Public speaking is a skill you can practice. Female leaders and women in business should use speaker training to amplify their message and grow their business.
Last Thursday U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed the Proclamation designating this week as “National Farmers Market Week.” This is the 18th year the U.S. Department of Agriculture has supported National Farmers Market Week. And, I thought it would be fitting to take a trip back in time to when my family set our path forward, with a 99 cent package of pumpkin seeds.
The goal of National Farmers Market Week is to encourage families to purchase from farmers and other vendors at local farmers markets. Many small businesses, mine included, started at these “early incubators” selling what we grew and getting cash to augment the income from our farms. But farmers markets do more than help farmers and producers. Farmers markets have a broad impact on communities. Farmers markets build community connections through urban and rural linkages. They also stimulate local business development and job creation, and in our family they taught my kids valuable life lessons. Our whole family worked on our farm, including John my son, and Lisa my daughter. Here we are in our local newspaper talking about our alternative crop garden in the late 90’s, just before I incorporated EarthKind in the state of North Dakota.
The additional income kept us afloat and my kids learned that working with the land can bring rewards, not only in the food you grow to eat, but the health and vitality you can share with your community.
They were my little helpers, fetching carrying and sharing the “wealth”! ( Did you know the word wealth stems from ‘weal’ meaning well-being, prosperity and happiness?) I sold produce for cash every Saturday morning. I’d keep all the money and continue to reinvest. The only cash I'd take out was what I'd pay my kids for helping me, farm fuel, and for the lot fees at the farmers markets.
I have a deep appreciation for farmers, I have been one and I know how challenging it can be. So, I have made it part of our EarthKind® brand mission to support American farmers. Many of our ingredients are sourced from small American farms and we are proud that we can say our ingredients were grown in the earth.
The early days, when quite frankly we were really struggling financially, my kids thought we were lucky, as they were grateful for the families who loved to buy our colorful organically grown produce. They thought it was a great adventure and had no idea that we were land rich - and cash poor! The farmers markets were a Godsend to our family and they really got me started on my way to building the successful business I have today. I love that I was able to share this with my kids and that it was a positive experience for them. For me, it helped me think-through how to invest what little money I had wisely to grow something that would give us a better future. I also thought about how to expand to other sales outlets in a way that did not risk what we had.
Here’s the next step!
Now here’s something to think about…according to USDA figures, farmers markets and other direct agricultural sales contribute $9 billion to the U.S. economy. And a piece of that $9 billion is directly attributable to small businesses and family farms. Farmers markets provide necessary infrastructure to support their agricultural commerce. When I turned up at my first farmers market in the mid-90’s, did I think about infrastructure and agricultural commerce? No, I did not! I thought about how I was going to pay for the gas to get home if I didn’t sell the produce.
I’ve come a long way, but I always make sure I have money to get home, some things you never forget!
One thing I know for sure is that “Purpose Changes Lives.”
There is no better example of that than my co-worker Jack.
When I started EarthKind, I had the intention to build a new kind of company, and still do today. I truly believe that business can solve some of our most pressing social problems, and be a force for good in the world. When I discovered that there was 80% unemployment within the handicapped population, I considered this workforce as a viable option for open positions - and I'm glad I did. It's been over 10 years and has become part of our corporate DNA.
Today, approximately 20 percent of our workforce has a disability and we provide those employees with fulfilling long-term jobs that focus on their abilities. Often the kinds of jobs that these employees would have had (if they were able to find work at all), were repetitive and non challenging. They want to work, they are very proud of what they produce and Jack is a shining example of how a life can change when given the opportunity.
Just take a look at the video below and if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye—well you have no soul!
What is even more encouraging is that our retailers embrace this. Lowe's, for example has a Supplier Diversity Program, and as part of that program they came to us to interview Jack for the video you have just seen. They are committed to enhancing the economic growth of its diverse and small business suppliers. They love our company culture and our purpose—this is what they have to say about us: “We partnered with EarthKind because it provides our customers with natural alternatives in the pest prevention market, and its hiring practices positively impact the communities we serve,” Lowe’s Director of Corporate Sustainability Chris Cassell said.
I am so proud of Jack, my other wonderful “handicapable” employees and the whole EarthKind® team. They have made it possible for us to grow in harmony.
