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The Year of the Pivot

The COVID-19 Switch

Whatever you want to call it, businesses across the country found themselves in flux due to the novel coronavirus.

Some businesses were able to shift and Corona beer even managed increased sales of 50% according to one Marketing Week article.

Other smaller businesses and restaurants didn’t survive the pandemic and some 41 percent of all Black-owned businesses closed their doors because of the pandemic.

PrettyWork Creative, my video, and marketing company saw 95 percent of our projects canceled.

That was a huge blow and very well could have been the end of us had it not been for a hobby I decided to turn business earlier this year.

For the past two years, I’d been making soap and selling it on the side. Alexander Farm & Orchard (AFAO) was my side hustle and truth be told, soaping was therapeutic.

And people loved the product. AFAO had raving fans and repeat customers. At one point, I seriously considered closing it all down but for some reason, I couldn’t let it go.

How AFAO Started

This whole side hustle started in my backyard garden. For several years, I had tried and failed at gardening. There was poor soil, pestilence, and lots of human error. Lots. Then one year, 2015 to be exact it all clicked. And we had a beautiful garden filled with strawberries, okra, tomatoes, mint, and cucumbers.

Feeling very cocky and self-assured I decided to plant an insane number of cucumbers. I think I planted 10 or so plants in my small raised bed. And all 10 survived and that led to an overabundance of cucumbers. My family couldn’t eat enough and I couldn’t give enough of them away.

So, one day out of the blue, I got the bright idea to make soap with the excess. I’d never made soap before but I thought it would be a cool thing to create. My plan was to make soap and then give them as thank you gifts to my clients.

The First Batch

Doing some research on the soapmaking process, I learned there were a couple of ways one could make soap. There’s a hot process that involves cooking your soap in a crockpot, there’s melt and pour, and then there’s the cold process. I opted for the cold process. Now, there is no soapmaking without the use of lye. Whether it be sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, or old-fashioned wood ash you need lye to make soap. Some people opt for the melt and pour process because handling the lye has already been done for you. The thought of handling lye has stalled many a soapmaker from even getting started.

But being a Black woman who has permed her own hair and the hair of family members a time or two, I wasn’t afraid of lye. I knew how to respectfully work with the chemical and set off to make my first batch and it came out great.

Being the creative person I am, I made a label for my creation. I plucked some mint from the garden and tied it all together with a piece of twine and did my first AFAO product photoshoot on my kitchen table. Proud of my handcrafted work of art, I posted the picture on Facebook, and the next day I had an order for 30 soaps.

One of my friends perfectly describes how AFAO came to be. She said, “Lisa, you planted cucumbers and grew a soap business.”


The COVID Switch

When the pandemic hit and wiped out the bulk of PrettyWork’s revenue for the year, I made AFAO my client. And let me say, I LOVE working with this product-based business. In the past, our clients have been serviced-based so this would a learning experience of gargantuan proportions.

My goal was simple.

Take everything I had ever learned about marketing and design and use that to grow AFAO and do so during a pandemic. I would take AFAO from basically zero and see how far I could grow the brand.

My goal was to double my numbers: gross revenue, social media followers, and the company email list.

This project would stretch me in unbelievable ways (and frustrate me in others). Remind me to tell you the story about the AFAO logo and my beloved husband.

Working with AFAO has allowed me to create and brand new product lines, get back into product photography, create and shoot commercials and I know more about WooCommerce and plugins than I ever cared to know.

Stay tuned, I’ll share all the strategy, content created, and numbers in my next blog post.

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