Hello and happy March, friend!
Last Thursday was A Drop in the Ocean’s SECOND BIRTHDAY! 🥳🥳🥳 I can’t believe it’s been two years already since I pressed “Publish” on our little corner of the interwebs.
We celebrated on Thursday by opening registration for our first annual Baja EcoWarrior Retreat, but today I want to take a moment and step back. Reflect on the last two years, and what I’ve learned. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the last two years have been a wild ride. Ups and downs and everything in between - sometimes all within the same day.
So today, I’m reflecting on the 12 things I’ve learned in the last two years as a sustainable and zero waste business owner.
1. Be true to your values. Always.
This is so true, not just in business ownership but in life, too. For ADITO, this looks like a thorough review process for all new products. If I don’t feel 100% great about a potential product, it’s not coming into the shop. Packaging, production, ingredients and materials, it’s all part of it.
It’s also looking at our messaging, our promotions, our shipping and delivery practices, our packaging - everything. Does it all fit in line with our values? If not, can we make it better? If it doesn’t feel right in my gut, it’s not happening.
2. It’s okay to change your mind and shift your focus.
A Drop in the Ocean has changed so much in the last two years. When we launched, I was adamant that we were a zero waste shop - no exceptions. I was building this business for people like me [at the time]. The people already in the zero waste lifestyle, DIYing everything, in all the zero waste Facebook groups, absorbing all the blogs, watching all the documentaries, going out of their way to keep their physical trash to an absolute minimum.
In truth, many of the decisions I made early on were made out of fear of being considered a hypocrite by the zero waste community. And that’s exhausting.
But about a year ago, I sat down and really reflected on my values and the impact that I want this shop to have on the earth.
I realized that we could have a greater impact by broadening our scope. Of course, still always in line with our values and our zero waste roots, but without the strict limitations. I had also changed a lot in the previous year; I was BUSY. I didn’t have the time or the energy to DIY everything anymore.
If I was this deep in the zero waste lifestyle and feeling this way, how was I supposed to expect the masses to adopt this new lifestyle, too?
A Drop in the Ocean is now a “sustainable living boutique,” and we are making sustainable living fun, beautiful, and - most importantly - easy. And lemme tell you, friend, that was the most freeing decision I’ve ever made.
How it started. One of our first product photos from when we launched on February 25, 2019.
3. It’s okay to be different.
When I look around at other zero waste shops, a theme usually emerges. Nearly every shop has the same product lines. But I knew from the start I wanted to do something different.
Most importantly, I wanted to support other small businesses as close to Tacoma as possible. The impacts of this decision, even though it may make marketing and recognition a bit slower, are immense.
Working with local businesses means that I can actually have conversations with other business owners, and create products and systems that otherwise wouldn’t exist. For example, all of our soap bars are custom-made for A Drop in the Ocean, five minutes from my home. Not only do I get to support a hyper-local, woman-owned business, but I also don’t have to deal with shipping emissions or costs, and use the same boxes over and over and over again.
Most of our refillable products are crafted just a couple hours away. These products aren’t typically sold in bulk, but because I’m working with another local, small business, we can do things a bit differently. I can buy in bulk, in returnable and refillable containers, and avoid all shipping packaging and costs. Our bulk products really are a closed-loop zero waste system. The only way this can happen is with local businesses.
I adore the relationships I’ve built with fellow business owners through this process. And I feel so privileged to be able to support these businesses every single day. Something I couldn’t have done or felt without looking around and saying, “Can I do this differently?”
4. Everyone has different resources. Don’t compare your reality to their Instagram.
With so many zero waste and sustainability shops popping up in the last few years, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. But every business owner has different backgrounds, visions, risk aversions, and resources.
I’m a single woman living in an apartment without a backup income. My journey is going to look wildly different than someone who has a spouse’s income to supplement, a larger savings, a lower risk aversion to taking on debt, no debt, a house, children, etc.
We typically only see the highlights on social media. We don’t see the late nights, the crying kids, the stress crying over a spreadsheet.
Slay in your own lane, and keep going.
