Recognize your achievements. If you’re anything like me, once you’ve completed a project, you’re off to the next one. I think that’s a quality of entrepreneurs. We’re always onto something more, the next thing. I’m still working on this. By nature, I’m a creator so that’s where I’m the most comfortable. When I produced my Inspired! Daily Planner and completed the launch to promote it, I was onto something else. My right hand everything, Lauri, has to continue reminding me to let people know about all the resources available to them. I know they’re there, I just forget that not everyone does and I need to tell people about them.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sue Monhait.
Sue Monhait is a business owner, podcast host, speaker, coach and best-selling author for the community she’s lovingly named, “Gifters-Bakers-Crafters-Makers” — people who create beautiful and/or delicious products that they want to share with the world.
Sue owns two businesses serving this audience. The Ribbon Print Company offers custom ribbon printing systems creating the ability for businesses to produce on-site personalization and branding of products. Gift Biz Unwrapped provides free and paid business development and growth direction through a weekly podcast and other virtual courses including her signature program, Makers MBA.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I was fortunate to experience a corporate career in sales, marketing and management that I loved. There I had the chance to learn, stretch myself to new heights, and was acknowledged and rewarded for my achievements. Was every day fulfilling? Of course not. But the good outweighed the bad and it’s where I gained the insight and knowledge I apply to my businesses today.
I’ve started three of my own businesses, two exist today. One is a product-based business, The Ribbon Print Company, where we provide turnkey systems giving other companies the ability to customize ribbon on site adding text, logos and graphics to just one ribbon or thousands. This service has been a solid income producer for our customers. I’ve been told many times it saved their businesses both back in 2008 and again in 2020.
It was through The Ribbon Print Company that I identified the need for training and coaching on how to start and grow a business. I heard over and over again at trade shows about the uncertainty and fear women have around this. The passion is there, but the knowledge and confidence is missing. That’s something I can provide through my vast learnings from my corporate days and validated by starting my own profitable businesses.
This started a new mission to help these women. I began with my podcast, Gift Biz Unwrapped, which has now expanded into other ways to support the fabulous community of handmade product makers.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have many great stories but one in particular comes to mind based on the topic of resilience we’re discussing today. This was back when McDonald’s was rolling out salads in their stores nationwide. I was in charge of the program from the marketing end within my company. It was our direct marketing (mail) program in competition with the large newspapers in every market across the country. Given McDonalds also had corporate and franchise stores, and each group had decision power, the project was huge. And exciting!
As you can imagine, it also received major attention within my company. Leading the project is something that can make or break a career. In one of our first meetings with McDonalds Corporate, my manager decided he was going to be the one to present our program. Usually, it would be me. It was still very much the “good ole boy” club back then and I knew it. I had come out of radio and television where it was even worse.
I’m still not sure who initiated this behind the scenes switch, but five minutes before we were to start, I was told I would be doing the presentation instead. Totally set up to fail. I had no time to prepare and hadn’t even seen the slides. Inside I freaked out. I excused myself and rushed to the ladies room. In the stall after a momentary breakdown, I paced, took some deep breathes and decided I’d do the best I could. I knew my stuff and here was my chance to perform. There was no more time to think — it was show time.
Giving you all the details would take much too long but I will tell you that I felt let down and betrayed by my own company and the client. It was clear that having a young woman be the star didn’t sit well. The presentation went only okay. But the results of the entire project were fabulous. We were chosen for the program for half the country and my team rallied and performed.
What did I learn from this? That the best person and the one I know for sure I can count on is myself. And I’m capable of greater things than I realize when pushed. To be clear, I went on to have many great (and not so great) managers but I always knew to be ready for the unexpected. That was freeing and built up my confidence too.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Standing out in your industry is a valuable strategic move that paves the way for everything else. I teach people how to do this through a technique called a Unique Special Power. It’s what you point out about your brand that helps people remember you and assists them in referring you to others too.
