5 Things I Learned in my 7th Year Running a Social Enterprise

5 Things I Learned in my 7th Year Running a Social Enterprise

We made it through 2020 part 2! After what simultaneously felt like the slowest-moving and blinked-now-it’s-over year, we are grateful you’ve stuck around in the evolution of our social enterprise.

I've made it an annual tradition to write this blog post-- you can see my reflections from years one, two, three, four, five, and six on our blog. Reflecting on our learnings is helpful to make me realize how much we have grown; as an entrepreneur, it’s easy to focus on the day-to-day and where we’re headed, but it’s so helpful to celebrate how far we’ve come. I’m hopeful some of these learnings might help others in their social entrepreneurship endeavors: we want more mission-driven business in the world!

Here are my top learnings from our seventh year in business:

1. Having a space that’s fully your own

I tend to have the mindset of being a super “scrappy” entrepreneur: boot-strapping, skipping the lavish stuff, making sure the business dollars are being put in places that really matter. I guess it’s no surprise that it took me 6 full years to add “rent” to our list of fixed costs. But *wow* am I glad we finally made this happen. While we’ve appreciated being housed with partners (and personal apartments) throughout our history, having a space that’s fully our own has really been amazing. It’s a manifestation of our company culture: the showroom that displays all our products, the office that has pictures of all our artisan partners from around the world, the fulfillment area / warehouse that is organized just the way we like it. It’s a feminist space through and through, and it gets me jazzed to go to work each day. Plus, we have a space for our plant babies!

While I could go on and on about the benefits of this, two aspects really stick out:

First, we’re able to fully manage all the customer touch-points by taking fulfillment back in-house. We’ve decreased inventory and shipping errors by well over 90%, and we’re able to manage special requests more easily— all of which is a recipe for happier customers.

Second, we’ve been able to simplify all of our internal processes as a result. Instead of having 19 artisan cooperatives ship their products to different locations, keeping track of where everything is, and changing addresses on our beautiful retailers nonstop, there is now one singular address and it feels *so* good. Our team can now all easily be on the same page, and all our stuff is in one place. Hallelujah.

2. Document all core processes

This learning comes from Michele Krolczyk with Women Venture, and it couldn’t have been more timely! Our Operations Manager, Zibby, led our team in detailed documentation of all the processes that make our business operate. Sound exhausting? It was! But so worth it, and proved especially useful when Zibby left for maternity leave at the end of this year (we love our newest lil’ teammate, Estelle!). Just because you’re a social enterprise doesn’t mean all your people will be able to stick around forever, so having all operations documented absolutely helps with smooth transitions. We haven’t had to frantically text Zibby “help!” one time since she’s been out takin care of her beautiful baby girl, and that’s the goal!

3. Sustainability is a win for everyone

One of the things we’re most proud of with taking fulfillment back in-house is how we’ve been able to ship out orders. In 2021, we shipped out 100% of orders in reused boxes and bubble mailers! This is a win for the planet, a win for our bank account, and an easy way to communicate our values to our customers. Our customers and community have come through in a big way for us by collecting their old boxes and bubble mailers and dropping them off at our warehouse — so much happier than throwing those Amazon bubble mailers in the trash. We’ve long prioritized sustainability in the development of our products, but it has been energizing to bring this to our fulfillment process, too. Even our shelving in the warehouse is reused: they’re actually old library shelves from the University of Minnesota. Win-win-win! So, if you receive your Fair Anita package in a random diaper box or Amazon mailer, know it’s us, just trying to reduce + reuse + recycle.

Oh! And another big win for the year– our artisan partners in India started shipping products out in little compostable baggies made from corn starch! Products being exported from India need to be individually packaged, and while we’ve forever used the little plastic bags over and over again, we couldn’t be more pumped about this compostable alternative.

4. Collaborative supply chains make everything easier!

A key message coming from most businesses this year was “Shop early! Global supply chains are delayed and devoid due to the pandemic, so expect empty shelves!” We are very grateful that this wasn’t the case for our small business. Collaborating with 19 different artisan cooperatives means that we were fully in-the-loop about what delays were happening in which parts of the world, and because we work in multiple countries, we always had partners ready to ship out more product.

Collaborative supply chains have always worked to our benefit: we started selling face masks earlier than most brands because our partners in India and Cambodia already knew how to make them, as opposed to waiting for the pandemic to hit the US and designers here to come up with their own model. Collaborative supply chains also help us work with upcycled products in innovative ways when developing new products. We’re so lucky to work with talented women all over the globe!

5. Make a not-to-do list

The lifestyle of an entrepreneur is often portrayed as non-stop, never sleeping, go-go-go, and do-it-all. While I have learned that I’m not able to “shut off” the work part of my brain for even one full day, I have certainly appreciated that this portrayal isn’t healthy for anyone. Rest is important. Making sure members of your team have autonomy over what they do is important. Not trying to do it all is important. Business owners have a million to-do lists, which is why I suggest its counterpart: the not-to-do list. A few things on my not-to-do list:

  • Do not work pop up markets, with the exception of holiday season or in case of emergency by someone else on our team. The more weekend hours I put in doesn’t translate to a midweek day off like it does for other team members, so leave the selling to our sales staff!
  • Do not send work emails after 8pm (unless it’s to an artisan partner on the opposite side of the world). Otherwise, you’re subtly sending messages to your team that they should be working then, too.
  • Do not develop our ads strategy – you have an awesome marketing team who knows this stuff better than you do!
  • (I could go on, but you get the idea!)

Thank you for being a part of this community-- I am so very grateful for each one of you. Here’s to health, growth, and kickin’ butt in 2022!

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