Are You ALL IN?

I often reflect on the strength of our entrepreneurial ancestors who paved the way for us.  Back in the day, they had fewer options, often being in business for ourselves was the only way we could get goods and services in the neighborhoods where we lived.

For me, I fondly remember growing up in Detroit, Michigan and seeing Black entrepreneurs all around me, serving the needs of our community, right in our neighborhood.  Across the street from our church was Grady’s Pharmacy; there was no Walgreen’s.  Mr. Grady filled all of our needs, and it was such fun to go there and look at all the different bottles and potions he mixed.   Mr. Morgan and Mr. Jefferson owned Superior Beauty Supply…had all of our Black hair care needs in a beautiful Black-owned store.   We also lived in walking distance to Motown on West Grand Boulevard.  It was nothing to see the Temptations, the Miracles, Marvelettes, the Supremes hanging out in front of the company owned by Mr. Berry Gordy who turned our music into sounds that the world grooved to.

Here in Chicago, we have many entrepreneurial giants to be celebrated:  Mr. John H. Johnson, Mr. George Johnson, Mr. Ed Gardner and Ms. Oprah Winfrey who built her empire here.  But so did my great aunts in their own way.  Aunt Blanche and Auntie Noble were caterers on the South Side of Chicago during the 1940′s…way ahead of their time.  They used all of their God-given talents to provide for their families and make a way in the world, despite racism, segregation, lack of resources, no technology, just discipline mixed with desire.

Dr.  Charles Stanley has said, “Discipline, not desire determines the outcome of our decisions”.    As entrepreneurs, though, I believe we need to mix the two.  In order to be ALL IN and persevere given the obstacles inherent in being in business, you must have discipline to keep your priorities straight and maintain your focus.  But the desire to succeed is the energy that fuels our discipline.  That’s what I gain from reading about our entrepreneurial trailblazers.  They did what needed to be done, but their desire to do it against all odds made their discipline that much more non-negotiable.  They were ALL IN.

My pastor, Charles Jenkins, recently shared three points about being All IN that hopefully will be of help to us all as we go forward making things happen:

  • Be fully immersed

-In building your dream; demonstrate CONVICTION

  • Be fully  engaged

-In understanding the needs of your market and customers; bring them COMFORT

  • Be fully committed

-In helping others along the way; play it forward, point the way and serve as a COMPASS

This is what our entrepreneurial trailblazers did.  They were ALL IN.  Are you?

Published in: on November 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Commit & Rely

Are you on track?

Are you on track?

As the new year begins, we all have the chance to put a stake in the ground about our goals and objectives for the following 365 days.  As entrepreneurs, it’s important to annually look at our businesses to be sure that the plans we had in place last year are still working for us this year.

But even more important in my view, we must make the decision to fully COMMIT to our vision, each year.  Unlike when we know it’s time to make a strategic pivot which we discussed last week, sometimes we have great ideas and skip from one direction to another with each wind that blows.  To commit, however, means to “concentrate, dedicate, devote, grind, hustle, persevere, pull out all the stops and be diligent”.  And, as business owners, we generally know how to do those things pretty well, and if we decide to do it again this year, well, that’s how we do what we do.

It’s only part of the success journey though.  The other part is to RELY.  Rely means to:  “believe in, have faith about, trust, expect, bank on, feel confident that things will come to pass” if your reliance is well placed.  For me, I’ve learned that we entrepreneurs need to work like it depends on us, but trust that it really depends on God.   After all the best plans in the world are developed, we still must rely on the divine order of things to see our vision manifest.

I found this out in my business, ComfortCake.  A few years ago, I thought we had “hit it”; gotten the big break that we worked years for.    But the timing wasn’t right then, and things were suddenly put on hold.  Wow…talk about disappointed!  But, sometimes windows are closed so that doors can open.  We had to look for additional customers to diversify our revenue options.  So we went after Walmart.  If that other opportunity had manifested then, we wouldn’t be in the position we are in today–that is getting ready to ship our Gourmet Lemon Pound Cake Mix into 500 Walmarts next month.  And, Walmart will be testing here in the Chicago area our newest line, Sweet Benefits™ Cakes – Red Velvet and Caramel squares- that have all the goodness of sugar without all the guilt.  They are sugarless and delicious!

And what about that earlier opportunity?  While I can’t go into details, suffice it to say that it is still a very real possibility!  The timing is now more in line.  So that “no” then really meant “not right now”, but stay tuned.

As you go into the New Year, look gratefully at the windows that may have closed for your business last year.  Because now, doors can open in their place.  When you COMMIT AND RELY, you will be prepared for the path ahead, even if you can only see clear enough to put one foot in front of the other.  The detour that you have to take now may turn you down the road of prosperity that you might have missed!  And yes, new paths can be challenging. But all challenges have lessons to make us stronger.  They add strength training to your entrepreneurial workout.

The strategy of COMMIT and RELY comes from Jennifer Rothschild, author of Self Talk, Soul Talk.  She really inspired me, and I’m glad to share this path with you.  Take some time today to look at your entrepreneurial workout to see how you can COMMIT AND RELY as you plan for the year ahead.  What three things can you do, change, or adjust to keep things going forward for your business?  Write them down. Share them with your team.  Ask your team for their three ideas.  And soon, you’ll have lots of stakes to put in the ground to keep it fertile for your success.

Published in: on November 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Moving From Ambition to Meaning

Often when starting on the entrepreneurial journey, visions of huge success looms large.  It can be heady to think of the possibilities of owning your own business, when there are stories all around of folks who went from nothing to multiple millions with one idea.  The vision of huge success is one thing, but creating it is entirely another.

As anyone who has ventured on this path will tell you, it is not for the faint of heart.  Customers , suppliers and contracts come and go, trends change, recessions and market crashes re-arrange the landscape for financing…often as the famous movie line said, you better  “fasten your seat belts, for it’s going to be a bumpy ride”.  That’s entrepreneurship…and it can be a Shark Tank.   Yet we keep going, pressing on, working to build the big dream, to make that vision a reality.

But sometimes as I’ve gone along this ride, moments happen that make meaning more important than ambition.  That happened again this week when our ComfortCake HUGS Foundation hosted 20 students from Urban Prep Academy at the our offices as part of their Discovering Our City Initiative.  This initiative engages businesses and organizations to introduce students to parts of Chicago and career opportunities that they may not have ever been exposed to.  I’m proud that this is the second year we’ve hosted them.


 To me, there is nothing more meaningful than to see lights of interest come on in the eyes of positive,   young people.  To get their curiosity flowing about possibilities, to add to their menu of options, to field their excellent questions while sharing stories of what it takes to complete an education, start a business, and give back to others…it was priceless.  We all know that the images portrayed of our youth is much more negative than positive.  Yet, there is positivity all around us, and we can all do something with our youth to let them know we care about them and about their future, because it is our collective future.

I think it is important to let young folks see us doing what we do as entrepreneurs, whether times are good or times are hard.  Let them see that as the old African proverb says, “To stumble is not to fall, but to move forward faster”.   I made those young men promise me that as long as they could look up they would get up as they go through this life.  And being with them, sharing with them gave such meaning to my soul.  This is what matters more than ambition to me.  I could have had them stay all day because of the hope they made me feel.

What can we all do?  As our city copes with such astonishing violence and a mindset of hopelessness, reach out to our youth.  It doesn’t always take a program or a foundation.  Sometimes it just takes a moment.  When you see something positive going on, stop right then and let them know it’s appreciated.  When you see something needing correction, don’t be afraid to correct with a loving touch or tone.   For example, this week my cable was out, and the young technician who came to fix it was on time, which was terrific.  But he came to the door with the straw from his soft drink hanging from his mouth, and started trying to go through his analysis with it hanging there!   Now, I wasn’t his momma, but I just had to stop and let him know that while I was glad he was on time, that straw was not building my confidence that he knew his stuff.  I said it directly but with a smile…and he promptly got the point, trashed the straw and ended up doing a great job.  It felt wonderful  to then give him high marks when a survey call came later.  Who knows, perhaps he will think about the impression he leaves on future house calls, and the good survey marks will help him succeed.

So, each one can reach one.  In a store, on the street, look young folks in the eye.  Say Hello…Smile…  Engage…say “you’re doing a great job!”  We used to do that in our communities all the time to build each other up.  You know, but for the grace of God go all of us…your son or daughter could be the one needing encouragement from a stranger one day.   If we find ways to play it forward both small and large, then moving from ambition to meaning will become easier, and life can become sweeter for us all.

Published in: on September 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Does your business bring you joy?

Joy is an awesome feeling…and it can come from unexpected places in your business. This past Thursday, my whole team volunteered to serve about 1000 kids from the Chicago Public Schools a special lunch held during an event to highlight the need to stop the violence in our communities. Where was the joy was in that? Well, seeing those young faces enjoying a fun moment away from school, at a rally downtown, watching their friends showcase their talents in poetry, songs, dance…all to celebrate why it’s better to live than to fight, that was joyful.

And then, we served lunch.  We served food to the littlest 1st graders who couldn’t hardly hold their plates, forks, water and juice…as well as to older kids all the way to high schoolers.   Knowing that this was perhaps the best meal they might get all day, and taking the time to look them in the eye and smile, well that was joyful.  I could see our future, and being able to smile at them, getting them to smile back, reminding them of the importance of saying “thank you” (the mother in me always comes out)…being a part in some small way in their enducation while helping at an event that inspired positivity and feeling that we were making a difference…joyful.

