Sharon Rowe tackles the big topic of small business and as she says in her book The Magic of Tiny Business: You Don’t Have to Go Big to Make a Great Living, that tiny isn’t a size, it’s a state of mind. While entrepreneurs generally work exorbitantly long days and nights to have “success,” Rowe asks us to flip the lens a bit to re-engage with what success even means. That it just might be a whole other definition than what your mother and father or even most legit mentor taught you because it’s personal to you.
Sharon tells me: “I kept moving forward for a million different reasons and questioned myself along the way. What I’ve come to realize is that if you stay your course you’ll get somewhere more whole than if you allow little pieces of yourself to fall away at a time.”
As the CEO and Founder of Eco-Bags Products, Inc. ECOBAGS®, a small company that is now a $2.2 million dollar business recognized as “Best for The World” by Bcorporation for social and environmental commitments and standards, Rowe has walked the talk. Using her success story of Eco-Bags Products, Rowe takes entrepreneurs through the step-by-step process of building a scalable business that doesn’t infringe on one’s deeply instilled ethical values or free time.
Sharon is recognized as a thought leader in social innovation, sustainable and responsible production since 1989. She speaks regularly on building profitable, mission & value aligned businesses, believing that business can be a force for good, a currency for ideas that shape culture.
We were lucky to nail her down to her seat to answer the questions below and they might just change the way you look at business and life.
Talk about how you see “tiny” referring to your company as well as a large brand like Patagonia. Is “tiny” the honed in on heartbeat that keeps a business on track?
I use the concept of “tiny business” to articulate the intentionality, the niche focus that you can work to make a business profitable and purposeful. Much like a tiny house, where you keep what you need and discard what you don’t, a “tiny business” keeps at its core what works for the mission of the business and the health of the owner and those working in it. It’s a holistic approach that embraces and is skillful with growing profit as an asset that allows the business to breathe and scale if that’s desired. In many ways “tiny business” refers to conscious business where profit, planet and people are all part of the puzzle vs. driving for profit only while punishing or putting at risk planet or people. It takes a deep dive into expectations and understanding what’s “enough” to know the balance to work for.
You founded Eco-Bags with the background of your family owning a retail business when you were young sprinkled with an adult career of acting. How did both help you create the business you have today?
Growing up in a family business gave me the confidence to talk to anyone. My family business was an Army and Navy store (pre GAP) and with a small store, it’s all about building relationships! Acting and improvisation, training and performing, allowed me to practice being comfortably uncomfortable, to think on my feet and listen without an agenda…as a part of the process.
What’s the best advice you can give to help a startup business owner get clarity for the life/work balance they want?
Know what your minimum is…what is the least amount you need to live on (cover all the basics) and then add on a % for fun and R&R. Reward yourself for the work you’re doing!
Pay yourself first even if you start with a small amount and increase it over time. This is very important. Write yourself a check or do an auto deposit. If you do this formally it will mean more than skimming cash.
Give your day a start and end time and don’t run over that time. Consider yourself a shop that opens and closes every day. Don’t work to exhaustion. Create efficiencies that work by prioritizing.
Articulate what is most important to you, what gives you a sense of joy, whether it’s dinner with friends or yoga. Make sure to include those activities.
Should we be redefining “success” more for today’s society and not on traditional models of success?
YES! Success is tied to “what’s enough” and that’s different for every person. Success for me means freedom of time with financial stability. Understand that building a business or brand takes time. It took me 28 years to get where I am and I started from scratch with a husband who’s a teacher and musician.
You mention if women talked about their work more, shifting the conversation to “how can we work together and play together” in life’s big sandbox that it could be revolutionary. Talk about that.
This is big. It’s my experience that when women get together as friends we hardly ever talk about our work other than annoyances and complaints and then we move on to family, etc. What if we used each other to solve problems and discuss and create opportunities to work together? When my book launched, a woman in my book club offered to put me in touch with a major media outlet in NYC where she’s a senior editor which led to an interview and doing a podcast. Before she opened this door, I didn’t really know what she did!