The Selle BusinessĀ Blog

Ā Changing the world through positive impact

from a natural and organic business consultant

My Natural Products Entrepreneur Path

business journey core values decision-making leadership Apr 22, 2024
Holly with her published books

It started with landscaping. While I was in grad school (hoping for a Sustainable Development or Agriculture Master’s degree), I got a job with a landscaping crew. The boss was an old hippie: long silver hair, tie-dye clothes. We were probably the only landscaping crew that talked philosophy and ideas while we dug gaping holes in rich people’s lawns. We discussed literature, complex thought, and creative history. We planted azaleas and primrose and I learned that plants could be not only ornamental but also edible and even medicinal. It changed the direction of my life, because I became a gardener and then an herbalist which led to being a published author and world-wide speaker.

Along the way, I launched and ran herbal businesses and trained myself to be an entrepreneur. Having never gone to a traditional business school, I relied on common sense and trial-and-error to get my products and services into the world. I dove head-on into the natural products industry and learned about good manufacturing practices, ethics, herbalism, anatomy and physiology, profit-making techniques, pricing strategies, ingredient sourcing, and so much more. I’ve spent 30 years at the helm of various and award-winning businesses including retail, wholesale, and education/curriculum, and what's interesting is that when I started these businesses, citing your company’s core values wasn’t really a thing.

Understanding a Company’s Values List

Today, it’s fashionable to have a list of values posted on your website claiming that these 6-8 terms are what guides you and your team. As I grew as an entrepreneur and business woman, I developed a sense of values but I never codified them or listed them for others to see publicly. But I do now. I see how coming together over a shared collection of terms that represent ethics and priorities is so important to keeping a business moving forward. GenX and GenZ consumers definitely want to see this, and they’ll investigate and ask questions, which is fantastic. 

Why are openly stated values more important now? It's partly because there are soooooo many businesses. The market (every market) is overly saturated and we are awash in companies putting out an endless variety of products and services. We are bombarded with options and because of this, we need a clear way to distinguish between them and identify which ones we want to support with our hard-won dollars and which we want to avoid. Voting with our wallets has never been more important.

Values can help with this. When a company lists its values, it’s either a rote activity because someone in marketing believes every company should do it. Or it’s a meaningful divulgence of intimately shared priorities that a team has carefully considered and uses daily. Ideally, it’s the latter, because we consumers would really like to believe that the terms listed as “Core Values” are actually meaningful to the company we work for or purchase from.

Of course, it’s not always the case, but let’s assume that those lists of values really are the guiding lights that serve a company’s navigation. It’s helpful to know if a company bases its values on conservative or progressive norms, or if it values the earth and animal welfare, or if it goes out of its way to source ethically from farmers. Their core values will tell you how the team works together as a group, how they manage difficulties, how they process information and make decisions.

Clear Values in the Clear Skin Market

In the Natural Products industry, it can seem straightforward—of course a company that produces silky smooth moisturizer made from coconut oil values the earth. But it’s not that easy. Some moisturizer makers such as Company A exploit the rainforest and traumatize their workers, just like companies of any other industry that produce trains or widgets or financial services. Having and identifying Core Values that delineate animal welfare and rainforest-friendly goes a long way in knowing that Company B is wildly different than Company A and strives to make a positive impact. Because Company B recognizes its farmers as partners, sources only USDA certified organic ingredients and replenishes its coconut-oil-growing communities by building schools and improving drinking water, we know it’s a company we want to work with. Don’t let the terms “natural” or “earth-friendly” fool you. Real values (and certifications and commitments) go far in labeling a company worth its salt (or your money).

I was aghast in the early 2000s to discover that many of the dried herbs I ordered wholesale for my tea blends came from companies that tested on animals. I naively thought that because a company sold natural products that it was automatically ethical. That’s completely wrong. In researching herbal medicine over the past 3 decades, it has become painfully clear that there is plenty of animal testing on herbs, oils, extracts, medicines, skincare ingredients, and other additives such as fragrances. The natural products industry still has a long way to go to be a “force for good” as B-Corps work toward, which is partly why my passion is to assist ethical skincare, herbal and cosmetic leaders in operating businesses that truly are positive.

We also must educate our consumers about what labels really mean (see my online course Selle Natural) as well as candidates for jobs who are entering the industry. What does “product development” really entail? Is there someone in your company who oversees sourcing and procurement, and what are their policies? Their values? Is the company going out of its way to be a leader in ethical standards and create a world that is better than it found?

This is the true meaning of “core values.” This is how I work with clients who seek support in identifying their values and purpose and implementing them throughout their business. How can we make a profit AND live our purpose and make the world even better? My Selle Impact Consulting will provide the strategic values and purpose trainings and leadership sessions you need.

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