Author Archive

March 2021 Amber Grant Awarded to Muse Relations

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

We’re excited to announce the $10,000 March Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Katie Brunelle and Maggie Knowles, Co-Founders of Muse Relations. Muse Relations is a PR and marketing agency that focuses on strategic storytelling and relationship building.

Katie and Maggie are the fourth qualifiers for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with both ladies for an exclusive (virtual) interview. You’ll find that conversation right here, with a transcript listed below.

WomensNet: Welcome everyone to a chat with two of this month’s WomensNet’s winners of the Amber Grant. Today, we’re speaking with Katie Brunelle and Maggie Knowles of Muse Relations, who with their business partner, Victoria Furman, are the Amber Grant winners for March, 2021. I’m Marcia Layton Turner, and I’m one of the members of the WomensNet Advisory Board.

So, Katie and Maggie, why don’t we start by just getting a little bit of background. Tell us about your company, beginning with why you started it.

Muse: Absolutely. Thanks for talking to us, Marcia. We started a PR and marketing agency initially, in January of 2020, and we came together with our own skills. We had a really successful restaurant opening pop-up that we came together for, and we sold a hundred tickets in five days. It was a huge success. So we decided to start our own company together. I gave the full-time clients that I was working with a timeline to be done with them by March 2020…so very timely, we had our own company… right when the pandemic started. We did lose some clients that were non-essential businesses that had to shut down at the time. So we used that word ‘pivot,’ and we ended up finding a lot of people looking for production, which we also had experience with: TV, commercials, YouTube channels, local TV.

So we transitioned from Muse Relations into more Muse Media. That’s kind of the evolution of us.

One of our first big commercial clients wanted to create really great content that showed different people outside of their normal hunting/fishing group. So we brought in women who are fly fishers and hikers. We really worked with them to enhance their existing audience and to attract more people into the outdoors while we couldn’t do anything else during the pandemic.

WomensNet: So what do you think has been the secret to success so far?

Muse: We are dedicated. We have drive. We check in all the time with each other. Whatever project we’re working on, everybody is all hands in. But we’re also human and we allow ourselves and our team to be human. So if [someone’s] kid is sick, if you’re having an off day [we understand]. We are both single moms. So, well, three of us, we’re all single moms. So we have a family first ethos. We’re at home. We’re trying to be teachers, we’re still trying to work. So if someone’s having a crisis, we’re not going to force them to jump on a Zoom call with us. You take care of your kids and then we’ll regroup. We’ll get back together when things are common on the homefront. That balance really makes the work side of things work out better.

WomensNet: And how big is your team there? The three founders, then how many other contractors and employees do you have?

Muse: We work with quite a few videographers, editors, graphic designers, developers. We’ve worked with 20+ other people on different projects. We do have a film crew that we are bringing with us on a couple of projects.

WomensNet: What made you decide to apply for an Amber Grant? Did you have a particular need? How did you find it?

Muse: Probably a year ago was the first time we heard about you. And we’ve been following along. But this project that we applied for specifically — which we can talk about in a second — we felt like we had narrowed down exactly what we needed the money for. And we had a tangible product, something that we already knew we could accomplish and put a great product forward. I think that’s why the Amber Grant felt like a really good fit at this time.

WomensNet: Tell us about how you’re going to use the $10,000. You did have a very specific plan for that.

Muse: Yes. One of the projects that we are just wrapping up right now is a local TV show. It was the third season and they asked us to come in and help host and produce for this season only. We quadrupled sponsorship and boosted the viewership on a Saturday night at 7:30 PM. We have a thousand viewers in Maine. So it was really successful. We get so many compliments all the time on the work that we did with that show that we were inspired to create our own show. And it’s really specific. We’re pretty passionate about this project because I really believe it’s going to help our entire state and with the pandemic. We’re really looking toward our food industry, but not just the restaurants. We want to find our farmers and our lobstermen and growers, and everyone who’s actually producing that food that then goes into Maine’s restaurant industry. Maine is known for going farm to table.

Muse: So we have a lot of farmers and people that we are excited to interview. So it’s not just a typical cooking show. I’ll start interviewing one of these growers, these farmers, getting their story, really figuring out what they’re passionate about and any pivots that they’ve had to make coming out of this odd time in history. Really getting into what makes their farm, or whatever they do, special. And then we’ll be getting some seasonal ingredients from them, taking it back to an incredible award-winning local chef here who will show all the beautiful things that he’ll do with the food. What we really love is that then he’ll wrap up with what to do with the leftovers, because I think people are so much more aware now of waste, and being sustainable. And then having that leftover piece, I think will be an extra fun tidbit.

Another piece is that when the chef is cooking, when it’s done, we’re going to gather at a table with the farmer who helped bring the food and some other local people who have something to do with the topic that we’ll discuss. So we’re calling the show, Grown and Gathered. It’s going to be a New England, come-and-we’ll-feed-you, and that’s how we show we love you type of show.

So the grant we applied for because we wanted to get started on production. So we’ve already done our sizzle reel. We did all of our graphic work today and we’re getting ready to do our first full two episodes. So thanks to you, that was able to happen pretty quickly.

WomensNet: Tell us about the future plans for your company. Where are you going to go from here?

Muse: We have had more interest in our public relations and marketing side of things. So we’re going to grow both sides of the company. Maggie is going to steer Muse Media. She’s going to be a creative director, and I’ll [Katie] be directing the PR side. We have so many more ideas, especially with media, that we’re really excited about, and pitching even wider nationally. We have some big plans, because the model of the show can be taken anywhere. Every state has a beautiful story with their food, their heritage, their seasons, and then what can be done with that. So we’re excited to someday take it on the road.

WomensNet: Do you have any advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs? Anything that you’ve learned along the way that you think might be helpful for them?

Muse: I think women tend to really give themselves a hard time if they’re not doing everything 100% perfectly. Give yourself the permission to be good at whatever you’re doing in that moment. We’d all go crazy and would never sleep if we were a perfect mom, a perfect business person, etc. So allow yourself to be in the moment, whether it’s 12% or 80%. And be okay with that. You’re doing the best you can in that time and let yourself be in your creative space, or your parenting space, or whatever that looks like. That’s what you’re supposed to be and be proud of yourself because you’re amazing.

I would say say stick with it. There were certainly times when we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing? Shouldn’t we be applying for jobs somewhere?’ And we really feel like we’ve hit our stride and it’s coming together. So I would say sticking with it and believing in what you have is really important. And being grateful — always be grateful. We start many team meetings with gratitude.

WomensNet: Awesome. Well, Katie and Maggie, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to share your story with the WomensNet community. Congratulations on being our latest winners.

March 2021 Amber Grant Finalists

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

We’re thrilled to share with you 5 finalists for the $10,000 March Amber Grant.

The March recipient will become the fourth qualifier for our 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000). We’ll announce the business selected to receive the $10,000 grant on the 20th of this month. Remember, each of the runners-up will earn $1,000 in grant funds.

Note: The $10,000 Amber Grant continues to run monthly in 2021. If you’d like to apply in support of your women-owned business, you can fill out an application on this page.

Congratulations to the following 5 March finalists:

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10 Marketing Books Every Entrepreneur Should Have on their Bookshelf

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

by Marcia Layton Turner

Success or failure in business often comes down to marketing. Developing a product or service that people want and are willing to pay for, that you can sell at a price that generates a profit, is at the core of building a sustainable company. Master that and you can build a strong foundation.

The good news is that, despite what it may appear to be, marketing doesn’t have to be complex. You can learn as you go, and there are many great books on the topic that can help you. Of course, there are very general books, including Duct Tape Marketing, by John Jantsch, as well as super niche titles, like The 1 Hour Social Media Plan, by Kelly Smith, or Be Brand Brilliant: It’s All About Instagram Hashtags, by Julie Christie-Clark, and everything in between.

Ten marketing titles worth at least skimming include:

303 Marketing Tips: Guaranteed to Boost Your Business

An oldie but goodie, this book is a treasure trove of short, actionable steps you can take to market your company, written by the former editor of Entrepreneur magazine, Rieva Lesonsky. Those tips include buying radio advertising for less, direct mail tactics, public speaking, networking, and hundreds of others, literally. 

Catapult: A Woman’s Guide to Building a 7-Figure Business

Abbie Widin, PhD combines practical business advice with money mindset guidance in this book, which is designed to help women imagine what a 7-figure business looks like and then leads them through steps to get there. Plenty of bonus materials, which are accessible through links listed at the end of each chapter, are useful supplementary information. The biggest takeaway is that to reach seven figures, you’ll need to take a different approach than you’re currently taking, starting with how you see yourself and your relationship with money.