And when people are happy in their work, it makes for a happy world, a happy family and a happy community.
The definition of inspiration is the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative – a sudden brilliant, creative or timely idea. Often, it’s not something you consciously think about, a flash of inspiration can come at any time. I always have several notebooks around so when inspiration strikes I can jot it down, trust me, it will go out of your head as fast as it ran in.
As I think about leadership and inspiring others my goal is to help people achieve their true potential, to reach great heights of performance and success that they didn’t even know was possible. Having a steady purpose, and being a good listener help make me a more inspirational leader, and the ability to role model this to my team is what establishes the inspirational culture of my company.
According to Vince Lombardi, “Leadership is based on a spiritual quality; the power to inspire, the power to inspire others to follow”
Here are 10 Tips I have learned that help me inspire others:
1. Be a good example
People watch what you do more than listen to what you say. We all know how little kids have big eyes and big ears. It’s the same with adults. To lead someone or something means, literally, to be in front, so that others can see and follow in that direction. Leaders are leaders because of what they do, not because of a position they hold or the title printed on their business cards
2. Care about others
You’re heard the saying, we must ask for someone’s heart before we ask for their hand. It’s true, and it seems so simple but leaders so often overlook the importance of taking a genuine interest in people. It shows that you truly care.
3. Be vulnerable
Brene Brown has become a phenomenon as a result of her work on vulnerability – for good reason. Check out her TED talk:
Others relate to ‘real’ people. The days of autocratic environments are on their way out. The leaders whom I’ve learned the most from were the ‘real’ ones whom I can relate to, and are transparent about their own path to success however they measure it.
4. Be a good communicator
Increasing one’s ability to communicate effectively to all audiences is a critical element for business these days. Talking to people about your passion is not enough you also have to listen to the people in your organization. To “share meaning” you must allow the ideas and thoughts of your team to help form your vision and mission, or minimally, the goals and action plan. There are multiple platforms of influence at your fingertips. I’ve invested more in this than I do in my car – it’s the primary vehicle for leaders. Watch how you speak and what you say on camera sometime. Seriously, try it!
5. Tell compelling stories
Facts tell and stories sell. They inspire too. Storytelling is even more effective when design thinking is used to add color to the words. Look at
https://www.littlepassports.com founded by a fellow EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women, who is now on the board of Facebook. She tells stories to children as if they were traveling themselves to a destination like Egypt.
Using stories to communicate your passion, your purpose and inspiration will bring it to life and inspire others.
Everyone goes through tough times, and most anyone you meet could be going through a tougher battle than you could ever imagine. When you encourage others in their tough times, you’ll be inspiring them to see the best in themselves and the situation. Anyone who’s lost a home to fire will tell you it taught them who really cares.
7. Be inspired yourself
Make it a point to seek out people, ideas, environments, and knowledge that you find inspiring. This will keep you inspired, and inspire others to do the same. This is one of the biggest reasons that cooperative working spaces are so popular, millennials more than any other generation love to be inspired, by being flexible and open minded.
8. Share from your experience
Each of us has more to share than we realize. Take the time to draw out a timeline of your life noting the peaks and valleys of the BIG events. We simply forget how much we have gone though and know as leaders. Sharing these experiences not only inspires others, it helps us channel what we have learned to build and hone our leadership skills.
9. Challenge people
Many of us have had teachers or coaches who seemed more like tormentors than mentors. Today, we are better for it. There is a reason that 94% of C suite women played college sports. A recent study from EY found that participating in sports has a deep and definitive impact on the course of a woman’s life, and we can see from the research that sports help to provide women with the tools needed to succeed and lead. They learned that being challenged made all the difference in their success. Check out the study, it’s very insightful.
It may not follow that all readers’ are leaders, but certainly all leaders are readers. According to a 2016 Huffington Post article—they read a lot!
When asked, Warren Buffet pointed to a stack of books and said, “I read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” And he’s not alone. Here are just a few top business leaders and entrepreneurs who make reading a major part of their daily lifestyle:
- Mark Cuban reads more than 3 hours every day
- Mark Zuckerberg resolved to read a book every 2 weeks throughout 2015
But successful people don’t just read anything. They are highly selective about what they read, opting to be educated over being entertained. They believe that books are a gateway to learning and knowledge.
I read two books a month – I might need to step it up!
