By Lisa Price, President of Carol's Daughter
Two weeks ago, the National Women’s Business Council released an infographic revealing that almost all businesses perform better after reaching receipts of over $100 K. As an entrepreneur, I experienced different milestones in the growth of my business over the past twenty years, and so this first milestone of $100K brought back some special memories of those early days. As I reviewed the NWBC’s analysis, I reflected on the three lessons that helped me reach that first $100K and then continue to $250K, $500, $1M, and beyond.
Have Patience, Be Disciplined, and Learn as You Go
I often refer to myself as "The Accidental Entrepreneur," because I did not set out to be a beauty business owner, I kind of stumbled into it. I started my business in 1993, when my mother encouraged me to sell the skin products I created in my kitchen at local flea markets. I began with an initial investment of one-hundred dollars, and was able to make that money back and then some during my first market. As I sold out at one flea market, I was encouraged to go to another. Yet, as I expanded, I played it safe, knowing there was no cushion if I failed. Hiring employees was too risky at the time, so I worked with my family to grow my business. I made educated guesses based on my expected return on investment and the lessons I had learned along the way. For almost ten years, I made steady growth. I started from making twenty-thousand dollars in revenue to fifty-thousand, to seventy-five, until eventually I was at one-million dollars in sales, all from my own home. When I transitioned from my kitchen to my flagship store in Brooklyn and a separate warehouse for shipping and customer service, I had to learn even more – about how to obtain two bank loans – including one backed by the SBA – as well as zoning and renovations for my warehouse. While it wasn’t easy, it was certainly an important learning process, and I was able to do it because I had patience, was disciplined, and learned lessons as I expanded.
As You Grow, Let Your Role Evolve
By 2002, I started to gain more publicity across the country. After appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show, my business grew rapidly (we went from four online customers to 17,000 in just a few minutes after being on the show!). Until then, I had focused on the little things: how a label looked or whether a jar’s cap was screwed on right. Everything had to be perfect, because I believed the presentation of my labels helped sell my product. My experience on Oprah’s show helped me understand that I needed to stop sweating the small stuff and start leading a much larger company. I had gotten on one of the biggest talk-shows without any public relations representation, and I realized getting outside help was not such a bad thing.
At the same time, I needed an accountant, legal advice, financial assistance, and more employees, as well as major upgrades to my website, phones, and packaging. When I realized I had done everything I possibly could on my own to grow my business, I became open to partnering with someone. In 2003, I partnered with Steve Stoute, a business wizard I had met through a friend, who helped me change Carol’s Daughter into a beauty brand. He helped me look at the long-term, and after ten years of being in the business, I finally viewed myself as more than a woman who made beauty products in her kitchen.
While Steve concentrated on marketing, I focused on product development and solidifying the Carol’s Daughter brand, which were my strengths, while also learning a lot about the beauty business and business development. I had a lot to learn but, as the business grew, I started to think more strategically about leadership, recruitment, and developing my team. I brought on team members who had skills that I did not have, and I became comfortable with not being part of every aspect of the business management. But there was one person and one skill I realized I couldn’t hire: I couldn’t pay anybody to be me. I was Carol’s Daughter, and nobody else could focus on product development and customer satisfaction like I could. I needed to lead and to learn my new role. At the end of the day, a new fragrance line is worth more than a straight label.
Continue to Innovate, but Stay True to Your Brand
Since 2003, Carol’s Daughter has joined with other investors and has partnered with Macy’s, Sephora, and the Home Shopping Network. With these partnerships, we have developed a more sophisticated brand, expanded our product offerings to meet a wider audience of customer needs, and have grown rapidly as a result. In fact, that $100K revenue milestone seems like the distant past. But with each new milestone, I still hold on to the core lessons I learned back in 1993. And today, I’m focused on innovation and transformation of the beauty market and the Carol’s Daughter brand. When we entered HSN, I really embraced the role of ‘owner as customer.’ I studied what my customers needed and learned about the HSN experience so I could ensure we were providing top notch presentation to an expanded market of customers. Fortunately, I was able to leverage my background in television and film production to develop my presentation even further. Every good entrepreneur has to do their research, and for me, that was “secret shopping.” I am always looking for customer feedback to stay in touch with the changing times and my customers’ needs, and I’ve done this from day one. Today, twenty years later, Carol’s Daughter is continuing this tradition, as we expand our products to meet women of every hair texture, style, and lifestyle out there. While we innovate and expand, we always stay true to our brand.
Over the years, these three lessons have guided me through success, but just like many other entrepreneurs, I started by celebrating that first $100K revenue goal. Celebrate your success when you reach it as well – but don’t stop there. Women entrepreneurs have a lot more to offer, and with a little patience, discipline, self-awareness, and innovation, we all can get to 100K and beyond.