How to Build A Successful Brand From Nothing (While raising a family!)
Meet Gillian Stollwerk-Garrett
We met Gillian Stollwerk-Garrett during our crowdfunding campaign on iFundWomen. She had launched her campaign a few months before us and quickly became our go-to resource for all things crowdfunding, as well as, one of our biggest cheerleaders. Her authenticity and “don’t wait until things are perfect, just go for it” attitude have encouraged us more than she knows. We’ve kept in touch virtually and when she was in Nashville several months later, we met her for lunch and found her to be even more smart, supportive and gorgeous in real life!
In a few short years, Gilly has taken her homemade beauty product business, Gilly’s Organics, from just an idea to a successful online brand, and she’s seen her products go up on shelves in multiple Whole Foods stores around the Northeast. Plus, she’s done it all while raising her three young children (though she does credit yoga and an amazing therapist for helping her stay sane!).
We were excited to catch up with her on all things life and business. She was, once again, very generous with her time and willingness to share her insights with us. Now, we’re excited to share them with you so you can apply them to your own business!
Q: You have such an interesting story. Could you tell us a bit about how Gilly’s Organics came to be and what your growth has looked like over the past couple of years?
A: After working for a few years freelance writing for Estée Lauder, I was getting tired of writing “fresh, crisp, summery” for their fragrances … plus I had started to live a more natural, organic life. After meeting my husband in an organic cafe, we began eating and shopping much cleaner. Also, the VP feeding me consulting work got let go. I had two (of three) babies at the time, and we were living in NJ. My husband asked me what I wanted to do, and I just answered, ‘I’m gonna make a product!’ And then … I did! I made a sugar scrub called “Hey Sugar, Lookin’ Good!” and that’s how it all began.
Q: You definitely have a brand built around yourself. What has that experience been like?
A: At first, I didn’t like it. When I made the name, I didn’t envision it in the future and having to promote myself and my name all the time. It took getting used to, but I do embrace it now that we ALL buy products and services because of the owner (or salesperson or face of the brand) and if we relate to them! I know I do. Once I embraced this, I put my genuine self out there and decided to remember that you cannot market to everyone! Not everyone wants what I’m selling, and that’s cool! There are billions of people out there and plenty who want what I’m making. Plus, when you market to everyone, you market to no one (I learned that one from Marie Forleo’s B-School)!
Sometimes people water down their message. They make it generic to appeal to everyone and play it safe. Be it their packaging or their social media, every brand has a voice. Once I figured out that that voice was my own voice, I decided not to apologize for it, and whoever it resonated with became my customers because the product inside does have a broad range of appeal. The product inside is good for all ages and all skin types, so it’s really more about the brand message. I suppose I’m still figuring it out, but it has gotten much clearer over the years. This has made it easier for me to promote Gilly’s Organics.
Q: What kind of content and marketing strategies have worked best for you?
A: Social media has been EVERYTHING for me. My customers and friends are so supportive and love seeing a little brand that started with no money grow! I’ve had lots of amazing women tell me my hustle has inspired them to follow their entrepreneurial spirit, and that makes me stay on course because I’m inspired back! When I get in a new Whole Foods, I always do something silly, like take a picture in front of the store doing a handstand and cartwheels and any other silly stunts — I think this sort of authenticity has helped. Being brave has been my best marketing strategy.
Q: How do you handle the always-on-the-go life of a mom and entrepreneur? What perspectives have you found helpful to enjoy the craziness?
A: Good one. It’s a daily decision-making process. All caregivers have this. “What is the most important element of my day today?” I will ask it and then schedule it. Some days it’s science fairs and Halloween parties, other days it’s trade shows, panel talks and admin work. Every day I will work, but as I get older and wiser and do NOT want to burn out, I will often be very realistic with people about deadlines — like with this lovely article. I knew my time and when I could deliver. I try not to apologize for my life choices. Working out is usually a must. It’s my anti-anxiety drug because entrepreneur life can be stressful!
Q: Tell us about your blooming relationship with data and why it’s feeling more important to you. What steps are you taking to couple your strong intuition with a more systematic approach to paying attention to what’s working?
A: It’s definitely a work in progress, but I am starting to track SEO and see who clicked and who bought which products and getting to know who my primary customers are.
Q: Where do you see yourself and Gilly’s Organics in the next year?
A: New, clean, upgraded packaging; more stores and boutiques; and a team!
Q: What are a few pieces of advice you would give a woman who is just starting out growing their business?
A: Start NOW. The kinks will iron out. You don’t want to wait. There are resources everywhere! Use them to:
Raise money on crowdfunding sites like iFundWomen.com
Attend networking events
Join online groups and chats to learn more about your customers
You can teach yourself so much these days online!
You can keep your day job and start your dreams on the side!
Also, ask for help! We can’t do it all alone.
Do you know how many friends have offered me help and I haven’t taken it? Don’t do it all alone. Get an intern. Find a mentor in your field. Or even not in your field. I have a few, and they have been so instrumental in my growth, mostly because of the confidence I have gained and seeing that it can be done.
Don’t not take the chance because it’s hard and you might fail. Lots of businesses fail. What it’s really all about — and I still need to remind myself this too — is the journey. Make sure you are passionate about your endeavor because money can’t be the only reason to work hard! I have frequently worked side jobs to support my dream because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.
The trick is to view everything as an opportunity to learn and grow while having fun.