Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Spotlight: Entrepreneurship: Custom Cookies & Brownies

Sharon Muse, Founder, Amusing Treats - in her Kitchen Decorating Brownies

When I got the opportunity to interview Sharon Muse, founder of Amusing Treats, I got curious.  Could custom printed cookies and brownies actually taste as good as they looked?  Usually, they're a letdown.  Fortunately, Sharon sent over a few samples and I was floored.  The cookies were soft and tasty, despite being shipped cross-country in the Winter, and the brownies were deliciously chewy and chocolatey.  Mission accomplished, Sharon!

But more interestingly, when I spoke with Sharon about her transition from homemaker/mom to successful entrepreneur, I learned so much about marketing and the challenges of balancing motherhood and work - something virtually every mom faces.  I loved hearing not just about recipe development and the logistics of baking thousand-cookie orders, but also about how a type-A mom learned how to just let go.

Read on to learn more about Sharon, Amusing Treats, and the custom baking life...

A Selection of Custom Cookies and Brownies from Amusing Treats

ES: I’m so glad we’re finally getting to talk because I want to hear about your path to founding Amusing Treats. 

SM: I was in culinary school when I first moved to Atlanta, and after that I did a little bit of catering and things – nothing really utilizing my craft quite yet.  We got married and had kids, and I stayed home with them for, gosh, I think fifteen years. 

My sister is a consultant and asked me, “I need help doing this new thing.  Do you think you could help out?  It would be fun, you could do it from home, it could get you back into the working life.”  I was like, “yes!”  And it happened to be in promotional products.  I had worked in advertising right out of college, but never in specialty products.  It’s a whole different thing.  And I just found it really interesting and fun, and the people were really easygoing and fun.  Not that real competitive feeling you get in an advertising firm – this was just a nice group of people.

But I missed cooking and baking tremendously.  Baking has always been my passion, not cooking.  I’d rather not cook you dinner.  I could bake you dinner.  But I literally was driving to school to pick up one of my daughters one day, sitting in carpool, thinking, “why not put a logo on a cookie or brownie or something like that?  Those are promotional products, but they’re tasty as well.” 

I thought, “I’d rather have a tasty brownie than a pen.”

A Promotional Cookie for an Elementary School

 ES: I know, who wouldn’t rather get a brownie than some throwaway tchotchke?

SM: And so I literally had that “Aha” moment in carpool, and I came home and started trying to figure it out.  I knew I had seen at the grocery store that you could have photographs put on cake, and it seemed like there must be a logical way to do this and I just had to figure it out.  I used the little bit of knowledge I had.  I’d never done baking professionally. 

I’d always done catering things, never baking, so I worked hard to find the right recipe to appeal to children and adults because I thought it would be a little bit cumbersome to say, “Is this party for children?  Do they want more of a milk chocolate?  Or do they want more of a grown-up, dark chocolate taste?”  I feel like I got it right and it appeals to everyone.

ES: Yeah, we were really impressed.  [Author’s note – Sharon provided me with cookie and brownie samples so I could be fully informed before the interview.]  You usually look at this type of thing and say, well, the point is for this to look good, so don’t get your hopes up that it’s going to be a delicious brownie.  But then it was a delicious brownie!

SM: Good!  I’m glad.  I hope it’s the fun of going, “Oh look – I love that company, or I love this photograph”…  I’ve done some really fun things, like I did pictures of a man’s twelve grandkids all on brownies for his seventy-something’th birthday, you know, sweet, wonderful things like that.  And then it’s even better if you bite into it and you like it.  It’s even more satisfying.  I really want it to taste good, because I’m definitely a sweet fanatic.

I thought, “why not put a logo on a cookie 
or brownie or something like that?   
Those are promotional products, 
but they’re tasty as well. 
I’d rather have a tasty brownie than a pen.”

ES: When you got started, there must have been so many challenges – finding a commercial kitchen space (or did you do it out of home), developing the recipes on a larger/industrial scale to make larger quantities…  What were some of the challenges you came across?

SM: There were so many challenges, like you said, and the recipe development was probably first and foremost.  Even different types of chocolate will turn out a different brownie, and we threw away so many batches!  Now I will pay whatever they charge for these certain types of chocolates because I know that works, that’s going to yield what I want.  I wanted a consistent product and I wasn’t getting that at first.