The Ribbon Print Company’s Unique Special Power is that we are the only ones in the industry worldwide who ever used the ability to custom print on ribbon to grow a business. Everyone else has hardware expertise but not the business development or marketing experience. This allows us to enhance the value of our systems by providing business direction on pricing and selling the service not just the mechanics of running the printer. That extends to our training programs and software development too.
These stand out qualities can exist as product features such as Brighton’s heart that is integrated into the majority of their products or Tiek’s signature teal shoe soles.
A Unique Special Power can go beyond product features too. As a small business owner, deepening the relationship with your customers by sharing about you personally goes a long way. I have a friend who always (and I mean always) wears leopard. If I think of Claudia, my mind immediately envisions a leopard print. My mom was known for her love of red and chocolate. As long as those two things were in her life, all was right with the world.
My personal Unique Special powers are yellow and snow. Not connected of course but here’s how this works. When a blizzard is on the way to Chicago, I get phone calls, messages and emails from all over the world — not kidding! The general message is they’re thinking of me and know I must be so happy and excited. They’re right!
How does this relate to business? When you’ve set a trigger that associates you with something that naturally comes up in your customers’ lives, they think of you. When they think of you, they also naturally think of your business. Maybe they’re in the market at that exact time for a gift or to replenish their supply of candles … or whatever other service or product you provide.
The great thing about this strategy is you prompt sales without even selling. It’s the visibility and the mind space you’ve occupied that triggers the thought of you and creates an action. Sometimes this extends even further with your customer talking to someone else about you.
“Of my gosh, I know this crazy girl in Chicago who loves huge snowstorms. I bet she’s doing a happy dance right now. She has a really good podcast for handmade product makers too. It’s called Gift Biz Unwrapped. You should listen since I know you’re thinking of selling your jewelry.”
See how this works? Standing out in this way is subtle yet powerful! It’s how you show up as not just another cupcake shop or handmade soap maker.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve had several mentors in my life and my husband, Michael is one of them. He’s also my biggest supporter and fan. But to answer this question, I’m going to point to my parents. Maybe it’s because I’m adopted so they felt the need to give me added assurance. But I grew up believing in myself and that I could do anything I wanted. That doesn’t mean I didn’t hit rough patches, I definitely did. But I never felt I wasn’t worthy or lacking in any way.
We’ve all heard stories about how one sentence from an elementary school teacher, positive or negative, set the stage for how a young child lives out his life. Word are impactful. We can all be a source of inspiration, motivation and kindness to another person that have positive ripples we’ll never even know about. I’m grateful that I experienced this early on and try to pay it forward every chance I get.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
The first and most important trait of a resilient person is self-belief, having confidence and knowledge that you are worthy and deserving of whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. I think this is what’s missing for so many who turn to violence and drugs. They’re lashing out at a world they think doesn’t see their value and importance as a person.
We rely on each other in this world and most times, self-belief needs to be reflected back by reinforcement from others for us to instill it in ourselves. I just talked about how my parents formed the base for me. But it could be found through friends, work associates, teachers or club associations. Self-belief lays the groundwork for positive action.
Then when encountering a time when resilience needs to be called upon, there are three additional traits of importance.
- Resourcefulness — the ability to find alternative solutions towards the same goal when one way doesn’t work out.
- Determination — the feeling deep inside that what you’re pursuing will bring results important enough to fight for. Not physically but with a sacrifice of personal time, focus and energy.
- Commitment — being so dedicated that walking away isn’t an option.
Not every situation calls for someone to be resilient. There are times to close the book and set your sights on something else. But these are the traits to call upon when the project is important enough for complete follow through.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Here I’d like to honor the thousands of American families who are part of our military efforts. I watch with utmost respect the families who send their loved ones off to serve, those who are wounded physically and mentally who come home to a new life, and again the families who have to adjust to a new reality.
I’m not touched by this as dramatically as others. My dad would never talk about his time on a submarine in Japan. Nor would my uncle whose plane was shot down and he served out the rest of WWII as a POW. But I could sense the toll it took.
