On October 5 I had the awesome experience of speaking at the Happy Healthy Women Abundance Summit. Here is that speech. (photo courtesy of Natalie Colalillo's cell phone - lol)
My name is Laura-Jean Bernhardson, I’m an Entrepreneur and Business Coach and a Trailblazer with Happy Healthy Women.
When Natalie asked me to speak, I thought my topic was going to be marketing. So I said yes.
When Natalie updated me and said my topic was Abundant Success, I laughed out loud.
That news came on a day I felt much more like an expert in Abundant Chaos.
Abundant Plans that Aren’t Currently Working. It was one of those days.
But I sat on the news and thought… Wow, yes, I guess I do have abundant success. And this is what it looks like- the chaos, the plans that change, the unfinished lists of things to do….
In my life as an entrepreneur, I am the Founder and CEO of Fresh Collective.
This is a fashion retail business started in 2003 specializing in womenswear made by local designers. We have 3 locations - Kensington, The Beaches and Roncesvalles Village, and then an online store as well.
I also design a line of clothing that we sell there called Palette by Laura-Jean.
I’ve been a business owner in the fashion industry since 1992, starting as a jewellery designer, a knitwear designer and then getting into retail.
I also have another business, Rowanwood Daycare, which I partnered with the founder in 2008 so I’ve been a co-owner there. I got involved with that business because my son was going there when he was a baby.
Over my career, I’ve also co-hosted a TV show and produced a How-To DVD on knitting among various other projects.
On the coaching side of my work, I love working with clients- mostly women- who are building their businesses.
I find it incredibly fulfilling to be able to take all my experience- all the things I learned the hard way- and just hand it over as a solution for someone else.
In my personal life, I also am involved with two different groups that are sponsoring Syrian refugees to come to Toronto.
We have 2 families here so far, and 3 still in Lebanon who are waiting for paperwork to process. Our group is currently fundraising to support 2 of the families who are there waiting.
And then in my family- I have a son, a step-daughter, my boyfriend and 3 dogs - Stuart, Louie and Walter the Boxer puppy!
People often ask me how I do it all, and while there’s no simple answer, there are some themes that keep popping up that allow me to have a lot going on in my life and manage it while usually keeping a smile on my face.
The first theme is my “why” in all of this. I love living a totally created life. All of my businesses and projects are part of my creative expression, part of who I am and part of my gift to the world.
I have written on a blackboard in my office: What do I get to do today? And then underneath it reads Love, serve, inspire, grow, spread joy, beauty and do good work.
Those are the things I get to do every day in my work, and I wrote that there to remind me of 2 things.
#1) I “get” to do my work.
Whenever I feel the overwhelm, and feel I have to do this, I have to do that… and then I have to check my emails, I switch have to to get to.
This reminds me that I CHOSE this life.
I’m glad I have emails to answer!
I’m glad I have work to do!
I’m glad I have employees to coach and train…. Or whatever the tasks that are on my plate for that day are.
#2) It reminds me is what is at the CORE of all those tasks.
Something I am challenged by is a chance to GROW.
Working with customers is a chance to love, serve, spread joy and beauty.
And sometimes it is enough to just DO GOOD WORK. I love that feeling.
I find meaning in owning a daycare because I know what it’s like as a mother to worry about who is going to take care of your baby when you need to work.
That’s why I fell in love with the place enough to want to help it thrive. It removed that worry for me. I love being able to provide that in my community for other families.
And I find meaning in Fresh Collective because I love creating an environment where people love their jobs.
And customers love to shop. And local designers can sell their products. I love designing clothing that makes women feel beautiful and confident and provides them a wardrobe they can go out into the world and have a great life.
And I had to LOOK for this why. I have to nurture it and keep it alive and sometimes remind my team of it (and sometimes they remind me, which is pretty cool too) because, you know, it is work.
It’s budgets and deadlines and sales goals and heatwaves while our stores are full of fall clothing, like September of this year was!
The daycare is enrollment and inspections and compliance and staffing. It’s all work.
But for me, when I’m in touch with the WHY and that why in everything is alive for me, then it’s wonderful work that I’m blessed to be able to do,
Some people ask me how I manage my time. Like literally what do my days look like.
Now some people who juggle multiple businesses are very disciplined at chunking their time- Monday is for this and Tuesday is for that. I’m not like that.
I schedule each day but there is a flow depending on what needs my attention.
Last week I had a day where I analyzed past marketing data to come up with October’s plan for Fresh Collective, popped by the daycare for a visit just in time for joining them for Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Hokey Pokey.
Then I had to go to the bank and pay a $22,000 bill.
Then a call with a coaching client, a trip over to my Kensington store to shoot videos to promote new product and then of course all the usual little things like emails etc. No day is ever the same and I tend to flow from one thing to the next.
Every few months, my focus changes. I go wherever the business needs me and take on that job for several months developing that area and then handing it off to someone else to move to the next area.
My main job right now is marketing and business strategy for Fresh Collective. The daycare is set up so that it doesn’t need a lot of day-to-day involvement from my partner and me.