Company of One

Although Paul Jarvis’ book is considered a book about entrepreneurship, rather than marketing, it is written to help business owners think about how they operate their companies, including the customers they pursue. In that sense, it does touch on marketing and resource allocation to best attract the work you want. Although it is not a marketing how-to guide, it will help you consider whether you need an empire to be successful.

Complete Publicity Plans

Since free publicity is one of the most cost-effective ways of building awareness of your business, you may want to read through Sandra Beckwith’s guide to the many ways of pursuing publicity. From writing pitch emails to press releases and press kits, you’ll find terrific templates for effective pursuit of media coverage. Although the book is a few years old, the strategies and advice are still spot on.

Content Chemistry: An Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing

You’ve probably heard that “Content is king,” in this era of social media. Demand for information has never been higher and shows no sign of slowing. So how can you keep up? Andy Crestodina’s book provides more specific, technical guidance in how to build content that will have an impact, with illustrations and research that back up his suggestions regarding things like  effective subject lines, best time of day for posting, and thank you message length.

Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches

For those entrepreneurs who like a step-by-step process with daily action items, CJ Hayden’s book may be for you, especially if you’re a service provider. You’ll find advice about defining your target audience to effective networking strategies and cold calling tips. The action worksheets and downloadable forms help with implementation of Hayden’s strategies.

Getting Business to Come to You

Granted, this marketing guide is more than 20 years old, but that doesn’t mean its principles are any less relevant. Written by the pioneers of the work from home movement, Paul and Sarah Edwards, this is a terrific basic guide to identifying your target customer and helping them find you. The marketing tools covered are simple and inexpensive to use, relying more on traditional methods than digital, due to its publication date.

Mastering Online Marketing

If you know that most of your work is going to originate online, or that you’ll be selling products through a website, you may want to start your reading with Mitch Meyerson’s book on digital marketing. He emphasizes the importance of a good website, how critical a mailing list is, and he reviews some of the basics of online copywriting and web design, to help improve sales conversions.

Own Your Niche: Hype-Free Internet Marketing Tactics to Establish Authority in Your Field and Promote Your Service-Based Business

Businesses providing a service should take a look at Stephanie Chandler’s guide to dominating your market niche, using online marketing tactics to build a website that establishes credibility and establishing yourself as an authority in your field. Using content creation, social media, and networking tactics, she offers tips for standing out, even in a crowded field.

The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field

The idea that you should figure out what one thing you do better than everyone else, focus your resources on nurturing relationships with your best clients, and weed out those that are unprofitable or no longer a fit for your business is so simple that it’s brilliant. Mike Michalowicz offers guidance based on study of successful pumpkin farmers, which follow this same strategy. And it works.

There are great marketing lessons to be found in these pages, whether you order copies through your local bookstore or check them out for free from your library. You might even decide to listen to the audiobook versions while you commute to client meetings. However you tap into all the great information these authors have shared, you may want to keep a notebook handy so you can jot down notes for how you can apply their wisdom to your own venture.

February 2021 Amber Grant Awarded to Eliza Dolls

Friday, March 19th, 2021

We’re delighted to announce the $10,000 February Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Eliza Kosoy, Founder of Eliza Dolls. E-liza dolls are 18’’ dolls that teach young girls (ages 7-12) how to code and build hardware through fun, tech-enabled projects.

Eliza is the third qualifier for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

This week, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down for an interview with Eliza. You’ll find that conversation right here, with a transcript listed below.

Marcia Layton Turner

Welcome everyone to a chat with one of WomensNet’s winners of the Amber Grant. Today, we’re speaking with Eliza Kosoy of Eliza Dolls, who is the Amber Grant winner for February, 2021. I’m Marcia Layton Turner. I’m one of the members of the WomensNet Advisory Board.

Now, anybody who watched our premiere video from last month, may be wondering if we only give money to the makers of dolls. And the answer of course is no. It just so happened that these impressive applicants, for very different types of dolls, came in back to back. And so we didn’t want to not give Eliza money, because her idea is fantastic. So I just wanted to address that right upfront in case anybody had any questions.

So Eliza, why don’t we start by you telling us about your product and your business, maybe beginning with why you started it.

Eliza Kosoy

Okay. And thank you so much… I had this breaking point moment. I used to work in this lab at MIT, this computational cognitive science lab, and it was 28 men and 2 women. And one day we’re in a lab meeting, and this guy who’s this math prodigy genius is talking about this AI that could do 30 kills per minute [talking about video games]. And everybody was geeking out about it. I was like, why is this what we’re working on? AI is so powerful. It has the power to change the world. And that kind of made me realize: if we had more diversity in the room, if we had more women in the room, we might be focusing on different issues.

So that’s kind of why had the idea. I was like, how can I fix this? How can I get more women into the field? How can I make the field more diverse?

Marcia

At what point did you start thinking about developing a doll to help teach coding?

Eliza

When I would ask anyone in the lab, when did you start programming, everyone would say, when I was a kid. And if you look at all the people that are tech billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin… Facebook, Microsoft, Google. All those guys started tinkering with computers when they were kids. But then I flashed back to my own life and I was the biggest doll nerd. I just loved dolls and dollhouses. I was angry at my childhood self for not playing with computers. And I was like, how can I make these two worlds come together? Young girls really like dolls and they like fashion… And, I don’t want to be penalizing them for having these interests.

A lot of the STEM toys on the market are mostly targeted for boys. So that’s how I had the idea. I was like, let’s merge these worlds where they can still play with what they like, but there’s a whole technology aspect to it.

Marcia

Awesome. Well, can you show us one of the dolls? I know you have a couple of prototypes.

Eliza

[Shown to screen] These are just the prototypes that I made to just show how it works. But they all have this little computer inside called an Arduino. This one’s lighting up and it has different sensors on it. She’s got the slide up belts and it make sounds. And you’ll be able to code it, to do all these different projects based on different sensors. [Shown to screen.] Here’s one where it has a screen. So you can upload whatever images you want to it and just do all these different things with it. And I’m going to have a bunch of different projects that come with each doll.

Marcia

And you were telling me that you use an iPad to instruct the doll?

Eliza

The way that you’re going to be able to code the doll is through block programming, which is a way to teach kids how to code, where they drag little blocks. They look like little Legos almost, but each one represents a piece of code. So it’s easier for kids to begin understanding the logical thinking of coding. You can do that on this app on an iPad or on a computer, but probably it’s easier to use your fingers on an iPad or a large phone. And then through Bluetooth, it gets sent right to the doll. So it’ll be kind of easy.

Marcia

So what do you think has been the secret to your success so far?

Eliza

I really, really care about this. I’m super passionate about it. I really think it can make a huge difference. The more I tell people about it and get their feedback, that’s what really inspires me. I always get such great feedback. And winning a grant, that’ll definitely keep me going. I’m like, okay, I’m on the right track. But mostly just seeing [the response]. When I show it to little girls, they love it. And that for me is like, yes I’m doing something right. And I really hope I can make a difference in this way.

Marcia

What made you decide to apply for an Amber Grant?

Eliza

One of my mentors, this woman who knows all the grants, told me about it. And then I saw the website and I saw the application was very easy to fill out. [It was a] no brainer. When you have a startup, you always need money and the easier the application, the better it is. I just thought it was totally what I’m looking for and awesome. I looked at some of the previous winners and they were kind of early stages too. I think I’m more early stage. It’s harder to find grants for early stage startups. So that’s why I applied — and yeah, super grateful that I won.

Marcia

How are you going to use the $10,000 to grow the company?

Eliza

One of the things I definitely need help paying for is getting this prototype made in Los Angeles. They’re manufacturing it. So it’s a professionally made product that I can launch on Kickstarter. So part of it’s going to go to that. The other part that I’ve recently didn’t know if I could afford, but now I think I can afford, is to hire a design person. So someone with real design experience who can help with the brand, the packaging and things like that. Things for social media [and marketing].

Marcia

So looking ahead, what are some future plans that you may have for the company?

Eliza

Like I said, there’s this factory in Los Angeles that’s making the prototype. I’m hoping to launch on Kickstarter within two months. So I think within three months definitely there’ll be a Kickstarter launch and the plan is to have different levels that people can invest in. And there’ll be a website too. If you want to go to the website and sign up for our email list, then I can send you an email update about our launch.

Marcia

Do you think you’ll develop additional dolls down the line? Will you develop new features for the dolls? Thinking even beyond when you introduce the product, what are you going to do?

Eliza

Oh, for sure. So I want to have as many different looking dolls as possible. I really want to have a diverse set of dolls. I want them to all look different. I want them to appeal to all different kinds of little girls. That’s something that’s really big for me, but the given the budget and the constraints I could only make two. So [pointing to dolls] these are the two that I’m going to have for now.

Accessories are going to be endless. The cool thing about electronics is you can use different sensors to make all of these different kinds of projects. I have so many ideas, it was really hard to constrain it to the set that I’m going to have. But, using different electronics to teach different concepts… that’s how I’m planning to expand it.

