Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Michelle Mills, founder of Nature's Willow, located in Cincinnati, OH, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
At Nature's Willow, we've created a line of topical products to help hard-working folks manage pain and soothe their irritated, itchy skin. Our patented blend features white willow bark and helichrysum, which are ancient remedies that alleviate pain and inflammation. Our loyal customers first discovered Nature's Willow on the shelves of a farm store or their local co-op. They look for a more natural alternative to synthetic drugstore brands and intentionally choose products with no dyes, parabens, or artificial fragrances.
Tell us about yourself
I'm motivated every day when I talk to our customers who have used our pain-relieving cream for years. We put our phone number right on the package, and it rings through to someone on our team. You could get me, the CEO, or the intern! We don't use an answering service and love to hear stories of how Nature's Willow has helped ease our customers' pain. They are usually searching for one of our products, and their favorite store is out of stock, so we help direct them to our store locator, online ordering site, or Amazon. Sometimes they just want to tell us about their health journey and how we've played a part.
I started making "Willow Balm" in my kitchen back in 2009. I was searching for a topical cream that would work on my mom's fibromyalgia pain but not contain the junk in creams on the drugstore shelf. Mom had developed sensitivities to other products, so we set out to find a solution ourselves. Twenty-one recipes later, I had mom's perfect formula for pain relief using white willow bark and pure essential oils. My hobby turned into a business, and I'm so proud of all we've accomplished so far as a female-founded company.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
One of the unique aspects of our business is the fact that customers love giving our products to their friends and neighbors. The phone calls from our customers sharing how our products have improved their daily lives are always impactful. Hearing how they can sleep better, play with their kids longer, and especially when they have been able to reduce oral pain relievers. Hearing those things makes all of the hard work over the last decade well worth it. And the fact that everything has basically been word of mouth so far is a reminder that people truly love helping each other when they find something that works!
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The highs are high, and the lows are low. We celebrate the highs as a team, but as a business owner, the only person to blame when the goals aren't met or mistakes are made is the person in the mirror.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- If you have an idea for a product or service that you know in your heart has to be in the marketplace, do whatever you have to do to make it happen. But don't quit your day job. You'll need to work and sacrifice (from your own bank account) instead of immediately seeking funding from others.
- See things clearly from the start. Self-employment doesn't mean working for yourself. It means having thousands of bosses every day (your customers.) Be ready to disregard the traditional sense of work because starting, running, and growing a business is an ultra-marathon. Someone once told me that patience is my superpower, and I believe that patience and perseverance (along with a dash of being a dreamer) are what it takes to stick with your business through the hard times.
- Your best customer is your current customer! Pay attention to what they say and their feedback. Anyone loyal enough to share feedback about your product or service is probably your best teacher, better than any marketing or sales consultant.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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