My grandmother was a huge part of growing up. She influenced many of the decisions that would ultimately shape my life and I relied on her for advice. Particularly in situations when I needed an ethical lens through which to view an issue. In person she was soft-spoken, tactful, even passive; she also had a moral compass that was unwavering and she was active in defense of its direction her entire life. Some of her final thoughts to her grandchildren included a call to that action. Being possessed of neither her subtlety nor her sureness I am often reticent in that expression but for her I will try.
I believe in trusting other people. Not because of a blind faith but because trust is the foundation of anything we can define as society, community, or civilization. A child trusts a parent that a food is good, or a word is bad. A student trusts a teacher that the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, or that two plus two is four. We trust each other as we drive down a road that we will stay on the correct side of a thin line of paint. If someone who knows more than we do about a topic expresses a thought we listen, because if we didn’t we’d still be verifying that wheels should be round.
I have never been black in the United States so if I hear from black Americans that there are systemic issues that lead to their abuse I trust what I hear because they know more than me and I will act and vote accordingly.
One of the hardest parts about being your own boss is that sometimes you have to crack the whip (I came up with that phrase a while ago so if you've heard it before I apologize, I also apologize for the inevitable future when you hear it again, I have some, likely misplaced, pride in the conciseness of that sentiment).
I also apologize for the run on sentence. To all my former teachers, you tried.
Moving on. That challenge is especially true when one has a penchant for lethargy (I shall not apologize for attempting a pretty way to say lazy). One of my biggest shortcomings is that if I begin to slip I usually end up in a tailspin. I understand that is something of a mish mash of analogies but that is often how it feels. One day I'm getting up early, exercising, structuring my day, advancing in life, when some unforeseeable challenge pops up and I can't do an element of my routine. No big deal.
Then a week later it is three in the morning I've got a beer going and I'm about to level up in a video game for the third time in a night.
I have tried a myriad of strategies for combatting this weakness but nothing seems to stick. The only thing that works even at all is to never miss anything ever, which is all but impossible because, you know, life.
That leads to my newest theory, dare I say breakthrough? Based on my extensive experience and education in the field of mental health and the habits of productivity (if you missed that sarcasm our relationship is likely to be littered with awkward silences and hurt feelings) I have developed a new strategy. I call it the "Hard Reset."
If anyone has seen "The IT Crowd" you will be familiar with their lackluster catch phrase; "have you tried turning it off and on again." Since that is a relatively risky maneuver to perform in its truest form as it applies to humans I have figured out the next best thing.
It begins at the top of the proverbial hill, or as close to it as possible. If a day or two has gone by and my "to do" list has remained progressively more undone I initiate the reset. Generally speaking it is simple.
First thing to do is stay up all night.
While everyone that knows anything about health and well being catches their breath or rolls in their grave I'll continue.
I allow myself to do anything I'd like through the beginning of the night, from video games, TV, books, even having drinks (though staying away from, erm, OVER indulgence).
Around two or three in the morning I stop imbibing and have a cup of coffee or some chocolate espresso beans. Then shift to a TV show or movie. I find it next to impossible to sleep while a TV is on so I don't run the risk many do of drifting off. I'm still awake and engaged but I'm not wrangling theoretical physics. After that, and I think this is the key part, I go for a run at the time I'd LIKE to begin my day regularly. Post run I check/make my to do list and ensure it is not massively grueling and then start my day. The goal is to not nap or sleep until a (theoretically reasonable) hour the following night.
I haven't tried it yet but I'm starting one now, I'll let you know how it goes.
I can't believe it is already Sunday again. Not like things "flew" by per se but I feel like I just sat down to write last week. Not sure I am cut out for a self imposed schedule. Luckily a few interesting things happened this week. As Governor Mills tentatively begins laying out a path for the "re-opening" of the state people are actively becoming more opinionated on the path forward. It seems in some ways that for at least a while we found a certain solidarity in fear. There were of course outliers who scoffed at precautions but it did feel that as a whole there was a united front. As the initial shock wears off, and people start to go stir crazy as the weather improves, that front shows its first signs of fracture. For myself I feel curious as much as anything. There is a lot of talk about things "returning to normal" and I'm not convinced that isn't overly optimistic. Not in some melodramatic way about the fundamental structure of society changing necessarily but I wonder if there will be little leftovers from this shared experience. I wonder if handshakes will begin to fade away as a common greeting. I wonder if some people will take to always wearing masks. I wonder if we will take to standing six feet apart.
I admit that all of those things raise in me a little twinge of sadness. We need to be safe, we need to be smart, we need to listen to the people who know more than we do, we also need closeness. We need community, we need friends we can see regularly. We need to be able to smile at our neighbors. As we balance being smart with being social I hope a reality manifests that allows us to be both.
It appears that my last blog was in September of 2019. Not quite up to my goal of "once weekly." Luckily lots of things have happened in the interim which might make playing a bit of catch up easier. I probably won't even announce this one. I'll look bad. I'll pad the stats a bit first so I can create the illusion of a dedicated writer.