To me, these men and women represent the model of resiliency. What choice is there? The bravery and courage. Nothing I encounter in my businesses comes close to that. It helps me put everything in perspective.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
The first business I formed was a gift basket company called Basket Thyme. It was the perfect business to start because it allowed me to still be at home with the kids yet get back into a profession role. When I first presented my plan to some of my friends, I saw the underlying reaction. Although they didn’t say it verbally, their eyes said, “Oh how cute. What a fun little business to play around with.” It was infuriating and insulting.
That “cute” little business grew from my home into a 2,000 sq ft production facility with employees and multi-six figure sales within three years. At that point I decided to fold the business because I saw an even bigger opportunity with The Ribbon Print Company.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I’m going to take this question in a different direction because I’ve struggled with this so much and have finally found resolution. I know others suffer as well. And I use the word “suffer” intentionally.
What I’m referring to is the emotional impact that social media can have on our self-esteem and, not to be dramatic, life overall. For me it was focusing on follower counts on social media, or watching what others are doing and feeling like I don’t measure up. If I’m being really honest, I also discount my years of experience and have felt intimidated by the fact that I’m getting older.
I know logically that social media followers don’t equate, in all cases, to financial success. I also know that filters affect how someone looks and most people post only the best of their lives — the highlight reels. But it can play games with my mind and where I fit (or don’t fit) in.
I’ve finally resolved this for myself and maybe my solution can help you too. Want to know how? By focusing only on my community and the value I provide to them. They are so generous and reinforcing in their accolades for both my businesses. This comes from comments on social, emails and notes of thanks, conversations in person at trade shows and conferences, in phone calls and in public customer reviews.
There is no reason to look for outside, sometimes fake, reinforcements of my business value when those I’m actually serving do that better than anyone else. Once I released myself from “comparisonitis” my world became much brighter.
Try it. This adjustment in thinking may be my greatest gift to you.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Thinking back to my teen years, I zero in on a specific heartbreaking experience that really knocked me down. One of my favorite athletic activities was an acrobatic class I took at the local park district. This lead me into cheerleading in fifth grade. Through cheerleading I made a core group of close friends and it was my life.
Then came the morning after seventh grade tryouts. My brother drove me to school early, as usual I stopped at my locker, met up with my friends and we made my way to where the lists were going to posted. Excitedly we waited to see who else would be joining us on the squad. The activities director opened the door with lists in hand. She pinned them to the corkboard and wait … my name wasn’t there!
This must be some mistake. But no, it wasn’t. I didn’t make the team. How could that be? I was one of the team members who did all the hardest tricks. My friends couldn’t believe it either. It didn’t make sense. But sure enough, I missed the list by one spot.
The adage, “life isn’t always fair” hit me hard. I was devastated. All my friends would be involved in an activity I loved — without me. Would we still be friends? I felt all alone, rejected and like a loser. It didn’t help that everyone came up to me saying they couldn’t believe it.
My mom’s sympathy, albeit meant as support, was even harder to bare. Of course, she wanted me to be happy and not see me suffer. I had to face it, every day that year, I wasn’t a cheerleader. Every Friday when they had their uniforms on. Every game when I sat in the bleachers rooting on our team when I yearned to be on the field doing jumps the Spartan anthem cheer.
Over time I had no choice but to accept my fate but there was never a question of whether I’d try out again. Did I have my fears of further rejection — sure did! I trained extra hard and practiced the tryout routine way more than necessary. The next year I made the team. The following years too, all the way through high school, college and even to the professional ranking of being a Chicago Bears cheerleader.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
I completely agree that resilience is a muscle that can get stronger from use. Each time we need to employ resilience we prove something to ourselves and add another layer of evidence that we can accomplish and overcome. Here’s what helps me strengthen my resilience.
