What defines the beelove® brand, and how do we get to know our customers? How do you tell your story as a mission-driven business? What is it like to lead a social enterprise?
Meet Daphne Williams, who leads Sweet Beginnings as our Chief Growth Officer (CGO). In this episode, she explains how she understands the beelove® brand and engages with our customers, what it’s like to lead a social enterprise, and how she continuously learns from working with our transitional employees. You’ll learn some strategies for engaging with customers and using those insights to drive business priorities.
Want to see examples of how we talk about our work and the beelove® brand on social media? Download the show notes to see some of the stories we shared for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. You can also send us a question or comment through the interest form!
Daphne: The quality of the product is very very high. It’s this artisan quality product that’s made with a lot of care and a lot of concern and with a lot of hope, quite frankly. And to put it on and use any of the products for the first time is kind of a transformative experience actually, knowing that you’re helping someone and you’re using something that’s so good and clean and pure for you.
Alice: Hi, and welcome back to Inside Sweet Beginnings, our podcast that gives you an inside look at how we run our social enterprise.
You just heard from Daphne Williams, who leads Sweet Beginning as its Chief Growth Officer, or CGO. In this episode, we talk about how she strategizes to strengthen both the business and the people we serve. She also shares what it was like coming into Sweet Beginnings and working in social enterprise for the first time.
Alice: Hi Daphne, how are you?
Daphne: Oh great Alice, how are you?
Alice: Doing really well, thank you. And thank you for making the time to talk!
Daphne: Yeah. it’s nice to have this time together.
Alice: Yeah. Can you start us off by just introducing yourself and explaining what you do at Sweet Beginnings?
Daphne: Sure. My name is Daphne Williams. I am the Chief Growth Officer for Sweet Beginnings, the social enterprise of the North Lawndale Employment Network.
Alice: Awesome. And how did you find your way to Sweet Beginnings?
Daphne: Yeah it’s really interesting. So I had a previous role working for an ed tech company in product marketing and I took some time off to really evaluate what I wanted to do professionally in the next chapter of my life, and I just love helping people. I’ve always been really concerned about communities, the people that live in communities. I’ve always been interested in people’s stories and using stories as a way to help shape organizations and products and outcomes for people. And a friend of mine said you know what, you should really think about getting into social enterprise, and I stumbled across Sweet Beginnings and had the opportunity to meet Brenda Palms Barber, our dynamic CEO.
Alice: And you’ve been here since what, October, so under a year.
Daphne: Yeah. Under a year. It’s been I guess a whopping nine months officially.
Alice: Yup, yup. And what was that transition like for you, coming into Sweet Beginnings?
Daphne: Yeah, it was really exciting. Because I felt like in my heart that I was actually going to be able to do the work that I so longed to do. But the transition was interesting in the sense that it made me realize how much I was going to need to stretch myself and develop myself in different skill sets. I think one of the things that oftentimes that people don’t realize coming from maybe a larger company or organization is that when you work in a community based environment, it’s very very lean. So one of the things that has been interesting in being at Sweet Beginnings is just the ability to really stretch myself and tap into different functions of the operation in a way that I would’ve never had to do ever before in my professional life.
Alice: Yeah, can you say a little bit more about what your previous professional life was like? It was pretty corporate right and your experience is in marketing, primarily?
Daphne: Yeah some of it. So I do have a really eclectic background. I grew up in the advertising agency business and that’s like the foundation for my professional roots, and then I became a second grade teacher for a period of time and returned to advertising, and then I had the opportunity to really understand kind of the business side of education, so I worked for an education publishing company and an ed tech math organization. And so I have this really interesting background that’s kind of linked me to communities and to business too. But all of those organizations that I worked for were very very big, and big enough to have multiple departments and to have different functions. I could tap into people who were experts in a particular discipline, and that was all great. But working at a small social enterprise I don’t have that luxury and so that’s the reason that I said it’s been wonderful and great, and it’s definitely the work that I want to do but yeah, you have to be able to be extremely flexible and stretch yourself a lot.
Alice: Yeah. You’ve had such an interesting trajectory to coming here. I think that’s really cool.
Daphne: Yeah. Thank you. I think it can either be interpreted as cool or crazy, but I think it’s cool too.
Alice: So this episode we’re focusing on how to work on the brand and marketing and customer engagement side of the business, specifically as a social enterprise. Before we get really into the nitty gritty of that, I wanted to just start by giving people a sense of what it’s like to be the leader of a social enterprise and what kinds of resources you’re working with. So what is your team like, how big is the Sweet Beginnings team of staff and who’s on it?
Daphne: Yeah so as you know, our team is very lean and so that was a little bit surprising coming into the social enterprise because we have such a big national visibility. But really it’s myself and we have Charlotte who is our Lead Production Assistant. We also have a staff member who is our grocery distribution and also a production assistant so she helps us out with production and then we have our transitional team and those are our former clients who come from our U-Turn Permitted program who get the opportunity to work at Sweet Beginnings. And we have a master beekeeper, I cannot forget him, who’s wonderful and lovely. So there are four staff members and then our transitional team.
Alice: Right. And how involved are you with the day to day operations of Sweet Beginnings?
Daphne: So as you can imagine, I’m incredibly involved in the day to day operations. I would say a little bit less so in terms of the actual making of the products because our Lead Production Assistant, Charlotte, she is masterful in that area and she’s so amazing in teaching our transitional team how to actually create the products and make them and package them. But it is more around the day to day of are we moving things in the right direction, looking at the P&L, talking to a lot of people on the phone, making sure that our payroll is straight and organized, that people have turned in their timesheets, and also like staying connected with my colleagues within the broader North Lawndale Employment Network organization and having a lot of thought leadership conversations as to what does this work that we’re doing look like in the future, and understanding the employment market and the dynamics of the employment market.
Alice: But as Chief Growth Officer, you’re also thinking about the long-term strategy for Sweet Beginnings, and how as a business and as a program it’s going to evolve and continue to fulfill its mission. What does growth mean to you?
Daphne: Yeah, so growth really has two definitions for me. So first there’s the growth of people, and I always put people first because that’s what the social enterprise is all about. It’s about making sure that our people come into Sweet Beginnings and that they get a great job readiness training experience and that we’re teaching things that they can actually use once they secure a long-term employment opportunity. So it’s growth for them from a job readiness standpoint.
And also somewhat of a spiritual and emotional growth for them too. Spiritual might be maybe a little bit too heavy of a word, Alice, but it’s around like restoring their self-worth. Brenda always talks about human dignity and we know that human dignity is so connected to work. Work restores people, their sense of self, their meaning, and gives them hope and optimism for what they can do in life. So when I talk about spiritual, that’s kind of really what I mean, it’s kind of an awakening of the person that we’re dealing with. And giving them the confidence that they can do many things.
So it’s growth from that standpoint. And then it’s also kind of the business growth too. But the business growth within a social enterprise for me is really especially one that’s so lean right, so we don’t have multiple departments that are robustly staffed by any stretch of the imagination. It’s really about like what are the things that we can do in the short term to drive business that will eventually lead to longer-term outcomes?
And so right now we’re focusing in on kind of three buckets. Especially in the middle of Covid, right? How do we really have a robust – how do we develop a more robust digital marketing engine, so we can get people to shop our ecommerce platform more? How do we actually try to encourage repeat customers, so we know that we have a lot of customers that love our mission, but we want them to keep coming back, and so that’s something that we’re focusing on. And then also like how do we align ourselves with companies and corporations that are really aligned with the work that we’re doing, that they want to support the work that we’re doing. And maybe their support looks like they’re thinking of us for their own employee gifting program to make sure that their employees are aware of who we are and experience our wonderful products. So it’s really – yes, it’s about the long term strategy and at the end of the day it’s about creating more job opportunities for more people in the community as much as we can. But it’s also about what are the tangible things that we can move, and looking at this incremental growth through tangible things that we can actually put in place to get there.
