Connection to Those You Serve: The surest way to refill your cup and replenish the energy that entrepreneurship consumes is to connect directly with those you serve. Witnessing and engaging in the positive impact of your business is the best way to ground yourself in your mission and purpose, thereby giving you the strength to get through turbulent times. In my previous patient safety leadership days, conducting fatal medical error investigations was incredibly wearing. When I needed the boost to keep going, I’d go to the patient care units and talk with patients and staff, looking for what was going well. I wholeheartedly carry that practice into my business today. When things feel like they are falling apart, I connect with those who we’ve touched or made a difference for. Revisiting testimonials, checking in on our care package recipients, or sending surprise “thinking of you” notes brings an energy that nothing else can.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine Hinz.
Catherine Hinz is the founder and CEO of Beyond Words Co., a care package company on a mission to ensure no one feels alone through life’s hardest times. Catherine launched Beyond Words Co. in the midst of her own grief experience, and leaned on her decade-long career in patient safety and medical error prevention to intentionally design care packages that support the healing of mind, body, and spirit. Both her business and family are based in St Paul, Minnesota.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
In early 2016, I had stepped away from a healthcare leadership career spanning nearly 10 years to learn the ropes of my most important role yet: mother. With a chubby-cheeked infant at home and a husband who traveled extensively for work, I was navigating the new experiences of motherhood. I was thankful to have my parents and seven older siblings’ families nearby as the early days of adjusting proved wearisome.
In May of that year, my world turned upside down in an instant. I discovered my husband was living a second life that deeply betrayed our five-year relationship. Immediately, my plans for the future came to a screeching halt. The following months I operated in survival mode, filling my days with family, support group meetings, and therapy sessions in an effort to put my life back together. It wasn’t long before I was a single mother sorting through next steps.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Driving home late one night from a support group, I had tears streaming down my face as I reflected on the stories of those sitting in the circle that night. Our paths to arrive at the support group were unique, but there was one commonality — each of us felt alone in our grief. Our families and friends expressed to us that they didn’t know what to say, how to help, or how to reach out. The silence further fueled the loneliness of an already isolating experience. I intuitively knew those experiences weren’t unique to our circumstances of loss, and that many situations of loss and grief are hard to talk about, regardless of their origin. In short, we weren’t alone in feeling lonely through the most difficult times in our lives.
I thought, there must be a better way to walk alongside our loved ones through grief and loss. Furthermore, what if the support and comfort we all sought could also be practical? Beyond the default sympathy gift of flowers, I decided I’d create a tangible way to provide support to loved ones struggling through the hard, long days of grief.
When I started considering the things I needed to get through one day, no matter how hard it was, I realized it came down to the basics of rest, nourishment, and moments of hope to keep moving forward. I knew I could intentionally design care package to include beautiful items to provide those basics and inspire small moments of hope and comfort.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I’ve always wanted to own my own business. As a child, I loved dramatic play for which I played business owner. I would set up my own restaurants and cafes; I opened a “greenhouse” (inside an old ice fishing house) with my best friend from which we sold plants, and I’d sell sweet corn at the end of our driveway. I was always interested in thinking of ways to buy and sell items.
Pursuing a career in healthcare administration as an adult, I honed leadership skills in several leadership positions. Yet I always had a nagging sense that beyond being a leader, I wanted to be an owner.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
By the time I was prototyping care packages, I was intent on turning the idea into a business. Looking back, there was no doubt in my mind that it served as a welcome distraction from a painful divorce I was going through, as well as a demanding full-time leadership position I’d returned to at a local health system. I could only work on Beyond Words Co. on evenings and weekends, and ensuring its success sat squarely in my own resolve.
That said, I was leaning my family for feedback and input along the way. My parents were business owners, having started a successful garbage removal business with a pickup truck. Their entrepreneurial journey was not easy for them with a family of 10. My childhood was filled with examples of how taking it one step at a time gets you through the marathon of hardships that entrepreneurship entails. When providing guidance to me, my parents share examples of their toughest challenges or the mistakes that they made, as those are the powerful moments from which growth is possible. When hardships present, I draw strength from the idea that it will be a learning experience to propel me forward, regardless of how difficult it feels.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve been astounded at the power of connection that our care packages bring. It’s common for customers to reach out and relay the story of how their care package experience went. Often, I hear that the recipient was moved to tears, or that the care package arrived at “just the perfect moment.” Some of my favorite feedback is that recipients feel like their care package was designed just for them, which is a very intentional part of our business. I appreciate knowing small pieces of information about the recipient, like his or her favorite colors or hobbies, so that I can infuse personal touches into each package. I am both humbled and grateful that the personalized, meaningful touch in each package shines though.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- I’m a problem-solver by nature. I get excited when I’m presented with a challenge to solve and will fixate on it until I find the most promising and efficient solution. For example, every new care package design is a puzzle; I have to put together the pieces, curating healing items for mind, body, and spirit that have universal appeal and will simultaneously feel personal. Subsequently, the design is dictated by the fact that items must physically fit in our box dimensions, be of a weight that will keep shipping costs low, be durable enough for shipping, and appear visually beautiful in the care package. It’s a long, iterative process but one that is rewarding when the orders start coming in for a new design.