I would love to hear what you do to inspire others.
Recently this month, I was asked to deliver the keynote speech at Mountain Plains Business Education Association (M-PBEA) regional conference in Bismarck, ND
“Inspiring Tomorrow’s Legends” was the theme of the event. I took this challenge to heart, and came up with the three most important things I could teach the teachers of business and entrepreneurship. Things that could never be learned in a classroom setting, but have everything to do with success in business and life. This was very personal for me and I wanted others to have some practical as well as inspirational takeaways. Here’s what I had to say.
The following three C’s are traits I’ve developed, from the darkest times in my life that helped me be a better leader, make better decisions, and get better results. They’re part of what I coin “The Emotional Trifecta” of entrepreneurial success.
1. Courage comes from the heart:
So, what about courage? Where does it come from? It might seem odd that someone who was labeled developmentally disabled as a child, attended a different school every year of my life up through high school would be delivering the keynote about Inspiring Tomorrow’s Legends. The implication being that I have become somewhat of a legend myself!
No one ever thought I’d amount to anything, so I didn’t either. It wasn’t until I was a Junior in High School and was called to the principal’s office that I began to think differently. Our school principle, Del Easton told me I would not graduate and that my life would never amount to anything if I couldn’t take this first step towards adulthood. He said, “I believe in you. I give you permission to prove me wrong.” And, so I did. I eventually went on to graduate with a 3.87 GPA at my Alma Matter, University Of Mary, ever grateful that someone stepped in to make me step up!
What I learned from that lesson was: I needed to believe in myself, and never give up. Once I did that, I felt differently, I developed courage to attempt BIG things. I’d prove myself wrong each time just as Del challenged me to. I learned years later that courage comes from the heart, and is only found once an individual identifies a purpose to drive them. Heart and purpose go hand in hand
Here some examples where courage has helped me and will make you a better entrepreneur:
• Social Courage.
It was hard for me to step out and attempt to make a difference through my work, as 98% of the products used to control mice were toxic. Today its 90%. Courage can change an industry.
• Moral Courage
Doing the right thing matters more than doing things right. It holds you accountable and makes you authentic and transparent in business – a trait that has served me well many times over.
• Emotional Courage
An entrepreneur gets to experience a full spectrum of feelings – daily. I think it’s why 80% of millennials want to be entrepreneurs. It’s a thrill ride!
• Intellectual Courage
This happens organically as a business grows and gets more complex. Patents, processes, and stakeholder relationships all require their own kind of courage.
• Spiritual Courage
The most successful entrepreneurs have answered this deeper question of themselves, and applied it in their work to create profound social change.
• Physical Courage
Often times, physical courage is required for travel, arduous spells of long hours working, stressful situations, or any number of things that come up when starting a business. Sometimes, when you don’t have an ounce of energy left, you summon something from deep down to get you to the finish line. Winners don’t sleep till the job is done!
2. Curiosity kills the fear, not the cat
Curiosity is a trait that has been strongly correlated to success in business. The entrepreneurs who take an experimental approach to see what they can learn or do, have a greater chance of leading transformative change in markets, and building better cultures.
Curiosity Begs Bigger Questions –
When I was in Monaco at the World Entrepreneur of the Year Conference last year, I took these pictures and knew I’d find a way to share them. It seems so simple, but curiosity is so profound when it comes to success as human beings on this planet.
The evidence is there that curiosity correlates to intelligence, boosts achievement, and expands our empathy.
Albert Einst`ein asked: “How can I change the way others see the world around us? “
Bessie Coleman asked: “Are you determined to get something off the ground?”
Anandi Gopal Joshi asked: “Do you have the determination it takes to disrupt the status quo?”
3. Confidence comes from community.
You become the sum of your five closest friends! Look around you, think about it and choose wisely if you want to achieve your true potential.
Many people ask how I went from being in special education to an award winning CEO, on the list of the fastest growing companies, and being recognized as an industry leader.
It all starts with finding people who believe in you, and support you. Even more than that, finding the few special people you most admire, and who have the character you want to emulate in your life. Character is born of courage, curiosity and rising out of the darkness. We all have dark areas in our life, fears that can keep us down. The most successful people have probably had to fight more demons than we can imagine, but you really do emerge from the struggle a better person, with a stronger determination.
