Ifirst met Anne-Marie Faiola when she called me out of the blue in June 2001 to ask me what on earth the INDIE Beauty Network was and what it could do for her. As I recall, that was the first time I had to give an elevator speech with no preparation. As I stumbled through my explanation, while I couldn't see the face on the other end of the line, I could hear the cheerful yet focused voice, and I knew I had met someone special.
Since that afternoon, we have become more than colleagues — we've become friends, celebrating birthdays and traveling to Washington, DC, to advocate on behalf of small businesses. I have watched Anne-Marie lead her company, Bramble Berry, through a decade of unsurpassed innovation and growth. That's why it gives me great pleasure to share the news that Anne-Marie (or “A-M,” as I call her) has been named the US Small Business Administration's Washington State Business Person of the Year. I managed to convince her to meet with me briefly today to share a little of what the award means to her, what's on the horizon for her company, and a few of her tips and insights to help you be successful. (Unless otherwise indicated, A-M's insights are paraphrased, and not directly quoting her.)
- On Zooming Out. A-M says that one of the unexpected surprises associated with the SBA award process is the opportunity it provided for her to pull back and take a bird's eye view of her company. So often, she says, we are down in the details of business, that we can't see the forest for the trees. Completing the application process gave her an opportunity to take a 30,000 foot bird's eye view of what the Bramble Berry team has accomplished.
A-M recommends that all business owners take the time to submit applications to be recognized for their business accomplishments. Win or lose, the application process will remind you of the great things you have done, and help you plan for more.
- On Mothering. A-M is slated to deliver her first child, a boy, in a few weeks. In fact, the Washington State Awards ceremony is scheduled to take place just a few days before her due date. But A-M says she's ready, and has been planning to integrate a child into the mix for years.
In fact, she and her staff of 32 are so keenly aware of the change that's on the horizon that they've conducted extensive “SWOT” (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analyses, to make sure that A-M's becoming a mother is fully accounted for in everyone's day-to-day activities. A-M says this is especially important since “we've been very aggressive in our marketing, and since I'm at the core of it all, we are going to hunker down and fill in the gaps, and not take on any new projects until after I come out of the ‘mommy fog.'”
- On Big Small Business Mistakes. A-M says that one of the biggest (and most avoidable) mistakes small businesses make is, “Dithering over details that are not important.” For example, people spend inordinate amounts of time obsessing over creating a single product label, but spending almost no time picking up the phone and calling prospective new customers in order to get the product on the shelf.
She also sees way too many petty fights breaking out all across the Web, frequently on discussion forums, and watches as people waste previous energy dickering over some minor offense. “As a business owner,” she says, “I personally don't have time for that because, how can you grow your business and create forward motion if you are obsessing over something that happened to you last week?”
She says that the better practice is to acknowledge your feelings and discipline yourself to “filter out the negative,” look to the future, and make progress with regard to things you can control. You'll never advance your venture if you worry about the small stuff.
- On Technology. Technology, says A-M, is a wonderful thing, but it can be used in negative ways. While it's great that there are no “gatekeepers,” and the Internet allows us to have direct contact with our customers, on the flip side, technology like Twitter, FaceBook, and discussion forums, can also be used in negative ways, and this is where many stumble.
To change this, each individual must use technology to develop himself or herself personally, constantly tinkering with and improving who they are so they can become the best they can be. This, A-M says, is the solution to the problem, but since it's not a cookie-cutter solution, it does not appeal to everyone.
- On Growth. The word “growth,” means different things to different people. A-M is careful to point out that each individual must determine how much growth is enough for his or her particular business. The only “requirement” she says is that you must grow at a rate of 3% to 5% or so in order to beat inflation. Outside of that, as little or as much growth as you are comfortable with is the right growth rate for you.
By way of example, she points out that Bramble Berry could be far more profitable than it is if she opened a warehouse in the midwest or southern part of the country. This way, she could take more advantage of orders for supplies from people who don't want to pay to have their products shipped all the way from the Pacific Northwest. But considering that neither she nor anyone on her team wants to spend weeks or months on end in another part of the country overseeing a new property, she had decided against it for now.
“For another person,” she says, “It might be the perfect way to grow, but I've chosen to grow in other ways that are more suitable for my lifestyle. At some point, you just have to say ‘I love my life, and I'm comfortable. Enough is enough.'”
Bramble Berry started on A-M's kitchen counter as a way for her to have fun doing something the loved, and make a little money to help finance another family member's graduate school education. Today, under her leadership, it has grown into a $3Million a year company with 32 employees, a brand new warehouse and a boatload of possibilities. A-M says none of it would have been possible without her team, including her husband and her staff, along with the soapmaking community that has embraced the products and services she offers.
The company is pretty big for a small business, but at the end of the day, A-M says she's still just a girl who is happiest when she's making soap.
You can follow A-M on Twitter and on FaceBook. You can also visit Bramble Berry online, and Otion if you're in the Bellingham area. And you can attend the Washington State Small Business Administration Awards on April 21 at the Museum of Flight, Boeing Field, Seattle. For tickets, call Linda Laws at 206-553-7065 or email her at linda [dot] laws [at] sba [dot] gov.
Find out more about how you can participate in National Small Business Week 2011, including attending the luncheon where A-M will be presented with her award, at the National Small Business Week website.
Question: Does A-M inspire you to kick it up a notch? What about her insights resonates most with you?