- I respond well in crisis. My background in medical errors and patient safety has provided me with excellent experience to operate strategically and empathetically when things go wrong. For instance, when my business was impacted by delays in shipping due to COVID-19 and the holiday season in 2020, I used my experience of weathering previous shipping pattern ebbs and flows throughout the year to institute a plan to avoid delays. By anticipating the delays early on and implementing a previously created plan, I confidently navigated what could have easily been an internal crisis for the business (which depends in large part on shipping logistics). I iterated that plan through the height of the pandemic’s impact on shipping and get creative in modifying our package sizes and our drop locations to certain distribution hub hot spots, as well as proactively communicating expectations with customers.
- I’m forward-thinking. I strongly believe that entrepreneurship is about seeing what the future could be and creating the path to get there. I see other entrepreneurs pushing long-range business plans back at the expense of putting out today’s fires. Conversely, I get energized by constantly refreshing and renewing my long-range business plans to reflect what I’m learning today. Keeping my eyes on the future and the dreams that I have for Beyond Words Co. gives me the energy to lead through the daily challenges that business brings. I often engage in exercises that keep me focused on envisioning and planning for two, five, and 10 years out.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I’ve been told by several people to never cry at work. I abided by that rule by for the majority of my career — until I was in a professional leadership position while also grieving the significant changes in my family. My personal heartache became nearly impossible to put aside for eight to ten hours each workday. Difficult emotions would be triggered by conversations in meetings, or even by a text message coming through. It was exhausting put on a positive front when that was the opposite of what I felt inside. Through this time, I learned that the advice I’d been given didn’t serve me. Leaders need to show up at work with their human, authentic self, experiencing the range of emotions we all do — because that’s exactly who your team is, too.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
I believe a strong work culture starts from a basic premise that everyone feels safe, understands their role, is confident they’ll have support when needed, and shares a mutual understanding of expectations. In preparation for growing an inspired team at Beyond Words Co., I’m first creating a foundation of standard work that will define how we complete core business processes. While standard work is often used for specific procedures or tasks (i.e., designing a care package), it can also be applied to other aspects of the business, like accounting or marketing program processes. When standard work building blocks are created and improved upon, it provides discussion opportunities about workload feasibility, role clarity, and shared expectations. These conversations can be used to prevent stress and burnout while ensuring successful and consistent internal processes.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
I fiercely protect the trusting relationship established with our customers and their loved ones to support them during sensitive times. It demands an ultra-customer-centric model, and our approach to customer service is driven first by empathy. That’s what grounds our decision-making, including our interactions with our vendor partners as well as our customers and their loved ones. It is as simple as putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes. For example, when a recent care package recipient reached out for more information on how to reach a vendor to re-order a particular care package item her husband loved — we simply shipped her more instead of just passing along the vendor information. We knew she was serving as his caregiver during a very difficult cancer journey, and we wanted to take the extra steps off her plate. It was a small act of kindness that allowed us to continue a strong relationship with a member of our Beyond Words Co. community. We’re humbled to say she continues to not only be a customer but frequently shares information about our company with her network. My advice for business leaders is to first lead with empathy and love, and the loyal trust of customers will inevitably follow.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
I’ve noticed lately that some companies have evolved to be more self-serving versus customer-serving, particularly since the pandemic. Even in personal interactions, companies have first protected their own interests (I assume, in initially well-intentioned ways) to remain viable throughout the uncertainty. However, the result of losing focus on the customer is detrimental as many companies have turned inward to figure out how to survive. During these times at Beyond Words Co., we’re going above and beyond to engage in dialogue with our customers about what’s most important to them. Meeting our customers where they are at, going the extra mile to inquire about what is working well (and what isn’t) about our products and services, and engaging them in feedback have been paramount to keeping our focus and decision-making centered on those we serve.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
As a new CEO or founder, it’s easy to lose your sense of purpose or mission in the sea of daily decisions you face as you launch. You get caught up in the details and are cloaked in fear of making mistakes. You can quickly get overwhelmed, and that can bring about emotional decision-making or a reluctance to make decisions. Moving too quickly or stalling out are both consequences of those feelings of overwhelm. When you are grounded to pull your purpose into your decision-making and let it guide you, it brings clarity and reduces noise.