We have a monthly meeting with the Supervisor, and we’re available if she needs us, but it is set up to run more or less hands off from us. We do both stop in during the week to be a presence and just check in, but it doesn’t require a huge time commitment on an ongoing basis.
Of course, it took several years and a great team to have it running this smoothly.
Business coaching is something I can just fit in here and there throughout the week, so that works out perfectly.
Things weren’t always this smooth, of course.
Like many people hungry to grow my business, I kept on taking on more and more and more without understanding how to create sustainability through systems and structures.
I had 3 stores and a clothing line, a toddler and a dog in 2008 when I became a partner in the daycare. How did this come about?
When I joined up with the founder, my now business partner and dear friend Annie, the daycare was not yet licensed and operating with 5 or less children.
As I mentioned before, my son was one of those children, and I had got to know Annie over the couple years he was there.
I could see her passion for creating a special kind of place, and I wanted to be part of it and help her get over the hurdles to get the place licensed and thriving.
I thought I knew about running a business and while many things were similar- creating a brand, communicating that vision, budgets etc. what threw me for a loop was all the regulations.
I spent about a year working on the daycare- working with Annie and doing everything from fixing up the place to make place to make it cuter and developing a branded look for it to financial planning to writing the policy and procedure book.
I was so resistant to all the regulations at first. I love being free and unstructured and I tend to resist rules-both following them and making them. But over that year, I began to fall in love with the regulations!
I went from “Why do they have to have all these regulations! It’s impossible!” to “It’s great they have all these regulations… this keeps kids safe and tells us exactly what to do”
But my business epiphany was ….. “OHhhhhhhh so this is how you run a business.”
I came back to Fresh Collective with a new fire! I saw that I could set standards and hold people accountable to create success for the business! I could write the regulations!
So, with the help of my team, we started organizing the business and creating an Operations Manual.
Every time something new happened in the business that we didn’t have a policy on, we’d invent one and roll out the new policy.
Anytime there was a new “How do I do this?” question, we’d add a new documented system to the manual.
We organized this all in google docs, with links so that people could find what they needed when they needed it.
How to order supplies. What to do if the internet is down. How to process a return.
Now prior to this, the operation manual was mostly in my head!
There were days I felt like I was in some kind of endless trivia game show.
“Can we order 70 yards of this fabric or 50?”
“The stapler is broken at Kensington, what should we do?”
‘What’s the postal code at Roncesvalles?
“How much room is on the TD Visa?”
"A customer didn't get her online order. What should we do?"
The business was bigger than the structure supporting it.
I hadn’t known how to build those systems that were going to allow people to do their jobs well and independently.
The other thing that was happening because of this lack of structure was a lot of upset.
No one knew clearly what was expected of them and there was no clear direction we were headed.
I had a lot of growth in leadership ahead of me as well.
It took quite a few years to build a strong foundation for Fresh Collective.
Bit by bit, we created rules and structure, goals, budgets and policies. We reinvented the business model again and again, moving percentage point by percentage point closer to a model that was going to work.
As I saw the new results- the happy staff who stayed and hit sales goals, the happy customers who got great service because all store operations were systemized.
I saw a business that worked, that could grow and that I could actually grow my role in because I wasn’t in the thick of everything and busy putting out fires.
I went from someone who resisted rules, structure, deadlines and order to someone who LOVED them!
When I saw that they didn’t stifle creativity and passion, but they ALLOWED it to FLOURISH, I was hooked!
So it’s really melding these two worlds-
There’s the passion, the connection to people, the creativity and desire to contribute to the community with my businesses and projects.
This is all beauty and joy and hearts, flowers and unicorns.
And then there’s the business structures, discipline, defined standards, timelines.
This is all spreadsheets and budgets, pie charts and percentages.
And getting how these two worlds work together to create a business environment that’s inspiring, that grows and thrives, that retains employees and that allows them ownership over their job so that I can be free to pursue the next thing and the next and the next.
That’s how my totally created life with abundant success works.
I want to share a little story.
Several years ago, I was in the thick of trying to get the daycare working right, my son was a toddler, Fresh Collective was needing a lot of my attention.
I was having a fully overwhelmed day and I was talking to my then-husband about it and tears started coming.
He said something like, “You take on too much. You should do less…” He just didn’t want to see me upset.
I remember saying, “I’m not going to stop doing all this awesome stuff just because it sometimes makes me cry!!”
And that’s become a bit of a mantra for me.
I still sometimes cry. I still sometimes have total overwhelm where I feel like I’m failing at everything. That too is part of it. Part of a totally created life with abundant success.
Playing a big game, stretching myself to take on more comes with lots of missteps and tears. That’s what it looks like!
If there’s a message I’d love to leave you with it’s this:
If it’s not easy for you, you’re doing it right.
If it feels impossible some days, you’re expanding yourself.
You’re not playing small. You’re doing it!
That’s what it looks like playing full out and creating abundant success.