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Business & Family

baby baker

Before there was Maia, before there was my husband, there was my bakery.

I started Butterfly Bakery of Vermont only a year and a half out of college. You could say that I’ve always been on an entrepreneurial track. My childhood friends and I regularly set up business on the footpath that ran through our residential neighborhood. We started with fresh squeezed lemonade, but later branched out into baked goods and similar sundries. We were avid babysitters too. bakery babesWe made sure to knock on the door of every new family that moved in, so they knew who the babysitting options were and what we each brought to the job. So creating my own career path after college, instead of asking someone else to make one available for me, just felt natural. I didn’t have a family to support, I could live cheap with roommates and my time was my own to allocate to the many, many hours that starting a business necessitates.

Just like being a mom, sleep, food and relationships often took a backseat to the needs of this new life that I was trying to create. I didn’t go on a single date for the first 3 years of my business’ life.

sleeping on the jobI’m fairly risk adverse, so growing the business has been a long hard slog. I never wanted to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to get things moving faster, so I spent many years below the poverty line. And oh the missteps! There was the $1000 I lost to having to pull moldy product off the shelves (it was the last $1000 in my savings account) or the $400 batch of cookies with no salt or baking powder in it (I cried). There were the many ventures and variations that I attempted in hopes of finding a niche that would bring in money – like delivering scones to local businesses or having kids sell granola as a school fundraiser. There were the many, many, many attempts at new recipes and products, most of which no customer needed to know about, but often ended up at the table at a friend’s potluck. But things kept chugging forward and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

cute salespersonBut then I met my man, we married and started a family. My priorities shifted. My love of a good, hard day’s work was no longer as satisfying as the love that I could come home to. I spent a lot of time trying to decide if owning a business was compatible with my new life. Owning a business is demanding. I often work before Maia wakes up and after she goes to sleep. I might find out in the morning that one of the many people that my life is carved around (my daughter, my husband, my employee, myself) is sick and the order that was supposed to go out today won’t make it out the door. No money for me. Or maybe I can make it work if I can keep the toddler entertained long enough with whole grain cookies, non-latex gloves, and STICKERS! to stay away from the 8 high stack of 50 lb bags of oats while I pack the bags of granola. Or perhaps the account is able to wait, I can postpone those weekend family plans and the order will be available for pickup on Monday.

sorting hot sauceBut owning a business while starting a family also has a lot of advantages. I may not get sick time, vacation pay or a 401K, but my schedule is mine to create. No one is going to fire me if I screw up (although I’ve definitely lost an account or two). I bring in a full-time income, but we only send Maia to daycare 3 days per week. Maia is also getting some unique experiences. She is at every farmer’s market with us, she spent a lot of her early days on the bakery floor while I did small baking projects and I get to teach her that following your passion can be both hard and rewarding. I’m seriously looking forward to the first time she gets to sell something that she created.

granola photoshootBefore Maia was born my business had stagnated. I wasn’t making enough money to hire someone, but I also was flat out busy at the bakery. I was spending too much time making cookies and not enough time selling cookies. If I wasn’t physically in the bakery, no money was coming in to keep the lights on. I was making an income, but not as much as I wanted to for the stage of life that I was in. I was hoping that my impending bundle of joy would be the disrupter that I needed to break out of the rut and make my business actually perform. Thank goodness she did the trick.

packing hot sauceThe first thing was those three days per week that Maia was in daycare. I had to make those days count and I wasn’t allowed to run late.

My husband might acquiesce a few late days each week, but daycare is a little less forgiving. So I started cutting things that weren’t pulling their weight. I discontinued products that had high rates of credits (many stores require me to buy back baked goods that don’t sell by their expiration date). The financial side of the credits was taken into account for the price of the product, but it was still a waste of my precious time to make something that no one was going to buy. I learned which business tasks needed to be done at nap time (no buyer wants to hear “mommy, mommy, mommy, booger” on the other end of the phone line), and which tasks I could get done while Maia was around (she loves to watch me cook and always stirs the mustard before I put it on the stove).

farmers market helperBut 3 days wasn’t enough to get everything done. Especially not at the holidays. So I finally made the move to hire someone. Best move ever. It’s like magic.

Suddenly I have time to build more accounts and develop more products. More accounts plus an employee means that I am now making more money and working fewer hours than I was before Maia was born.

I recently mentioned this at an entrepreneurial meetup and a collective “Ooohh” went around the room. This is imperative as now kiddo number 2 is on the way. The days of alone time during nap time are numbered. And the days of daycare expenses that exceed our mortgage are looming. So I need to give myself a raise. That means that I need to get my sales up by 50% by the time I go on maternity leave. Oy. Good times.

eating cookiesFortunately, I have a good natured kiddo who just likes to experience the world. This means that I can take her on deliveries with me when I need to. Usually my husband watches her for a 1/2 day while I do a 100-mile loop around Vermont, but the dude sometimes gets sick or has work obligations that can’t be moved. Maia loves helping me push the cart piled high with totes. She’ll hand me cookies to put on the shelf. We’ll go somewhere fun for lunch. And when she takes her car nap I’ll hang out on my phone and chat with my internet friends. I have no idea if my second kid will be as much of an eager participator. Or if Maia will always be willing to stay by my side when I’m checking in my cookies in the store’s receiving area. But if (haha, WHEN) something changes, I’ll try to have a new plan already in mind. Or come up with something on the fly. For now, business ownership and parenting are working well together. Gosh, I hope that this is always the case. My bakery is my first baby and I’m glad that it’s flexible enough to accommodate some new additions to the family.

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3 Responses to Business & Family

  1. alex pastor May 3, 2016 at 5:57 am #

    So inspirational, Claire. Always the trailblazer!

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