our production methods. One thing I did not want to see happen was for Botanical PaperWorks to remain a small-scale business. In our early years, it was my mom and a few friends making the paper while I helped assemble the products and also did the bookkeeping, customer service, marketing and cleaned the bathrooms. We also taught classes and wrote books on papermaking and bookbinding.
We could have carried on as export “makers” for the rest of our working lives but there were a few aspects of small-scale operations that didn’t appeal to me for the long-term. First, a small business requires the owner to be there all the time. If I got hit by a bus back then, the company would have been up a creek, game over, shut the doors, because there was no one who knew how to run the place. Getting larger was a way of ensuring the longevity of the company and (bonus!) it freed me from an 80-hour work week.
Second, basic papermaking is physically challenging. You have to lug buckets of pulp and water, apply pressure to the press and load large dryer systems. A very appealing part of growing our papermaking operations was being able to hire an engineer to redesign the process, make it physically easier for the papermakers and also increase their through-put.
Finally, with increased capacity, we needed an increase in demand. Which meant growing sales. I’m a really good marketer (I have an honours degree in marketing) and I’m not a very good assembler or papermaker, so it made sense for me to focus my energies on finding more business. And one of the great things about owning a business is that I have the ability to do the work that I love best, which is the marketing and strategy and growing a business.
We’ve come a long way from those early days of making paper in my parents’ basement. Last year, we shipped 1.8 million pieces of seed paper to 36 countries. We sell promotional products to the world’s most respected brands. Our wedding invitations, favors and memorial products help people celebrate important life events around the globe. And even though I’d always dreamed of reaching this stage, I still have to pinch myself when I think about the fact that we actually made it.
That’s my story in a nutshell, now for some tips + a bonus freebie!
Every business owner/founder will have a very different tale to tell but one thing is almost always the same. We start with a dream and whole heck of a lot of courage; courage to try, to make mistakes, to take chances, to believe that we are doing this all for a reason. Maybe you’ve been selling on Etsy for a while and you dream of having a larger business. If you’re in the position of wanting to grow your small-scale company into something bigger, here are some specific tips that I can offer:
1) Hang out with like-minded people and get some support:
- Connect with business incubators or small business support centres in your area. We accessed help with growing our accounting systems from WECM and started our Lean Manufacturing journey with help from IRAP.
- Join a business group with other business people who are also committed to growth. I was a member of WBOM for several years before we were big enough to qualify for EO.
2) Always be learning:
- Access industry associations that relate to your business so you can grow your knowledge. We aren’t commercial printers but the Manitoba Print Association has great training that applies to the printing side of our business. The CME has courses on Lean Manufacturing. New Media Manitoba has training on digital marketing.
- When you need to know something, learn it fast. I sped-read HTML For Dummies one August long-weekend many years ago because I needed to understand basic website coding. In the early days, I used this knowledge to make changes to our website myself. Nowadays, I use it and my knowledge of CSS to talk with our web developers and read website source code.
- Read about tactical challenges like digital marketing, Lean Manufacturing, pricing and sales. This learning will help you with your business practices.
- Read about strategy like one-page business plans, forecasting, budgeting and goal-setting. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to plan for the future and make your dreams a reality.
- Read about social trends like the effect of technology and changing consumer behavior. I like reading this area of non-fiction because it helps me imagine how my business will need to evolve in the long-term in order to stay relevant.
- And then if you have time leftover, have some fun and read some fiction. You deserve a break!
3) Get comfortable with finances.
- Do what you need to do to get monthly financial statements. My first book-keeper accountant told me one day that he didn’t have time to prepare my monthly statements and wouldn’t have time for several months. This was a deal-breaker for me because without monthly statements, I’d have no idea how the company was performing. Were we making a profit? Losing money? You need to know this stuff and you need to know it at least monthly.
- Learn how to read financial statements. Despite my business training and accounting courses, I felt at a certain point that I needed to upgrade my understanding of reading financial statements and calculating meaningful business rations. To get the knowledge, I did one-on-one training sessions with my accountant and read books like Financial Management A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean.
- Once you have your statements coming every month AND you understand how to read them, commit to a monthly meeting with yourself. Go over all of your key metrics and decide what you’ll do differently in the next 30 days. Then get to work, you have a business to grow!
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes in a free printable so you can print one for yourself. This quote has been on my desk, to the left of my computer monitor, for the last 15 years! Thank you JD Rockefeller for this inspiration.
What to learn a bit more about Botanical PaperWorks? These articles may interst you:
Created with biodegradable materials, this seed paper is embedded with NON-GMO seeds that grow wildflowers, herbs or vegetables when planted in a pot or garden. Perfect for a variety of events and purposes including crafting, weddings, memorials, promotional products, recipients will love growing their own bounty of fresh flowers, basil, parsley, dill, carrots, lettuce or tomatoes with a simple piece of compostable paper.