We're moving strongly into month two of social distancing right now. It is a very weird moment in time for a lot of people. I have to admit a lot of the fundamentals about my life have not changed a whole lot. One of the perks of being self employed. The big thing that came about because of the COVID-19 mess was our hand soap and I have to admit some philosophical difficulties associated with its origins.
Early on there were a lot of unscrupulous, selfish individuals out there. They bought up masks and hand sanitizer with the intention of drastically inflating the price once people became desperate. Luckily these actions were universally interpreted as despicable, not to mention illegal. The situation did make me realize however that in a lot of ways I was remarkably similar, without the intent. I was sitting on gallons and gallons of base product that I was turning into high end shampoo and other products but could just as easily become something more useful. Thus the hand soap was born.
Fast forward a couple months and it turns out that (at least as of this date) many of the predicted shortages were, fortunately, hyperbolic. Interestingly this has led to another personal moral dilemma. There seems to me to be something unsavory about trading on peoples fears. I have a hand soap I would like to sell, because I'm a business owner and thats how you make money, but it seems like the most efficient way to sell it would be to advertise its "anti corona" properties. As I think of that route every tag line I create leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I can't quite explain. There is nothing inherently false anywhere it just feels odd to piggy back on well founded concerns for personal financial gain.
I don't say this to be a martyr or pretend that I'm some paragon of virtue. In fact I'm not even sure such concerns are well founded. My largest take away and biggest fear is mostly that my timorous approach to marketing does not a successful entrepreneur make. A perspective supported when the only tag lines I feel comfortable with sound like, "tea tree & kelp hand soap, it will clean your hands" a statement I almost died of boredom writing; which leads me to believe it might struggle turning heads in the proverbial marketing wild.
I promised that I would be referencing some Douglas Adams in my next blog. After a conversation with the powers that be I have been informed that my blog should be a little bit more product focused. The suggestion being that perhaps my predilection for philosophy isn’t the best marketing mechanism.
So here’s a story about moisturizer.
One of the cool things that we have been able to do here since the very beginning is listen to people. I think most companies must start that way. I think many of them lose it along the way. If we ever do I’ll be disappointed.
For the better part of last year we just had six products. Our scrubs, masque, exfoliant, and shampoo/conditioner. It was a pretty big step up from the year before but it still left some pretty wide gaps. If someone wanted to become a Maine Magic Mud customer exclusively we would not have been able to provide some pretty standard products. To fill the void we began brainstorming. A moisturizer was a pretty clear next step. The problem was we did not know how to make it our own. The rest of the products all had ingredients that made them stand out. Whether it was the mud or the kelp we had something that added value, something no one else had. Figuring it out with the moisturizer was more difficult. Up until that point we had a pretty clear separation. Mud was in the skin products; kelp was in the hair products. We even leaned into that distinction with some of our marketing. This was not going to work with a moisturizer. All our skin products were meant to be cleaned off after the fact (exfoliant, scrubs, masque etc.). This allowed us to incorporate our mud. Moisturizer is different you leave it on. In that scenario the mud would have been a detriment. Imagine applying moisturizer and having it be even slightly gritty. Trashcan.
Luckily we had Chelsea.
Chelsea was an early customer and had noticed our want of moisturizer. She got a hold of us and specifically requested one with Frankincense. She’d been putting Frankincense essential oil in her store bought moisturizer with amazing results but had not found one that came that way. We did some research into the beneficial elements of frankincense (there are many) and after some trial and error our frankincense moisturizer was born. We include a little of our kelp extract to help with rejuvenation (and keep our ocean based flavor) but the frankincense was exclusively customer inspired. Now the moisturizer is one of our most popular products and it all came about because we were able to listen, directly, to the needs and wants of our customers. That can’t change.
Today happens to be my birthday.
My sister called this morning and I joked with her that I would make a lot of sales calls today. I’d slip in the fact that it was my birthday to guilt people into making a purchase. I promise I won’t do that. After all we run an ethical company here at Maine Magic Mud. I refuse to entrap my clientele even if it is just with societal convention. Maybe I’ll send emails…
This morning, just before I got to the office, and last night well after I left it I got a call. The call was from one of earliest, favorite, and most consistent customers, I’m going to call him Max for the purpose of the story. Every time Max runs out, or is close to running out, of shampoo or conditioner he gives us a call directly. Generally most people place personal orders online but we’ve had a great relationship from the beginning of the company and I always love to hear (and he’s happy to share) what he thinks of a new product. Early on he was extremely generous when an order got delayed while we worked out some kinks in distribution and has stuck loyally by our side ever since. It turns out when you start a business it is hard to build a reputation. A lot of people aren’t willing (with good reason) to take a leap and purchase online from a company they are unfamiliar with. A generations worth of scams and underhanded dealings has left the Internet, outside of bastions of familiarity such as Amazon or Google, feeling like a lawless and risky place. Online business success comes when you have built a relationship with the masses. This takes communal trust. To build a community you need pioneers.
Max is one.