For me, my special people were part of two amazing organizations – WPO [Women’s Presidents Organization] and EY Entrepreneurial Winning Woman. Every time I’m with the incredible women that became my community, I become a better version of myself, and they all say the same thing.
There’s some new research that concludes women who play college sports are 80% more likely to reach the C-suite. Sports builds confidence, through teamwork, mutual support, and digging ever deeper for the courage.
The thing about confidence is you can acquire it, even if you don’t start out with it – “fake it to you make it” is a good philosophy. The more you succeed, the more confident you become, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
People with confidence:
· Develop healthy, long-lasting friendships
· Perform well in school and sports
· Assume leadership roles
· Demonstrate persistence in and out of school
· Try new activities
· Resist negative peer-pressure.
Be a Visionary! Have a Purpose!
I encouraged everyone to take this simple test: Google your name and create your own word cloud. What does it say now, and what will it say in 5 years? Please share your comments, I’m curious.
“There is one thing that gives radiance to everything. It's the idea of something around the corner.” - GC Chesterson, author.
According to brain scientist and gaming expert Jane Gongial, that’s why there are 2.1 billion gamers in the world. Gaming makes us feel empowered and hopeful about the future.
So, what if you're not a gamer?
I, like most of the other women entrepreneurs that were in the room for Jane’s fascinating talk, never considered ourselves game-changers.
The group I was with from the WPO (Women's Presidents Organization) have built companies with average revenues of over 13 million. For us, building a successful business is empowering, and in its own way a game – a complex one that keeps us challenged and working 24/7!
We all wanted to know what we could teach our kids and employees to get that same 'hopeful, empowered feeling’ about the future in their everyday busy lives.
Here the 5 game-changing tips that non-gamers can do to feel empowered and hopeful about the future according to Jane:
Oxygen levels and brain function go hand-in-hand. When your brain has enough oxygen, your body functions better, and you'll feel better. As your blood oxygen levels improve, you might notice improved cognitive function, better balance and an overall improvement to your health.
Also, a study from Stockholm showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Runners take this to a whole new level, hitting their ventilatory threshold.
2) Stay positive
Being positive redirects your brain to reach your goals. Powering up the reward center, like in gaming, will make us think that what we are doing will get us something better. This is a choice we can make that will soon become a habit. Thoughts are things, they create your reality, and your thoughts are a result of your beliefs. If your beliefs don’t allow you to create the life you want to live, it’s time to make an upgrade and adopt a positive belief system.
3) Be more connected to the world
Augmented reality can help with this. What is augmented reality you ask? Well, here’s the definition, “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.” Augmented reality brings out the components of the digital world into a person's perceived real world.
No surprise, Facebook is launching an augmented reality tool. If you have ever used Snapchat filters or play Pokemon Go, you have used a form of AR. As business owners we need to keep up to date with all areas of technology to see how they can augment our brand communications. (I’m not sure how ready I am for this one.)
4) Give people on-demand chances to succeed
We live in a world of instant gratification and that’s not going to change.
If you give people chances to succeed throughout the day and provide instant feedback, it can be a game-changer for morale. This can be as simple as a text message with a positive emoji, just make it consistent and often.
5) Nothing is scarce
Many of us go through life with a ‘Scarcity Mindset,’ a way of living in the world where our subconscious is actively limiting us from experiencing our full potential. Your mind has the ability to think of infinite possibilities, however most people only operate from a limited range of thoughts. This is because ‘The Scarcity Mindset’ is limiting your potential. When you shift your mindset, nothing is scarce, there’s total abundance in all aspects of your life. This creates such boundless energy to create global good.
From my perspective, the key takeaway is to rise above all the everyday challenges of building a company (of which there are many), to continually adjust your positivity button. No one can do this for you, it’s totally within your control. Negativity breeds negativity and that can be irrevocably damaging in all aspects of your life. Positivity is energizing and contagious, it’s about being hopeful for the future – be that glass half full kind of person, so much more fun to be around!
One of my favorite job functions is to attend women's biz conferences. Some CEO’s think this is a chore and a bore, but for me, the opportunity to hear great speakers who 'up' my game always feels like a blessing. Plus, it's a happy time being with my peeps of power and influence. The stories, the tears, the laughter and the triumphs we each share tops anything I'd ever find on a soap opera or reality show!
I've always found it odd that most leaders spend more on their cars then they do investing in their own growth vehicle - themselves. So, investing time to hear and learn from the best of the best is a no brainer for me. I choose to drive a Ford F-150 with a very happy heart.
I recently attended the WPO (Women's Presidents Organization) conference held in Atlanta this May. The keynote speaker really touched a nerve and has me thinking. Her topic:
"It IS possible to hack our own brain and rewire it for success!"
As an employer I find great joy in seeing the potential in others, and helping them develop. Many times I've secretly wished that I could find a cliff notes version of brain hacks to empower those who have lost their childlike 'I can be anything', and their, 'pick yourself up and try again' versions of themselves. That naivety that makes us fearless and unstoppable, is what we need most to drive innovation and business success.
I was fortunate enough to win a private meeting with this years keynote speaker, Jane McGonigal. ( A great perk of being a member of Platnium 5, as almost everyone attended) Jane is an American game designer and gaming expert, brain researcher, and author who advocates the use of mobile and digital technology to channel positive attitudes and collaboration in a real world context.
I wanted to know how I could make every employee become super-empowered, hopeful individuals at work, and at home.
Here are my key takeaways from that meeting:
1. We all need to learn new things and connect with people around us.
There’s a reason 1.5 billion minutes a day are spent on playing games like Candy Crush, playing the odds at casinos or solving puzzles in coffee shops. People want to connect.
As employers we can stage new learning opportunities each day for employees. One of my most engaged teams (at Dayton Hudson store where I was a leadership trainer) shared or listened to feedback each day in a five-minute morning huddle at a different department each day.
It gave us all a chance to talk about it, and share with customers.
Customers felt they connected too, by learning about a deal no one else knew about, or a style trend no one else had yet seen. It's infectious, like an authentic smile. , or a style trend no one else had yet seen. It's infectious, like a smile.
2. We all need to explore.
Exploration is the #1 or #2 reason cited across all demographics for gamers love of gaming. Males value the competition more, while females value cooperation and collective experiences more (even with the most competitive ones). However, they all feel like they're 'playing the game' when they are exploring new terrain and are faced with new choices that get them to an end goal. The choices are empowering if they're short ranged with quick feedback.
What surprised me the most, was that women won't engage unless they feel a 60% chance of success at winning; whereas men need only a 10% chance of winning to play. My thought is that as employers, we need to reason a bit longer with women on how the win will translate into the collective good in order to gain their full engagement.
3. We all need constant feedback.
More often, and much quicker. Research shows that we learn faster when feedback is quickly looped and ongoing. In gaming, the happiest brains are making 60 choices per second. As an employer or parent, it's important to engage in a way that others are continually learning new things they can apply to all areas of their life. This is why people like gaming, it's an empowering feeling to make personal choices that contribute to team wins. Jane McGongial says "The opposite of play isn't work—it's depression." Now that’s a sobering thought!
4. We all need a perceived positive impact in our work to be happy.
What we all need to know and feel is that what we are doing is leading to team success. We like, and want to be held accountable. We want to see the impact of our input and feel appreciated. Studies show that a project- based environment with strength-based coaching creates the best results. Whereas a process based environment, with coaching on an individuals weakness is disempowering and halts all learning. As a manufacturer, much of our work is routine, so I think this is particularity important to see how what we do has a positive impact.
One of the ways we recently engaged in this, was to turn our plant into a welcoming oasis for vendors, customers, community and employees for a celebration of our 10-Year Anniversary. It was a high-ticket item, but when compared to the high cost of turnover, it was a priceless investment. The reality check for every employee on the positive impact they each make was invaluable. They all commented on how good it made them feel to interact and engage with all stakeholders in such a memorable and authentic way.
So, I came away from the meeting with Jane with invaluable ideas that can be immediately implemented – if we employ each of these things that the human brain requires to become super empowered, hopeful individuals, we'll create more curious and confident employees who view and maneuver change like a fun empowering game.
AIn 2012, I was selected as an EY Entrepreneurial Winning Woman. That was a pivotal turning point for me, both personally and professionally. As EY is finalizing their search for 2017 Winning Woman Class, I am reminded about my entrepreneurial journey and wanted to share my key insights with you. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint hearted, it takes fierce determination, boundless energy and an unshakeable belief that you can and will succeed.