Marcia

I’m thinking of Build-a-Bear and all the accessories they have for that. So this could be the upgraded American Girl Doll, almost with all the additional things, the non-techie things.

Eliza

That would be an insane dream… to have a store that would be half coding center where kids could come in and take computer classes, where they could learn things… But also, enabling them to build their own things through the different sensors you could sell in an easy to digest way.

Marcia

So do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Anything that you’ve learned along the way so far that might help women who want to run their own businesses?

Eliza

Don’t give up. I think it’s really easy to give up because things get messed up constantly and I’m always questioning myself, like, why am I doing this? Why did I think I could do this? So definitely don’t give up. Also, if someone does say something discouraging, use that as fuel.

Definitely try to find female mentors — they’re everywhere. They’re so helpful and they want to help you. I wouldn’t have known about this grant if it wasn’t for one of my mentors.

And then I would say, apply for everything. I apply for a lot of things. The more things you apply for, the better you get at applying for them. And you just have no clue what’s out there and what you could win. And that’s been a big part of my journey.

Marcia

Great advice. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your story with the WomensNet community. And congratulations on being our latest Amber Grant winner.

How to Hire Someone You’ve Never Met

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

Small businesses are looking to hire more workers, according to NFIB’s monthly jobs report for February 2021. The report found that “56% of small business owners reported hiring or trying to hire in February, up 5 points from January.”

While that’s certainly good news for the economy, many companies are having trouble filling the openings they have. NFIB found that, “Fifty-one percent (91 percent of those hiring or trying to hire) of owners reported few or no ‘qualified’ applicants for the positions they were trying to fill in February, up 5 points.”

Given that many companies are still working remotely, finding and hiring job applicants is tough right now – even tougher if you want to meet potential hires face-to-face.

When in-person interviewing is not possible or advisable, here are some tips for making the right hire from afar:

Be clear about the job’s requirements. Whether you meet candidates in person or not, you’ll save a lot of time in interviews if you are super clear about what skills you need your new hire to have. What kinds of experiences would be useful? What kind of software should they absolutely know how to use? What kind of personality will be a good fit for the team that person will join? What are the must-haves and what are the nice-to-haves? This will help you attract résumés from people who have the skills you need.

Get on the phone. When you’ve identified some initial applicants who may be a good fit, schedule a 15-minute phone call to get to know them. Ask for more details regarding items on their résumé that interest you, whether that’s about a previous job or their hobbies, and offer to answer questions they may have about your current opening. At the end of the call, ask yourself if this is someone you’d want to work with.

Put together a hiring team. You may want to let the people who will be working alongside your new hire have a say in who they’d prefer to have join their team. That doesn’t mean they get the final say, but having 3-4 people participate in the interview process can give you that much more information and feedback. That’s extremely useful when you’re not able to sit across a desk or table from each applicant.

Get on video. Fortunately, video conferencing tools like Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet make it relatively easy to connect with job applicants visually. Invite applicants for 30-minute video meetings to further explore whether they might be a good fit. Ask the tough questions and push them to demonstrate they’re more than capable of doing what you need them to. Pay attention to body language, tone, eye contact, and self-awareness.

Have the team interview them. You can schedule a group Zoom interviews so that your hiring team has a chance to get to know applicants. What caught their eye on the applicant’s résumé, for example? Or what does the candidate do outside of work? Why are they interested in leaving their current job? Sometimes talking to peers reveals information a potential boss won’t necessarily hear.

Verify their information. Sure, you could call their references, who will no doubt have positive things to say. But you could also take your due diligence a step further and see who you might know in common on LinkedIn or Facebook. Consider reaching out to those people to get a reality check on your potential new hire. Or find a former co-worker at a past job and see how they view their colleague. It’s always better to do more checking up front and be confident in your hiring decision than to wish later that you had invested more time getting to know your candidates.

Compare notes. Some companies use a scorecard that rates each applicant on various aspects important to the company, such as capability, personality, work ethic, and other elements that have been linked to success in the job. Get your hiring team together, in person or virtually, to discuss your observations and ratings.

When you’re confident that you have the right person for the job, make an offer.

Many companies use a 90-day probationary period to give both the employee and the company the opportunity to determine if there’s a good fit. Giving yourself that trial period may also help reduce any anxiety you’re feeling about hiring someone from afar.