I don’t scale it up in large batches.  Halloween I had a thousand sugar cookies to do, and they’re pretty much all done in small batches.  I double the recipes, but I don’t triple them because once you do that, I’m not a food scientist, but the ratios get wacky and I don’t feel like you’re getting the right consistency.  So it’s all done in small batches and every cookie and brownie is a labor of love, it truly is.

ES: What is a small batch?

SM: I’d say you’re looking at 45 cookies.  A lot of it’s hand-rolled, except I was lucky enough to have a friend who let me use his dough sheeter, so once I got that busy, I didn’t have to hand-roll everything.  I could put it through the dough sheeter, which actually helped me maximize profit because I didn’t have some thicker and some thinner.  

 I think that’s still a challenge – how to grow from here – because it is so labor intensive and we’re not geared for mass quantity yet.  A thousand was definitely stretching my bandwidth.

It was fun to try, and I did it, and I was really proud of myself.  They were cute and hand-decorated little pumpkins, all tied in little bags and stuff.

ES: What kind of client was it?  Was it corporate or individual?

SM: I work with a corporate concierge company and it was their client who was an office building, and they treat their tenants so well – they gave them the cookies and other things for Halloween.  I did some Christmas cookies for them as well – they’re constantly doing things for their tenants – so they’re a great client to have.

For the same corporate concierge, I’ve done a couple office buildings in town.  Everything was sort of based out of corporate – from the beginning, I thought we had to go with corporate because you have to sell a lot.  You can’t sort of sell one or two cookies and make a business out of it.  So I hit businesses first, and have been lucky to have some constant clients that way, and then I’m trying to branch out into special events, like I’m doing bar mitzvahs and weddings, things like that.  That’s been fun.

ES: So do you contact event planners to get through to the end customers?

SM: I’m getting now where some of them have contacted me, and I’m just thrilled!  I’ll say, “How did you find me?”  And they’ll just say they googled.  It’s branching out of people who know me, or my friends, and it’s really exciting.

ES: How did you come up with who to contact for these corporate concierge type contacts, and how do you approach them?   Do you just offer to send them free cookies and they jump on it?

 ...Yes, I’m trying to sell you something, but it’s also 
with sugar and chocolate 
and people are far more receptive – 
“Oh yeah!  I’ll try that!”
SM: Kind of…  I knew someone at a corporate concierge office and I knew this was the sort of thing they recommended for their customers and clients, so I approached them to see if this was something they’d be interested in.  I sent some samples to their head marketing person and it kind of went from there.  I’ve gotten a lot less shy about passing my business card out. 

I think the icebreaker here is, yes, I’m trying to sell you something, but it’s also with sugar and chocolate and people are far more receptive – “Oh yeah!  I’ll try that!”  It hasn’t been as hard of a sell as going door to door.

Somehow I’ve managed to network.  I listen to the radio and I heard this woman who has a blog, and I sent her a sample and thought, “I’ll just see if she’s interested in blogging about it.”  And she did, and she got me on the radio and TV.  So I’ve been kind of stepping out of my box that way some.  Again, I think it’s easier with sugar and candy.

ES: Yeah, the product kind of sells itself.  It’s an entrée into most people’s hearts.  It’s something that everyone, even though they know they shouldn’t, is always open to.

SM: I have worked on developing a lighter cookie with Truvia, but I am more of an indulgence – it’s not something you’re going to eat every day.  I’m not trying to be.  I’m a special event go-to.

Some Harry Potter Themed Brownies
ES: With the printing technology, was it hard to develop the actual icing that would handle the picture or printing the best?

SM: I think the printing has been the largest learning curve.  I take it back about the recipes.  It’s completely different from what we print with when we’re printing documents on paper.  That ink has a self-cleaner in it from HP or Canon or whoever, but the ink that I use on food doesn’t.  It’s just pure food coloring and it clogs very easily. 

You have to treat your printer – I wouldn’t say like a baby – but you have to pay attention to it and you have to fully clean it every other day.  You have to clean it and run it, and there is some waste in the ink, because once it’s clogged, it’s a bear to get unclogged.