Alice: Yeah. You use the word focus a lot, which I think is really important and you’ve clearly got these three strategic buckets for the short term. How do you come up with those and determine what would have the biggest return on investment for your time? Like when you came in into this role and looking at the whole landscape of Sweet Beginnings, looking at what can I move now, how did you decide on those three things?
Daphne: Yeah. So it was really a lot of observation right, I think that’s important no matter what size of organization you come into. Observing and having conversations with people and then just kind of looking at the data that exists. We’ve been fortunate to have an entrepreneur in residence who’s a board member of ours who has set up some really great systems for us so we do have some data. And we have a wonderful data and evaluation person on our program side on our North Lawndale Employment Network side. So tapping into those two people to get a sense and understanding of like what our outcomes have been from a people standpoint and then from a business standpoint, how are we doing in terms of sales and revenue and cost of goods and so on.
But there was a missing piece when I came in and that was kind of a lack of understanding around who was the beelove® customer. And so there had not been any data that had been done around that, so I got together with a colleague and we developed a survey to deploy out to our existing customer base, just to get a read on like, how did they hear about beelove®? What was their first interaction? Where did they see it? Purchase frequency and usage. What were some of their interests and some of their hobbies? Other causes that they may support. And so that was good information to get and to kind of understand just general demographics, like how old are they, are they men or are they women, do they mostly live in Chicago or do they live in other places in Illinois or do they live – are they scattered throughout the Untied States? How much money do they earn? So that general demographic information was also really important to have in order to identity like, are we talking to more people or is there kind of a sub-segment within this population that maybe we could be focusing in more and talking to more. So certainly one, looking at what data did we have in-house and two finding an opportunity to get more information and how do we go about getting more information and make some decisions.
Alice: That was a perfect segue into my next question, which was about that customer survey which I think was one of your very first priorities coming in.What did we learn from that? What are like the key takeaways?
Daphne: That we have a wonderful base of supporters who really care about our mission and the work that we do with formerly incarcerated people and they love our products. So that was like the big learning for us. We learned that we have a predominantly women-supported customer base. That they have shopped us at farmers markets, they’ve shopped us at our grocery store partners, they’ve shopped us online. But I think really the real difference was kind of understanding like, okay so we have this great base. Is there a base that’s within – a segment with this that we can kind of focus in on and talk to a little bit more? And so that actually turned out to be someone – a profile of a person who’s a little bit younger, who is more socially conscious, who really goes out of their way to support local and mission-based brands. Who feels good about like supporting local. And I think even in Covid in the middle of this pandemic we’ve seen that, right, we really want to support small businesses and keep them going. It makes us feel good. And so when we looked at that data, it’s like ah that might be our sweet spot. We certainly want all of our customers to keep shopping us, but we might need to message a little bit differently to a particular segment.
Alice: Gotcha and you also do some more in-depth, one-on-one interviews, right? Can you talk about your process for that and why that’s important?
Daphne: Yeah. I did. And we didn’t interview a ton of people but we did find some beelove® customers who were willing to talk to us and have interviews. One allowed us to come into her home and talked to us about all the mission-based products and local products that she supports. We got an understanding of maybe like, how does she shop and this particular insight that we got was like I’m definitely an online and subscription shopper because my time is very limited and I think that sort of insight was very useful to us.
Alice: Yeah. So that could be applied to further product development.
Daphne: Yeah. Another channel.
Alice: Let’s talk about sales channels a little bit more, can you give me the overview of where people can buy beelove®?
Daphne: Yeah, so beelove® has a lot of reach. It’s amazing. So people can shop us online at beelovebuzz.com and they’re able to buy our complete line of skincare products, our gift collections, as well as our honey. In the Chicago area, people can also shop Mariano’s, so Mariano’s grocery stores is an important partner to us. Our honey is in all 44 Mariano’s locations. And people can shop us at our co-op stores where we have partnerships in the Chicago area, so we have three kind of specialty and co-op shops that offer beelove® honey and skincare. And let me see, also out at O’Hare. So when people get back to traveling in a way that they used to, many people know that our first apiary was at O’Hare field, and through that partnership we actually have our honey at Hudson’s which used to be formally Hudson News, the place where you can go and get your newspapers and your magazines to read. So you can buy our gift collections there and our honey there. And I’m trying to think where else? Miscellaneous retailers, we have some small retail partnerships that are throughout the country as well.