I refuse to believe that the village that raised us is not there for our kids today.  It is if we want it to be.   Just taking a few hours to give to others reinforced the feeling that what I’m trying to do is so much larger than just selling cake.

Yes, I was supporting one of my customers. But it was for such a good cause… participating in something to lift up and focus on the good in our kids.  I felt that by really touching the kids who eat products we produce for them in a kind way was a joyful, important and hopeful experience.

Joyful in being able to encourage a smile… important to realize that it didn’t cost a thing…hopeful that being there might inspire someone else.

Published in: on April 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Good 2 U & Good 4 U

We are currently working on making ALL of our cakes Trans Fat Free!  We’re so excited to bring our customers treats that are Good 4 U & Good 2 U!

Join the movement!

Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Power of Priorities

As I move forward on this journey, I’ve learned so much through trial and error. Even though all the books tell you to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize, sometimes its hard to do. Especially when sales are needed–any sales!  Who hasn’t been there!  But as we evolve, I’m finding that there is power in priorities.

The power comes from narrowing your focus. Just as a razor-thin laser beam can cut through the strongest materials with precison, priority setting can make what you do have more focus, and therefore strength.

Our objective from day one has been to build a business of scale. This is not a hobby. In order to do that, we have continued to give focused priority to customers who understand our vision and finding the most consumers who can benefit from it.  It’s hard to say no to potential customers. But if they are not in the scope of your objectives then it does a disservice to you, your team, the customer and ultimately, your results. As a dear friend once told me “all money isn’t good money”. Sometimes the best thing you can do to grow is to say no.

It’s like the difference between pouring water through a strainer vs. a funnel. The amount of water can be the same, but the thrust of water coming through a focused funnel is much more powerful than that coming through the many holes of a strainer. And it’s the same with your energy and that of your team.

So, while hard to do, set your priorities.  As the leader of your team, it’s a must for productivity.  I try not to be dismayed when we  have to say no to the wrong opportunity because I’ve learned that saying no clears the path for the right opportunity.

I’ve found this to be true both in business and in personal relationships.   When I look over how I’ve spent my time, my priorities become crystal clear–the ones my mind has set and the ones that my actions have set for me.

The amount of hours in a day does not change.  I’ve found that the focus of the work you put in and the love that you give though, can change the day’s results.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Business is like playing Basketball

So, folks, The ComfortCake Company is based in Chicago–home of the mighty Bulls.  Yea, I said it!  The beauty of it now is that they are playing serious TEAM ball.  They are no longer the MJ wanna-bes.  Taking nothing from the great Micheal Jordan-Scottie Pippen days at all, it is something to see Derrick Rose, Noah and the boys take it all the way this year. 

But I must share a comment made by my guy Jeff last night as we watched the Bulls beat Memphis in a very tight game by only 2 points.

He said, “They won because they understand that basketball is a team sport.  Sometimes you take the shot, somethimes you to have pass the ball in order to win.  Being able to do that is what winning as a team is all about.  They aren’t playing golf or tennis.  Even the MVP has to realize it’s not about just one man (or woman–my words).  Everybody has something to contribute and needs the chance to step up to the plate and do their part.” 

So very true.  Yet, sometimes as the leader, letting go of the spoon and passing that ball is the hardest thing to do.   I’m really making an effort to do that, and I’m seeing wonderful results.  It’s amazing what people can do when you let them rise to the occasion.

Try it—let your team leap; the net will appear.

Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

What a Week!!

What a journey entrepreneurship is.  It is a road filled with twist and turns…lots of surpises and yet, lots of joy.  For me, it is the feeling of operating with all pistons going at the same time, just like an engine.

After building ComfortCake for ten years, we are on the verge of some wonderful new customers….this week alone we were contaced by two of the biggest chains in the restaurant industry!  I can’t name them just yet…but to say they are household names is nothing but the truth.

We’re just going to stay focused on taking care of  business…the challenges and the opportunities.  The food business is hard…you have to eat your Wheaties every day to stay in it.  But I am on a mission…this is my legacy. My grandfather was an executive chef in the 1920′s when Jim Crow laws wouldn’t let him have the official title.  But he trained chefs throughout the South and raised a fmaily of twelve children with his culinary skills.

I’m proud to follow in his footsteps.  Pounding Cake Into a Business.  Yes.

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 11:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stay Tuned!

Stay tuned for stories from me, Amy Hilliard.  Owner, Founder and CEO of The ComfortCake Company, LLC.

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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