Stephanie Birt is an Elite Mompreneur® Member from Guelph, Ontario. As the owner of Blue Ocean Office Supplies & Solutions, Stephanie’s company specializes in offering quality compatible and re-manufactured ink and toner products for brands such as HP, Canon, Brother, Lexmark and Epson, at an affordable price. Even more amazing is her company’s commitment to donating $1 million to local charitable organizations!
We asked Stephanie some important questions to find out what drives her towards success as an entrepreneur, and we are thrilled to be sharing her Success Story!
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Honestly, although I feel that commissioned sales and all the years I spent bar-tending and waiting tables really was like being an entrepreneur in many ways, I sort of “fell into” true entrepreneurship. I was the sales and marketing manager for a local company and had been laid off because the owner could not make payroll. I learned the hard way that although I was bringing in my worth in business, I had no control as to how that money was spent.
Being unemployed, I had nothing but time so I started looking around and doing research. I took a wholesale product to a few of my business friends and asked if they thought I should just be a re-seller of those products. The response was an overwhelming yes! I did the numbers and started selling to my close circle. Once I learned the actual process of starting my own business, I knew I could never go back. I would never again let anyone dictate my future. I promised myself also, that when and if I expanded and hired, I would never treat my team the way I had been treated. I will always continue to balance the financials in an ethical way that is not only good for the business but good for my team.
What is the best part about owning your own business?
The best part of owning my own business is the work ethic and community involvement my children grow up seeing. That is the only positive thing about owning your own business that does not also have a negative side! You have all of the control, but you have to control it all. You make your own hours, but you are the one who has to be available 24/7. You choose everything, but you have to make good choices that take much research and thought because a bad choice is your responsibility. Regardless of this, I think there is an entirely different sense of pride and accomplishment that you have as an entrepreneur. It’s almost like childbirth; while you are going through it, it’s hard and painful and you think you will never do it again. Yet a few short months later you have forgotten all of the pain, and all that matters is the amazing result of your work.
Can you describe a typical day?
Ok, here goes…
Weekdays I wake up about 6-7 am and listen to one of my 20 minute Bob Proctor videos. Then one of three things happen; I help get the kids off to school, I leave to attend my weekly toastmasters meeting or I leave to attend one of the dozen networking meetings I attend regularly. I spend the next 8 hours networking, meeting current clients, prospective clients, my vendors and my peers in the community, all while listening to Earl Nightingale’s condensed version of Think and Grow Rich (audio book) while travelling place to place.
I arrive home between 4-6pm. Depending on what shift my husband is working, either I feed the kids and a few nights I bring them to their activities, or if he’s home he looks after them and I head up to the office and do administrative work along with marketing and social media. Then I make sure to spend some time each night to make contact with prospective customers. During this time I usually listen to another video/audio lesson by Bob Proctor. I usually put my head on the pillow between 2-4 am.
Weekends are a little different – I actually sleep in until 10am or later! Then while the hubby and kids are at sports and playing outside, I sit behind the laptop again. We usually have dinner together and watch Survivor or the Amazing Race as a family. If we are not attending community events or family events, we visit with friends or I sit on the couch with my face in the laptop and half watch tv with my husband. Sunday nights after dinner, we get ready for the school and work week ahead, and I am in the office until 2-4am again.
Who do you count on for help? Do you have a network of family that answer the call?
It really depends on what type of help. When it comes to managing the household and all the moral support I can handle, my husband is amazing. He has taken over most of the housework and the kids look after their chores. I am very lucky that the three of them are behind me 110%.
I am also lucky to have several close friends who will help me tote the kids places if a work event interferes and meet for a glass of wine if I need to unwind.
My business mastermind group is my other rock. I have an amazing business advisor, marketing consultant, print and promotional product expert, graphic designer, bookkeeper, and accountant that help me so much on this journey. I could not do it without them.
Have you ever had to sacrifice something at home for work? Or vice versa?
I am careful to pick and choose the sacrifices. I don’t sacrifice things that are important in my kids lives for business, however, we talk about what things are truly important and they understand that we have to be honest about it because we are a balancing act. They are so excited that we are giving money to charities across Canada with our business and they really see the bigger picture. I am very proud of them.
What do you do on a day off? Do you even know what a day off is?
I don’t really have a day off – though we have a portion of days off. Even if I take a full day off I have to watch for any new orders coming in to ensure the most efficient shipping. I can’t fully shut off quite yet. Once I hire someone, I will be able to do more of that.
Are you active in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?
I could write pages on this! Considering the fundraising tool we support Canada-wide, I would say I am very active. I have in the past volunteered for non profit events and planning committees, however, because of the potential conflict of interest, I have had to step down from those roles. I do attend as many events as my schedule will allow.
I absolutely support local. All of my preferred vendors are based locally in Ontario, but in the ink and toner industry we set ourselves apart by offering products that are over half manufactured in North America. I enjoy supporting not only the small local economy but also the national economy as well.
Name another entrepreneur that inspires you.
Besides Bob Proctor I would have to say a gentleman named Paul Fitzpatrick. I have known Paul for many years and saw him leave a large realty company and start his own. In a few short years he has become one of the top brokerages in Guelph. He decided he wanted to create something different and that is exactly what he did. He has many visions that I can relate to, and he truly inspires me to see that anything is possible. I actually don’t even think I ever told him this!
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Our future is very bright and strong. Not only have we built a strong company foundation with quality products and vendors but we have taken our core values and passion and turned it into a way to help so many charities across the country. This made for a strong business model, as well as a strong dedication to the future of our country.
Any tips for moms starting a business?
Involve your kids; they are sponges and will absorb everything you are doing! They will be more likely not to feel neglected or second best if they’re a part of your business. Same goes for your spouse; as mothers we tend to put our kids before our marriage and that simply will not support your family long term. You are the model for your children, and your marriage is a model for them. It offers them stability and security, it enables them to take risks and know they are still safe. Everything we show our kids affects them, wether you think they are watching or not.
Try not to forget, they could be running your company one day!
Updated on September 7, 2018. Originally published on October 31, 2015.