The Internet can be a sketchy place but within the maelstrom there are gems and honest people. Out there every day weeding the wheat from the chaff are the leapers. People like Max who see a cool idea and give it the benefit of the doubt. Who have seen the darker side of humanity but still trust in strangers. They know the risks and take them anyway. These are the people who try the new thing on the menu, who trust the street vendor with a broken down cart, and who order things from a company called “Maine Magic Mud.” Without them the world would grind to a halt as the rest of us huddle beneath the umbrella of the known. Max had no idea it was my birthday but his call seemed full of portent. I think we have a tendency to push these leapers to the fringe. Their audacious courage frightens us. Little do we know as we turn our backs that they are leading.
Something I have been working on recently is how to convey the value of our products to our audience, and from a business standpoint, potential customers.
More importantly, if I’m being honest, it’s about trying to bridge the gap between “oh this is a cool idea” and “I have to try that.” The challenge lies in the impetus to make a decision. The process of establishing a customer relationship is a long one. The stats say that generally someone needs to see a brand, even if it is just in passing, fourteen times before they make a purchase decision. Building that relationship takes time. At first glance it might seem like a long gentle slope upward to the final goal. The problem is that that isn’t the case. It’s a little more like taking a long gently upward sloping walk and then at the end there is a cliff. You’ve picked up some tools to get over the cliff along the way but it is still by far the most challenging part of the process. The other thing about this particular cliff is that you don’t climb it just because there is a set of stairs. You have to really want to get to the top. It does not matter how logically appealing the thing at the top of the cliff is if the person on your path doesn’t have an emotional response to it.
Therein lies the rub.
It turns out it is challenging to elicit an emotional response to mud, unless you hit someone in the face with it and if our focus group is anything to go by that particular emotional response isn’t likely to inspire a sale.
I’ll keep you posted, but if anyone has any bright ideas about inspiring a love affair with mud shoot us an email, or reply on here, I’ll do my best to make it worth your while, I would certainly be emotional.
I was talking to my head-marketing guru recently and she brought up a very interesting and salient point. We were going back and forth a little bit about what worked and what didn’t in terms of trying to bolster online sales. I, perhaps rather priggishly, said that someone somewhere makes money off of those horrific iPad ads. You know the ones, they pop up sporadically unbidden insisting with flashing lights and ugly clip art that you’ve won a prize. As we ease toward 2020 I doubt that business model has maintained its efficiency as people become savvier, and wary, of things they spot on the internet. That said I felt that my point, even if somewhat flippant, would hold water. Then I got some valuable perspective.
We aren’t selling an iPad.
What we are selling is far more intimate. We are selling a product that we expect people to put on their bodies. The trust involved in that dynamic is much deeper than the purchase of a piece of electronic equipment. It’s also a trust that needs to be earned.
With that in mind I will share the following. There’s not a product we have that I do not use myself (and my team uses them on their kids). Any product we put out gets tested beforehand (generally by a good natured group of my friends and family), and last but certainly not least if I ever discovered an issue with any of our products my first priority would be to inform the people that made it all possible in the first place, you.
I think it is important to put faces and people behind things. I care about our products and I care about you. Building a relationship is important and I think in our world of institutionalized distance we could all be a little more intimate.
The Do Unto Others Principle
Organization is not one of my strongest suits. In that regard from time to time I make mistakes. Very recently this happened with my Etsy account. We set up Etsy in the very early days of our company thinking we might use it as a platform (and we still might). As time passed we shifted our focus to our site and the Etsy account entirely slipped my mind. Then last week someone placed an order on Etsy. It had been over a year since anyone had logged on and we missed the order completely. The first I realized we had done so was a week later when the customer reached out asking for tracking information. At that point we had a choice to make. We had not filled the order. I think there are companies that might fudge it in these circumstances “oh it is delayed, not sure what happened, lost in the mail” etc. etc. It has been a goal of mine since we started not to participate in that type of dubious practice. I messaged the buyer and was entirely honest. I apologized and confessed to an oversight on my part. I also issued a refund but promised to send the order anyway. Less than an hour later she had placed an order three times the size of the original on the site.
I firmly believe in the fundamental goodness of people. We are not unerring but when we accept responsibility, understand our weaknesses and try to right our mistakes I believe the vast majority of people will offer forgiveness and place value in the upfront acceptance of onus.
Or maybe she just really wanted shampoo.
I have learned so much about so much that I never thought I’d know. The tiny details that would not have crossed my mind in a thousand years have become arenas in which I am well versed. One of those details is the intricacy of labels. From what type of paper to use to what sort of ink and printers are needed the process is specific to the last degree. Printer, ink and paper all look simple however when compared with the absolute art of applying a label by hand. It is not difficult per se but the margin for error is small, and when you are doing something hundreds of times your mind tends to wander. I look forward to the day we automate the process but until then please enjoy our product and forgive the occasional misstep. Generally we stockpile these mishaps and have ended up with quite a pile. If you are feeling great of spirit on your next search for refills use the code “ASKEW” at checkout for 30% off your order of the same great product with a slightly cockeyed label!