Chocolatier’s sweet lessons in growing business

  • By Jean Thompson Guest Columnist
  • Friday, April 25, 2008 1:01pm

When I took on the challenge of running a chocolate company in 2002, it was a labor of love fueled by a commitment to bringing daily indulgence to chocolate-loving women across America.

What an exciting journey it has been, with many powerful and sometimes painful lessons learned along the way. Here are the highlights, so you can benefit from the wisdom of my experience as you grow your own winning company:

* Take chances and make changes. Remember, the problems you inherit at launch will linger and fester if you don’t own them and act on them within 30 days. Don’t delay making tough decisions.

* Hire well and fire fast. The right person in the job is essential to a company’s success. The right person is 30 times better than the wrong person. No one is completely inept, so it isn’t always easy to identify when you have the wrong person, but if you listen to your inner voice, the answer is there.

* Keep focus on your core business, and leave the rest to the experts. As tempting as it might be to save money by taking on other aspects of the solution yourself — such as shipping — never underestimate the knowledge that the experts bring to the table. It is important to keep your focus on your genius and leave specific specialties to those who have genius of their own.

* Forget perfect. Done is better than perfect every time.

* Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Fast growth comes at great cost. Cash flow, process and infrastructure; personnel; and profit are all stressed by huge growth.

* Be authentic. For women, business is personal. Be clear about what you value. Stay focused on what matters.

* Keep learning from your mistakes. I have earned my CEO experience 100 percent on the job. I continue to learn the importance of data and analyzing what I have learned to determine if I am on the right path or if something needs adjustment. I have always taken one day and one problem at a time. Rather than become overwhelmed by the latest crisis, I allow myself to fret and worry for a day. Then I make a game plan to fix it.

* Never compromise on quality. Consumers of chocolate understand the difference between a low-quality chocolate taste profile and a premium one. Even if both packages say “premium,” the taste buds don’t lie, and consumers come back for more of the chocolate that tastes great.

* Understand your customer. Because most women enjoy chocolate as an everyday treat, our packaging promotes daily consumption. We make truffle bars and bags that contain an assortment of chocolate that women can find at the local grocery and drug store so she can enjoy in moderation whenever the urge arises.

* Employee pride counts for a lot. Each of our employees takes pride in knowing that they are producing and delivering one of the finest chocolates in the most beautiful packaging in the world. That pride is experienced by every consumer who chooses our products.

* Keep passion alive in your business. Women business owners in particular need to work in businesses that ignite their passions because the alternative carries way too high a price.

* Enjoy yourself. Research shows that women reach for chocolate for many reasons. Some consider chocolate a daily indulgence. Others consider it the ideal end to the perfect meal. Others reach for chocolate to relieve stress and cope with the demands of everyday life. Whatever the demands of your business or your life, it’s much more enjoyable with chocolate.

Jean Thompson is the chief executive officer and owner of Seattle Chocolate Co. Reach her by phone at 425-264-2800 or send e-mail to

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