Interview with $25,000 Amber Grant Recipient Savhera

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Yamalis Hernandez sat down for an interview with 2020 year-end Amber Grant-winner Vanessa Bouche. You can learn all about her company, Savhera, in the video interview above — or you can browse the transcript below.

A special thanks to Vanessa for her time.

Yamalis Hernandez

Today we are talking to Vanessa Bouche. She’s our $25,000 Amber Grant winner from 2020. And we’re so excited. [Vanessa]…I had the awesome privilege of giving you a call that Saturday morning and letting you know [the news]. That was amazing for me. I’m sure it was amazing for you too.

Vanessa Bouche

I think I screamed and said, ‘you’re making me cry.’ Yeah, it was a huge honor. Huge honor.

Yamalis

We know that you’ve already won the monthly grant award. And now you’ve won the 2020 award. So, our readers are a little familiar with your business, but maybe you can talk a little bit about what you guys do and how you impact the world.

Vanessa

Yes. So Savhera is actually a Hindi word that means new beginning. And it was named by our very first employees in Delhi because this represents a new beginning for them. What Savara does is turn the sales of organic aroma therapy products into jobs for survivors of sex trafficking in both India and the United States. That’s the meat and potatoes of our business: wellness products [and] aroma therapy products that contribute to the holistic wellness, mental wellness, spiritual wellness, physical wellness of our customers, as well as our employees.

Yamalis

One of the things that I’ve read about in your company report was your model around how you restructure your business. You have an acronym, P.I.E.S., that you use. Maybe you can explain a little bit to our listeners about that model.

Vanessa

Because Savhera is a social enterprise and our primary impact is on the people we employ, we have what we call our Human Flourishing Model. It’s P.I.E.S., as you alluded to. And PIES stands for Physical, Intellectual, Economic, and Spiritual growth and development. Because we are all about the employees that we serve and all about human wellness in general, this is a holistic flourishing model for human beings. Not just for survivors attracting, not just for the women that we serve as a company… but for everybody. And the way that the P.I.E.S. model works is essentially looking across all four of those dimensions, physical, intellectual, economic, and spiritual, and saying, we recognize that each of us has health or unhealth in these areas, at an individual level. So the first layer of the P.I.E.S. model is looking across those four dimensions at the individual level.

The second layer of the P.I.E.S. model is looking across those four dimensions at the interpersonal level. Looking more at families and communities. Finally, after your personal needs are met and your family and community needs are being met across those four dimensions, we get out to the macro level, which is really the giving back level. So it’s to say that our needs are met here and here. And how can we then start to give back what we have in the physical realm, intellectual realm, economics realm, and spiritual realm. Because we all have things to contribute to the world. But we’re not able to contribute those things if we’re not healthy ourselves. And if our family’s needs are not being met, secondly. So we want to get everybody to the point where their physical, intellectual, economic and spiritual needs are met, their family needs are met, so they can then contribute to the world the gifts they’ve been given.

The interesting thing about the model is that it’s for all human beings. It doesn’t just apply to survivors of extreme trauma or complex trauma. It really applies to all of us. For me, I recognize personally where I’m at along the P.I.E.S. model on any given dimension on any given day. If I’m under an immense amount of stress, I begin to operate as though I’m in survival mode, as though I’m in fight or flight mode. And so recognizing those things, understanding those things, understanding where the triggers are, where the needs are, that allows you to kind of intervene. And it’s a flexible model. It allows for a lot of fluidity, depending on where anybody is at, at any given point in their life or any given day. And that’s what we use, as kind of a base. We operationalize it with a baseline survey, a baseline assessment where we assess where the employees are at when they first come to Savhera. And then we monitor and evaluate their progress over time on the various dimensions of the P.I.E.S. model. And it’s really cool because of the systematic way of looking at their progress, and then seeing how far they’ve come.

Yamalis

I really love that. Especially the self-awareness incorporated in that model. It really is built to help people grow. We know that you spend quite a bit of time developing your employees, helping them to have life skills, math skills, all sorts of skills. And I really loved that your company principle is not just do no harm. I think you said, “do no harm is not enough; actively do good.” So that’s pretty amazing. How do you consciously run a business and keep in mind your company goals at the same time?

Vanessa

I would love to say that it’s easy, but it’s not. It’s definitely hard to manage knowing that at the end of the day, you do have a bottom line. We are running a business and we are a for-profit entity, while simultaneously not cutting corners on various things. We know that supply chain scrutiny, supply chain transparency, polluting the environment are all ways of cutting corners of getting things done in less time and for less money. I think that the way that you have to approach it is you have to be proactive. It has to be part of your mission and your ethos as a company. You cannot contribute to the world in a reactive way.