…Be bold, be fearless, be fully committed to success…
• What Being Bold Means
To me, it means standing confident and claiming your space in the marketplace.
The market, employees, community, and our own families look to us as entrepreneurs, and innovators, to create the future we all want to live and work in. Being bold with integrity, gives everyone confidence and a compass of certainty. While I may not always feel bold and strong, it’s a characteristic that all EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Woman have and I strive to be every day.
• My Motivation to Start My Company
My motivation came from being the change I wanted to see in the world.
Nobody seemed to care enough about how moms, kids, and pets are affected by the traditional “poison and kill” pest control methods. I felt very strongly that this status-quo needed to change - and I had the idea and passion to do it. It has not been easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.
• The Experience that Best Prepared Me to Become an Entrepreneur
I've been a serial entrepreneur, many times over.
Each time, it was for convenience, flexibility, or extra cash – thinking small. With EarthKind it was different, I was motivated by ANGER! I got really mad about the fact that our farm property continued to get mice damage. I wanted to prevent it from happening rather than continuing to be reactive using poisons and traps which were not people, pet, or planet friendly. That anger gave me the energy to take action.
Despite starting with nothing (no market experience, no chemistry degree, no college degree, and no money!), I was determined to find a solution. Memories of my deceased fathers rodent trials as an entomologist came flooding back and a tiny flicker of belief emerged that just maybe I could do something to make a difference. Once I found that a driving purpose infused with a good strategy was all anyone really needed to make a difference in the world, I become unstoppable.
• Be Prepared to Risk it All for Success
I've sold everything I had of value because I believed in what I was doing.
I sold my horse, my camper, even my house—basically everything I held dear. I even had to move into my daughter’s one bedroom college apartment for a time. As a result, my company is still privately held, and I've become quite business savvy as a result of learning to leverage every penny to make this business work. For years I’d sleep on a train and transport my trade show booth in my carry on, then clean up in the public restroom. Today I take a private plane (my husband is a pilot) because it's now about leveraging the cost of my time.
• My Most Valuable Failure
Every failure is valuable learning experience!
The most valuable lesson has been to learn believe in myself even when no one else did. For instance, I failed in K-12 school and was in special education classes. No one ever thought I would do anything big in life - so I didn't either. Once I had children that all changed. I knew I had to reinvent myself so they would grow up able to do, or be, anything they wanted. It took until I was 40 to graduate from college, but I did it—Manga cum Laude! I'm incredibly grateful for those who believed in me and gave me chances to prove myself even whenI couldn’tsee it in myself. This is one of the biggest reasons why I love being a leader and cultivating the belief in others that they can do seemingly impossible things.
• How to Inspire the Next Generation
The most important thing I thing we can do inspire the next generation is to be visible.
It's so important for our children to see good business leaders. Leaders who don't put profits ahead of family, society, or the environment. There are not enough 'visible' value based leaders. We need more of them.
• What do I Want to be Remembered For
Living proof that you can 'be the change' you want to see in the world.
I used EY’s suggested insights to prepare this blog post.(EY knows how to ask the best questions to get the best results!) There is still time to apply for the Entrepreneurial Winning Woman Class of 2017, I encourage you to do so and change your future. Apply here: http://www.ey.com/us/en/services/strategic-growth-markets/entrepreneurial-winning-women--how-to-apply-and-nominate
I believe every experience in life is guiding you to your true purpose. I would never have imagined that being a special education student would have been such a guiding compass for my EarthKind® business many years later. But, it taught me the power of small things done with great care. While I wasn’t book smart, I was thoughtful, kind and intentional and that was what got me through the early years.
I started EartKind®with nothing—no money, no education, no industry experience and certainly could not yet articulate my dreams to gain support or encouragement. What I did have though, was purpose and a belief that I was really onto something different. While there was no market demand at the beginning for my new approach to an old problem, common sense told me that people would prefer a pleasant smelling pouch over a toxic kill spray if they had the choice. I also thought it would be much better to build a business with purpose, do good—as well as make money—seemed like a really smart thing to do.
There were plenty of people far smarter than me who said it was impossible, but the thing is, they were looking at what had been done before. I, on the other hand, was challenging conventional thinking. Not only challenging the product concept, but my business model was unconventional. I decided that I had been dealt a winning hand. The years of being just a “little different” had left a positive mark on me. I liked that difference, it made me less affected by the opinion of others, more sensitive to unmet needs, and more willing to go out on a limb.