Alice: A pretty big reach across the Chicagoland area.
Alice: And then how about our ecommerce platform? Why is it important for us to have that and what role does that play in the business?
Daphne: Well definitely with reach. So the thing about beelove® is – and the thing about Brenda, right – is that she’s incredibly charismatic. She has a very large presence, what she’s done with North Lawndale Employment Network and the founding of beelove® has been widely recognized throughout the country, and so we want to make sure that people have access to our products and that’s where ecommere comes in as such an important channel for us. So it really allows people who have heard us in kind of national PR or media to be able to access our products.
Alice: So helping with the national profile and keeping us on people’s radars. What other strategies do you go to for bringing in new customers? Like I’m thinking of the subscription box model and thinking about new ways to engage people.
Daphne: Yeah, so that is one way that we will certainly look to engage people and try that out and see what sort of response we get from our existing customer base and new customers. There are really cool things that are happening right now like virtual farmers markets. We are currently in partnership with one and trying to get that up and running so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
Alice: Oh that’s really cool. How does that work?
Daphne: Yeah, so it’s through an application where basically customers who are your typical farmers market customers with these particular farmers markets have the opportunity to shop their local farmers and their vendors through an app. And I believe they have the option to even have delivery to them or pickup. So it’s really interesting to see the creativity and the innovation that people have come up with and distilled to try to reach their customers and to give people the goods and services that they want.
Alice: That’s really cool, I would use that.
Daphne: I know, I think I’m gonna try it out myself.
Alice: Let’s talk a little bit more about the beelove® brand and how that interacts with everything we’ve already talked about. In general, I don’t know much about marketing and advertising personally, what gives a brand its identity?
Daphne: How it makes a customer feel. How it transforms them, so if you put it on, do you feel better or do you feel like you’re using something that is making a difference, in our case? Our products are amazing, and incredibly – the skincare is incredibly moisturizing and the honey is just so so tasty, for a lack of a better word. But I think that brand identity has to kind of go hand in hand with what the customer feels about it and what role it plays in their lives. And actually that’s some of the work that we are doing, right, is really kind of trying to connect with customers and really understand why is beelove® important to them? Is it the mission, just really feeling good about supporting people who need to have an opportunity to work? And I suspect that that’s a large part of it, but also the quality of the product is very very high. It’s this artisan quality product that’s made with a lot of care and a lot of concern and with a lot of hope quite frankly. And to put it on and use any of the products for the first time is kind of a transformative experience actually, knowing that you’re helping someone and you’re using something that’s so good and clean and pure for you.
Alice: Yeah. It seems to me like that was all pretty intentional on Brenda’s part from the outset, all of those values and the quality of the ingredients and the quality of the ingredients and everything .
Daphne: Yeah. Very natural, very clean. Handmade, that’s important too. So a high quality product.
Alice: And you use the brand identity when you’re doing the digital marketing, right, like how do those work together? I’m thinking of the recent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day campaigns we ran.
Daphne: You know I think for me so much of it is about the people and that transformation of people and the human spirit and restoring one’s worth through a job. And you know, at North Lawndale Employment Network, we are a group of people that are so passionate and so committed to the work that we do around giving people hope and developing skills and helping them on a long-term employment journey. That I think that when we talk about ourselves it is really about the power of people. And so when I think about the Mother’s Day, “my queen bee” social media, that we really wanted to put those stories out there about the women in our lives, whether they be our moms or our aunts or our sisters or our cousins, or our daughters, right, that were instrumental in making us who we are and fueling our passion and our commitment to community. And then it’s Father’s Day weekend and so we have featured some of our transitional team members and their reflections on being fathers. You know especially during this time where we see black and brown men might be viewed in one way, I think that reflections in this campaign are really really powerful. That these men are fathers, they have grandchildren, they have relationships with their kids, they talk to them, they are moved and uplifted by their children and their families, and we need to capture that. That people have loved ones in their lives, doesn’t matter if they’ve had a background, they care about the people in their lives. And it’s nice in turn to see through these reflections the people that support them as well.