One way to do this is to surround yourself with visual signals that embody your mission. In my healthcare leadership days, we kept representative photographs of the patients we served in our boardrooms as visual reminders to ground our decision-making. Similarly, in my business, I keep touching messages on my office walls to remind me of the personal impact I’m making. Additionally, every care package destination is written on a wall right outside of the office, and I regularly update every piece of feedback and review and print it to have at my fingertips. These are physical artifacts I want to be surrounded by when making all the daily decisions that impact the direction of my business.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
I liken the entrepreneurial journey to that of grief, and I have the understanding of going through both at the same time. Some might perceive the entrepreneurial journey to be one that starts out difficult, and then with time and with experience, you graduate to smooth success. But that’s not the case. Like the process of grief, the process of entrepreneurship is not a linear or consistent path. The truth is, you can be all over the map at any given time with a string of long, hard lows, or a series of amazing highs and back again. The curveballs don’t stop, either. You’ll gain wisdom along the way that better equips you to manage those curveballs, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily gets easier with time. You have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul and ride the waves accordingly. This is different than a “regular job” in that you are ultimately steering the ship so that responsibility weighs heavier.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I was prototyping care packages for an organ procurement organization to send to families of organ donors across the country. It was a time- and energy-intensive design process to create multiple designs that would be appropriate for these families’ tragic circumstances, and logistically, I needed to find more sustainable shipping options. I connected with a salesperson from a private shipping service and we talked through the weight, dimensions, locations — and it wasn’t until the end of the call that the gentleman asked why I was shipping these boxes. When I explained these were care packages going to organ donor families, there was silence on the other end of the line, soon followed by quiet sobs. He then relayed to me that he had donated his young son’s organs following a tragic accident. He told me about his family’s traditions on the anniversary of his son’s death and even offered suggestions about what would be helpful to include in the care packages. When our conversation ended, I was touched by his personal story it brought the importance of what Beyond Words Co. does more fully into focus. A moment like this is hard to describe as a “high,” but it stirs a powerful emotion to remind me of the difference Beyond Words Co. is making and to keep our mission front and center at all times.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
This question resonates for me because I started my business when I was emotionally at rock bottom. I was reeling with a pending divorce, caring for an infant and needing to re-enter a full-time leadership role to support myself. It was a very difficult time and yet, starting this business was what saved me. After my son went to bed, I would prototype care packages at my kitchen table. With incredible attention to detail (e.g., labels, colors, integrity of ingredients in food and self-care items), I asked myself the same question over and over: “What would help a grieving person most?” It provided a creative outlet of sorts when I could muster the energy to work on it. Most importantly, the potential opportunity of helping others continued to drive me forward. I’m reminded of one of my favorite lyrics from the Matt and Kim song “World is Ending” — “stories get better as stories fall apart.” I didn’t believe it then, but I do now.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I continued to put everything I had into making the business a reality, despite I had no prior experience in entrepreneurship.Every step I took, in the beginning, was a result of my own research. I called on others to share their expertise and I’m fortunate so many stepped up to help, the majority of which were my family. Bouncing back felt more like simply moving forward, and through each step, creating the opportunity to help others helped me rise above my own loss. It still does.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Rest: I learned the importance of the basics through surviving the worst days of grief. If you are deprived of rest, you cannot fire on all cylinders necessary for the entrepreneurial journey. When I’m fatigued, I make decisions from the emotional part of my brain versus the more logical, rational part. The result is that the highs and lows feel compounded, and I’ve robbed myself of the energy I need to handle highly charged situations. I aim for 8 hours of sleep each night as my first key to feeling prepared for each day (although I don’t achieve it every evening, it feels like a luxury when I do!).
- Advisors: You can’t — and shouldn’t — try to go it alone. In rapid growth phases, I was unwilling to ask for help. I soon realized I was stunting my growth by not reaching out. I started asking those closest to me for input and insight. Those external voices could be reasonable when I was emotional; they were energized when I was tired, and they were tempered when I was overly eager. Surrounded yourself with advisors that have your best interests at heart. It might take the shape of a partner, coach, friend, or subject matter expert, but it should be someone who candidly provides constructive insight with fresh eyes.
- Hope: The lows of entrepreneurship can feel like rock bottom. On the hardest of days when you feel like you may not make it, hope is what you have to be able to see the way out and up again. A sense of hope is imperative to weather the storms, and sometimes you have to look for it in even the smallest of doses. And when you can’t find hope on the darkest days, ask your advisor to find it for you.
- Honesty: You must be honest with yourself, with your colleagues, and with those you serve. Trust is the foundation upon which you build the other parts of your organization, especially when it comes to customer service. When an organization makes a mistake, blaming it on a technology mishap or something else seems out of your control is an empty apology that fuels distrust. I’m a big believer in quickly admitting the mistake, authentically apologizing for it, correcting it to the degree possible, and creating a plan to prevent it from happening again. I recall the first time we overlooked an overnight shipment of an important care package across the country; the customer had paid a significant amount of money to express ship the package. The mistake was realized days later, and the customer was understandably upset. An authentic apology and admission of a human error was critical to preserving the relationship, as was other service recovery efforts. We also relayed the plan of what we were going to do to prevent it from happening again. Ultimately, we earned a repeat customer who ended up giving us a glowing testimonial. Keep honesty among your core values and you’ll get through the highs and lows with integrity.
- Connection to Those You Serve: The surest way to refill your cup and replenish the energy that entrepreneurship consumes is to connect directly with those you serve. Witnessing and engaging in the positive impact of your business is the best way to ground yourself in your mission and purpose, thereby giving you the strength to get through turbulent times. In my previous patient safety leadership days, conducting fatal medical error investigations was incredibly wearing. When I needed the boost to keep going, I’d go to the patient care units and talk with patients and staff, looking for what was going well. I wholeheartedly carry that practice into my business today. When things feel like they are falling apart, I connect with those who we’ve touched or made a difference for. Revisiting testimonials, checking in on our care package recipients, or sending surprise “thinking of you” notes brings an energy that nothing else can.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is how you respond when the unexpected occurs. In a world that values predictability, particularly in business, it’s much more difficult to lead when plans don’t go according to, well, plans. Being resilient means you must expect the unexpected to happen. Subsequently, developing backup and contingency plans are essential; they will decrease stress when something unanticipated does happen because you’ve prepared ways to manage it. Another way to describe resilience is that instead of being reactionary in the face of adverse events, you can be responsive because you have a mindset that you will find a way to successfully operate in these new circumstances. I believe resilient people continually ask and answer the question, “If XYZ happens, are we prepared for it?”
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
At age 16, I started my career in healthcare as a receptionist at the front entrance and later the emergency room of a hospital. I worked in hospitals from that point on for more than 10 years. Even at that young age, I learned to manage difficult circumstances. I remember rehearsing talking points for when family members ran frantically into the emergency department lobby, wanting an update, and I knew their loved one had already died. I remember desperately trying to keep to a planned script when an abusive spouse would come storming in looking for their partner. I remember escorting family members to private areas to speak with physicians about the death of their loved ones. All of these experiences opened my eyes to hardship in life. It continued into my specialization in medical errors, and now into supporting others through grief from any origin. Being surrounded by adverse events in healthcare from a young age has built up my resiliency in a way that I don’t think many other roles could.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I’ve learned through my time working in adverse events and life’s most difficult moments that sometimes positivity is not the best mindset when it is not genuine or appropriate for the situation. I’d like to say I keep an attitude commiserate with the situation and audience at hand, acknowledging that sometimes people look to a leader to help keep hope in the midst of difficult times. Just like any emotion or feeling, a positive attitude has a place — but it shouldn’t be forced at the expense of experiencing other feelings like grief, disappointment, or frustration. Positivity can be off-putting in times when there just needs to be a presence — a presence of mind to listen to a story, to hold a hand, to sit near. I’d like to think that I allow space for those without forcing positivity.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
I believe strongly in the power of an empathetic attitude and approach. It’s not exclusive of a positive one, but empathy first elicits the attitude appropriate for the circumstances at hand. A sense of realism, or rallying a team around a stubborn challenge with honesty, can be just as motivating as a positive attitude under the right circumstances. When you can effectively put yourself in someone’s shoes to live an experience from their vantage point, you can have a positive impact despite the attitude not being overly optimistic. I interact with customers daily for which a positive or cheerful attitude would be misplaced. In situations of infant loss, death by suicide, victims of murder, etc., we first hold a listening presence.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires,” by Horace Traubel. This quote has been with me since day one of contemplating Beyond Words Co. It fits the business to a tee. We can’t prevent the cold from happening — loss and grief in life are inevitable for all of us. But we can bring warmth to those who need it most. I hung a small copy of this quote on my bathroom mirror so I would see it each day when this business was only an idea. I had personally experienced the coldness that grief brings, and I also knew I was capable of being there to help others through the same.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Join our community of support by visiting us a beyondwordsco.com or @beyondwordsco on social channels.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!