I learned that the hard way on one of my first, biggest orders for cakes.  I started printing the photos and one of the colors started coming out wrong.  Many late nights trying to figure that out.

ES: It sounds like you’d just want to bang your head against the wall.

SM: Well it was just so unfamiliar to me.  And I couldn’t call an IT person.  I’ve relied on a lot of people around the country who do this sort of thing.  The sheets that are printed on, I don’t make.  They’re made by a few companies in the country, and it’s basically sugar sprayed onto a stick-resistant, Teflon kind of feeling paper.  You run that through the printer and then it peels off and goes onto the brownie/cookie/cake.  It’s not that hard to do; it’s just the maintenance of it all that’s hard.

ES: Will it stick onto any flat icing or frosting?

SM: I can’t stick it directly onto fondant.  It needs something gooey or soft.  Buttercream works well – it kind of blends into buttercream and will just absorb.  You can do it on royal icing, white chocolate for the brownies.  It’s wet, so it will just sort of sit on that.  It takes about a half hour to dry. 

And then I like to let the images cure, because sometimes the images will cure and bleed for some reason.  Somebody’s logo will have a lot of red in it, and the cartridges that you have…  It’s all very batch-to-batch issues.  For some reason, the cartridges that you have don’t want to hold the red border or something – it wants to bleed – and you can’t deliver something that’s bleeding.  You have to figure it out.

ES: I’m getting frustrated just imagining trying to do this.

SM: It is frustrating.  I was thrilled to have the thousand pumpkin cookies because they didn’t have anything to do with the printer – I knew I could handle that.  It was just me in production making sure the fondant was made, it was good, that I could handle.  But when things are out of your control, it is very frustrating, and you think, “Why am I doing this?”

ES: So you do some cookies that are frosted in a decorative way without the printing?

SM: Absolutely – we do piped cookies all the time.  The ones for Halloween were pumpkins, and then the ones for Christmas were candy canes, Christmas trees, and gingerbread men.  It’s really important to me that the cookie tastes good and not like cardboard. 

The royal icing will dry hard, and that’s what you need to have that clean look if you’re doing a hand-decorated cookie, but it’s got to taste good, so I found what I consider the perfect royal icing that’s going to have a little bit of flavor to it vs. just that sweet, coats the back of your teeth feeling. 

And then the cookie has to be soft.  For me, I like a soft cookie.  I don’t want to crunch into it.  It’s all done to my taste.

ES: No, seriously, I was so impressed because when you see that sort of thing, especially when it’s been shipped to you, you just think, “Oh it’s so pretty, it’s not going to taste good.”  But it actually did.  So you accomplished it.

SM: Thank you so much.  My husband had surgery and somebody sent him cookies.  And I thought, “Oh good!  I want to taste the competition.”  And there are some good ones out there, I’m not saying there’s not, but this was awful!  And it looked so pretty!  I thought, “That’s a shame.  They spent a lot of money on this.  And it was just terrible.”

ES: I know – you just assume it’s the price you pay for having a pretty cookie.

SM: And that’s a shame.

ES: So did you go to culinary school instead of college, or was that after college?

SM: No, I went to college and I majored in Theater.  I didn’t really do anything with that, so I don’t suggest that.  I’m telling my children, “No, you can’t major in Theater.  You have to have a backup.”  I went into advertising right out of college, and I never really cooked much in college at all.  In college it was kind of a joke, how bad I was at cooking.  But as I got out and got my own apartment and started cooking some, it really became an interest of mine.  Then I moved to Atlanta and there’s a culinary school here, and I thought, “I’m going to go.”  I wasn’t that far into my career that I couldn’t take time to do something different.  I was young enough, so I did.  And then I met my husband and we got married, so I kind of veered off the culinary course for a while.

ES: When you were in culinary school, what did you think you might end up doing with it?

SM: Well, I knew that the restaurant lifestyle might be a challenge.  So I kind of always thought of myself in catering, where I could take jobs or not if I was overbooked or if I had my daughter’s something-or-other to go to.  I’m a mom first right now.

It’s funny, I was just reading your article with Jill this morning, and you got down to the questions about being a mom and being a businesswoman.  For me, I’ve always been a mom, and now that I’m a businesswoman, I find it really challenging to juggle both.  That’s why I started out wanting to be in catering where I could somewhat control my schedule.