Alice: So based on your nine months of experience so far in social enterprise, do you have any recommendations to leaders of new social enterprises that are looking to start a brand and build a customer base from scratch?
Daphne: You know I really would say understand the customer, understand who you’re – this just applies in all business, not exclusive to social enterprise. It’s just understand who your product is for and how to properly position it in the market. Understand your customer and understand your product’s benefit to that customer. It’s great people come up with a lot of ideas but that’s really really an important thing to understand. So you can understand where your brand should live, where people are gonna buy it.
Alice: What do you mean when you say how to position the product?
Daphne: Yeah so it’s really understanding how a customer is going to use the product and are you going to talk to people – you know, you wouldn’t sell cat food to a dog. Right? And so there are certain types of cats that might like some food better than other foods. You have to do that customer research that’s important. If you’re making – if you have a soup product, like when is soup used the most, what type of person makes soup, how many people live in their family, are soups consumed mostly by single people or people that have families? Is it a low quality soup or is it a high quality soup? Why do people want to buy your soup? What makes your soup different from other soups?
Alice: Yeah, I see. So the process of building up a brand is first figuring out those fundamental things like who you’re selling to and connecting with and then building a strategy and your product around that.
Daphne: Right, right.
Alice: And do you have a favorite product, Daphne, out of the beelove® line?
Daphne: Oh, for sure. I have two favorite products. So the first favorite product which everyone loves, it is such a huge seller, is the care and repair lip balm. It is amazing. And as a woman who loves lipstick, I will like line my lips with a little liner and just put the balm over it, it makes it so smooth. And then I also really love our restore and product body balm. And the reason why I love this, it’s such a great moisturizer. Especially now, we’re working out in the garden quite often, and it just makes my hands so smooth, it’s great for knees and feet. So any rough areas that you have on your body, the restore and protect body balm is amazing, and it smells like eucalyptus which I really really love.
Alice: Yes. It does smell so good. I love walking into the building when they’re making it, the whole building smells like eucalyptus.
Daphne: Isn’t it great?
Alice: I think my favorite product is the lotion or the cream, both of them i guess.
Daphne: Nourish and smooth body cream?
Alice: I’m impressed that the body balm edged that out for you. I really like the cream.
Daphne: So when do you use the nourish and smooth?
Alice: When do I? Kind of as a daily thing. I used to keep it at my desk at work, when we were still going into work. It’s still there in my drawer. So I would kind of use it after I wash my hands or whenever. It’s kind of a good basic piece, I think, ‘cause everyone needs like a lotion.
Daphne: It is. Have you tried the polish and glow?
Alice: Yes, yeah, I like that too. it’s actually in my shower.
Daphne: Yeah, I’m telling you. Every beelove® product is a good product. This is the work that I absolutely love, like trying to figure out why people like certain things and what else can we do with it? You know. It’s so cool. But the people part for me, Alice is like, that’s really what it’s about.
Alice: Yeah. That’s central to pretty much everything in the business and the program.
Daphne: And like me as a learner right, it’s just being able to listen to people’s stories and walking away and it’s like wow, I would’ve never thought about that before. And it’s such a transition coming out of prison in a way that I would’ve never imagined, and I think Charlotte captured that in her episode. The one thing she said was it was like The Color Purple, like a scene where – was it Oprah Winfrey’s character, says she didn’t know who her family were anymore, or who people were anymore, and that Charlotte related that to herself, like she got out of prison after twenty years and she needed to learn her family again. Not only society, everyday things, but she needed to learn her family, they had changed over twenty years. You know one thing that was an interesting story that was shared with me, not a story, but just kind of a comment and transition experience from being locked up to coming back home, was around beds.
