I was asked to write my story of how I became a business women through mistakes, hard work and dedication.
Cars! Trips! Bright, shiny gifts! Things like this can grab a girl’s attention, and they certainly grabbed mine. I was just rounding out my twenties and heading into my thirties, having spent eight years climbing the ladder of a name-brand company. Rewards came my way because I liked what I was doing, and I was good at it. I greatly enjoyed all the people I was able to meet and the tremendous traveling opportunities I was given. It didn’t take me long to realize that I work well when a goal is set before me and pretty things are dangled in front of me.
But after those eight years, I grew tired of the meetings and the fake stage clapping. I was bored. And while I was thankful for the things the company taught me and impressed with how they delivered what they promised, I knew there was something else out there for me. Something more. Something mine.
During my late thirties, I heard about this strange, new online world called Facebook, and I vowed I would never join. It seemed to me like just a silly fad, until a friend who isn’t prone to following fads told me more about it. That piqued my curiosity, and I decided to give it a try.
Oh, boy. A whole new world!
What really got me hooked was when I started sharing a picture of the day. Sometimes the photos would be humorous. Other times, I’d post pictures of the beautiful country side where we live in Holmes County, Ohio. It was a way for me to communicate to my friends and share the gorgeous things I saw with the rest of the world.
Little by little, I eased into more modes of online communication. I took baby steps toward a blog, learning the ropes about writing and building an online community. A tribe. What a pleasant surprise to find that people read my blogs, that they loved when I talked about the Amish! They were fascinated to find that I had lived that lifestyle as a child, and I had positive things to say about my Amish friends, family, and neighbors, that I maintained good relationships with them, especially in the face of some deceptive and dishonest reality television shows about the Amish that had become so popular. It felt good to me to tell the truth about the community we live in.
I wanted to be able to market and brand a product that represented the local Amish community and reflected my own values and personality, a product that would be of interest to the following I had built through my blog and other social media outlets. After many hours of research, I finally came to the decision to market granola and granola bars. I gathered samples of very locally-made granola and tested each one. There was no doubt in my mind who I needed to go to for the production of my new company, the one that is now known as “Lena’s Amish Granola.” With a great deal of optimism and excitement, I approached the company and asked if they would be interested in making the product for me. I was sure it would be a major hit! But to my disappointment, the answer was no.
Little did I know at the time, I wasn’t really ready to start a new business just then. I waded through different difficult things that were really hard and life-changing during that next year. I took a training class on mentoring that helped me build myself spiritually and create healthy boundaries with unhealthy relationships.
When I got the phone call from the distributor a year later to tell me he was finally ready to make my product, I was delighted and thankful. I needed that year to prepare, and now I could fully pursue this new business. First, I had to come up with a name for my company. Then I had to decide on all of the flavors and give them names, too. I did a lot of praying and asking God to show me what direction to look or take, where to seek wise counsel. Google was my go-to for many hours of research. I didn’t want to copy anyone, but I knew I could learn so much from those who went before me. I researched who my target audience would be, what the pros and cons were of running a food-based business. You name it, Google was a great learning tool that I could learn from as my family slept at night. A wise person once told me to only take advice from someone whose shoes you’d want to be in. It helped me to separate what was wise counsel and what advice was not to be followed.
I was happy to have found a great designer for my logo and labels for my products. I remember I was down to the wire with coming up with a name for my granola bars and I asked the Lord to please just show me what I needed. I knew after researching that I wanted something catchy and easy to remember. As I was driving, I looked up and saw a sign that said “gas on the go” BAM! There I had it. GoGo Bar. Of course, I didn’t think about the fact that using the hashtag #gogobar would shut down my Twitter account the first time I used it! So now we’re always careful to use #gogogranolabar instead.
Had someone told me about all the walls I’d run into as I was developing, branding, and marketing my product, I’d probably never have taken on the task. My mission for the granola company was to build relationships. I didn’t care for the political end of it, but I soon realized you had to know people to get into the companies that you wanted to carry your products. So I started being intentional about building relationships. Good relationships. That made all the difference in the world.
Once I was had my product built and branded, I went to Cleveland SCORE for advice on marketing. The counselors of SCORE Cleveland are experienced business owners and managers who volunteer their experience and knowledge to help potential and existing small business owners achieve success. I felt like I was in front of a senior citizen Shark Tank. They told me some hard truths, and one of them was that I had to start my market in the local community and built out. That was not my plan, since the people I originally wanted to target were in the big cities and loved my Amish lifestyle. I remember walking away feeling overwhelmed, feeling that I was my biggest obstacle. I realized I needed to get better at taking constructive criticism and had to start by working on those relationships I had. My Granola business cards say “it’s all about relationships.” I needed to take that motto seriously.
After falling and getting back up many times over the course of about a year, things started rolling smoothly. From the production, deliveries, billing, and customer service, I began to realize that my granola was all just a tool that could teach me the business world.
In the meantime I was asked to do some cooking classes. One was even on a live TV. I had no idea why I was dabbling in this endeavor, but I was enjoying it and I got to talk about my company.
A year after I started Lena’s Amish Granola, I was asked to be part of a snippet that was going to be broadcast on ABC with Sara Haines. My excitement turned to horror and disappointment as I and the rest of the world witnessed the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing. My segment didn’t air that day, and I mourned with the rest of our nation over the loss of life in Boston.
It was a wonderful surprise to be asked to open a vintage shop in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country. It was exciting, and I asked a friend to go in partnership with me, and we worked like tornados to make the whole thing happen. It seemed too good to be true, and, unfortunately, sometimes that’s exactly what happens—something that seems too good to be true turns out to be just that. But we had fun doing a sizzle reel for a production company out of NYC in the meantime. Everything is an experience, so why not? It was a fun and stressful four days. Looking back it seems like a wind whirl of a fairytale.
It was a humbling experience to closed our shop, but the circumstances forced us to do so. I learned that partnership rarely works when money is involved. I learned to write sound contracts and go with my gut.
I loved the experience despite the failure. I now realize it’s all part of my story.
I remember meeting with a mentor and a fellow business women on a day I was really discouraged and he told us we will go through valleys in our business, and that it’s important to have someone you trust, someone who believes in you and stands alongside you, someone who will speak life into you and push you out of that valley to rev you up that next mountain. With these things, you will rise higher then you ever were before.
I’ve been fortunate to have a successful business woman and a friend do just that for me. Cheryl has been such an inspiration to me at those times. She can tell me as it is. She has advised me in areas where I need to improve to be successful. She has taught me so much about healthy boundaries. Most importantly, she believed in me.
After my first business was a little more than two years old, I started a clothing company called Farmhouse Frocks. Once again, I found myself in the thick of developing, branding, and marketing. Things came a little easier this time around because of the experience I’d drawn from my other business. Reality hit fast as the demands for my line grew rapidly. For this business, my tag line was “more faith than fear,” and it has stretched my faith to levels I never knew I had.
I was able to recognize that I needed help above my own knowledge to set goals and make a plan. One of the bravest and wisest things I did since I became a business woman was to advice with a business coach. He gives me wise counsel and holds me accountable for my short and long term goals. Lee and his wife Jayme pray for my businesses and the rewards and blessings have been many. I feel that I now have a plan for my life and it doesn’t control me.
Is it easy to run two businesses and be a full time mom? No! Rewarding? Yes!
More than anything, I feel blessed when I can encourage and mentor others when they have been inspired to start their own business. I don’t have all the answers. I know I have to be stretched so much more to reach some of the goals I’ve committed to. This hands-on experience I’m learning as I go is better than any college degree could ever have given me.
One of the things I’ve learned recently is how your limits and opportunities are endless when you don’t operate out of fear. I asked myself many times, “Are you making this decision out of fear or faith?” My answer is usually in black and white. If you plan to fail, you will. If you plan to be successful, you will be.
This past weekend I helped my daughter start her own little business. It made be realize how far I’ve come through trial and error. I showed her all the steps and tips I learned about developing, branding, and marketing. It took patience sharing my experience with her for hours, and I realized how important all three steps have been. How thankful I am for all I’ve learned with my tools—some granola and a frock. I have loved the relationships I’ve built and the and following on social media I’ve gathered in the past three years. I feel blessed with the friendships I’ve made with people all over the world. So excited for what this year has for me!