You can’t make positive change by being reactive. You have to be proactive. And in order to be proactive, you have to be intentional. And in order to be intentional, you have to have a plan. It has to be part of your strategic plan. It has to be embedded in the very fabric of who you are as a company. And so, it doesn’t just happen automatically. It takes up a lot of thought. It takes a lot of intentionality. It’s difficult. But, I think that the adage “do no harm” is passive, right? It’s like, we’re gonna operate to try not to harm the planet and the environment, but we’re not going to actively do anything to try to benefit it. Whereas [we’re] flipping that on its head and saying, no, that’s actually not good enough.

We have our values, we are a values-driven company. We know who we are, and we don’t want to compromise on our identity as our corporate identity. And so every single decision that we make, it has to align with our values.

If you didn’t have to think about these things, it’s would be much easier to do business. But when you put people first and you honor the planet — because none of us would be alive without the planet — we have to have a healthy planet to continue to sustain humanity globally.

I think that it’s the only way to do it. And I think that it’s the way of the future. I think millennials and gen Z people understand this much, much better than the older generations. And we’re going to start seeing a significant shift in the way business is done. Savhera wants to be in those conversations. Savhera wants to be leading the charge in that way. We want to be on the cutting edge of how to be a business that not just does no harm, but actually does good.

Yamalis

I know that it is. I’ve tried your product myself. And it is a wonderful product; it feels really good knowing the transparency from the beginning, all the way to receiving it. And so that’s a really wonderful story, and it makes me personally feel proud.

So this year we know that COVID has brought many challenges to many businesses, and certainly, as you developed this business from 2018 to now, there were probably other struggles as well. What would you tell other women business owners that are up and coming that have been doing this maybe for a year… what keeps you motivated? What helps you to not throw in the towel?

Vanessa

COVID has presented many, many challenges. So we have nine employees in India, and India had a three month country-wide lockdown for three months. There was zero productivity happening in India over the course of those three months. Of course, a lot of businesses during this time are laying off employees; that’s kind of where you first looked to cut, if you needed to make major cuts to your budget. But we’re a social enterprise that exists to provide jobs. That’s not an area we can cut. I am very proud of the fact that not only did we not cut any employees during that time, but nobody missed a paycheck.

It was very, very difficult. In addition to that, a lot of boutiques were going out of business at the time because nobody was shopping outside of their house. Amazon stock went through the roof, but small businesses — many of them women owned — ended up going out of business because they didn’t necessarily have an online presence. And they couldn’t easily pivot to having a website. And so for us, that meant that all of our wholesale orders tanked. We all of a sudden went from having, in a matter of four months from when we first started Savhera, we had 16 wholesale accounts. And we got those 16 wholesale accounts in our first four months of business. And then COVID hit, and it went to zero. And building back up again has been extremely difficult. So that’s another major challenge that we have faced as a result of COVID.

I know that everybody is motivated by different things. You know, some people are motivated by mission. Some people are motivated by money. I happened to be a mission driven person. I know myself well enough to know that if this company was about money for me, I would have been out a long time ago. I would be like, ‘you know what? This ain’t worth it. Not worth it.’ Okay. Because it’s hard, and everybody that has ever run a startup, knows it is hard. Right? So if it was about that, I would have been out, I wouldn’t have stuck with it, because fundamentally our business has a mission.

And that mission is about women who have very few, if any, other options or alternatives, or a livelihood outside of this job. Because that is the mission, I will not stop. I will not stop working. I will not stop putting one foot in front of the other. I will not stop advocating. I will not stop proclaiming the message of our wellness products and why they’re good for you, why they’re good for our employees. And why they’re good for the planet. Why we’re good for the world. I won’t stop. And I’m not a salesperson. I’m a professor, okay. I like to teach, I don’t do sales, but because the sale for me is not about me. We have an amazing product and we want people to become loyal to Savara because we have amazing products, but we also exist because women need jobs and they need advocacy and they need people to support them.

I believe so deeply in their value as human beings and what they can contribute to the world. I believe that we’re providing jobs to the most resilient human beings on the planet. These are people who have experienced levels of trauma and exploitation that the vast majority of us cannot fathom. They are the most resilient, talented people on the planet. And if you can give them an opportunity to thrive and grow, the potential is endless. So that’s what motivates me. You can tell when I talk about the mission and the purpose of the company, that’s what really gets me excited. That is what motivates me to never give up and to never stop. And has it been hard? Oh my gosh. I can share story after story, after story of why this is so hard.

