Delegate! It’s very hard for entrepreneurs to do this, but let go of some of the control. It’s important that other people have a chance to be entrepreneurial within your business. Letting go takes practice, but keep practicing.
Julie Cole is the mother of six and a co-founding VP of Mabel’s Labels, the leading provider of labels for the stuff kids lose! After her eldest son was diagnosed with autism, Julie shelved a legal career to monitor his therapy and launch a business that would strike a better work/life balance. Mabel’s Labels has since grown from a basement start-up into an award winning, celebrity-endorsed, international phenomenon. As company spokeswoman, Julie is well-known among North American mom entrepreneurs, and her dynamic personality has led to numerous speaking engagements for university business classes and TV appearances on Canada AM, Breakfast Television, The Marilyn Denis Show, Metro Morning, CH Morning Live, Better TV, The Mom Show, Fox 5 San Diego and WGN’s Midday. She is a syndicated blogger for modernmom.com, PTPA Media, Yummy Mummy Club, and her company’s Mabelhood blog. Her writing has also appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul:Power Moms and on numerous websites.
What are you working on right now?
There are so many things in the hopper right now. We are currently in the pre-launch stage of a new product that we are bringing to a new market. It is both terrifying and exciting. Our product development team is already busily working on the follow- up product. Another huge project at Mabel’s Labels is happening in our production department. We are working to create better systems for efficiency in producing our labels.
Where did the idea for Mabel’s Labels come from?
Quite simply, we noticed there was a product missing from the market. The idea kept nagging away at us until we finally gave in and started our research and testing. It was an exciting time and we have not looked back since our launch day!
What does your typical day look like?
Our office is a hub of action. People turn up as early as 7:00 a.m. to get things cracking in the production department. As the co-founder, VP and company spokesperson, my routine varies from day to day. I’m a busy business owner and spend about 3-4 days a week at the office. At other times, I’m pulled away for conferences, meetings and speaking engagements. I also happen to have six young children, so I’m performing a daily juggling act. It’s a full plate, but that is just how I like it.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We are committed to innovation at Mabel’s Labels, but this commitment often takes practice. We work hard to be open to ideas and concepts. Product ideas often come from our clever staff or loyal customers. We do research to consider how our market would respond to them and then put together a team to bring the product to life. This team generally includes a project manager, some IT folks and a representative from the various departments or stakeholders. With smaller ideas that don’t affect too many departments, we try to be spontaneous and not get too caught up in the process. Sometimes you just have a great idea and your gut tells you to run with it. If it’s not going to cause too much disruption or interrupt current plans, it’s a great way to have fun!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The ever-changing field of technology is exciting and scary. This affects our business in every way, so we’re always keeping a finger on the pulse and staying relevant.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad job, but that can easily be just a perspective thing. I’ve had so many interesting jobs–mostly when I was a student slogging it out through a few degrees. I’ve worked in remote conditions in Northern Ontario, in Europe as a media clerk at a UN conference on human rights, and at a women’s legal service company when I was fresh out of law school. The list goes on, but every job has provided incredible learning opportunities. Do any of them relate to what I do now? Not really, yet in some ways quite a lot. It’s hard to say how one can prepare for the life of an entrepreneur!
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
First of all, we would apply all the lessons we learned along the way, which is quite a lot! One difficulty with our product is that it is highly personalized. Our product does not exist until the customer goes onto our website and orders it. At that point, we produce the labels and ship them out. We often joke during busy periods that next time we start a business, we’ll have a product already made that’s just sitting on a shelf, ready to go.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Delegate! It’s very hard for entrepreneurs to do this, but let go of some of the control. It’s important that other people have a chance to be entrepreneurial within your business. Letting go takes practice, but keep practicing. You need to let go of the day-to-day duties of running the business so you can concentrate on strategically growing the business. Get out there–read, talk to people, network, speak about your passion and be a thought-leader in your industry!
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I think sometimes as the business grows, you can start to miss the “good old days.” I remember when decision-making meant sitting on the couch with a cup of tea and chatting with our few staff members. Things have changed a lot since then. Sometimes we all get sentimental for those days when things were so much simpler. Now we have meetings, committees and procedures. This can be frustrating for folks with an entrepreneurial spirit and seem cumbersome to the folks who have been around since the beginning. We try hard to keep communication open and be transparent about plans and growth by involving the staff and making them feel like a part of the excitement. Without our loyal and hard-working employees, there’s not much to Mabel’s Labels.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Here at Mabel’s Labels, we love social media.
- Facebook allows us to connect with customers, provide customer service, share and talk about topics that our community is interested in, and receive product feedback/development.
- Twitter is where we constantly connect with bloggers, media, journalists. We use it to stay up to beat with events and happenings across North America, to discover new customers and having conversations with them, and to share relevant content.
- YouTube is great for “How-To Label” videos, showcasing television and media appearances by company representatives and our product features, giving a peek into Mabel HQ, and product testing videos.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
We have a company book club, and the last book they looked at was Poke the Box by Seth Godin. It was fascinating; the discussion was so useful as the team reflected on the ideas in the book and how they applied to our organization and culture. Pick up anything by Seth Godin. You won’t regret it.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
- @thebrandbuilder, the author of Social Media ROI, for no bull marketing and branding advice.
- @ShellyKramer is a self-proclaimed “information junkie” who always shares the best ideas and resources.
- @mombizcoach is a connector, community leader and all-around supporter of women in business.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I live with six small children; I have so much material for my blogs. Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t say something ridiculous that gets me roaring. Last night I overhead my 11-year-old daughter giving a sex education lesson to her 5-year-old brother. I can only imagine what he’s sharing at kindergarten today!
What kind of awards or recognition has Mabel’s Labels received?
Awards and recognition for our business and product excellence include Mom Entrepreneur of the Year from SavvyMom, Best Product from Baby Gizmo, iParenting and PTPA Media, an Outstanding Business Achievement Award from the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, and a RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Momentum Award.
As a result of our early and ever-evolving involvement in social media, we were named on Inc.com’s list of 20 Awesome Facebook Fan Pages and Hubspot’s The 15 Best Facebook Pages You’ve Ever Seen. We’ve been featured on The View, Rachael Ray, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Today Show, The Early Show, Better TV, The Mom Show, Fox 5 San Diego, WGN’s Midday, Parents, In Style, The Washington Post, People.com, Forbes.com and countless other media outlets and websites. Locally we’ve appeared on Canada AM, Breakfast Television, The Marilyn Denis Show, Metro Morning and CH Morning Live. Many celebrity moms have used Mabel’s Labels, including Jennifer Garner, Rachel Weisz, Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham. Though I’m proud of all this, achieving what we set out to do–put out a quality product and provide customers with exceptional service–is our biggest mark of success.
You have six kids and a business. How?!
It is a busy life, but I try to remember that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes when things are very stressful at work and we’re trying to get all the orders out and meet deadlines, we need to step back a bit. We take our business very seriously, but sometimes we have to look one another in the eye and say, “Deep breathes everyone; we’re making labels, not saving lives.” Perspective is everything!
Julie Cole on Twitter: @juliecole
Mabel on Twitter: @mabelhood
Mabel on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Mabelhood
Julie Cole’s blogs: http://www.mabelhood.com/JulieCole and http://www.thebabymachine.com