Career 21 March 2018
Today, like many days, is spent finishing up last minute things, in an attempt to ready my first brick and mortar store for its opening.
In the lead up to the launch, my days are crammed with paperwork: putting together our company employment strategy, overseeing the construction and design of our new store and charming my landlord.
These are all minor obstacles compared to the challenges I faced on the road to opening Harlem Chocolate Factory back in 2016. Growing up in Harlem, New York, I thought I was doing everything right when I went to college, but with an English degree and no direction, I ended up sleeping on an air mattress in my mother’s house with my two children.
I needed to go back to go forward. My love for sweets started as a child. Growing up, my mom was a health nut. We weren’t allowed to have any refined sugar in the house. To solve this, I made a deal with my mom - if I made the sweets myself, I could eat them. That’s how the journey into business started for me.
I always knew I wanted to start my own business, but without funding and little to no guidance I didn’t know how to get started. When I first learned about Accion, a non-profit lending company, I was working as a graphic designer to make money. I reached out to Accion about getting a loan. My loan officer said I was an ideal candidate for the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program - a philanthropic program created by Samuel Adams’ founder and brewer, Jim Koch, to help support entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry. And the rest is history so to speak.
Now, my company has grown from just me to a team of four with more on the way. I’m crafting the employee handbook, putting together the training program and developing the way we will convey our company culture. We have a solid base of followers and it seems like our opportunities are endless. Our demand is so high that we have people disappointed when they can’t buy our chocolate.
I always knew I wanted to start my own business, but without funding and little to no guidance I didn’t know how to get started.
While my business is in a great place, the path here wasn’t easy. Here are a few key lessons I learned along the way that played an important role in taking me from a chocolatier to successful business owner.
1. Focus on one thing and make it great
My mind has always worked in a million different directions. I’ve had hundreds of great ideas and it was difficult for me to focus on one idea and follow it through. After I graduated from college, I started looking into all these different industries, but I couldn’t find anything suited for me. My passion for making chocolate never wavered, but I didn’t think I could make enough money as a full-time chocolatier to support my family. Once I took the chance and committed to making Harlem Chocolate Factory a viable business, everything else fell into place.
2. Your business should be part of you
While creating the chocolate satisfied my adolescent sweet tooth, it wasn’t enough to start a business. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to speak to my history. I wanted to sell what I know. My resilience comes from growing up in Harlem, a predominantly black community that has been here for years and is rich in history.
Where I’m opening my store is in an area that once didn’t allow any African Americans to buy of the homes. Being able to move history forward in this way is empowering.
For me, the idea of this being my home and my culture is the foundation of Harlem Chocolate Factory. It’s about sharing the culture and experiences that I was raised on and the experiences that make Harlem more than a trend, but a community. I pull from that inspiration every day when creating chocolate. Everything from the recipes to packaging is a piece of Harlem’s culture. I embed as much of Harlem into my business, and into myself, as I can.
Jessica Spaulding gives us career envy
3. You don’t know what you don’t know
No one can predict the future, but you can arm yourself with knowledge. I took business classes, weeded out my ideas and learned to be nimble. I had problems focusing because I was always thinking of new ideas. Now I know that I don’t have time or money to waste. I’ve shifted my way of thinking to focus on what drives me. I do my best to prepare for whatever lies ahead.
4. Be resourceful
Before I officially started the business, I knew the first thing I was going to need was money. I found Accion and the Brewing the American Dream program through Sam Adams to help me launch. You should look for opportunities in your own community. If one option doesn’t work, explore another and do your research. Never take no for an answer.
When I participated in Sam Adams’ Pitch Room Competition in New York, I was able to pitch my business in front of successful entrepreneurs including Jim Koch, Chef David Burke and food magazine editors. It was a dream come true to have these influential entrepreneurs and writers taste my chocolate. What’s more, they gave me advice on how to structure my business and how to convey my story. This experience changed everything.
As a woman, I felt like I needed to take everyone’s advice. Some of it is discouraging and you can end up tearing yourself down every day. If you have advice for me, it should come with a plan
While I didn’t win the competition, I did receive a $2,800 Brewing the American Dream loan. With the loan, I purchased the materials I needed to get my business off the ground to start making the money I needed to steadily grow Harlem Chocolate Factory.
5. Use your mind not your money
Once I got the loan, I still had to be selective with how I spent the money. I knew I had to make my dollar stretch more than anyone else’s. I used my mind instead of throwing money at a problem. I have learned to adjust to challenges and think everything through before spending.
6. Convey the numbers
The best advice Jim Koch gave me was when he told me, “your story is beautiful, but you have to be able to convey the numbers.” His advice has stayed with me and will stay with me forever because building your business is you pitching it to people to get anything from funding to awareness, and you have to remember the numbers. It’s more than just having a great story. You have to prove that you understand the numbers and you’ve thought out how you’re going to take your business to the next level.
7. Advice without a plan is actually criticism
As a woman, I felt like I needed to take everyone’s advice. Some of it is discouraging and you can end up tearing yourself down every day. If you have advice for me, it should come with a plan. For example, if you tell me the door to my shop isn’t opening in the best way, and you think I should move the door so it can open it in a better way, that’s advice. Criticism is you just saying “I don’t like your door.” When you’re building a business, you’re on edge and one piece of criticism can knock you off your rocker. You need to learn to decipher advice from criticism. There were many times when I thought I was receiving advice, but it was criticism and not beneficial to my business or my journey. Being able to identify when you hear a piece of advice that will add value is key to moving forward. You also need to learn that it’s okay to tell people you’re not interested in their advice. Take what’s of value and execute.
It wasn’t easy, but starting Harlem Chocolate Company has been profoundly rewarding. I’ve been able to follow not only my passion for chocolate, but also impact my community and become part of Harlem’s history. This impact ultimately drives me and my business forward.
A woman at work, Spaulding is getting ready to open her first brick and mortar store
From Your Site Articles
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.