Name: Cheryl Sutherland
Business: PleaseNotes Goods
Industry Personal Growth/ Retail
Tanya: Question numero uno, what was your path to entrepreneurship?
Cheryl: My path to entrepreneurship pretty much started when I moved to California because I wanted to follow a dream. And while I was there, I had the opportunity to work for two different female entrepreneurs. And I saw the difference in how they conducted themselves, and how it reflected in the clients they attracted.
When I decided to transition from my last job, I asked myself – what is it that has made the biggest difference for me in my life, and how did I want to support people? I wanted to start my own business because I wanted to do it in my own way and also give something that I really love.
That previous job was really emotionally draining, and I had forgotten who I was. I forgot how amazing I was, how capable I was, how smart I was. So, one day I was like “I wish there was a way that I could surround myself with affirmations”. And that’s when my first product came to life, where I was like, “This is it!” – the sticky notes with different affirmations. And it was like a light bulb went off.
Tanya: I love that. So, in terms of a timeline for you, from the idea of, “I think I want to do this as a business,” to light bulb moment, to the first product on the market, how long did that take?
Cheryl: Less than six months.
Tanya: Considering you have a ton of physical products – that is impressive. What has been so far your boldest business move?
Cheryl: Ooh, my boldest business move? I think I do a lot of asking. Last May, when there was a spotlight on Black-owned businesses, I had shared an anti-racism and unlearning resource library that I and some other amazing people have put together. Somebody that shared it, I looked at her Instagram, saw that she’s a Hay House author and multimillionaire and I simply asked: “Can we have a conversation? I’d love to learn more about you. You are teaching my stuff.” She was like, “Yes, let’s do it.”
We had a really great conversation. She said yes to allowing me to host a workshop and then pitch a seven-week course that I was just at the beginning of formulating and putting together. It really paid off as in boosting up the understanding of I can do the things that I really want by just asking it and allowing it to feel natural. And just saying yes to things, that’s when all the magic happens.
Tanya: Yes, to this manifestation! So, this might align with the previous question, what was the biggest financial turning point for your company, your “I made it” moment? Is it that exact moment in terms of that woman in particular, or do you have another one?
Cheryl: It’s funny because I don’t think I’ve had that moment, only because I’m not good at acknowledging my wins. If I was to look retroactively, it would be the successful crowdfunding campaign for the first edition of journals.
At the time, I did not have the funds to pay for consultants. My goal was to raise $10,000 US and I ended up hitting $15,000 US and then ended up shipping over 250 orders all over the world. Looking at the stats at Kickstarter at that time, I think it was less than 20% of campaigns were successful. The margins of success became smaller and smaller when it came to campaign size, and being a Black woman lead to do it.
Tanya: I’m glad I forced you to answer that question, it is so hard for us as women to own our wins. So, what thus far has been your business’ biggest challenge?
Cheryl: Oh, I think the business’ biggest challenge has been me in regard to some of my limiting beliefs. I used to really feel like I had to do everything by myself, that nobody could sell my business, or work for my business, or give to my business in the same way that I could. I used to think that outsourcing things, was going to take way too much time. Learning to be open and authentic and say, “This isn’t where I want to be. What is the next step? Who do I need to hire?” And then, just letting go.
It’s almost like that first day when you hand your kid off to daycare, or at school and you walk away and you’re just like, “Ah, can I do this with my child?” I have to let people that know what they’re doing do and operate within their zones of genius and allow myself to do the same.
Tanya: Yes. Yes. Yes. Pause for applause. I’m going to actually put that into the post.
How has either the global health and/or racial pandemics affected your business? So, you can either answer from a global pandemic standpoint, the racial pandemic standpoint, or both, of course, because you are a Black woman who is experiencing both.
Cheryl: In regard to the global pandemic, I can easily say that it’s probably been the best thing that’s ever happened because, now, a lot of the habits that people have had, and the distractions they’ve had are gone. Now they’re stuck with themselves. Oftentimes, when you do slow down, you ask, “I was doing a lot of things out of habit not because I really wanted to, so who am I? What do I want? What brings me joy? Do I want to switch careers? Do I want to start a new business? What’s holding me back?” Being there to supply people with an opportunity to find those answers within themselves has been really, really great.
In terms of the racial pandemic, last year I hit 14,000 followers on Instagram, which I’m really, really grateful for. However, before the end of May 2020, I was at 8,000. And, within a period of about a week, I almost doubled in size. There was a lot of stuff around. Do these people actually really like me? Do they like my content? Is this something that people are doing out of pity? Or are they doing it because they feel that they should?
And even questions of people that are in the same industry that are not Black, that they’ve had a large amount of success because of the privileges. So, if I had started this company and pretended to have a White figurehead, or been a White person – what would my success actually be like? The disparity within the wellness industry is huge. You’ll go to some of these personal development summits and it’s all White women. So, the new level of accountability that has come with the audience asking tough questions, without it only falling on Black women to do the labor of asking has been great.
Tanya: And that is finally happening all over in every industry. What do you wish people would know about being a Black entrepreneur?
Cheryl: I wish people would know that there’s a lot of differences and some of them are subtle and some of them are really aggressive. I once got invited to a private Venture Capital event on a yacht. I was one of two Black people. Later as they had their annual meeting, they asked: “Where are all the people of color? How come we’re not attracting them? Why do they not know about us?”
But the answers are simple: Are you going into these communities? Are you going in to talk to these people? Are you opening yourself up? Are you creating these conversations, these relationships? Oftentimes, the reason that people of color aren’t in the same rooms is because of a lack of access. They aren’t related to or have a personal voucher from a high-wealth/powerful individual. Change access to those rooms, it will change everything.
Tanya: So last question, how do you find a balance between your personal and professional life?
Cheryl: Well… (laughter)
Tanya: I love that everyone always laughs at this question. It is hilarious.
Cheryl: I am attempting to do better, only because where I am right now, one side of this room is my bedroom, and the other side of my room is my office. So, when do I leave? Even though my business is my passion, it is authentically, but it’s also work. I think the only thing I can really say in regard to that is allowing myself to outsource more things, and then have hard stop lines. And so that includes not working on weekends. When it was super busy, I’d be working seven days a week. Now, I’m choosing not to work on weekends other than perhaps answering an email, or I’ll do a one-off conference or something.
While fortunately last year was an amazing year and it was super, super busy, and there was a lot of stress, and it took my body a really, really long time to recover from that, and I’m just not into doing that again.
Tanya: Very important. Because listen, the body’s just like, “Yes. That’s cute and all, but if you don’t give me the rest that I need, I will take it.”
Cheryl: Ooh, there’s one question that just popped up for me. It’s like, “What strategy have you chosen to start implementing in 2021 that’s going to be healthy for you and healthy for your business?” And the answer to that would be I’m all about collaborations in 2021. So whether it’s doing online courses, I’m actually doing a couple of different ones for some people, which I’m really excited about, and just doing guest appearances, whether it is doing new clothing options, I’m going to be working with someone to do some head wraps and stuff with affirmations and stuff, which I really, really love. Just how many ways can I co-create with people instead of having to do everything by myself again, over and over again? So that’s it.
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by entrepreneur, Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence Honouree and BMO Celebrating Women Honouree, Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 20,000 and a non-profit providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO.