Saturday, March 28, 2009

Big or small?

By DeShawn of DeShawn Marie Handmade Soap

When I first began my business back in 1998 (which at that time was only handcrafted candles) I didn’t have a vision. I just knew that if I made candles and sold them I could pay my bills. So that is how I started. I didn’t have a business plan, I didn’t go to business school, all I did was make candles that people liked and as a result purchased them. Sounds pretty simple right?? WRONG!!

Here is a photo of some of the first candles I ever made

first candles

As time went on I followed the typical American business mindset of “bigger is better” and “growth is good” what I didn’t realize at that time was that instead of controlling my business I was growing it to the point where it controlled me. I never asked myself the question “is this going to make me happy?” I was just so happy to be working for myself I didn’t think it would come to a point where I would be unhappy with it. I mean this is the “American Dream” right? Entrepreneurship and success?

Here is a photo of some of the first soaps I ever made

first soaps

So when I had grown it to a point of having a store front, a 24 page full color catalog, tv commercials, being featured in broadway plays, a coffee shop, a website, 4 employees, 4 interns and 50 stores carrying my candles worldwide I thought gosh I have it made, but why am I not happy? This is what everyone works for right? To have their own business and be successful. Everyone was always telling me "WOW you’re lucky!” Yet as much as everyone kept saying that I didn’t feel it. People came into my store and constantly told me oh I know a store that will carry these or they would tell me they want to invest to turn it into something even bigger.

Here is a photo of part of my studio during that time


I thought all of this was the natural progression of business and that I should want all of this, but the reality was I had come to a point in which it was too much for me and I had no life outside of my business. I couldn’t keep a serious relationship, all of my friends had to visit me while I was working and half the time I’d put them to work while they were there because I was so tired and overworked. I realized this was no life for me. I did this to be free and now I felt more trapped than ever. Everything was happening so fast and I felt the business was making decisions for me, rather than me making decisions for it.

Here is a photo of the candles that made me famous shall we say ;-)

soul searching candles

It was at the end of 2003 that everything changed for me. I became the victim of internet credit card fraud during the holiday season of 2003. At that time I lost everything I had and had to fight to make it survive another year. I closed my store and manufacturing at the end of 2004 and closed my business. My business was destroyed and I had to pick up the pieces and make sense of it now. I was devastated and went through some extremely hard times. To this day I am still repaying debt from this situation and working on resolving all of the tax issues it caused.

There is a bright side to this story though. Strangely I am happier than ever with my business as this catastrophe caused me to restructure my business in a way that was made for me. I am now a sole proprietor that works for myself, I mostly make soap as it is less labor intensive than candle making and I operate it as a small business with no intention of growing big. I’ve learned to say “no” to things I know down the road will not work with my life. My business and my life have to work together or it doesn’t work at all. I’ve learned that “bigger is not always better.” I am posting this today for those who are starting their own small business or turning a craft into business. I’d like to offer some advice that I feel is essential to the success of all small business owners.

My advice: “listen to your inner voice, take a step away from your business on a daily basis and ask yourself what best suites your life with your business being a part of it? They have to work together, make decisions everyday based on what you want your life to be, not on what you want the business to be as the business will naturally become what you want it to if you put yourself first.”

Here is a photo of some of my current soaps

bulk soap photos 012

I hope sharing this story helps those just starting out or those trying to make big decisions now or maybe you are where I was at some point in this story and it triggers you to make the right decision at this point of your business. I wish everyone at any stage of becoming an entrepreneur or small business owner much success and happiness in your life and business.


  1. Hi, thanks for sharing that story. Your story inspired me to do wisely and wait for that momentum when business meant to flourish.
    Life after all has to be enjoyed and not be mastered by anything that could rob joy and happiness from us.


  2. What a great post DeShawn! I will continue to listen to my inner voice. The last thing I want is to miss out on is my children as they grow. Thanks for the deep breath :)

  3. You're not alone DeShawn, I felt the same way when I had my graphic design business, albeit it was on a much smaller scale than what you describe. Sometimes simpler is better and more rewarding.

  4. Great post DeShawn!
    I often feel like I am not building my business as quickly as I could or should. Your experience has made me realize that I am doing just what I need to do to not be overwhelmed and still keep it enjoyable.

    I didn't know about your financial troubles, that is awful! I hope things are straightened out by now.

    You are an inspiration.

  5. You're welcome. I've been through quite a bit with it all, but can say I've learned quite a bit as well. Happy if any of this helps anybody.

  6. Thank you so much for this post, DeShawn! I'm one who is very very small and impatient to grow bigger. And I'm always feeling I need 36 hours in a day to do what I need to do. Your sage advice is such a great reminder to take one step at a time, don't stress and enjoy the journey!

  7. wow thank you for sharing your personal story with us! I often get caught up with wanting to grow my business bigger, but realize that then comes more sacrafices in other areas!

  8. Thank you for the post DeShawn. Your story confirms again that there is almost always a silver lining in everything. I always try to remember that often we have to slow down, and sit back long enough to really be able to listen to ourselves to figure out where we want to go, and what needs balancing in our lives, because something always does. I also know that people love success stories, and that this can create a lot of pressure. Quite often the under belly of a success story is someone who has gotten away from doing to what they really love to do.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  9. Your story really hit home for me, DeShawn. Thanks for sharing.


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