Daphne: Yeah. And that if you’d been locked up for a really really long time, you got used to sleeping on this skinny cot-like bed. And one of our team members said yeah I got home and everybody was like oh, go to sleep in the big bed. And he said I couldn’t. It was so – it didn’t feel good to me to sleep in a big bed, that I went and slept on the couch because it was smaller.
And I oftentimes don’t think we realize how big of a transition it is to come back into society. It takes time. It takes time. And developing the habits of getting up and going to work every day. That’s really important for anybody to be functional, right? And hold down a job. But it’s something that has to be taught because they’ve been used to being so programmed in prison in a way that we don’t consciously always think about.
Alice: Yeah. And Sweet Beginnings basically just gives people time, right? I remember one former client referred to it as kind of solid ground, which I like to think of it that way.
Daphne: That’s right. You can make a mistake, you’ll be held accountable for your mistake, but it’s a safe place for you to make a mistake as you’re learning how to kind of like function in the world of work.
Alice: How do you engage with the transitional employees? Are you doing kind of coaching with them, I mean your experience with a teacher would help with that right?
Daphne: Yeah, you know it’s interesting because I’ve never worked with people who have been previously incarcerated, so this is a different experience for me. I think Brenda had talked about in an episode about the routine of going through like coming in Sweet Beginnings and smelling the coffee, and sitting down together as an entire team, staff and transitional workers, and going through that Maxwell Reader. John Maxwell has written some really powerful things about his own professional and personal experiences in life, and many of those passages are very much so – provide kernels of thought and discussion points for our team. And so it’s just in that moment in the morning, Alice, that’s really that kind of sweet moment where you can talk bout like what happened over the weekend, or you can talk about, yeah I understand what he’s communicating here because I was in a situation where I needed to collaborate on something and maybe I didn’t pull my weight as much as the other person. Or, for me, it’s like hearing what they think about leaders and –
Alice: Do they think bad things about leaders?
Daphne: Well, like ideas, like kind of misconceptions, like yeah, I thought that leaders all drove BMWs and you know Mercedes Benzes.
Alice: And you don’t, do you?
Daphne: Oh no, absolutely not. But it was kind of like the idea of – for that particular person, he had equated leadership to like, this kind of financial or monetary success. And that’s not what leadership is about and after we had the conversation he got a better understanding of it and even thought like, reflecting on his own life and how he has been a leader in his own life, right? Leadership just looks so different and it’s interesting that in the Mawell Reader when we have these conversations it just brings out different things and different perspectives that we can talk about. So that time from 9 o’clock to 9:30 is really really an interesting time to connect with the team.
Alice: Are there any other moments that really stand out to you from those conversations?
Daphne: Yeah. About aspirations. I mean everyone’s an individual, right, and everyone is coming to Sweet Beginnings with a different path. We work with people that have had well-established work histories before incarceration and they were incarcerated for a really really long time and they needed to re-establish a work history. Those individuals are particularly interesting because sometimes they share stories about how their lives got off track and it’s like wow how did that happen? I think for me again it goes into those stories, those stories that you hear and you reflect upon them and you’re really moved by them.
The other thing is like, I always say people are not empty vessels. They come to you with a lot. And it’s about how do you tap into that and bring it out of them. So I’ve been really amazed to have these conversations around like yeah maybe we need to try the product, Miss Daphne, in a different way. It’s like okay, let’s do it. Or maybe we need to use this other piece of equipment because it might actually make the process go faster. This is why it’s so important to give people a chance. Because they are capable and they are competent and they are desirous of work. And they just need the opportunity to work and change their lives. I mean I don’t know what else to say about that. It’s been an amazing nine months.
Alice: Awesome. Thank you so much, Daphne.
In this episode, we discussed what defines the beelove® brand, where and how we sell our products, and why it’s so important to understand your target customer. We also talked about prioritizing how you use limited resources and continuously learning from the people you serve.
To send us a question or comment, or to listen to the other episodes of the podcast, please visit the landing page at blog.beelovebuzz.com/insidesb.