In March and April 2020, the lives of virtually everyone were transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 22 million jobs in the US alone seemingly disappeared overnight – with women and people of color being among the hardest hit.
And while some of those jobs eventually returned, the landscape of how we work has changed forever. People were forced to adapt by changing careers, moving to new cities – or taking a risk and starting their own businesses.
Meet Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, subscriber Lauren Hunt, founder of Empress Candles. Based in scenic Beacon, New York, she was one of the many whose lives were shaken by job loss early in the pandemic. She’s also faced countless challenges regarding money, relationships, family, and finding out about the possibility of not being able to have children.
Still, Lauren hasn’t let the pandemic or life challenges crush her spirit. Instead, she’s used them to push her creativity and channel her passion. She told us, “I don’t know where I would even be without this business. Everything I have ever wanted and or hesitated for I poured into my candle business. I wouldn’t want to express myself any other way.”
Read on for our Q&A with Lauren. See how she transitioned from losing her job at the beginning of the pandemic to establishing a creative business that continues to reach new heights. Learn why when life gives you hemp wicks – you make beautiful creative candles.
How did you get started making candles?
Before COVID, I worked full-time as a nanny with a great family. When shelter-in-place first happened, they paid me to stay home and wait it out. However, when the order kept getting extended, it became clear that I wasn’t going to go back to work with them anytime soon.
So, I was home wondering what I would do next. Weeks in and weeks out, I tried everything and risked a majority of time risking my living situation and transportation just to make due. Eventually, I started working for a small CBD company that sold hemp wicks to make candles – which I instantly thought were so cool.
Around the same time, I was having a hard time and decided to have an energy work session with a good friend. During the session, the word “empress” kept coming up. That word hit home because I’m trying to have a baby but having fertility issues. “Empress” represents the individual, maternity, fertility, abundance, recognition, and all the beauty of a mother-like figure.
The word also resonated with me because I’ve always been my own person. And because I tend to take ideas and run with them, it wasn’t long before I started making and selling hemp wick candles – and decided to name my business Empress Candles.
I make all the candles myself without any help, which is so much fun! I get lost in designing and being creative. Sometimes I'll be up until three o'clock in the morning, trying to develop new ideas – fun names and stuff like that.
Empress Candles has evolved into something more than I could ever have imagined in the past year. I have such a broad customer base and I even surprise myself with my new ideas. I’ve grown my business to include natural skincare products and I’m so thankful for everyone who has supported me throughout it all.
What has been most helpful in expanding your business?
I’m still working at the CBD company. The owner lets me sell my candles there and I’m able to do wholesale, which is helpful. I also started doing some in-person events, including the Health and Wellness Expo and craft fairs in the area.
Being active on Instagram has helped sell more items through my website. I recently had my first order from Alaska! In 2022, my goal is to reach people in all 50 states with my handmade products.
I’ve gained a lot of experience over the past year and feel more confident. Last holiday, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing! Adding body butters, scrubs, soaps, bath bombs, and other items have been great for attracting new customers.
What are the ways Invoice2go has helped you?
First off, Invoice2go is a stress reliever. I would be handwriting all of my invoices or making notes on my phone if I didn’t have it.
It’s huge in helping me track business expenses. I often get small items when an idea for a new product inspires me, so I'll snap a photo and enter the receipt into Invoice2go. It may just be small things, it all adds up over the year, and I can save on business taxes.
I'm also able to stay organized with all my customer information – from address to phone number to purchases they’ve made. I can just type a letter or two to find the information I need. It's not time-consuming.
And then I love the year like the year-to-date reports. It’s motivating and satisfying to see how much my business has made at the end of the year. Invoice2go has 100% been beneficial to my company.
What advice would you give to other creative small business owners?
I’m not a competitive person, but I noticed that more people were showing off their creative work on social media, especially with the onset of the pandemic. I saw other people starting businesses like mine - selling oils and candles. Some of them were clearly trying to compete with me.
In the beginning, it really helped me to just focus on my own journey and find ways I could stand out. Instead of worrying about what others were doing, I bought new candles molds and kept trying new ideas.
I adopted the mindset that it’s cool that others are doing what I’m doing and I hope starting a business helped them too. Not getting caught up in the competition and focusing on what I could do best was huge in getting my business off the ground.
What are your hopes for 2022?
I already have my business plan and want to expand Empress Candles! My goal is to eventually have my own store with a backroom big enough for production.
I would love to host parties where people make candles, scrubs, or body butters and have it be a package deal. I would set out wine and a charcuterie board and people would make products they could take home with them. They could even make their own custom labels! Everyone should have the opportunity to be creative and make their own thing.
I would love to do more networking this year. I want to start doing online courses for business management and get a background in running and maintaining a business. Whether it's finding employees or filing company taxes, I know I have room to grow.
So, learning the basics, networking with other businesses, and even doing wholesale. I want to see what other business owners have been through – and I would love to get feedback from them!
We’re impressed by Laren’s spirit and how she’s used challenges in her life as opportunities to grow and focus her creativity. We can’t wait to see how her business develops this year and beyond.
Have a creative business idea? Want to show off your work? Join Go Getters to connect with creative business owners and get more inspirational stories like this one.