ES: It sounds like now you have flexibility in which hours you choose to work, but you don’t want to turn down jobs or anything.

SM: No, I don’t.  And you had asked about commercial kitchens and when I first started out, I did rent a commercial kitchen.  But now in Georgia, they passed the cottage industry law, where you can bake out of your own kitchen.  You can bake certain things.  You can’t cater, because they won’t let you do seafood and meats and certain things, but baked goods like mine or like a granola company you can do out of your house.

That’s been good and bad, because you can work 24 hours.  I’m constantly going back to it.  You have to stop and pick up the kids from ballet or whatever, but it’s okay.  I think I’m the more exhausted one, but I wouldn’t change it right now.

Their friends think it’s the greatest thing ever, 
because there’s always something being made, 
but my kids are over it.

 ES: Your house must always smell like cookies and brownies!

SM: It does.  It always smells like cookies and brownies, and it is covered with powdered sugar or flour all the time.  I’m covered with flour or sugar all the time, and my kids are like, “Why do you wear black when you bake?”  I don’t know, it’s just what I’m drawn to.

Their friends think it’s the greatest thing ever, because there’s always something being made, but my kids are over it.

ES: Are there ever little “extras” or “mistakes” lying around?

SM: Oh, definitely.  I bribe them that way. 

ES: Is it hard to maintain separation between materials?  You want to keep track the ingredients you buy for work vs. just home use, I’d think, for tracking expenses.

SM: I don’t keep that much in the house just for us, so if anything I’d dip into the work supplies.

ES: You probably don’t do much recreational baking anymore.

SM: Over Christmas, I was like, “I need to make cakes to give to the neighbors and I need to make popcorn that I’ve done in years past.”  For a couple years, I stopped doing anything that I used to do.  And the kids were like, “Where’s the caramel popcorn we used to have at Christmastime?”  I was like, “Ugh, okay.”

ES: You just probably don’t want to think about that stuff anymore when you’re not working.

SM: Exactly.  And I don’t want to cook dinner either.

I think time management is a challenge when you work from home.  You know, you hear the laundry go off, and you want to take care of it.  I’ve had to really set boundaries for myself, to say, “You’re working now.  That’s what you’re doing.”  I’m not that good at it yet, but I’m getting better.

ES: I think that’s something that people who work independently struggle with a lot.  That’s why people tend to go to coffeeshops or somewhere else just to escape the distractions of their own lives.  It’s unexpected and you think it’s going to be a benefit – you think, “Oh, I’ll be able to take care of all those little errands that would always pile up when I was working in an office.”  But if you aren’t disciplined about doing your actual work, it’s so easy to lose track of time.

Maybe in the office, you had a long commute or you spent a lot of time on facebook when you should have been working, so you think, “I can use all that extra time I’ll have now to do the laundry or drop off the dry cleaning or buy groceries.”  But it’s not going to necessarily be an even trade, and your own business is probably going to require even more time than whatever your office job was in order to make it a success.

SM: You’re right – the lines are blurred.  Sometimes it works out perfectly if your child calls from school and says you have to pick them up because they’re sick – you can drop everything and do that.  So there’s the pluses and the minuses.  I’m still pretty new to figuring that out.  And now I have one kid driving, so if I really need to, I can ask her to pick up her sister.

ES: Do you have any employees, or are you still doing all these orders on your own?

SM: When I have the large orders, I have a few people I can call.  I usually know the large orders pretty far in advance.  Nobody’s going to call and say, “Can you do 1,000 cookies for next week.”  Then I’ll try to book somebody or even two people. 

But with most orders I can handle it myself.  I’ve gotten pretty fast.  I’m much faster than I was in years past.

ES: That’s nice.

SM: It is nice, but you know, I would like a brick-and-mortar someday just for the camaraderie of it all.  It’s not so lonely, you have help consistently, and you can be more creative because you have someone you can bounce ideas off of.

ES: When you bring in other people, are they from the culinary school?  Where do you find them?

SM: No, no.  These are just people I know who have enjoyed baking in the past.  Or I have a really good friend who can’t bake at all, but she’ll help with the packaging and the shipping.  I’m the one doing the baking.  And that’s usually the case – I want to make sure the product is consistent and it’s going to look good.  So I haven’t trained anyone per se to do what I do.  It’s me right now.  I probably need to start doing that.

Literally at that point, 
the kitchen is closed except for cookies.
I’m like, “Don’t even come in here 
asking what’s for dinner.  
 Fend for yourselves!  Here’s the credit card.”

ES: How long does the product keep?  If you have 1,000 to make and they only keep a few days, do you get concerned with the consistency between the first and last batches?

SM: That was a big concern with that Halloween order.  But luckily they were the cookies, and the cookies really keep well if they’re sealed really well.  You can put them in the freezer for a little bit.  You can only do it for a few days – you can’t bake a month in advance.  But if you know your big decorating day is going to be Wednesday, you can start baking Saturday or Sunday. 

And literally at that point, the kitchen is closed except for cookies.  I’m like, “Don’t even come in here asking what’s for dinner.  Fend for yourselves!  Here’s the credit card.”

And they know that ahead of time too – I am in work mode, and they’ve been really sweet and understanding about that.  You’re working more than 12 hour days on those orders.  But they’re few and far between, it’s not like I have 1,000 cookie orders all the time.  I think if that were the case, you’d have to hire someone to make them outside.  And I don’t want to do that yet.  That may be where it goes. 

We’ve had a couple really large orders.  We had a custom cookie cutter we designed for a children’s book called Stinky Kids.  One of the main characters, Stinky Britt, we made a cookie cutter for.  The author and I hope that one day, that main character will be something you could buy the cookie cutter for and you could buy the cookie, the books, the doll, all at once. 

But I really want to stay really hands-on with everything now to control the quality.

The Custom "Stinky Britt" Cookie
ES: How did that come about?  How did you meet that author?

SM: Oh, it was so random!  I was in line at UPS and she was a few people in front of me and she was overnighting something.  She just happened to say the address and it was, “Today Show, something something.” 

I’m one of those people who will just talk to anybody, so I said, “The Today Show?  Congratulations!  That’s exciting!  What are you sending?” 

And she said, “I’m sending my book.”  I was so excited for her, so we kept in touch, and our friendship has grown and she’s a dear friend of mine. 

She lives really close to me and she’s been a big supporter of mine, as well as me of her.  So it was completely random – I just sort of butted in her business at UPS.

ES: Well, sometimes fate brings us people who were meant to be in our lives.  You said you made the custom cookie for her – what occasion was it for exactly?

SM: It was for the opening of her show in New York.  She’ll order a bunch of cookies.  They’re on my website – there’s a whole gallery of “Stinky Kids”.  If she has a signing at Bloomingdales or Nordstroms, she’ll take some there.  For the opening of the show in New York, she took some. 

The other custom cookies I’ve done are these feet cookies – I have a client who’s a salesman and he always wants to get his “foot in the door” – so he hands these out and he said it’s been quite successful.

ES: It sounds like there’s so much potential, and you’re doing a great job in reaching out to influencers who can get people to order from you, so you’re being very smart about it.

SM: I hope so.  I think there’s still so much that I haven’t tapped.  I haven’t gone to the hotels.  I even think it would be neat for hospitals – if you’ve had a baby, or if you’re sick (of course not if you need a special diet)…

ES: It’s always a question when to hire help to figure out strategies for expanding your sales – but at the same time, if you’re pretty busy and you don’t want to grow beyond your capabilities, it’s tricky.  You want to be able to meet all the orders you get.

SM: That’s a dilemma.  It’s also a dilemma as a mom for me with my 13 year old.  She’s not driving.  She still needs me to get her from here to there.  I feel like I can grow steadily until she’s 16 and then I can make the decision, okay, are we ready to kick this up a couple notches or not?

In 2012 I doubled my sales.  I don’t know if I can do that again and maintain sanity.  I’m learning as I go.

ES: That’s fabulous!  Congratulations on that.  Have you found the business side to be one of the bigger challenges too, keeping track of accounting and all that stuff that’s not related to baking at all?

SM: Definitely!  I would love to hire all that out, and I would love to hire all the marketing out and let me just stay in the kitchen and bake.  The business side – even just pricing it out – my sister helps me with that.  She’s a consultant and she wanted to charge more, and I said, “I just can’t charge that much.”  And she’s like, “Oh Sharon!” 