Any startup is so hard. But I think every individual has to identify for themselves what drives them. And if there’s not an element of what drives them in their business, then the business probably is not going to last. But if there’s an element of what drives you in your business, if your mission is about people and you believe that your product can genuinely help people, then I feel like that’s what allows us to keep going and to keep moving forward. And some people, it is money. They are motivated by making a lot of money. And that’s fine. And those people, hopefully, can eventually find a business model that does get them that money, but you have to know yourself first.

Yamalis

So it sounds like one of the first things any aspiring business owner is to know, is yourself. Knowing your value system. Because that is going to be the thing to keep lighting the fire under you.

Vanessa

Absolutely. It’s so fundamental. And then as you grow as a company and as you have more and more employees, you get to know yourself better and better and better because you get to realize the ugly sides of you, the bruise sides of you. That’s the parts of you that need to acknowledge that you don’t know the answer. Then be open and honest with yourself to continue to get to know yourself better for the safety of your employees and for the sake of the company.

Yamalis

One of the things that we want to know is about competitors. We know the essential oil business is a big business. And through this interview we’ve seen what makes Savhera different. Is there anything else you’d like to add in terms of what puts you in a special place?

Vanessa

You’re absolutely right. It is a pretty saturated market. A lot of people know kind of who the biggest players are in that market. So we are different in a variety of ways. So first of all, obviously the social mission. We provide salary jobs to survivors of trafficking. They all are making over the living wage. Secondly, all of our essential oils are organic. We don’t sell any essential oils that are not USDA certified organic, and there’s no other essential oil company that sells only organic products. We’re really the only one. There’s a lot of essential oil companies that do sell organic essential oils, but it’s in addition to other non-organic essential oils.

And so we only sell organic products, which is another thing that makes us very different. We also try to integrate our social mission into every step of our supply chain. So most recently we have two new blends that just came out, but this one [shown to screen] is called Warm Memories and it is formulated. The blend was formulated by a registered aroma therapist who herself is a survivor of sex trafficking. And every sale of this, a certain percentage goes back to her and her small woman-owned, survivor-owned business. So we are always looking for creative ways to partner with other women-owned businesses.

Also we sell, for example [shown to screen] a ceramic lamp defuser that was handcrafted and designed by a female artisan in India who was one of the very first female artisans to really make it big. And I don’t even know that I would say it’s that big, but to make it in a very heavily dominated male industry in India [is amazing]. And so again, supporting other women-owned businesses in our supply chain is something that’s very, very important to us. So our environmental sustainability, our social impact as far as the people that we serve all make us very different. And then obviously, the two main multilevel marketing essential oil companies that a lot of people think of are multilevel marketing companies.

And unfortunately, a lot of people assume that we’re a multi-level marketing company when they hear that we sell aroma therapy products and essential oils. But we are not. And so one of the ways that we also are different is because we’re not a multi-level marketing company, our prices are significantly lower than those other companies. We’re not having to pay a commission all the way up the line. And so despite the fact that our oils are organic, our prices are actually lower and that’s just because of a different business model. And I think that that’s a really important point for people to really understand as well. Just due to a business model, oftentimes you’re paying more money, not necessarily because of the quality of the product. We get all of our oils independently tested by a third party lab, and we make all of our test results available on our website for every batch of oil too. So that all of our customers know that they are in fact, a hundred percent pure unadulterated uncontaminated undiluted essential oil. So you’re getting a very pure organic quality product for a very affordable price while simultaneously investing in the lives of marginalized women who really need support and need jobs.

Yamalis

Yeah. And making essential oils accessible to someone otherwise not be able to afford them.

Vanessa

Yes, exactly. And just, again, as far as our supply chain goes, these are our essential oil pouches [shown to screen]. About 12 bottles of our oils fit in these pouches, and these are also made by survivors of trafficking in Calcutta. It’s all organic, a hundred percent organic cotton, and then the insides are lined with up-cycled material. Again, everything that we do, all of our decisions that we make as far as what products we carry and where they come from, is very, very intentional. And as much as possible we work with and serve women-owned businesses.

Yamalis

Where can our listeners and viewers buy your products?

Vanessa

We sell our products online at Savhera.com. All of our products are listed on our website.

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