Jennifer Roberge is the founder of The Eczema Company, an online boutique for children and adults suffering from severe eczema. She started the company — which provides natural skin care, safe laundry products, healing jewelry, scratch-protective clothing and other items that promote eczema relief — after dealing with her young son’s severe eczema. Roberge had spent a colossal amount of time and money researching and testing any eczema relief product she could get her hands on from shops all around the world. She wanted to help others suffering with eczema by providing a one-stop-shop featuring the best natural and non-toxic products she had found. In addition to her online store, Roberge blogs at It’s an Itchy Little World, offering support and advice on healing eczema from a holistic approach.
How did you get started with your business?
My son had really severe eczema. At three months old is when he was diagnosed. It got worse and worse. In the beginning, simple creams were working, but then they wouldn’t work anymore. We tried steroid creams for a while, but we stopped because he was a baby and I started to get a little worried about what the potential for long-term use would be.
It eventually got to the point where conventional treatments weren’t working. We started to look for more natural options and seeing holistic practitioners. We changed his diet and took out a lot of common food allergens. It turned out a lot of foods were tripping his eczema. We saw that laundry detergents were really irritating his skin because they’re really alkaline. We were covering his hands at night with ScratchMeNot mittens, so his skin started to heal. All these things really started to help us.
I just remember how horrible it was for us. When it was the worst, my husband and I weren’t sleeping at night because we would each take turns sleeping with my son so we could hold his arms down and tickle him to sooth him so he wouldn’t hurt himself because he was so itchy. We tried everything and spent a fortune shopping around the world — I even bought a cream at one point from the Czech Republic because I was so desperate to buy anything and everything I could find with different ingredients. I wanted to start making the things that worked for us available to people in one place because severe eczema is a really difficult thing to deal with. I also started a blog at the same time — that’s more of an educational piece about our family’s experiences and features posts from different natural practitioners.
How did you fund your business?
We had money in savings. We relied on credit cards quite a bit in the beginning. With my business, it’s pretty expensive because you have a lot of up-front costs with retail. I own all the inventory, I don’t drop-ship from someone else. I also had to open up a couple of bank accounts and lines of credit.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
A little bit here and there as I go.
I met with YES Montreal, a non-profit that helps anglophone entrepreneurs. They helped me write my business plan and provided a lot of business advice, like what social channels to look at. Then I started educating myself, learning as I went.
I have a background in PR, so I wrote a lot of press releases in the very beginning. I read a lot about social media and how to create an effective post to get engagement, when to share and how often, and that sort of thing. Bigcommerce is who I use for my online store platform, and they have an educational series to teach their users to improve their SEO rankings. I watch webinar after webinar from all the social media celebrities out there like Vocus and Moz.
Who was your first customer?
My first customer was family. After that, I started getting customers through social media. I did a lot on Facebook and Twitter in the beginning.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
In the beginning, I probably didn’t pay enough attention to keywords and SEO. I could have built up my Google ranking much faster if I had tried and been more careful and done the right research.
My most recent mistake was that I decided to change the design of the website by modifying my template. Somewhere along the line, all my Google coding got deleted. I also removed a banner that said “free shipping for orders over $75” by mistake. Business really slowed down and I had no idea why. It took me six months to figure it out. The company was having steady growth and then it just flat lined.
A lesson there is document all significant changes and dates so if your traffic is slowing down or your conversion rates are being reduced, you can look back and see what’s changed. And get a professional to monitor your Google Analytics account to make sure there’s nothing strange happening!
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Sharing my personal story. People really connect with that. It was such a passion for me, and the story of my son really helps people relate. They know my heart is behind it because I’ve been really vulnerable and put myself out there through my blog and in the About Me section of the website.
Also, I’m very particular about the products we carry. They have to be all-natural, non-toxic and GMO-free. I’m very concerned about all that. I’ve had some products I was carrying change their recipe to include ingredients I couldn’t agree with. They were two of my top-selling products, but I cut them. I started notifying my customers and they were shocked. I don’t know that it was the smartest business decision revenue-wise, but it’s helped build trust from my customers.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
Speaking with the parents that are going through a hard time and being able to offer them suggestions, advice and support. And hearing the success stories from the people who had great results from trying something I mentioned on my blog or from one of my creams. To be able to provide relief is amazing, because that’s why I started the company, I wanted to help other people. Every day I get tears in my eyes because it’s so rewarding and fulfilling to help in some way.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
Finding the time to do everything. It’s just me right now and I’m starting to realize that I can’t do it all, so I’m trying to hire contractors who are the best at what they do to help me outsource things. I just can’t do it all, but I want to. It’s hard to know where to let go.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
I started a business because I’d found it very unfulfilling to be working for someone else. I had no idea I would get sucked in like I do! I really have to be careful and turn off my computer because I could just work non-stop because I love it and I can’t help it! I live, eat, sleep and breathe my company. I’m trying to step away a bit, because it can be unhealthy!
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
Someone who I admire and has been a sounding board for me is Hannah Helsabeck of Wild Mint. She has an online store that does natural cooking ware, serving ware and storage containers. She is a peer who’s been going through everything at the same time as me, so we’ll shoot ideas off each other and co-market with each other.
What I’ve Learned
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
Social media can be all-consuming if you’re not careful. I wish I had known to schedule my social media time in advance because if you don’t and do it in real time, you’ll waste so much time going off on hunts for information and tweeting and re-tweeting.
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help because it’s hard to do it all yourself. A lot of communities have free resources that will help you set things up and keep on track. When you’re starting, your head can be all over the place and you need focus. These organizations can help you write a business plan and set a roadmap for your business, which is really important.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.