The business side – even just pricing it out – 
my sister helps me with that.   
She’s a consultant and she wanted to charge more, 
and I said, “I just can’t charge that much.”   
And she’s like, “Oh Sharon!”  

But I just don’t even like taking money sometimes, and I know that sounds so cliché, but truly I love what I do, so it’s kind of weird to have someone pay you for it.  I mean, if you’re doing 1,000, you’re really grateful to see that check come in and you feel like, “I really earned that.” 

But when you’re just doing it for someone and you know the backstory and it’s for someone’s special occasion, it’s just a pleasure and it just doesn’t even feel like you need to charge.  But when I charge, which of course I do, I actually now feel like I need to raise prices.  Butter’s gone up, sugar’s gone up.  Everything’s gone up.  And I haven’t done that yet because I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that. 

I’m not a businesswoman; I’ve  never claimed to be.  I’m learning all of this.  I read a lot of blogs.  There’s so much information on the internet.  I signed up for all these newsletters, and I realized I got too bogged down in learning all this stuff and I wasn’t implementing it.  I wish I had some more business background from college.

ES: Right, although really, I think the best way to learn this kind of thing is on the job.  As someone who did get an undergrad business degree, I can say that you tend to learn a lot about corporate finance and game theory, but you don’t necessarily learn the essentials of running your own cookie business.

SM: That’s what I need…  It’s also so hard to get your name out there, and to manage all this social media.  For me, Facebook and Twitter has not translated into sales.  Maybe once.  And I don’t know if it’s just because I’m not doing it right, or it’s not where the customers are…  I don’t know.

ES: It’s not necessarily right for every business, and I feel like we get it rammed down our throats that you’ve got to do all this social media interaction, and it’s not going to translate into sales for every sort of business.  It’s just not right for everyone.  And traditional face to face interaction and sales like you’re doing can be so much more effective for a business like yours. 

Calling people and sending them a physical sample of the cookies and brownies sounds like it would be so much more effective than tweeting out something about a cookie or posting a status update.  We’re all inundated with updates now and I just tune all that stuff out if it’s from a company.  I’d rather have the real personal interaction with people.  It’s not necessarily right for every business, don’t you think?

SM: I definitely think so.  I think for something like a coaching business, it can be successful.  And I’ve definitely been one of their customers – I’ll see something, a blurb, in one of the blogs I’m reading and I’ll click through and find out more about this and buy an ebook or a service or whatnot. 

But that’s never been right for my business, and maybe like you said, mine is more of a “back to grassroots” marketing model.  A business where I’m making everything in small batches, it is more old fashioned in that sense.  I’ve always thought, “What am I doing wrong?”, not “Maybe it isn’t right for my business,” so thanks for saying that.

ES: If someone’s selling you their personal service based on their intellect, like a coaching business, that might translate better through Facebook and Twitter than someone selling cookies, which need to taste good and look good.  Every marketing channel isn’t right for every business.  It sounds like you’re doing so much right – your sales are growing and you have a thriving business. 

SM: I’m working on it – sometimes I feel like I’m volunteering for Amazing Treats, but other times I look back on it and say, “Okay, you are growing something really good.”  It’s not only fun, it’s growing into a viable business.  It’s exciting.

Coming from my personal background, it’s hard for myself to think of myself as a businesswoman.  So you can be your own enemy, holding yourself back from thinking you’re not making it in the business world – you’re just making cookies.

ES: Right – some people may belittle it, but in reality it’s a viable business.

SM: I’ve had somebody say, “Are you still doing your little business?”  And I’ve said, “Yeah, everything’s still up and going.  It’s going really well.” 

Or, “Well, I thought of you, but I decided to get a real baker.  Do you do cakes?”  And I said, “Yes, I definitely do cakes.  And I am a real baker – I went to culinary school.”  And she said, “Oh, I didn’t realize that.”  Because people know me as a mom first.  And I don’t think she meant it as belittling as it came across, but I certainly wasn’t pleased about it.

ES: Yeah, because that sounds pretty mean.

SM: I thought, well, she met me as a mom first and maybe she thought of me as one of those people who just had a hobby.  And that is how it started.

