You asked for more content around business finances, so we’re delivering. Welcome to Money Matters where we give you an inside look at the pocketbooks of CEOs and entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll learn what successful women in business spend on office spaces and employee salaries, how they knew it was time to hire someone to manage their finances, and their best advice for talking about money.
Before Evan Guiton started Bee Kind, she was on a very different career path. “I was working as a scuba diving instructor on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and all I wanted was to spend as much time as possible hanging out with humpback whales,” she tells Create & Cultivate. But she couldn’t ignore the devastating effects of plastic pollution on the ocean. “As someone who was spending significant time underneath the water, I had a front-row seat to the suffering and destruction ocean plastic pollution was causing,” she explains. “Every single dive I went on I would encounter a fish or marine animal who was having some sort of interaction with a piece of plastic.”
After a while, it became hard for her to reconcile enjoying the ocean without being a part of the solution, which is how the idea to launch a business that reduces single-use plastic, came about. “I wanted to educate people about the seriousness of the problem and empower my community to become more sustainable in their everyday lives,” says Guiton. “By creating trendy, accessible, and affordable products that could replace everyday plastics, I knew I could bring zero-waste into the mainstream,” she explains of the concept behind Bee Kind. “Shortly after this revelation, I quit my job as a dive instructor and flew home to Canada to begin working on my first beeswax wrap prototype.”
Here, Guiton explains why she decided to bootstrap her business, shares the money mistakes she’s made along the way, and offers her best advice for entrepreneurs.
How did you fund Bee Kind? What were the challenges and what would you change? Would you recommend your route to other entrepreneurs?
I bootstrapped Bee Kind from the ground up, which means I never took any funding or investment. In the beginning, I spent a few thousand of my own dollars fleshing out a website, a logo, production supplies, and raw materials. I was lucky enough that I was able to make a profit almost instantly through local craft markets which encouraged slow but steady momentum forwards without digging much further into my own wallet.
While I am grateful I did it this way (as now I am happy to say I still own 100% of the business), it was a financial balancing act for many years. Without funding, I had to completely rely on company profits to slowly grow, in addition to being hyper-specific when it came to forecasting the purchase of raw materials. When you make these bulk purchases, your money is tied up in these raw materials for approximately four months before you begin to turn it around in sales of finished products. Knowing this, I had to be incredibly accurate when forecasting our growth.
What was your first big expense as a business owner and how should small business owners prepare for that now?
The first time I purchased our custom printed fabric I was horrified to learn about MOQs and the amount of customized product I would have to commit to upfront. I had very limited dollars to play with at the beginning, so I had to make compromises in what we could afford while still ensuring we created a really special product.
I recommend that business owners do A LOT of digging into any big purchases they are about to make. Is there a better deal out there? Are you absolutely sure that you need to spend money on this? Is there a better (or just different) way to achieve the same result? The more you can think outside the box in growing your business, the more you can help your bottom line. There are a million ways to achieve the same result, so don’t feel like you are cornered into throwing money at a problem.
What are your top three largest expenses every month?
Payroll, raw materials, and our photographer on retainer /social media content creators.
Do you pay yourself, and if so, how did you know what to pay yourself?
I’m four years into the business, and to this day I prefer to pay myself just enough to cover my bills and necessities. Putting as much money as I can back into the business so it can grow is my best investment. In all honesty, there came a point in time where all I wanted was a new production warehouse, and that meant infinitely more to me than having extra personal pocket money. The decision was that simple.
Would you recommend that other small business owners pay themselves? Why or why not?
I think business owners need to cover their bills and be comfortable so that they can mentally and creatively show up for their business every day. However, when they choose to start properly paying themselves completely depends on their personal situation. I think they also need to realize that putting money back into the company, in the beginning, could create much higher returns later on, and that might be worth it to them in the long run.
How did you know you were ready to hire and what advice can you share on preparing for this stage of your business?
For many small businesses, the founder is the accountant, the maker, the marketing specialist, the delivery person, and everything in between. While this was a stressful way to go about running a business, it was the only option financially for me for the first couple of years. I hired someone to help me make the beeswax wraps when I physically could not keep up anymore. Once I realized that hiring help was in fact not a financial burden, and instead, a fast track to growing the business, I was much more relaxed in adding more people to the team.
I knew that I had a lot on my plate as a business owner and that I absolutely did not want to add “becoming a manager to a team of people” to my to-do list. From the beginning, I clearly defined my employees’ roles as independent, self-starting, and with “choose their own schedules.” To this day, I have never written out a staff schedule and my team is there on any given day because they want to be, not because they have to. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup?
If I had one piece of advice to small business owners it would be this: hire a bookkeeper from the beginning. You don’t need anything fancy, but where it comes to your books, you want a professional keeping them straight. When you get bigger, you can look at getting a CPA, but at the start, a budget bookkeeper is all you need. For too long, I thought I could do it myself on Quickbooks online, and it was a giant learning experience.
What tools or programs are you using to manage your business finances? What’s worked and what hasn’t?
Quickbooks online and a great filing cabinet system are what I swear by. What hasn’t worked? Going at it alone without an accountant.
Do you think women should talk about money and business more? Why or why not?
Absolutely! As someone in charge of hiring new employees, I have often been in a position where I didn’t know what I should be offering in terms of compensation simply because no one likes to talk about what they get paid. If wages were talked about more casually, I think everyone would also become more ambitious in achieving salary milestones.
What money mistakes have you made and learned from along the way?
Every opportunity that involved us providing free (or almost free) product in exchange for “exposure” has been a hefty disappointment. In my humble opinion, the majority of companies that promise you exposure so that they can make money off you or your product should be approached with a great deal of caution. Put your time and efforts into organic engagement and creating genuine connections with your followers.
What is your best piece of financial advice for new entrepreneurs?
If you have a good idea and a blossoming business, you will get approached ALL the time for investment opportunities. If you’re thriving, people will want a piece. While this is incredibly flattering and exciting (especially at the beginning), the people you want on your team are not the ones asking for a piece of the pie during their first conversation with you.
Also, save money for a rainy day. Opportunities will come that you want to take advantage of which you need money for RIGHT NOW. Keeping a nest egg is an incredibly wise decision as it allows you to make big moves.