Susan Mann is someone I met through Twitter when she was kind enough to start re-tweeting my tweets about my blog. I was happy to learn that she had been in business for over five years, which qualified her to be one of my small business success profiles. I love the openness and good humor of her responses to the questions below. There is much wisdom to be absorbed here. Enjoy! (And if you’ve been in business for five years or more and would like to be profiled, give me a shout at Jeanne@yourghostwriter.com.)
Name: Susan Mann
Company: Manor Hall Soap Company
Location: Springfield, Massachusetts.
Year founded: 2004
No. of employees: Myself, with invaluable help from my techy guy husband, and my mother-in-law “The Barbara”.
Business description: Handmade soap and skin care with an artistic twist. All skin friendly and free of sulfates or parabens.
Keys to your business success: I’ve learned much along my journey, and a lot of it the hard way. The first key is just be yourself. Being yourself allows you to relax, whatever your surroundings are. If you can’t be yourself, how can you truly be your business? Another key, and it’s a big one, is the ability to focus. Hands up… I learned this one hard and early. It’s one of those things that many in business only comprehend once things around them are scattered. Projects unfinished, deadlines missed and maybe even a few folks let down. Unfortunately, by the time you realize you’re scattered, your business has long stopped yelling at you for help. Focus. Without this particular key you’re forever chasing your tail.
Best business advice you’ve ever been given: As most business owners will no doubt identify with, advice when you announce you’re setting up a business is never difficult to come by. I have my places that I use for sound business sense. One that I’ve spent seven years immersing myself in is Donna Maria Johnson’s indiebusinessblog.com. She’d asked a business owner during a video interview for her advice to other small independent “Indie” business owners. The reply seriously floored me, and the words have resonated inside me ever since: “Some days you just have to drag it kicking and screaming.” It’s the best advice I’ve ever taken.
Worst business advice you’ve ever been given: Two immediately spring to mind. “Well, making soap will be a nice hobby, but it’s not a real business is it?” I laughed. Personal Care is a multi-billion-ollar industry. It is most definitely a business.
The other one is advice that I actually took. “You need a sales rep. I know one… I’ll put you in touch.” That was a great learning curve for me, from a well-intentioned, enthusiastic friend. The sales rep brought in orders for me, but…I just wasn’t ready for that kind of thing. I was such a fledgling, that energies that needed to be elsewhere in my business were constantly sapped by pandering to the sales rep’s every need. Orders faxed through at short notice, working through till 4.30am, and not enough on the profit margin scale to even cover the cost of chocolate bars I ate to keep my energy levels up! Nine months, and then it was over when he decided to quit repping and spread his wings for greener pastures. Sanity at last… and I never looked back.
Toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner: Having to wear the shoes of the CEO. Like most artists passionate about their craft, I have one of those dreamy fanciful heads. It’s a business head, but it’s fanciful. And so although I was okay with all the little tasks one has to do when they run their own business, I wasn’t ready to “manage” everything, á la the CEO. That was the focus lesson, and getting focused was definitely the toughest thing I’ve had to do.
The second toughest was deciding not to go ahead with a supermarket three summers ago, because I wasn’t ready for all the red tape that was involved in moving from small stores to big stores. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one for my business at the time.
What advice would you give to someone just starting a business: Be who you are, and do what you love. It’s that simple…but that said, expect the unexpected. And be ready to do your costings early and often, so you can keep a sharp eye on those profit margins.
Favorite all-time business book: The Staples catalog. I really can’t get enough office supplies!
Favorite business book read in the past year: This sounds terrible, but I haven’t read any in the past year. When I read a book, it’s Jane Austen. Not that I get much time to read. I do, however, absorb business articles and experiences from web sites, blogs and forums. There’s a lot of good information out there just waiting to be surfed.
Favorite online source(s) for business information/advice: Top of the list is indiebusinessblog.com. It’s been an invaluable source and resource for the last seven years. I can quite honestly say I would not be where I am today without it.