Today TeDi Jansen of Small Acre Farm, a soap maker based in Fort Collins, CO, shares how an unexpected loss in her career led her to embrace an entirely new creative facet in life. Here is TeDi’s story of how learning to trust her inner voice has led her to a new and fulfilling career as a maker. Thank you TeDi!
Q: Tell us about yourself and what you make!
A: Hi! I'm TeDi (pronounced like teddy bear). I live in Fort Collins, CO on a ten acre farm with my partner and our teenage son and daughter. We raise a small herd of dairy goats and fiber sheep. Although we've had dogs, cats, horses and chickens for a long time, we didn't acquire goats and sheep until we moved to our current farm seven years ago. I started dabbling in soap making five years ago, in 2011, when we got our first goats. With goats comes milk, lots of it! We'd made cheese, yogurt, kefir, Cajeta and ice cream, but the milk kept coming! Like the milk, the soap started to pile up so we began giving it away. As the soap got better and the requests started coming in, I dipped my toe into selling. Friends and family were my first buyers, then I entered a little craft show and finally a local farmer's market.
Q: What moment changed the direction of your life and got you into making?
A: During this time of soap experimentation I was working more than full time as an HR director at a large non-profit child care. I had six direct reports and over 100 on staff. I'd been there for 23 years and helped create the business. In the summer of 2014 our long time Executive Director retired and a new ED was hired. Four months later I was relieved of my position. It still seems surreal!
After the initial shock and sadness I realized that I hadn't been happy for quite a while, but what was I going to do with myself now? I cast around the house for a couple of weeks, played with the goats and sheep and was generally lost.
What was going to be my next thing? Who was going to hire a 50 something HR professional and did I even want to go back to the corporate world? In my aimlessness, I did a variety of things around the house including make soap. I remember the batch I was making when I realized that this was it, the next thing! Duh!
Q: What helped you gain the confidence to embrace what you do now?
A: The Fall during which I lost my job, I was already doing one weekend farmers market. One Sunday afternoon a woman came into my booth and told me that our Oatmeal Milk and Honey soap had worked on her daughter’s eczema.
I remember thinking “Oh my god, we are making a difference!” We garnered lots of repeat customers that year. They are all so special to me and totally validate what I do. When they ask where they can buy our products over the winter months I just want to hug them and say “Come to the farm, I'll make you a pot of tea and a batch of soap or lotion!” Of course that's not realistic but that connection keeps me going when it's 2:00am and I'm still wrapping soap for a craft fair.
Another thing happened that Fall that makes me certain that the universe was preparing me for bigger and better things. Another Sunday afternoon a really nice couple came into our booth to buy some soap.
I was helping another customer and my partner helped them out. After they left she told me that they were starting a store in Estes Park to sell Colorado made items and wanted to sell our soap. Wow! I was so excited. I read everything I could on wholesaling, created line sheets, figured wholesale prices and made my first sale.
This continues to be my best wholesale account. I often swap stories with them about online sales that come because the customer was first introduced to our products while vacationing in Estes Park. The last time I took them an order the shop owner told me he has been receiving requests for him to ship our soap AND that they are buying a bigger shop (I like to think we helped make that necessary)
Q: How do you maintain your focus and confidence?
A: Focus? Squirrel! Seriously, focus is probably the hardest thing for me. There is always some other shiny project that calls to me! In my head I have a schedule and that helps. Every Monday morning I meet with my accountability partner. She's a longtime friend who is now living in MN. First we catch up and then we go through our done lists from the week before and celebrate our accomplishments, big or small. Next we load up our lists for the next week and talk about big and long term projects we’re working on. Just recently we started using Trello and sharing our boards. This has streamlined our conversations a lot. I love starting my week this way. She's great at holding me gently accountable for things that seem to fall to the bottom of my list over and over again.
One of my biggest confidence boosters is community. Even (or especially) if you're an introvert like me I think it's critical to surround yourself with community! I have several communities that I'm active in. I'm a part of a local maker group. We meet at a local coffeehouse every Wednesday morning. Sometimes it's the only day I leave the farm so I make it errand day too.
This is a great group of gals (guys would be welcome) who make a variety of things. We talk about everything! It's the highlight of my week. My new community this year is Academy of Handmade. I love it here. There's so much to learn and share.
I try to take in at least a couple of online events each month. I'm also a part of the mentor program. I have two great mentees that are probably teaching me way more than I'm teaching them and we're having a great time. The thing I miss most about my HR job is cheering others on. The mentoring program is filling that need for me. Yeah!
Q: What impact has this had on your business?
A: Both my accountability partner and my communities make me feel like I'm not alone in this. They give me the courage to try new things and are a much needed sounding board. I know I've tried new things and taken risks because I have these supports.
Q: What has been the biggest lesson from this entire series of events?
A: Learning to trust my inner voice is still a lesson I struggle with but then I remember that it got me to this place where I do what I love everyday. Community can be the quiet calm that helps you listen to that voice or the loud party music that gives you the courage to boogie on through the next scary thing!
Q: What piece of advice would you share with fellow makers who may be struggling with their mindset?
A: Listen to your little voice and then go for it, don't wait! Find good supportive (not grumpy) community and participate! It might feel like a distraction but really, it's the focusing lense.
Q: Where can people find you?
A: You can find our story and online shop (and a really cute goat video) at www.smallacrefarm.com
You can also find me as smallacrefarm on Instagram, Facebook and Etsy and as namastemamma on Pinterest: