Friday, March 13, 2009

Big or small?

When I first began my business back in 1998 (which at that time was only handcrafted candles) I didn’t have a vision. I just knew that if I made candles and sold them I could pay my bills. So that is how I started. I didn’t have a business plan, I didn’t go to business school, all I did was make candles that people liked and as a result purchased them. Sounds pretty simple right?? WRONG!!

Here is a photo of some of the first candles I ever made

first candles

As time went on I followed the typical American business mindset of “bigger is better” and “growth is good” what I didn’t realize at that time was that instead of controlling my business I was growing it to the point where it controlled me. I never asked myself the question “is this going to make me happy?” I was just so happy to be working for myself I didn’t think it would come to a point where I would be unhappy with it. I mean this is the “American Dream” right? Entrepreneurship and success?

Here is a photo of some of the first soaps I ever made

first soaps

So when I had grown it to a point of having a store front, a 24 page full color catalog, tv commercials, being featured in broadway plays, a coffee shop, a website, 4 employees, 4 interns and 50 stores carrying my candles worldwide I thought gosh I have it made, but why am I not happy? This is what everyone works for right? To have their own business and be successful. Everyone was always telling me "WOW you’re lucky!” Yet as much as everyone kept saying that I didn’t feel it. People came into my store and constantly told me oh I know a store that will carry these or they would tell me they want to invest to turn it into something even bigger.

Here is a photo of part of my studio during that time


I thought all of this was the natural progression of business and that I should want all of this, but the reality was I had come to a point in which it was too much for me and I had no life outside of my business. I couldn’t keep a serious relationship, all of my friends had to visit me while I was working and half the time I’d put them to work while they were there because I was so tired and overworked. I realized this was no life for me. I did this to be free and now I felt more trapped than ever. Everything was happening so fast and I felt the business was making decisions for me, rather than me making decisions for it.

Here is a photo of the candles that made me famous shall we say ;-)

soul searching candles

It was at the end of 2003 that everything changed for me. I became the victim of internet credit card fraud during the holiday season of 2003. At that time I lost everything I had and had to fight to make it survive another year. I closed my store and manufacturing at the end of 2004 and closed my business. My business was destroyed and I had to pick up the pieces and make sense of it now. I was devastated and went through some extremely hard times. To this day I am still repaying debt from this situation and working on resolving all of the tax issues it caused.

There is a bright side to this story though. Strangely I am happier than ever with my business as this catastrophe caused me to restructure my business in a way that was made for me. I am now a sole proprietor that works for myself, I mostly make soap as it is less labor intensive than candle making and I operate it as a small business with no intention of growing big. I’ve learned to say “no” to things I know down the road will not work with my life. My business and my life have to work together or it doesn’t work at all. I’ve learned that “bigger is not always better.” I am posting this today for those who are starting their own small business or turning a craft into business. I’d like to offer some advice that I feel is essential to the success of all small business owners.

My advice: “listen to your inner voice, take a step away from your business on a daily basis and ask yourself what best suites your life with your business being a part of it? They have to work together, make decisions everyday based on what you want your life to be, not on what you want the business to be as the business will naturally become what you want it to if you put yourself first.”

Here is a photo of some of my current soaps

bulk soap photos 012

I hope sharing this story helps those just starting out or those trying to make big decisions now or maybe you are where I was at some point in this story and it triggers you to make the right decision now. I wish everyone at any stage of becoming an entrepreneur or small business owner much success and happiness in your life and business.


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DeShawn Marie said...

Thank you for the compliment. I will look at your site.

Kelli said...

Thanks for that post DeShawn. It was neat to hear what you've gotten through and the progress you've made throughout your business, it's very inspiring.

DeShawn Marie said...

You're welcome Kelli. It's been a long hard road with many stories, but at this point I am very happy with what I do and work at keeping that way. I love all the options that the internet brings us now, I actually had one of the first candle websites on the web in 1999. Amazing what has happened since then.

Victoria said...

Love your stuff. Thanks for sharing your story.

DeShawn Marie said...

Thanks Victoria!

brookepickering said...

Inspirational – great post Deshawn!

DeShawn Marie said...

Thanks Brooke! First time I've seen you on Blogger ;-) Does this mean you are working on making a blog??

Nurul / osculari said...

Dear DeShawn,
Thank you for sharing your story on your blog. I love your blog and how you allow readers to catch a glimpse of your business (past and present) and behind the scenes of your soap making. It is so interesting! I'm so glad that you are happier right now operating on a small business... sometimes the simplest things in life are the best! Take care! I am loving your soaps... I can't wait to order more but I still have to finish up the ones I have right now ^^ hehe.

Cindy LaHue said...


I appreciate the post. I'm starting a soapmaking business this fall and as I make critical decisions I'll be thinking of your sage advice.

Cindy LaHue

DeShawn Marie said...

Hi Cindy,
I hope that the post helps anyone starting out. I appreciate you letting me know you enjoyed the post. I wish you much success in your new venture.

Catherine said...

Nice Work!

DeShawn Marie said...

Thank you Catherine!