Anne-Marie Faiola started her career working as a correctional officer in a medium security prison. But she got disillusioned after a couple months on the job, and turned to soap making as an escape. Faiola soon realized she could not only sell her products—she could inspire people to take up her same hobby and turn it into a career. Brambleberry, her soap supply company, was born.
In her new book, Live Your Best Day Ever: Thirty-Five Strategies for Daily Success, Faiola shares the powerful lessons she’s learned as an entrepreneur. Forté sat down with Faiola to talk about how she bootstrapped her company from the ground up, why she continues to stay connected to her consumers, and how to tackle seemingly insurmountable projects by buckling down for twenty minutes a day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Forté: Why did you decide to write this book?
Faiola: Writing the book was really an extension of the extensive writing I’ve done on the SoapQueen.com blog for a decade. I’ve always shared what I’ve learned in business on the blog, and overtime I realized that I wanted to be able to reach a wide number of people to share the story of how Brambleberry got started, what I’ve learned along the way, and what my mentors have learned along the way.
The blog was a nice format for doing that, but it wasn’t the best format. I met the publisher of Forbes Media at a Fortune magazine conference about three years ago and that’s how the idea got started. And once I agreed to do it, it was one of those plodding, doing-it-everyday trudges. And two years later, the daily trudge turned into a book.
Forté: Tell us the story of how you founded Brambleberry.
I’ve always been really crafty ever since I was a young child. I started making soap when I was 16, and it really stuck. My degree is in psychology with an emphasis in criminal justice. I have a strong desire to help people and strong desire to serve, and coming out of school I though thought corrections was the place to do that. So I took a job first in a medium security prison, then in a minimum security prison, as a correctional officer. I lasted under a year. I was going home every night and I was making soap. That was my creative place, my happy place. Soap is science.
When it came time to quit my job as a corrections officer, I never thought of soap making as a potential career. I just needed something to pay my $454 mortgage. So I took all that soap and I started selling it at farmers’ markets. And the first weekend I sold over $1000 in soap, and that was all cash sales. That was 1998. And I had no business experience to speak of. But I had this giant overwhelming feeling of ‘oh my goodness, if I can sell this much, how can I help other people? I can other people who are interested in crafting or frustrated with their careers how to make soap.’
So I put $15,000 on a credit card and started the company, which was then called Brambleberry Handcraft Provisions. I put up a website myself, and I was off and running to the races. And within six weeks of starting I realized I couldn’t do it out of my house, so I rented basically a little 400 square-foot closet. I hired my first employee about six months in. And I just kept growing the company one order at a time, one order at a time, one order at a time. And now we have 91 employees, and a variety of businesses and income streams that I run.
Forté: You started connecting with your audience and sharing your business insights from the beginning – first through user forums, then blogging, now the book. Why?
Faiola: I believe that people buy from people they like, and that relationships are the cornerstone to any buying and purchasing decision. And so whether or not people knew me in person, I found that blogging and social media was a way to remove those barriers, and it was a way to talk to customers directly, and it was a way for them to talk directly back to me.
Second, I really like to teach, and I really like to share. And that made connecting with our customer base a natural way for me to go because that’s what I genuinely like to do.
Forté: What are some of the big takeaways from your book (no spoilers please!)?
Faiola: There are 35 strategies in the book, so don’t worry, I won’t give it all away! I think a really big takeaway is that small, tiny daily trudges, compounded by the power of time, lead to amazing results when you look back. If I’d thought, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to write a 76,000-word book,’ I don’t think I ever could’ve started that book. But what I told myself was I was going to write every day for 20 minutes a day, no more, no less.
That power of the daily trudge, the power of literally banging your head into a wall over and over and over again, doing the thing you need to do, putting one foot in front of the other even when you don’t feel like it, that’s where the magic is, that’s that grit that people talk about, that’s that resilience.
And anybody can do it at any point in their life, at any point in your career, by doing the same small, daily task to reach success.
Forté: It took you awhile to find your calling. What is your advice to young women who are in college, or maybe right out of college staring their first or second job, and still figuring out what they want to do?
Faiola: There’s a chapter in the book called ‘Feet First, not Head First.’ And what that means is to try little things until something sticks and until something feels good. So if someone wants to start a business, go try it—go try out a few clients.
Try things out on a small scale until you know you’re ready to take a leap.
Join us on Facebook on Oct. 31 at 11:30AM for a live conversation with Anne-Marie, hosted by Morra Aarons-Mele. These two powerful women will share the strategies that helped them build companies, write books, and stay grounded while working towards their goals. Got questions for Anne-Marie, or entrepreneurial insights of your own to share? Drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter with #ForteLive.