Part one in a five part series.
John and I have often joked that Modern Forestry was our first child. As a newborn company, it needed our constant care, protection, and guidance. Memories of free weekends were fading, and 2a wake ups were common as sleep evaded us and we thought through (again) if our fledgling was getting all of the nourishment that it needed. We worked tirelessly, and on the rare “off” times we still continued to talk of this new adventure. We dreamed and hoped of what Modern Forestry would become. For better or for worse, it became our life and very nearly threatened to become our identity. Such is the way with children also.
Like parenting, running a small business runs on several axioms that are essential for the health of both business and business keeper.
Our son is two, and our biggest struggle of the moment is potty training. I can’t make him go to the bathroom. Can’t. Not even with the promise of reward or the threat of punishment. I know because I’ve tried, devoured a pint of So Delicious dairy-free ice cream, and then tried again. I can’t. And he knows it, and wields that natural power to his advantage. And so we begin the dance daily of convincing him that the toilet wasn’t invented by blessed forefathers but was his original idea with the hope of him embracing it. Here’s to hoping while I eat another pint of ice cream.
Likewise, I can encourage, set the stage, and try my handiest marketing tools but I can’t coerce people to purchase our product. I can’t produce sales. Can’t with a capital C and a definite period. No one can. Marketing is the art of convincing someone they need a product but at the end of the day, I can’t manipulate their hand to click through our website and purchase the best selling candle around. (It’s our new Northern Lights scent, by the way.)
I didn’t take long for us to realize that for all of our dreaming of what Modern Forestry would be and commitment to the process, we were ultimately ineffective to make that dream a reality. Our company is 100% dependent on generous donors and customers that purchase candles. We’re a little short in the random donation department, so our livelihood - and the livelihood of several other families that Modern Forestry supports - is completely riding upon people choosing to purchase from our company in a free market economy where there are dozens, if not hundreds, other like-products available.
What a frightening reality. But don’t despair just yet.
I’m going to pull out the G-word, and you can roll your eyes if you want, but that won’t change this axiom. We would despair and cancel our application to the Chamber of Commerce…but God.
For this task which we are completely unable to accomplish in our own power He has made us more than able.
If you find John at the start of a market, you’ll find him opening Modern Forestry bags and placing them on the table. Bag after bag. Empty just like the last. He’s praying for God to fill them. What he does next might seem contradictory. Instead of sitting down and hoping on his phone, waiting for God to fill the bags, he reaches for his coffee, smiles, and stands. For hours at a time. Talking to people, shaking hands, exchanging goods for money, refilling that coffee cup. Bit by bit, those bags are filled and handed off to mamas and young professionals creating Magnolia-style farmhouses out of their suburban homes.
We were driving through the watercolored South Carolina upstate this past weekend, through fields and fields of farmland, and John turned to me and said, “I couldn’t imagine being a farmer and being so dependent on the weather.” No sooner was the last word off his lips, he began to correct himself. “But I guess that’s exactly what we do. We farm candles and are just as dependent on external forces.”
It takes one weekend of bad weather to throw off our sales forecast for the month. There are little differences between us and the farmer down the road. Just different crops. At the end of a stormy day or the draught that comes in January post-Christmas or the middle of July while people are spending more money on vacation than they are on home decor, we wait. With open bags. With expectant anticipation.
God will provide.
A glorious truth to grasp like a lifejacket in the middle of a hurricane (because that’s what small business often times feels like) is that God is in control. Ultimately. Working in you, through you to make those dreams a reality. But don’t mistake the power which drives you or the success you receive as coming from you alone. It’s a gift.
While we don’t sit back with arms crossed and wait for miracles, we do roll up our sleeves and hustle like we are 18-year-olds. At the end of the day, it feels good to be tired. To have worked hard. To rest and rest fully in gratitude for the gift given.