For me, giving back is not about giving money, it’s about giving people opportunities. For 10 years I have been fortunate to have a special DD “handicapable” team that have played a invaluable role, helping me to achieve my business mission. Together we have disrupted the retail pest control market while becoming a powerful force of purpose beyond profit.
With an 80% unemployment rate among the handicapped population, we all need to look at how we can include them in our workforce. I can tell you that working with my special team, reminds me every day of the power of small things done with great love. It has been a journey of discovering the potential in everyone.
Now, for all those nay-sayers at the beginning, I wonder what they have to say now. EarthKind products (all 10 million of them and counting) sell for three times more than their conventional poison and kill counterparts. Huge brands are now jumping on the bandwagon. Unilver found that 33% of buyers (in general) want to buy products from companies that have a strong purpose, and 50% care that a company is ethical and environmentally sound.
Well, I guess common sense prevailed.
Last Friday we celebrated our EarthKind® 10 year anniversary. There’s something about reaching major milestones that gets you thinking about things long forgotten. As I reminisced, I realized that I was set on the road to my life’s work long before I ever had an Ah Ha moment!
When I was a little girl, I'd mix up soap, perfume and water and I would go around the neighborhood blessing homes. This seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to do. I’d do it with May Day baskets, blessing the garden and the flowers I was picking for the baskets. As I grew older, when I was a food server, I'd bless each plate as I delivered it. And then later, as I started to grow food and organic produce and even when I had my potpourri business I’d add a personalized blessing into each bag. Thousands of these made their way into peoples hands and homes. It was like I was spreading the joy!
I never questioned my intention to bless everything I touched for the benefit of others. I was raised to always leave things better than I found them, and to give everything I do my all. Even though I was a special education student and narrowly graduated from high school, I learned a much more valuable lesson than being smart through this: that being intentional with each action—and doing it consistently—made me feel really good inside, despite what others thought of me.
I always instinctively knew that small actions done with great love were a great achievement and it felt like winning an award. It made me glow on the inside and brought a twinkle to my eyes that everyone could see.
Fast forward, to our company’s 10th Anniversary. I was so proud of my “handicapable” team, I see that same quality in them that I saw in my DD classrooms at school. I can see them glow when they're doing something they feel is worthwhile. I know that every product they touch, is blessed, and made with great care (they give it their eternal gratitude.) It's not just assembly to them. It's a chance to touch someone's life, to empower homes everywhere to 'kick pests out without having to do the dirty' as one of my workers says.
Their purpose resonates way beyond profit. And the market is responding to the pouches they're making.
In my next blog I’ll talk more about the kind karma this has created and how paying it forward is not just a feel good concept, it actually results in more sales and there’s research to prove it!
You can’t do it alone.
Without the support and validation of your tribe it’s virtually impossible go succeed. To me, the word tribe is more than its definition. It’s the feeling of unity that I derive from my close circle of family, friends and advisors who have my back.
These are not “yes” men and women, they do not say something to my face and something different behind my back and they tell me straight if I’m getting a little twisted!
In business, as in life, you meet many people, seemingly on the surface honest and supportive and it’s still painful to me when they turn out to be quite the opposite. So, when you have a tribe supporting you, you really can aim for the stars.
I found that out very early on. There was so much I didn’t know, but I did know how to ask for help—surprisingly many people don’t. I was really lucky to start my business in North Dakota.
North Dakota is really supportive of women businesses; in fact it is one of the most progressive states in the US ranking #1 for female owned business in 2015. I was qualified for a small business grant, which enabled me to bring my idea of “no harm” pest control to fruition. It wasn’t just the funding, but the help and advice that made all the difference.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. When I did just that by sharing the news about my company with the ND Department of Commerce they supported the company and me by helping to promote the success of EarthKind®. This support emboldened me to aim higher and I was fortunate to have been selected as an Ernst & Young “Entrepreneurial Winning Women™,” which is a national competition and executive education program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose business shows real potential to scale, and helps them do it.
The support and business counsel from EY, as well as the amazing group of winning women in the 2012 alumni, has been invaluable. I’ll delve deeper into this in future blog posts.