ES: I’m guilty of the same thing with my interior design business.  I’m not a natural self-promoter, and my husband is the opposite.  So he’s always talking me up to anyone we know, and I’m always downplaying it because that’s my natural tendency.  And in reality, I would love for my business to be bigger, and rationally, I know you won’t ever grow if you don’t reach out of your comfort zone. 

But he has this natural gift for just going for it, saying, “Of course you could do that million dollar project.”  And I don’t know if it’s related to being a woman or just my nature, but I never want to oversell myself or seem overly confident because those people can rub me the wrong way when I meet them.  But there’s a balance between believing in yourself and going overboard, and it’s challenging to find it.

SM: I think that’s the hard thing – believing in yourself.  I fully agree with you that it’s hard to promote yourself, that you’re good at what you do.  And taking on challenges, like doing a larger space or something that might be outside of your present comfort zone, is scary.  For me, what I immediately think of in those situations is, “how am I going to handle this with my family?”  And maybe that’s the mom thing coming out, while your husband would right away say, “Sure!”

ES: I like to think of it as being practical rather than “negative.”  And I have to convince myself to say, “Sure – I can do it.”  And then figure out how to make it happen, rather than turning something down because you’re worried it will be too hard.

SM: There you go.  It’s great he’s supportive though.  You guys can be there for each other.  Sometimes I wish I were more like your husband, and I could just go for it.

ES: I admire that trait so much, and I try to open myself up and be more like that, but it’s also good because we balance each other out.

The embarrassing thing is that I did go to business school, but it wasn’t like we learned how to run a small business – it was more theoretical or high-level.

SM: Right – like analyzing financial data.  It’s not quite the same as, “how do you do this specific business, in a recession mind you.”

I had to learn to let go – that if 
the laundry wasn’t perfectly folded, 
or if dinner wasn’t a gourmet meal 
worthy of the teachers I had in culinary school, 
the reality is that my kids honestly 
don’t even care.  

ES: Right – and marketing is so important – and that’s more than half of having a successful business I think – being a salesperson.  And that is something that is very difficult to teach someone, myself being the primary example of that.  It sounds like you’ve approached it in a very smart way with these contacts you’ve made.

SM: I’m trying to.  I learn a lot, and I make mistakes each day.  It’s definitely a learning experience.

ES: What do you think some of the most important realizations you’ve made have been?

SM: I would say that, and this is going to sound corny again, but you just really can’t be so hard on yourself.  I had to learn to let go – that if the laundry wasn’t perfectly folded, or if dinner wasn’t a gourmet meal worthy of the teachers I had in culinary school, the reality is that my kids honestly don’t even care. 

They might say, “That’s good chicken!”  And I’m there saying, “That’s pork tenderloin, that’s not even chicken.”  Why am I beating myself up over this?! 

I’ve learned to let go of the small things and I had to learn to live in the moment a lot more, to tackle what’s due now.  I used to plan Christmas six months in advance.  That’s just gone by the wayside.  That’s been a big lesson, learning to live in the moment.  That’s been a huge gift, lesson, painful to learn, but at the same time really rewarding.  Finally, I get it.  It was not something that came easy. 

For me, when I became a stay-at-home mom, I poured myself into it.  So the laundry being folded was important.  But now I’m like, “Why am I obsessing over this?  Either it’s folded or it’s not folded.  They can fold it themselves.  They’re old enough.”

I guess to sum it up, it’s to say not to overfunction in certain areas that are just unnecessary, and that are probably a disservice to my kids.  It’s better for them to learn to do certain things on their own. 

And they’ve been the biggest supporters.   One day a couple years ago, I was just done.  I was sick of cookies.  I was sick of brownies.  The chocolate brownie recipe was really difficult to get just right, and I just said, “I quit.”  And my daughter was so funny – she said, “You can’t quit, mommy.”  She goes, “You’re doing this.  This is what you love to do.”  And I thought, “I can’t quit.  My daughter’s watching me.  Let’s figure this out.”

ES: You’re setting such a good example for your girls as a woman businessperson.

SM: I hope that they will learn earlier on than I did to find a passion and follow it.  This really didn’t happen until I was forty.  If I can give that to them, that would be awesome.

1 comment:

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