Long before the dust settled on the apex of COVID-19 (we hope), small businesses had been completely transformed, for better and worse. By April 2020, the number of female business owners in the U.S. had dropped by millions. By September 2020, a Yelp Economic Impact Report revealed that 60% of halted businesses made their closures permanent.
And then there were small business owners who make their pivot stick through new products and services. According to another Yelp report released in March 2021, nearly half a million new, local businesses opened over the past year, too. And for direct-to-consumer online businesses like Nikki Reed’s BaYou With Love, there have been unintended blessings.
“We were a direct-to-consumer business prior to the pandemic and then continued on that path. And one of the silver linings of the many tragedies that span this pandemic is that…a lot of people that were hesitant to purchase things online found themselves a little bit more comfortable,” she told BlogHer.
Shopping from the couch also encouraged us to research before purchasing, leaving room for sustainable and ethical brands like BaYou to grow and thrive.
“They formed a connection with the businesses that they were purchasing from, as opposed to blind purchasing; walking into a department store and purchasing something because you like the piece, but not knowing anything about the designer, where it was made, and how it was made,” she added. So though we shouldn’t ignore the incredible amounts of hardships of 2020, it seems we’ve at least come out on the other side with smarter shopping habits.
Reed, who describes herself as a lifelong student, is also evolving as a business owner juggling family and other creative pursuits. Ahead, and in her own words, the multi-hyphenate shares how she balances the dichotomy of professional growth and wanting to keep her business small.
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Learning to Let Go and Learn
I never feel like I’m the teacher. I love to learn. It’s not like I’m just focusing on design or overseeing projects. I do everything from product photography to website photography. I write all the copy for the website. I oversee accounting, operations, and then of course the creative, like design and beyond. I’m always taking tutorials. For me, being a business owner means constantly learning. It means not being afraid to take classes and learn things you don’t know.
I love working with people who have skill sets that go beyond mine. I like hanging out with friends who have opinions and knowledge that go beyond mine. I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who help you grow, even if that’s your co-workers or employees.
I definitely think there’s something about being a business owner and holding onto the integrity of the company, by making sure that your vision is felt and seen throughout. When you look at, BaYou With Love, you know that’s my company because you feel me throughout, whether that’s through the art and the creative or it’s the essence.
But when it comes to understanding your role within the company, I still play just one of many. My COO is the Robin to my Batman. I could never operate the company without her and I would never be afraid or ashamed to say that. And that goes with all of the people that work for the company. I think that everybody plays such a valuable role. I love recognizing, applauding, highlighting, and helping people grow within their roles as well.
Rejecting the Multi-hyphenate Hustle
I would be contradicting myself immediately if I said that I have that figured out. I’m a passionate person, and I think most entrepreneurs or anybody who finds themselves in the startup field will also admit that, like, they’re not the best at the work-life balance. But right now, I am working on it.
This year, we had many company meetings about—even if it’s not something that you have prioritized—how we feel within the company. Do we feel energized by our work, or do we feel depleted? Do we feel like we’re excited on Monday mornings, or do we feel exhausted? We take internal polls, even on a friendly basis, to make sure that everybody’s showing up to work, feeling good, excited, and energized. If they’re not, what are the areas where we can either subtract or add things that create a quality experience and work-life?
Also, even though we’re a startup, I really want to prioritize vacation time and encouraging all employees and myself, because I’m the worst at listening to my own advice. We’re all a part of this, 21st-century disease of the modern man working.
We think it’s normal to work not just five, but sometimes seven, days a week. A lot of us do. We’re like, okay, it’s not a big deal to catch up on emails Sunday night. That is a big deal. This is a bigger conversation, but we’ve normalized that for two reasons: A, the housing market and cost of living is simply unaffordable. We have to come up with a better structure. As a country, we have to support our people better.
But number two, on a more esoteric level, we’ve glorified the overworking, under-living thing, because we’ve glorified efficiency and multi-hyphenate, lifestyles as a culture. It sounds beautiful and we feel driven, accomplished, and really purposeful, but what’s happened as a consequence of that is that we’re depleted, we’re sicker and we’re not enjoying our lives. But it’s two-fold, right? It’s a little bit silly to say like, well, great, we’ll all just stop working so much. Well, that doesn’t actually work for all lifestyles and costs of living.
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Reimagining Social Media
There’s so much societal pressure because of what we see on Instagram. I get people that say to me all the time, “wow, you must have such an easy, calm, amazing balance, because we see that like you’re traveling and have time to read books and put your feet up.” And I’m like, no, no, no, let me just be clear. I need to kind of reconfigure the message that I’m putting out there too. I don’t want to glorify the overworking thing as being easy because the truth is I’m busting my booty.
At a certain point, you have to look at yourself and say, what am I going to do to actually make the changes that I speak of? I have a lot of social media boundaries where you’re never, like, in my kitchen, seeing what I’m making for breakfast. I have a personal boundary there but the consequence of that is people think that since I’m not posting selfies and videos all day of me sitting behind my desk, staring at a computer, going through spreadsheets, going through analytics, so they assume that my life must just be taking pictures of trees because that’s the side I choose to share.
When I’m on social media, I look up sustainable businesses and connect with other business owners. I use it completely as a tool for furthering my own knowledge and understanding about my areas of passion and not as a tool to stare at other people’s lives. I love the Explore page because I actually find a lot of amazing businesses that way.
The Benefits of Not Scaling
I feel you just retain a certain level of integrity within a company that is really difficult when you scale rapidly. Even just within production and supply chain, for example, I choose to work with factories that I can see and know on a personal level because I’m producing smaller quantities than some of these massive companies and corporations. When you scale like that, you simply can’t maintain the integrity of the product. Most of the time, you can’t because bigger also means cheaper.
I like small because it means that I can still have my hands on every aspect of the company. It means I can understand where we’re at, what we’re doing, how we’re growing, what materials are being used. When you’re sourcing sustainably, there are limited quantities to those stones. For example, if I’m hand-selecting hand-cut stone from a specific mine, that’s only producing X amount of stones per year, that makes sense. But once you’re trying to sell 150,000 units of that same piece, you have to make different choices on where and how you source.
I envisioned BaYou always staying a small company for that reason. Everybody has their own path and my goal might look a little different from most. Of course, we’d like to continue to be a profitable company so we can create opportunities for people but we are as much a product-driven company as we are a mission-driven company. But our goal is not to scale to the point of stepping outside of being a small business.
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