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Jamahl and Natalie Grace of Grace+Love Candle: From Avocation To Vocation; How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career

An Interview with Penny Bauder

Remember that your mind can only hold so much information in it. This is where tools and teamwork comes in. We lean on each other and technology to ensure we stay on top of everything and nothing falls through the cracks. Streamlining your admin and backend work as much as possible should be on every business owner’s radar.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamahl and Natalie Grace of Grace+Love Candle Company.

Virginia-based Grace+Love Candle Company is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Jamahl and Natalie Grace. The entire collection is vegan, cruelty-free, and phthalate-free and all of their candles are made with 100% domestically grown soy wax.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Natalie: Of course. I was born and raised in Arlington, Virginia, but my family is from Bolivia. Given this, I was raised speaking Spanish and English was my second language. I went to private school from kindergarten through college, so I spent most of my time in a uniform.

Jamahl: I’m one of four kids and was originally born in California. That said, I was a military brat, so I lived all throughout the United States when I was growing up. My father is American and my mother is from Nicaragua in Central America, and these cultures really influenced my upbringing — from the foods we ate and cooked to traveling and loving baseball.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

During the pandemic, we used candles frequently to create a sense of peace within our house. However, we weren’t crazy about the scents that we were finding online, so we decided to try making our own. It became a fun activity for us to do as a family.

Soon, we began sharing our candles with our friends, who loved them and suggested we begin selling them. It was at this time that we realized we could take a hobby that we thoroughly enjoyed and were passionate about into a thriving business.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

The biggest challenge to overcome is just doing it. You’re going to be scared, you’re going to be unsure. We say all the time that we’re learning and figuring things out in the moment as we go.

That said, we’re really guided by our consumer base and driven by their appreciation for our products and love for our family. We never knew before we started how positively people would respond, so we appreciate our customers so much.

Ultimately, you’ll never know if you can do something until you try, and we decided we didn’t want to wonder “what if.”

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

If you’ve gotten this far and done your research, the last thing left to do is go for it. It’s a leap of faith. Whether you succeed or fail, you’ll never know until you take that step.

If you love doing something, if you’re thinking about it before you go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning — that’s the universe pulling you in a specific direction.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

You have to remember what made it fun for you, why you started in the first place, and hold onto that. For us, that was doing it with our twins. That it’s something we can all do together is really important for us, especially because we want our kids to see different ways they can use their creativity and passions in life. Instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in them is such an added benefit to this for us.

At the same time as remembering why you got into it in the first place, you also want to keep things fresh. Never stop dreaming or considering new ideas. If a new idea excites you, look into it further and consider how it could work with your business. This will keep you motivated too.

All that said, there are parts about owning a business that aren’t as fun or glamorous. To help with these aspects for you, find tools that will make this part as easy and painless as possible, so you can focus on what it is that you love. For example, we use QuickBooks to manage our finances. It integrates with all of our apps and accounts so we can understand where we stand financially without getting super bogged down in the math. This means we spend less time looking at balance sheets and more time exploring new fragrances as a family.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

The freedom and creativity when you own your business is incredible. You don’t realize it until you start…we certainly never would have imagined it, but when you’re a business owner, you really end up connecting with people and helping and inspiring them. Thinking about all of the people we’ve come across since we started this, learning about their lives or hearing about how our products have made them happy is such a benefit. We get so many ideas just from listening to our customer feedback.

Because we started during the pandemic, the headache of dealing with supply challenges has definitely been a downside. Just ensuring we have the raw materials we need to produce our products has been a struggle at times. The same can be said of financing. We received a lot of “no’s” when we were trying to obtain funding from banks and exhausted a lot of options. Luckily, we were able to get a QuickBooks Capital loan based on the data in our books. This gave us the capital we needed to grow.