- Define the deeper “why” behind a challenging endeavor. Going beyond the specific action and being clear on its purpose motivates me to follow through. This is true of podcasting. It takes a lot of time, energy and resources to stay consistent and produce a quality show. Hearing that it helps people and that they rely on the information I put out reminds me of my “why” and keeps me going into soon to be my eighth year for Gift Biz Unwrapped.
- Create an action plan as the starting point. Do you have a friend who has the vision of writing a book, getting healthy by eating better or opening a business? You hear about it over and over again but nothing ever happens? Having an idea is one thing. Doing something about it is something else entirely. The key to taking action is making a specific plan. Step one, decide on the topic of the book (which helps define the “why”). Step two, research where to find out the specifics on book publishing. Even defining and taking these first two steps will lead to the next ones. The point here is that to accomplish anything, you have to get started by taking action.
- Obstacles will arise. They are meant to be tackled — not shut you down. There’s more than one way to get to your goal. If one path doesn’t work, don’t give up, find another road. Currently many of us who use Facebook ads are seeing dismal results in what used to be a high performing lead generator. Thanks Apple iOS 14. Instead of complaining about it (anymore) I’m finding alternative methods to gain visibility and leads. I just got back from a conference where I shared access to one of my lead generators at the end of my talk. It resulted in more leads for the week than my FB ads did even in the best of times. I have other ideas of things to test to switch it up too. There was life before Facebook. The key is to find new solutions to get to the same end result.
- Premeditated psychological boosts. Celebrating the small wins along the way does a couple of things. It highlights your progress with positive rewards, and it motivates you to keep going to get to the next milestone. When I was writing my book, I would allow myself special bonuses at certain points. When the outline was complete, I treated myself to a pedicure. As I neared the end of writing, I decided to finish all the content by dedicating a day at a quaint coffee shop in Seaport Village in San Diego. That environment in and of itself was a special treat. When I was done with the final edit, I bought an outfit from my favorite store. And when the book arrived in my hands, my husband and I went to a fancy restaurant to celebrate. I had all this figured out in advance so I could anticipate being at the next step and enjoying my reward. Another way to do this is to have an ego-booster center. This could be a google folder for emails, a corkboard for thank you notes, whatever fits your situation. When uplifting messages or reviews come in, add them to your dedicated location. Then when you need a lift, go there and see how what you do benefits others. It will right your thinking and help you through the slumps.
- Recognize your achievements. If you’re anything like me, once you’ve completed a project, you’re off to the next one. I think that’s a quality of entrepreneurs. We’re always onto something more, the next thing. I’m still working on this. By nature, I’m a creator so that’s where I’m the most comfortable. When I produced my Inspired! Daily Planner and completed the launch to promote it, I was onto something else. My right hand everything, Lauri, has to continue reminding me to let people know about all the resources available to them. I know they’re there, I just forget that not everyone does and I need to tell people about them.
For you it might be your first sale, participating in a craft show for the first time, or getting publicity in the local newspaper. It could be finally getting the design right on your new line of specialty soaps, or having the nerve to push that “live” button on Instagram and showing up face-to-face with your followers. There are many achievements large and small that we need to point out to ourselves. We are the only ones who truly know how difficult they were to do. Be proud!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Today with Gift Biz Unwrapped, I focus on supporting handmade product makers. I recently created a nationally recognized holiday called “Bakers Crafters Makers Day”. Its focus is to highlight these handmade creators and the value their skills provide. Making a product comes from the soul. It involves reflection, passion and skill. The final result provides happiness for both the creator and its recipient — something our world needs and continually seeks.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them 🙂
Over the last couple of years, I started listening and reading the works of Gabby Bernstein. I’m a Law of Attraction believer and have seen it play out many times in my life. I’m fascinated by the idea that our thoughts and the energy we put out into the universe comes back to us. That power of returning to us what we project is worth investigating.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Come join me over on Facebook or Instagram at Gift Biz Unwrapped. If you’re a gifter-baker-crafter-maker looking for support and learning with a group of other creators, join us in my private Facebook Group, Gift Biz Breeze.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!