How it’s going. One of my favorite shots of a recent addition to the shop.
5. No one talks about the growing pains.
When you look at business development programs, there’s the “how to get started” crowd and there’s the “how to hit 6-7 figures” crowd.
Where are the blogs and the groups for the “I’m established and starting to see some growth and holy shit it’s hard and how do I manage cashflow and when do I hire an assistant and how do I streamline my inventory systems, I feel like I’m broke but also my sales are increasing what do I do, help” crowd??
My working theory is everyone that’s in that crowd is too busy to write the blogs and manage the groups.
This is a very real phase of business and growing pains are very hard.
6. Build a team before you think you’re ready.
Hiring my virtual assistant, Nichole, was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I had been saying for a solid year that I needed an assistant before I finally pulled the trigger and my gawd I wish I had done it sooner.
There are only so many hours in a day. And we can say “you have the same number of hours in a day as Beyonce,” but let’s be real, Beyonce has a massive team around her, multiplying her effective hours in a day. Handing off even just a few tasks each week has been life-changing, and I’m so grateful to have her on the ADITO team.
In mid-2020, after launching his own consulting business, I also brought my friend Jensen into the ADITO team as our COO. Without his support, insights, systems thinking, and just all-around keeping me on track, A Drop in the Ocean would not have seen the growth we did in 2020. I feel so lucky to have someone who can push me to always do better and be better, challenge me, and stand by my side making this vision a reality.
7. There’s always going to be more to do.
There’s no way around this one. You can make all the lists and check them all off but the carousel never stops turning. (Have I been watching too much Grey’s Anatomy?)
How it started. Back in the days of in-person events, when I’d carry every piece of inventory with me everywhere I went, and all of our products could fit on a single 6-foot table.
8. There is no silver bullet.
Sustainability is COMPLEX. There is no silver bullet for anything sustainability-related, so the best we can do is stay true to those values and do what we can, when we can, where we can. We are operating in broken systems.
9. Holy shit...holiday season.
2020 was my first “real” holiday season. In 2019 we were still young enough that we didn’t have many online sales, and I was out of state for grad school graduation for half of it.
And holy hell, my friend, it was HARD. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder than I did for those weeks from Thanksgiving to New Years. Long, long days, late nights, early mornings, and shipping deadlines.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m immensely grateful for it. But that didn’t make it any less hard.
How it’s going. Real inventory organization and selfies at home with my product babies 😆
Ain’t no way that’s all fitting on a 6-foot table (and that’s only half!).
10. Take care of yourself.
After the craziness of the holidays, and facing very real burnout several times in the last year, I’m learning to set better boundaries.
Most recently, I’ve actually given myself the last three weekends off completely.
I’ve actually found that giving myself those two days off, I’m more focused and engaged during the week. I’m getting more done in the five weekdays than I was while waking up every-single-morning thinking “okay...time to get to work…”
Take care of yourself. Listen to what your body and your mind need. Honor them, and honor you.
11. This is the most rewarding experience.
It may be really freaking hard to run a business, but there is absolutely nothing else I would rather be doing. Nothing.
Watching this EcoWarrior community grow, learning more and more about sustainability and entrepreneurship, finding new products to help you live lighter on our planet, being granted the privilege of showing up in your inbox every Monday come rain or shine….it’s incredible.
I’m forever grateful. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Forever one of the coolest moments.
In 2019, A Drop in the Ocean was named Most Innovative Business by South Sound Business magazine.
12. Celebrate every win.
Every win matters, no matter how small.
Wanna know a secret? Every time you place an order with us, I get a notification on my phone, complete with a champagne pop as the notification sound. And you can be sure that I’m doing a happy dance with every single champagne pop, no matter the size of the order.
Every new EcoWarrior. Every new product photo I love. Every new milestone. Everything and anything I can celebrate, I’m celebrating. It makes all the struggles so worth it. Every day.
Whether you’ve just joined the EcoWarriors today, or you’ve been with us since the beginning, thank you for being here. I couldn’t do it without you, and I’m endlessly grateful.
Here’s to the next year! 🥂