Regardless of what the challenge or downside is, we’ve just learned we have to accept and let go of what we can’t control. There’s things — especially during COVID — that are out of our hands. When that happens, we’re just transparent with our customers and move forward.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Yes! Our first time packing for shipping was an adventure. We had about 30 or 40 packages and family members over to help us. Quickly, we realized the tape didn’t have adhesive; it was water activated, so you actually had to wet a sponge on the back of the tape to get it to stick. Obviously we figured this out, but it was a reminder that we should have done more research, practiced and tested first. This has proven to be a valuable lesson across the board for the business.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

Natalie: My family. My parents, being married to Jamahl, my kids — they all give me a push to be the best leader I can be. At times, I might be more tentative or hesitant, but Jamahl will push me just the right amount. Us working is so great because our respective strengths and weaknesses balance so well. We make a great team.

Jamahl: I agree with Natalie. Our family, our children. Really, everything we do is for them. We want them to live in a world where they have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to see entrepreneurship in action, and to explore creative freedoms. They’re wild and free right now in a beautiful way. They’re going to change the world one day for the better.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

One of our missions is to donate funds from the business back to minority education. In the short time since we’ve launched, we’ve already worked with more than 20 different organizations that support youth in a variety of ways — whether its education, school supplies, after school programs, sports — there are a lot of ways we’re looking to make an impact on the next generation.

We’re also looking to make an impact in our local community in the DC metro area through employment opportunities this holiday season and donating funds to worthy organizations, for example. We’re always thinking about how we can do our part to pay it forward.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. First and foremost, everything! We joke but it really is true that you don’t know what you don’t know as a new business owner (like our story with the water activated tape!). We wish there was an easy book on how to do it all, but the truth is that every business and person is different, and what works for one won’t work for the other. The key, we’ve found, is figuring out what works for our family and going from there.
  2. Another thing that people tell you, but you can’t really understand until you’re living it is how hard it is. Just hammer it into your head that the journey you’re about to embark on is going to be tough. It’s going to require you to push yourself. You’ll discover things about yourself you never knew before.
  3. Also, understand that things will inevitably go wrong. Whether it’s shipping issues, supplier challenges, customer service problems, cash flow, or something else, you’re bound to have some bumps along the road. As we mentioned earlier, we certainly did — particularly when it came to our supply chain given the impact of the pandemic. A lot of people romanticize entrepreneurship. And while there are so many wonderful things about owning your own business, there are also a lot of challenges and the learning curve can be extremely steep. Give yourself some grace along the way.
  4. Remember that your mind can only hold so much information in it. This is where tools and teamwork comes in. We lean on each other and technology to ensure we stay on top of everything and nothing falls through the cracks. Streamlining your admin and backend work as much as possible should be on every business owner’s radar.
  5. Finally, we didn’t realize how challenging it would be to secure funding — particularly as a brand new business. Hearing a lot of no’s from banks can be discouraging, but we learned there are a lot of other available funding sources out there. We were able to secure the capital we needed to scale G+L through a QuickBooks Capital loan. Just know that if Plan A doesn’t work out, there’s always a Plan B, C and D.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Natalie: For me, it’s absolutely faith. I thank the Lord for giving us these opportunities.

Jamahl: I try to live by the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” You have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. Not everyone may like it, and that’s ok — your business doesn’t have to be for everyone, but stand firm knowing you’ve created a quality product and brand that you believe in.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Natalie: This is funny, because I’ve been watching General Hospital since I was a child. There are more than 50 seasons of the show, and one of the main characters is played by an actor named Maurice Benard. He suffers from bipolar disorder, and I think it’s so inspiring how he’s managed his illness and his career, particularly given how different the conversations around mental health were when he was first diagnosed. I would love to talk to him and hear his story from him first hand.

Jamahl: For me, hands down it would be Oprah. I just think she is just an inspiration with such an amazing story. I would love to pick her brain.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Our website is https://www.gracelovecandles.com/ and we’re on Instagram and Facebook.

Additionally, this year we were honored to be handpicked alongside other small businesses to be included in Intuit’s Small Business Holiday Shopping Guide — you can check that out here: https://quickbooks.intuit.com/holiday-shopping-guide/show-all/.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder

348 Followers

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts